Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson

  • Ten years writing about wine is definitely a Champagne anniversary

    It's nice to celebrate milestones, no matter how stressful or anxiety-inducing they might be. For me, mid-November held a few such milestones. I've now been writing this column for the Free Press for 10 years, which means (another milestone) over 500 instalments (the first was about Pinot Noir).
  • France's harvest party

    It always seems a bit odd to me that on the third Thursday of every November -- when the mercury has typically dipped well below zero -- the wine world throws a party for a light, juicy, not-too-serious red wine. In essence, a summery red. That's right -- it's Beaujolais Nouveau time once again. The wines from the region at the south end of Burgundy take the wine world by storm on Nov. 19 this year, with parties taking place in cities around the world. (No word yet on whether there's a Winnipeg party.)
  • Down with pumpkin beer

    With my column falling on Oct. 31 this year, I figured I should take the opportunity to offer up some sort of Halloween-themed writing on drinks to go with the general trick-or-treatery. Now, to be clear: I love Halloween. I have two kids and can't wait to take them out trick-or-treating, and to see the wide array of costumes. Heck, I loved Halloween long before they came along.
  • B.C. wines earn gold at culinary competition

    Gold Medal Plates, the annual cross-country culinary fundraiser for Canadian Olympic athletes, made its Winnipeg stop Oct. 16 at the RBC Convention Centre. While I couldn't stick around for the entire food-service/presentation/entertainment portions of the night, I was part of a team of judges who tasted the Canadian wines (and one whisky) poured at each of the eight food stations that afternoon. A larger-than-normal judging panel -- including local sommeliers and wine professionals -- was joined this year by a few of the food judges, making for an animated (but friendly) discussion during the wine tasting.
  • Impress friends with these taste terms

    As someone who tastes hundreds of (or more) wines every year -- and makes tasting notes for almost every one of 'em -- it's easy for me to lose perspective on just what the average wine drinker knows or needs to know about a wine. Read articles by almost any wine writer and you'll notice a fairly uniform set of terms and descriptors used for tasting notes. But what do they mean? If a wine is described as having peach and red apple flavours, does that mean those fruits are actually in the wine? (The quick answer: no.)
  • If you can't stand the heat... you might be beer

    Recently someone brought me back a bottle of beer from Regina's Bushwakker brewery. Her partner is a Free Press colleague, so she gave him the bottle to take to me at the office. The problem: It was a hot day, and he didn't think of getting it out of his vehicle until late afternoon, by which time it had been sitting in the car for many hours.
  • New brewers everywhere, but not yet a drop to drink

    Fans of craft beer in Manitoba have quite the buzz on right now -- and it's not because they've consumed a few too many wobbly pops. Rather, there's been plenty of news on the local beer scene as of late. First was Manitoba Liberal Leader Rana Bokhari's press conference Aug. 5, when she said (somewhat vaguely) that her party was open to looking at ways to lower the price of booze in the province, which may or may not include some privatization.
  • Folklorama pavilions offer some intoxicating varieties of booze

    Folklorama: A trip around the world that celebrates food, dance, music, culture and more. And after five pavilions and 12 drinks from around the globe, it’s also a whole world of hurt.
  • Canada, meet the world

    Every year around this time I end up writing about drinks of the world, prompted in part by leafing through the Folklorama travel guide. The two-week festival, which kicks off Sunday, is a good opportunity to taste food and drink that might not otherwise be on the radar. But this year I decided to do something a bit different. Instead of tasting a bunch of drinks from around the world, I opted to taste a pile of Canadian drinks -- beer, to be precise, mostly from B.C. -- and pair them with dishes from around the world.
  • Scottish wine still needs refining

    While Scotland is primarily known for whisky as far as drinks go, chef/food and wine writer Christopher Trotter recently decided to have a go at producing wine there.

    Trotter told his inaugural 2014 vintage at Chateau Largo was essentially an unmitigated disaster; grapes were left on the vine for too long and then once picked weren’t chilled long enough, resulting in oxidization.

  • Better with age?

    You stop at your favourite shop to pick up a bottle of wine on the way home: nothing special, just something drinkable and pretty reasonably priced. Looking for something new in that $15-$25 price range, you scan the bottle's label, noting the producer, the grape and the country of origin. Did you read the vintage? Should you, for that matter?
  • Keepin' it chill on the vine

    Some of the world’s great wines come from cooler-climate regions. Think French Champagne, firstgrowth Bordeaux, Mosel Riesling, Tasmanian Chardonnay, Alsatian Gewürztraminer or Hawke’s Bay Sauvignon Blanc.

    Closer to home, one need only look to the Niagara Peninsula and Prince Edward County regions of Ontario, or to Nova Scotia, or to Vancouver Island wineries to see and taste great examples of coolclimate wines.

  • Measuring up

    Canadian wine writers, sommeliers and other professional imbibers -- and I guess I'll include myself in this group -- descended upon Niagara Falls last week to taste through over 1,420 wines from 200-plus wineries from across the country (including Manitoba) at WineAlign's third 2015 National Wine Awards of Canada. The competition morphed out of the Canadian Wine Awards, which were put on by the now-defunct magazine Wine Access.
  • Free Press columnist doggedly works his way through new-to-Manitoba brews

    With Manitoba Liquor Marts' Coast to Coaster promotion in full swing, I figured I'd do my best to plow through as many of the new-to-us beers from across the country as I could -- consider it, uh, my public service. Overall, I was pretty pleased with what I tasted. The collection of 30-plus beers contains plenty of brews fit for summer drinking. Lighter wheat beers are especially prevalent in the promotion, especially those flavoured with one type of fruit or another.
  • This summer, why not punt the pinot?

    There are plenty of other palate-pleasing white wines to try this summer IF you stood in a wine aisle at your favourite shop and threw a cork, odds would be pretty good you’d hit a bottle of Pinot Grigio. (Do not attempt this experiment.) Other than maybe Greece and Hungary, there’s hardly a wine-producing country represented on local shelves that doesn’t have at least one Pinot Grigio — and typically there’s far more than just one.
  • From news of local brew pubs to craft brews, it's like Oktoberfest in June

    With all the developments on the local beer front, I feel like I can barely keep up in this space -- and I've already done a lot more writing about beer than normal as of late (no complaints from me, although wine lovers might be feeling a bit neglected). First off is the most exciting development on the local beer scene -- more local breweries and actual brew pubs. Three parties have now expressed the goal of opening brew pubs or craft breweries in the near-ish future -- ex-Half Pints CEO Nicole Barry is looking to open Peg Beer Company at 125 Pacific Ave. this year, Barn Hammer Brewing Company is slated to open before the end of 2015 at 595 Wall St., and Torque Brewing has announced itself via social media. Rest assured -- there are more to come.
  • Grilling or chilling, we've got your wine

    Is summer sipping in your future? Last month I compiled a column that featured a bunch of wines that fit that bill to a tee. Well, I've amassed a pretty hefty collection of tasting notes since then, both at the Winnipeg Wine Festival and at other tastings (including some, uh, homework of my own).
  • Ale watching: New beers popping up on local shelves every day

    The number of new brews and the speed with which they're hitting our market these days seems unprecedented in this province. And with the Flatlander's Beer Festival coming up next Thursday and Friday (June 4 and 5) at the MTS Centre, I figured I'd taste some more novel beers that are on our shelves. But first, a couple of quick tips on tasting at Flatlander's that should help you best enjoy the brews -- all decent tips for tasting wine as well, I suppose...
  • Stroll and sample

    Wine lovers will want to take note of a new tour being offered by Downtown Winnipeg BIZ this summer. The last Fridays of June, July, August and September see the BIZ's Winnipeg Wine tour take place from 5 to 10 p.m. Participants will enjoy wine at four different downtown stops (which vary by date), as well as some choice food pairings at each of the stops. Tickets are $75 per person; there's also an option to pay $285 for two people and have a one-night's stay at a downtown hotel (which also varies by date) included in the price.
  • Brews news

    This is shaping up to be a banner year for beer in Manitoba. Last week saw two big pieces of news confirm what beer-lovers already know -- we're buying the stuff in droves and are thirsty for new brews.
  • Nothing to whine about

    The official numbers haven't yet been tallied, but it's safe to say the Winnipeg Wine Festival was once again a big hit, with mostly sold-out events throughout the week. The fest continues to be one of Canada's biggest shows of its kind -- second to the Vancouver International Wine Festival, on which ours is modelled. Ticket sales to the weekend public tastings were strong as always, although they were initially slow due to the Winnipeg Jets making the NHL playoffs. Once the Jets were sent golfing and folks realized they wouldn't have to shell out big bucks for hockey tickets, wine-fest sales picked up.
  • Perfect for patios

    At the time of writing this column, the week-long Winnipeg Wine Festival ancillary events are just getting underway, and I'm on the tail end of a cold that has me sounding like a low-end Rod Stewart impersonator. So rather than go on about a particular grape or region or beer, I'll cut to the chase. Here's a selection of patio-worthy drinks to go with the welcome warmer weather.
  • Visit reveals Chile's growth

    When I first got my itinerary for my recent trip to Chile (sponsored, full disclosure, by the Wines of Chile trade organization), I was a little miffed I was scheduled to see many wineries I had already visited in fall 2008, when I went to the South American country for the first time. As it happens, however, there was no need for me to get my knickers in a twist. Quite the opposite, in fact — revisiting some of the same wineries provided a great chance to see (and taste) developments in the world of Chilean winemaking.
  • Radio personality was a voice for wine

    While you may have known him best as the voice behind CBC Radio 2 program Disc Drive, which ran from 1985 to 2008, Jurgen Gothe was also an enthusiastic wine writer. His Uncorked column (no, I wasn't the first) appeared from 1997 to 2014 in Vancouver's Georgia Straight, and he also wrote about wine for the Vancouver Sun and Globe and Mail, among others. Gothe died on April 9 at the age of 70 after battling cancer.
  • Time for a beer break

    I'm up to my eyeballs in all things Chile. The Winnipeg Wine Festival's ancillary events start up in just over two weeks, and with Chile as this year's theme region, there'll be plenty of wines from that skinny South American country to be tasted during wine-fest week.


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