Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson

  • Put your palate to the test

    Last weekend I detailed how Sean Dolenuck of La Boutique del Vino won the inaugural Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers (CAPS) Manitoba chapter's best sommelier competition. This week I have news on a wine-tasting competition for all of us non-sommeliers.
  • Vintage victory for sommelier

    There's a new champ in town when it comes to Manitoba's best sommelier. Well, to be fair, Manitoba's never had an official best sommelier before, so Sean Dolenuck is both the new champ and the first one.
  • What's brewing for 2015?

    Since there was no column the last couple of weeks -- 49.8 looked back at 2014 last week and Georgia Nicols' expanded horoscope column looked ahead to the year 2015 and all it might bring prior to that -- I figured I'd roll up my sleeves and take a swing of my own at what the year ahead might bring drinks-wise. So, allow me to gaze into my crystal ball -- err, decanter -- and conjure up predictions as to what might be in store for the province in the year to come...
  • An oasis of sparkling wines

    People are often asked about their desert island books, food and so forth. Well, when it comes to my desert island drink, it's not even close -- I'd take sparkling wine. And while I'm not much of a New Year's Eve party animal, Dec. 31 is always a good excuse to pop a bottle or two of bubbly and toast they year that was and the one to come.
  • A second thought about 'first growth'

    Can one wine hurt a country's burgeoning industry? A recent press release from a new British Columbia winery certainly has me thinking it might. The winery in question is One Faith Vineyards, a project in the Okanagan Valley driven by Bill Lui, who made his name in the medical-supply business before turning to his passion -- wine. Having taken wine education courses in California and B.C., as well as visiting many properties in France's Bordeaux region, Lui publicly launched his winery last week.
  • Coping with the big chill

    As I've mentioned before in this column, I'm a seasonal drinker. As the mercury drops and winter sets in, the crisp white wines I've enjoyed over the summer tend to fall off my radar. Instead, I turn to red wines that can provide warmth as temperatures plummet.
  • And now a word from our literary editor

    Anyone with a passion for wine, beer and/or spirits has likely already thought about bottles they'd like stuffed in their stocking this holiday season. But most enthusiastic imbibers of wine, beer and spirits also love to learn about the stuff as well.
  • Happy Nouveau year!

    Craft beer lovers in this province are an enthusiastic lot. Introduce growler-filling stations with locally made beer? They'll line up in droves. Bring in a $150-ish craft beer Advent calendar? Watch it sell out in hours. A local brewery such as Half Pints releases a new brew? You can bet fans will be lined up before the doors open. Wine geeks? Not so much. In fact, the most traditionally lauded day of the year for wine is next week -- and chances are few will bat an eye.
  • Changes afoot in B.C. to help wine buyers

    The next time you're in the Canadian wine section of your favourite store, have a close look at the Ontario wines. You'll see wines from the Niagara Peninsula are often more specifically labelled by sub-appellations such as Niagara-on-the-Lake, Twenty Mile Bench, Vinemount Ridge, Beamsville Bench, Short Hills Bench, etc. These smaller regions help producers let consumers know a little more about where the wine comes from and, as a result, a little more about what to expect when popping the cork (or twisting the screwcap).
  • Painted Rock on a roll with Bordeaux-style wines

    Congrats to Painted Rock Estate Winery for recently being named winery of the year at the 2014 InterVin International Wine Awards held this past August. The Okanagan Valley winery has had more than its share of successes since Manitoba-born proprietor John Skinner and company purchased their 24-hectare property in 2004. The winery focuses on red Bordeaux grape varieties -- mainly Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot -- as well as some Syrah and Chardonnay. Australia's Wolf Blass Wines came in second at InterVin, while Peller Estates Niagara-on-the-Lake, which was recently awarded WineAlign's winery of the year at the 2014 National Wine Awards of Canada, took third place.
  • Own the wine podium with these vintages

    The Gold Medal Plates national tour kicked off in Winnipeg on Oct. 2, featuring nine local chefs competing for one spot at the Canadian Culinary Championships in Kelowna, B.C. The basics: A group of judges are served the dishes and corresponding Canadian wines, as chosen by the restaurant, while guests wander the room at the RBC Convention Centre sampling both food and wine at each eatery's station. Proceeds from the event went toward the Canadian Olympic Foundation to support Canadian athletes.
  • Giving thanks with an inexpensive wine

    It was bound to happen — after last week's miniature heat wave, temperatures are finally settling in to something similar to normal for this time of the year. But before diving into the big, heavy red wines that are so much more palatable in fall, there are some lighter-bodied, fresh whites and reds that deserve your attention.
  • Fall in for some big flavour

    The first day of fall has come and gone — the kids are back in school, football and hockey are overlapping, and the selection of beers on local shelves is moving from the crisp citrusy fresh to the warmer, heartier brews. All those low-alcohol radlers/grapefruit-infused beers are making way for stouts and porters. And the ever-popular pumpkin-and-spice-infused brews are popping up like jack-o'-lanterns at Halloween.
  • Why not make it a day for Grenache?

    There's been a trend in the last few years for marketing/PR firms working for certain wineries or regions to cook up specific days to celebrate one particular grape or another. International Chardonnay Day was May 23, for example, and Cabernet Day was Aug. 28 this past year. I don't pay these marketing ploys much attention -- I taste plenty enough of most wine grapes, thank you very much, and don't need to be told when I should be drinking something in particular.
  • Across the borderline

    Being in Regina over the Labour Day weekend can be an adventure. While people-watching fellow hotel guests in town for the Labour Day Classic football game between the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Saskatchewan Roughriders (which I didn't attend) was enlightening, my adventure was the chance to check out the differences between how liquor is sold in Saskatechewan versus here in our fair province.
  • Here's to homework: Liquor stores offer variety of fall wine courses

    You've bought the school supplies, the new clothes, and all the other stuff kids need as they head back to class -- that's plenty enough work right there to warrant a nice glass of wine. Or maybe you're kidless but feel that back-to-school nostalgia, when you and your friends were back together at last, eagerly awaiting the first bell to ring.
  • Coolers, crafts and cold beer

    There are over 250 of them in Manitoba, there's always a hotel within spitting distance, many are open late seven days a week and more often than not there's a snowy-looking sign outside with two all-caps words: COLD BEER.
  • Surprise winner of winery of the year

    The winners at the 2014 National Wine Awards of Canada were revealed earlier this week, highlighting the best wines produced in this country. Administered by wine review website WineAlign, over 1,300 Canadian wines were submitted to the competition. Judges tasted the wines blind, assigning scores to each and determining which wines advanced to the final rounds. From there, gold, silver and bronze awards are doled out, with precious few (14 this year) attaining a platinum award.
  • Drink with a different fizz

    With the August long weekend upon us, you're likely on your way (or already at) the cottage, or are planning your relaxing stay-at-home time off. And while nothing welcomes a weekend of rest and relaxation like a nice cold beer, not everyone enjoys a brewski -- or is able to drink a beer (more on that in a bit).
  • More booze isn't always a good thing

    The other day I revisited the Lammershoek 2012 Syrah from South Africa (it got a four-star review from me a couple months back) and as I sat there, thoroughly enjoying it, I was trying to figure out what it was that made this particular Syrah so compelling. Then it hit me -- or, rather, it didn't hit me. The Lammershoek has this beautiful subtlety that comes from the fact it clocks in at a mere 12 per cent alcohol by volume.
  • Feel free to ignore the Gris

    Last year around this time I wrote a column espousing the virtues of drinking Pinot Gris/Grigio in summertime. I'd like to apologize for that. In that column, I warned of the possibility of buying insipid Pinot Grigio, calling it "peachy grape-water." Sadly, over the last year, most Pinot Grigio I've tasted has been just that.
  • Touchdown for Bombers' wine lovers

    Nothing goes together like beer and football. But the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, bless 'em, have decided that wine deserves its fair shake as well. The club has enlisted Ontario's Strewn winery to produce wines under special labels for the Bombers, and I had a chance to taste a couple of the wines a few weeks ago (they were also being sampled for fans at the two recent home games).
  • Waltzing through Vienna's weins

    Two weekends ago, I was fortunate enough to attend the 2014 edition of VieVinum, Austria's biggest and best wine show, courtesy of the Austrian Wine Marketing Board. It was an incredibly eye-opening experience, if for no other reason than the three-day tasting took place in Vienna's stunning Hofburg Palace, the official residence of the president of Austria and home to some of Europe's most powerful rulers over the centuries, including the Habsburg dynasty.
  • Weisse ways to beat the heat

    After my recent fall down the mostly sweet rabbit hole of artificially flavoured coolers and beers, I needed something crisp, fresh and flavourful to cleanse the palate. And with today being the first day of summer, it's tough to resist turning back to beer -- and there are few drinks I associate as closely with hot weather and summer as I do wheat beer.
  • Wicked wine gadget is a gas, gas, gas

    If you've been thinking about picking up Dad a wine-related gadget this year for Father's Day, you may want to hold off on buying the much-lauded but pricey Coravin wine preservation system. The device's premise is simple and, quite frankly, ingenious. The user pushes the Coravin's thin needle through the cork, pressurizing the bottle's contents with argon delivered through the needle from an attached canister. The pressure sends wine back through the needle and into a glass, all the while keeping a layer of the inert argon gas between the wine and oxygen, preserving the wine from typical deterioration.


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