Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson

  • Any day is a Malbec day

    In the last few years, many wine-related marketing boards have promoted a specific grape or region by proclaiming a certain day to be "________ Day." And while I'm not one to jump on these kinds of promotions -- I like drinking what I want, when I want -- I'll admit it's a good opportunity to explore a certain grape or place. Such is the case with Malbec, which will be fêted on April 17, declared Malbec World Day by Wines of Argentina. Anyone who enjoys a glass of Malbec now and then knows it's Argentina's flagship red grape, so it makes sense the country would spearhead the charge in promoting the grape worldwide.
  • Step up for Down Under

    There are plenty of very good red and white wines from Australia in our market at the entry-level (read: $15-ish) price point. From crisp, fresh blends to slightly sweet Moscatos to richer Chardonnays, Aussie whites are dependable. Similarly, there are a whole host of single-grape reds as well as blends that work well on their own as well as with food. But spending an extra couple of bucks means you'll go from the generic "South Australia" or "South Eastern Australia" designations on the bottle to specific regions, with the accompanying breadth of style.
  • So you've opened that bottle...

    Hundreds of thousands of wines are made from thousands of different grape varieties, from many corners of the world and using techniques that have gradually evolved over the centuries. With such a wide range of products and styles in the world of wine, it goes without saying there are no stupid questions.
  • There once was a beer on St. Pat's...

    There are plenty of rituals and traditions associated with St. Patrick's Day: the massive marching parade in New York City, the dyeing of the Chicago River an emerald green in the Windy City, and so forth. No matter where you are, beer is almost always part of St. Patty's festivities. Ireland has been crafting some of the world's most iconic brews, excelling especially with rich, dark stouts.
  • Changes afoot at the vineyards

    Some news on wineries changing hands -- one of which turned deadly... * One of B.C.'s most well-respected wineries has a new owner. CedarCreek Estate Winery and its Kelowna and Osoyoos vineyards was bought by Mission Hill Estate Winery owner Anthony von Mandl from the Fitzpatrick family. Given that CedarCreek wasn't even on the market -- as well as the fact it's one of the most respected wineries in the region -- it's safe to say von Mandl shelled out a pretty penny. (If you've ever seen Mission Hill Estate Winery in West Kelowna, you'll know he's got plenty of pretty pennies.) The Fitzpatricks are said to have hung on to the beautiful Greata Ranch Estate Winery and nearby Peachland vineyard.
  • Around the world on $12 a bottle

    Ah, the end of February: the holiday decorations are long since been packed away, the last of the seasonal credit-card bills have been taken care of and the mercury has been locked below freezing for longer than we care to remember. In short: not exactly many people's favourite time of the year.  
  • Intimidated? Put a cork in it

    Ever thought about taking a wine-tasting course but were too intimidated to give it a go? As someone who knows most of the city's wine educators, I'd say you have nothing to worry about, as you'll feel anything but intimidated in their capable hands. But if you're just not feeling equal to the task (or are a bit anti-social), there are resources out there to educate yourself about vino. From Wine for Dummies at one end of the spectrum to Jancis Robinson and Hugh Johnson's dense, weighty The World Atlas of Wine at the other, there are plenty of take-home options for learning about wine -- just don't forget to pick up some "homework" on the way home.
  • There's whisky in the jar

    For the fearless imbibers who have delved deep into the world of Old World red wines, craft beer, dessert wines and beyond, whisky is the ultimate in flavour w-- both powerful and subtle -- when it comes to beverage alcohol. (Sorry, marshmallow-flavoured vodka... next time.) Which is why so many of the city's palates are fired up for the second annual Winnipeg Whisky Festival. Taking place Friday, Feb. 21, the event is presented by Manitoba Liquor Marts as a fundraising event for the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame.
  • Betting on Super Bowl underdogs

    The eyes of football fanatics will turn east this weekend, as the National Football League's Super Bowl championship is played in East Rutherford, N.J., on Sunday. Under the guidance of veteran quarterback Peyton Manning, the Denver Broncos enter the game as favourites over the strong defensive core of the Seattle Seahawks. OK, so that's pretty much the extent of my NFL knowledge right there.
  • New-world wines, old-age vines

    The origins of modern winemaking lie in Europe -- French, Spanish, Italian, German and Portuguese winemakers have perfected the art of turning grapes into wine over the course of centuries. But it has been in the Southern Hemisphere where many of the advances in the world of winemaking have taken place. From screwcaps to higher-alcohol wines to environmentally conscious wineries and beyond, many countries south of the equator have been pivotal in changing what we drink and how we drink it.
  • Taking a swing at life's curveballs

    I had initally planned to run my drinks-related resolutions a couple of weeks ago, but sometimes life throws you a curveball or two. First off, there was no column in the first weekend of 2014, as the paper ran its annual Power 30 feature and year-end obituaries in the 49.8 section. I had planned to pull everything together for Jan. 11. As I was planning on my resolutions together for last weekend's column, curveball No. 2 came across my plate: my appointment to take over the books section at the Free Press from the now-retired Morley Walker. As such, I've been up to my eyeballs in book reviews everything else Morley somehow tackled effortlessly.
  • When the bills are due

    This time of the year can be tough: the holiday decorations have been put away, there are months of sub-zero temperatures ahead, and the December bills start piling up. Which means that while you might want -- or, depending on how bad the bills are, need -- a little something in your glass, chances are you don't want to shell out an arm and a leg.
  • Looking into the crystal glass

    At a time when people are compiling lists of all sorts -- best of 2013, predictions for the New Year, etc. -- it's tough to resist jumping into the game. So if you've read your 2014 horoscope via Georgia Nicols, pour yourself something tall and festive and enjoy my drinks-related predictions for 2014...
  • Find your sparkling wine before New Year's Eve

    New Year's Eve is, quite emphatically, the worst day to try to buy booze. Instead of getting the party started at a proper hour, hundreds of people wanting to toast the New Year scrounge through picked-over shelves before waiting in line for an intolerable amount of time. So save yourself the headache of hitting your favourite Liquor Mart/wine shop this Dec. 31 and jump on buying your bubbly sooner rather than later. Here's some useful information for navigating the sparkling wine section so you can avoid the throngs of revellers this New Year's Eve.
  • Necessary accessories

    Buying gifts for the wine and spirits lover in your life need not be stressful, at least when it comes to accessories and stocking-stuffers. You don't have to go with useless, decorative fluff -- rather, there are plenty of drinks-related accessories that might actually be useful to imbibers in your life. Generally speaking, your best bet for most wine-related accessories is kitchen stores -- I live near D.A. Niels, so that's my go-to place, although shops like the Happy Cooker or bigger guys like Home Outfitters will have plenty of options as well. Many private wine stores and Liquor Marts also sell wine and drinks accessories, or you can always also try big-box department stores like the Bay.
  • Checking it twice

    With the holidays looming, it's high time we all start thinking looking over the gift list of loved ones. Thankfully, there are plenty of fun wines and beers out there to be given as gifts, regardless of what people are into (they just happen to be pretty tasty, too). Here are a few gift ideas in case you're stuck...
  • A thirst for wine

    Last month I was invited to Kelowna by Peter Lehmann Wines to moderate a panel on wine culture in Canada. The idea was to incite dialogue among wine writers, sommeliers and brand ambassadors on the panel and beyond as to what we can do in Canada to foster a national wine culture -- both as a wine-producing and wine-consuming country. And while there were no hard and fast answers, it got me thinking about the wine culture in Manitoba and the ways it has changed since I got into the industry in the mid-1990s.
  • The day for Beaujolais

    Appearing on the third Thursday in November each year — the 21st this year — the light, very fresh and fruity Beaujolais Nouveau wines are released around the world with some fanfare. The idea of Georges DuBoeuf and other area negociants was a marketing ploy — bring these reds to market quickly, in attractive packaging, under the guise of a "sneak peek" at the forthcoming vintage. It worked. By the 1980s festivities started popping up around the globe to celebrate the release of Beaujolais Nouveau. But by the late 1990s consumers were looking to Chile and Australia more often when buying wine, and French wines were waning. The novelty of Beaujolais Nouveau had worn off -- especially as prices rose — and their annual release was with more of a whimper than a bang.
  • A wine taster's statement

    manifesto n. a public declaration of principles, intentions, purposes, etc. — Oxford Canadian Dictionary
  • Liquid tricks and treats

    Even if you don't have a sweet tooth, Halloween can be a fun chance for grown-ups to enjoy a few frights and chills as well as a couple of treats of our own. Whether it be horror-themed beer or creepy, ghoulish wine, there are plenty of sippables out there that simply scream Halloween...  
  • Take a chance on Chile

    As wine trends come and go, certain regions, countries or grapes enjoy the limelight, often at the expense of others. Chile certainly had its day in the sun a few years ago, and was then overtaken by Argentina and then New Zealand. Spain seems to be the region of the day now -- its rustic reds and fresh whites occupy an increasingly larger area of shelf space in Manitoba stores. It's nice to come back to a country like Chile and see what winemakers are doing without the glare of the limelight. Based on what I've tasted recently, producers are focused on producing wines well-suited to their region that continue to over-deliver for the price.
  • Cheering for these Canucks

    About one third of the 1,500 wines I taste in a calendar year are made in Canada. Swirling, sniffing and (mostly) spitting so many Canadian wines gives me a chance to taste what we're doing best in this country's main wine-producing regions, and provides more than enough ammunition to argue against those that insist Canada doesn't produce world-class wines. This was reinforced a couple weeks ago when I served as a judge at the 2013 B.C. Wine Awards in Penticton. Over the course of three days, nine judges from across North America tasted 500 wines. We sampled the wines blind --knowing the vintage and grape variety/varieties but not the producer or price.
  • List for a wine list

    A great wine list doesn't have to be a lengthy leather-bound tome written in fancy script -- in fact, more often than not the best restaurant wine lists are simple, concise, and user-friendly. Call me an idealist, but I like to think my favourite wine lists are born out of a love of wine and food, and the overall experience of sharing both with friends. Having said that, there are a few key components I typically find in my favourite wine lists:
  • Lake of the Brews

    Beer fans in Manitoba have plenty to be excited about. Barley Brothers, a craft beer pub, is slated to open on Empress Street (in the old Kelsey's location) this fall. Winnipeg Brew Bombers and Half Pints Brewing Co. are presenting the first annual Pro/Am Brew Challenge for home brewers in late November (more on this soon -- for now visit for details). And of course Portage Ave Brew Works & Kitchen is shooting for a December opening across from the MTS Centre. But if you want to quench your excitement sooner rather than later, you can always head east on the Trans-Canada Highway, take the turn to Kenora and look for the old fire hall -- home of Lake of the Woods Brewing Company.
  • Squeezing the grapes is the first step in transforming juice into wine

    Last week I detailed the complexities of growing ripe fruit through the summer and into the grape harvest for making wine. Once that fruit gets back to the winery, it's an equally involved, complex and labour-intensive effort by numerous workers to get the juices flowing and then fermenting. Here's how it works it works for most wines, keeping in mind there are many variations based on what you're making that couldn't possibly fit in this space.


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