The $2.5-million transformation of what was essentially a glorified food court at The Forks Market into the vibrant food hall it is today was nothing short of profound. Beyond the visual makeover, the food selection went from run-of-the-mill fare to kiosks featuring some of the city’s keenest culinary minds.
But it was the addition of The Common, the beer and wine kiosk in the food hall, that changed The Forks’ dining options the most radically. Since opening in mid-2016, The Common has been serving pints of beer and glasses of wine that can be enjoyed anywhere on the market’s main level, helping transform The Forks from a typical tourist stop into a true meeting place for both locals and visitors.
While the original beer and wine selection was undertaken by Toronto sommelier and consultant Will Predhomme, this past week saw it change hands — albeit into ones that are equally capable.
Véronique Rivest, the new beer and wine consultant for The Common, comes with credentials that are virtually unparalleled in this country — or anywhere in the world, for that matter. Rivest is the proprietor of the Gatineau, Que., wine bar Soif bar à vin, which opened a couple of years ago, but her deep drinks knowledge goes back further than that.
Rivest has twice earned the title of Canada’s best sommelier, in 2006 and 2012. She went on to win best sommelier of the Americas in 2012, and placed second at the World’s Best Sommelier competition in 2013 — the first woman in the world to do so.
Her easy-going, friendly demeanour also smashes the stereotype of sommeliers as stuffy or snobby, as was evidenced in her visit to Winnipeg this past week to launch The Common’s new beer and wine list.
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"I came to Winnipeg for the first time last summer. [The Forks management] had tried to explain the concept of The Common, but I had a hard time understanding it," Rivest says, laughing. "It’s a unique, fabulous experience. To me it’s so progressive. I want to take this as a case study to other provinces and say ‘look what they’re doing in Manitoba. We should be doing this too.’"
After her initial visit to gauge the city’s wine and beer-buying trends as well as to meet local suppliers, retailers and brewers, Rivest set to work curating the selection of 20 craft beers and 20 wines to be poured at The Common by the glass and in tasting flights. "The beautiful thing is that they gave me carte blanche," she explains. "It’s a fabulous concept for discovery — the principle of the flights, the 20 wines on tap and 20 beers by the glass. This is a great opportunity to come out of your comfort zone and try new things."
With that in mind, Rivest set out to find a balance of relatively familiar selections as well as new or off-the-beaten-track options for those looking to explore, always keeping potential food pairings in mind. While the new wine list features your standard Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Shiraz options, for example, it also features more obscure pours such as a Greek red made from the indigenous Xynomavro grape. "Ten years ago nobody knew about Greek wines; it has exploded in the last 5 or 6 years," says Rivest. "Go to any great restaurant in New York, San Francisco, Paris or London and you’ll find excellent Greek wines on their lists."
Like the wine selections, the beer list features a cross-section of styles and flavour profiles, including a couple of ciders as well as five taps dedicated to Winnipeg craft brews that will rotate regularly based on offerings and availability.
"The staff at The Common are much more involved with the local beer selections," says Rivest. "It’s more of a joint collaboration."
Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson Literary editor, drinks writer
Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson edits the Free Press books section, and also writes about wine, beer and spirits.
I’ll taste through the wine and beer selections at The Common in the weeks to come and report back (better yet — head down and give them a go yourself). In the meantime here are a few fine French treats...
William Fevre 2014 Petit Chablis (Burgundy, France — $27.99, Liquor Marts and beyond)
This Chardonnay is pretty textbook white Burgundy on the nose, offering apple skin, fresh pear, chalk and lemon-zest notes. On the light-plus bodied palate those notes pick up melon and modest spice notes, the latter likely from aging in older oak barrels. It’s a tasty example of an entry-level wine from the Petit Chablis appellation. ★★★1/2
Joseph Cattin NV Brut (Cremant D’Alsace, France – around $25, private wine stores)
Made from a blend of the Pinot Blanc and Auxerrois grapes, this French bubbly is made using the same techniques as the nearby Champagne region, but is far more affordable. It’s pale straw in colour, and brings ripe red apple and pear notes on the nose, with a nice floral note, too. It’s dry and light-bodied, with crisp apple, peach and pear flavours working nicely with a modest chalky/mineral note — think old-school Flintstones vitamins — and a short but pleasant finish. Picked this up at De Luca Fine Wines. ★★★1/2
Lavau 2015 Cotes du Rhône Villages (Rhône Valley, France — $16.99, Liquor Marts and beyond)
A 50-50 split of Grenache and Syrah grapes, there’s a meaty, spicy component to go along with the black cherry, blackberry, violet, earth and espresso aromas in this Rhône red. On the medium-plus bodied palate, the dark berry and cherry flavours pick up black-tea and white-pepper notes, with a lingering secondary spice and meaty component as well as light but firm tannins and a persistent, slightly warm finish (it’s 14 per cent alcohol). A very good value red that’s drinking well now. ★★★★