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Winnipeg Wine Festival 2008

May 4, 2008

Another year, another Winnipeg Wine Festival. The annual event is organized to raise money for the Special Olympics, and also to give people a chance to taste many many different wines. For $40, it’s essentially all you can drink (in 1 oz. pours) for three hours, and it’s a great chance to try wines that you may never see again, many of which aren’t widely available (if at all) in Winnipeg. All for a good cause too.

There are a number of events over the week, but the highlight is the public tasting held in the Winnipeg Convention Centre. And once again, I was fortunate enough to see the Festival from the other side of the table. Here are my observations from Friday evening’s public tasting.

I didn’t leave the booth, so I don’t have a sense of how the rest of the event was. But from our perspective (right at the entrance to the private wine store area), the crowds seemed a bit thinner than last year. And we didn’t get the rush of thirsty patrons trying to maximize their $40 investment until the last fifteen minutes. But I heard that Saturday was sold out well in advance, and that’s traditionally the “big” night (which is why I prefer to work Friday’s tasting).

Based on the number of [yellowtail] bags I saw being carried around, I’m guessing their booth was pretty popular. No surprise there. The entry-level wines are crowd-pleasers and their new Reserve line (@ selected MLCC Fine Wine Boutiques) is very good.

Our signature wine this year was the Rochioli Pinot Noir. It was a huge hit, even with people who claimed they didn’t like Pinot Noir. Funny how quickly they changed their minds, but consider how good the wine is, it’s no surprise. We only opened one bottle of it, and it went very quickly. Someone actually said that it made him teary, because he couldn’t afford to drink it every night. Join the club. I feel the same way.

The Tait ‘BallBuster’ Shiraz proved once again to be a winner (and inspired some interesting and occasionally racy comments from the crowd), as did the Lost Valley ‘Hazy Mountain’ Merlot, proving that big Australian reds always work well.

Biggest surprise? There were two of the. The first surprises was the Chehalam Dry Riesling, which blew me away and proved to be very popular with everyone who tried it. It’s very much in the Alsatian style, but the crisp, green-apple flavours were a hit. This one is worth trying again (and again).

The second big surprise was the Cape Jaffa ‘Jaffa Juice’ Botrytis Semillon. Dessert wines are always tricky at a large event like this, but many people came to the booth specifically to try this one. Even those who swore they didn’t like sweet wine didn’t seem to mind this one.

Those who were curious enough to try the Laurentz V. “Friendly” Grüner Veltliner were also very happy with it. And the Argyle Brut was also a hit, as was the Lost Valley Sauvignon Blanc and the Mark West Chardonnay.

Sadly, as much as I tried to push it, the Tour de L’Isle Cotes du Luberon (affectionately known as ‘Juicy Lube’) wasn’t a big hit. Those who tried it really enjoyed it. But getting people to even try it was a challenge. I lost track of the number of people who turned up their nose when I said “French wine”. That’s a real shame, because they missed out on a delicious, juicy Rhone Valley blend.

I had the same problem with the Straccali Chianti, although I have to say that some people actually came to our booth looking for it. And when we ran out, I was able to convince some Chianti fans to try the Tour de L’Isle instead, winning new converts to the Cotes du Luberon.

Surprisingly, the Bodegas Bleda ‘Castillo de Jumilla Crianza’ was much more popular that either of the other two European reds we sampled. I shouldn’t be surprised. For $13.99, it packs a lot of oak-driven goodness into the bottle and everyone loved it.

My own personal fave was the Argyle Nuthouse Chardonnay (2005 vintage). It really is as good as I had heard and showed off a perfect balance between California ripeness and French austerity. Dee-licious. I’m going to have to pick up some for myself. We paired it up with the Mer et Soleil ‘Silver’ in our Chardonnay Showdown.

And my biggest letdown was the Rockford ‘Moppa Springs’ GSM. I expected big things from this wine, but didn’t get them. In all fairness, it’s a bit older (2001 vintage) and with some air, it did improve. Next time, I’d consider decanting this one and letting it mellow for a bit before serving it. Unfortunately, the Wine Festival isn’t really set up for long aeration, but if you try this one at home – take my advice!

My biggest test came when near the end of the night, when I found myself pouring two glasses at the same time while talking to a third person about their wine. Nobody ended up wearing any wine, but let’s just say that those two people got a lot more than one ounce in each glass.

There you have it. Once again, it was a fun night. Everyone who stopped by the booth enjoyed themselves (with the exception of one very cranky Merlot fan) and we poured lots of good wine for many very happy people.

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