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Your Winnipeg wine connection.

Hi! I’m Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson, a wine writer, educator and consultant in Winnipeg, Manitoba. I’m the weekly wine columnist for the Winnipeg Free Press and have contributed to Toro, Up!, Wine Access, Flavours and more.

If you’re interested in having me host a wine tasting at your home or business, get in touch.

For my non-wine stuff (copywriting, music, etc.) click here.

The nose knows (Winnipeg Free Press)


Blind tasting success more in the sniffing

Originally appeared in the 09 March 2013 Winnipeg Free Press — see here.

Last week, I was one of around 60 contestants in the Manitoba Wine Tasting Championship, an event put on by The Winehouse (1600 Kenaston Blvd. — one of Winnipeg’s private wine stores). In our individual prescribed time slot, each contestant was given five wines (one white and four reds) to taste blind — that is, without knowing the grape, country, region, or vintage. It’s those qualities in the wine we had to guess — up to 10 points total awarded for guessing those characteristics of each wine.

The tasters with the eight highest scores were invited to a live tasting final taking place March 15 at The Winehouse, although the overall champion will be crowned from the initial round’s scores. And wouldn’t you know it, it just so happens I made it through to the final eight. While you always hope for the best, I honestly had no expectations of making it through.

Blind tasting is a fun and humbling way to taste wine. Preconceived notions about a wine based on where it’s from, who made it or how much it costs go out the window.

For me, the key to distinguishing between wines made from different grapes isn’t so much in the tasting as it is in the sniffing. A wine’s aromatics reveal many more subtle differences than just tasting it. Yes, there are differences in flavours as well, but when it comes to nailing down whether a wine is a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Merlot, for example, the nose knows best.

Whether you’re getting together with some serious wine tasters or are throwing a BYOB dinner party, consider keeping the bottles concealed in brown paper bags and making it a blind tasting. You may just come away with bragging rights as the night’s best wine taster.


(Marlborough, New Zealand — $16.99, Liquor Marts and beyond)

For textbook Sauvignon Blanc, look no further than New Zealand — it’s their signature white wine grape. Green apple, lemon juice, lime rind and grapefruit aromas are rounded out by a modest tropical fruit component. It’s a light-bodied, crisp white offering fresh citrus fruit and light grassy notes on the palate, with medium acidity that doesn’t turn too sour. Try with grilled shrimp, chicken souvlaki, or soft cheeses. 86/100


(Colchagua Valley, Chile — around $20, private wine stores)

Cono Sur does a particularly great job with Pinot Noir in a country where big, robust reds are far more common. Sourced from a single vineyard with some of the country’s oldest Pinot Noir plantings (dating back to 1968), the Visión brings big floral, cherry, earth and cola aromas, with secondary spice and subtle hints of mushroom in there as well. A juicy, light-plus-bodied Pinot Noir, the cherry, toffee, spice and earthy notes work well together, offering complexity and delicacy while retaining a core of ripe red fruit. Try with smoked salmon, portobello mushroom burgers or pork tenderloin. Obtained at The Winehouse. 90/100


(Cotes-du-Rhone, France — $17.99, Liquor Marts and beyond)

Ripe raspberry and strawberry aromas are pretty and pure on the nose, with cherry juice, spice and a hint of vanilla in there as well. This medium-plus bodied Rh¥ne Valley red blend is somewhat restrained in the fruit department on the palate, with modest cherry, cranberry and blueberry notes duking it out with pepper and black tea notes from medium tannin. This could use a skirt steak, chili or some big meat dish. 87/100


Twitter: @bensigurdson


Whether you’re doing a extensive blind tasting with wine geeks or are just having fun trying out new wines with friends, there are a few key descriptors that apply to most examples of popular grape varieties. Here are some key aromatic/flavour components to look for, as well as some suggested food pairings in case you want to make a dinner party out of the whole thing.


White wine


Dry, medium/full-bodied, red apple, peach, vanilla (oaked),

Food pairing: chicken dishes, salmon, lobster


Dry, light-bodied, citrus (grapefruit, lime), grassy, herbal

Food pairing: light salads, grilled seafood, mild cheeses, Greek cuisine


Dry to off-dry to medium-sweet, lemon, red apple floral, petrol

Food pairing: sushi, ham/pork dishes, American Chinese cuisine


Dry to off-dry, apricot, tangerine, spice

Food pairing: Thai cuisine, mild to medium-spicy Indian fare, wings

Red wine


Dry, full-bodied, blackcurrant, mint, anise, eucalyptus

Food pairing: beef dishes, ribs, steak


Dry, medium/full-bodied, plum, blueberry, cocoa,

Food pairing: casseroles, burgers, pasta in a red sauce


Dry, full-bodied, ripe cherry, black pepper, licorice, spice

Food pairing: lamb, spicier Mexican/Latin American fare, pizza


Dry, light-bodied, cherry, mushroom, earth, raspberry

Food pairing: salmon, mushroom risotto, pork tenderloin

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 9, 2013 E4

Easter weekend – where to buy wine etc. this weekend in Manitoba.

Don’t forget it’s a long weekend (how could you forget? Long weekends rule).

A run-down of what is and isn’t open:

  • Manitoba’s Liquor Marts are closed tomorrow (Good Friday) and Sunday (Easter Sunday).
  • Beer vendors are closed tomorrow, and open on Sunday at their discretion/holiday hours (I think – call to be sure).
  • Some of Winnipeg’s private wine stores are open tomorrow as well as Easter Sunday – call in advance so that you’re not disappointed.

As far as I know everybody’s open as per usual on Saturday and Easter Monday.

Pass along this info to your imbibing friends and have a great long weekend!


Making grape strides (Winnipeg Free Press)

Originally published April 16. Link.

Wine is an important component of the Passover Seder, and while many of the traditions of the dinner remain intact today, kosher for Passover wine has come a long way from the days of the cheap, super-sweet Manischewitz concord and blackberry wines. Many Mevushal wines are now made in a dry style, using the same grapes used to make wine around the world. It’s now also possible to find dry, sweet, still and sparkling kosher for Passover wines from a wide range of countries.

If you like your whites with just a touch of sweetness, check out the Efrat 2009 Riesling (Samson, Israel — around $19, available at Kenaston Wine Market). Perfume and floral notes are most prevalent on the nose here, with mineral, apple and dried peach notes showing nicely as well. It’s off-dry, with enough sweetness to keep the peach and pear notes ripe and crisp. It’s slightly atypical of many Rieslings — there’s typically more lemon and acidity on the palate — but it’s a pleasant wine nonetheless, and should do well with seafood and most typical side dishes at a Seder dinner.

If a dry white is more up your alley, give the Galil Mountain 2008 Chardonnay (Galilee, Israel — $15.89, available at Liquor Marts and beyond) a go. Honey, peach and apple aromas are augmented by pear and toasty butterscotch notes. It’s medium-plus bodied and dry, with ripe apple, peach and pear notes wrapped in butterscotch and vanilla flavours, thanks to aging in new French oak barrels. The oak isn’t overpowering — in fact, the Galil Mountain shows great balance of flavour. It should do quite nicely with turkey or other poultry dishes, as well as seafood such as smoked salmon.

The red counterpart, the Galil Mountain 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (Galilee, Israel — $15.89, available at Liquor Marts and beyond), is nice too. Plum, blueberry, blackberry jam and light tarry notes make themselves known on the nose. It’s a medium-plus bodied red that brings moderate tannin on the palate, delivering juicy plum and jammy blueberry flavours with some decent grip. Almost more Merlot-like in style than Cabernet-ish, it’s a decent drop and getting better with every vintage. This should work well with beef brisket.

The Efrat and the Galil Mountain wines are kosher for Passover. For the best selection of Kosher for Passover wines in Winnipeg, check out Kenaston Wine Market. They have dozens of wines in all styles from countries around the world.

— — —

While Easter dinner places less importance on wine, it’s still a great opportunity to whip up a big meal to enjoy with family and friends. Why not bring your A-game when it comes to wine selections as well?

Most Easter dinners revolve around either ham or lamb. If you’re going with the former, a white wine with a touch of spice will work quite well. The Sant’Ilia 2009 Muscat Ottonel (Thracian Valley, Bulgaria — $9.99, available at Liquor Marts and beyond) is pale in colour but packs a decent punch on the aromatics, with spice, floral, tangerine and pear notes on the nose. While most examples of Muscat/Moscato bring some sweetness, this Bulgarian white is made in a dry style. Peach, apricot and tangerine still show nicely on the light-plus-bodied palate, while the distinct spice and orange peel of this grape shines through. For the price, it’s tough to beat this light white.

The Flat Rock Cellars 2009 Twisted White (Niagara Peninsula, Ont. — $19.99, available at Liquor Marts and beyond) brings some of those same flavours, albeit with more complexity and intensity as well as a hint of sweetness. A blend of Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Chardonnay, the nose is an extremely pleasurable hodge-podge of perfume, mandarin orange, spice, green apple and crisp peaches. Tangerine, lemon, oranges, spice, peach and a light mineral component all do very well on the palate of this Niagara white, with some light acidity showing that would work nicely with a glazed pork dish and some scalloped potatoes.

If your Easter dinner is likely to feature lamb rather than ham, I present for your consideration the JL Giguiere 2006 “Matchbook” Syrah (Dunnigan Hills, Calif. — around $17, available at private wine stores). Black cherry, blackberry, white pepper and slightly meaty notes make for a nose full of fun. The splash of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah here brings depth and added complexity on the palate, marrying the ripe black cherry and tart blackberry notes with mocha, white pepper, and anise flavours. The Matchbook is a juicy red with light tannin and acidity that isn’t as much of a tooth-stainer as I thought — I’d definitely roll it against a lamb dish. I’m not sure on how widely available this wine is — I picked it up at De Luca Fine Wines.

Raise a glass to Riesling (Winnipeg Free Press)

Originally published April 2, 2011. Link

What’s your favourite wine? It’s a question I get all the time. And while I hesitate to pin down a specific producer — I’m honestly searching out new favourites all the time from all corners of the world — I can give an honest answer when it comes to a specific grape: Riesling.

From dry, flinty examples from Alsace, France, to the rich, super-sweet opulence of a German trockenbeerenauslese, expressions of Riesling run the gamut. Riesling’s core flavours include fresh apple, lemon, peach, pear and honey, but are often made more complex by chalky minerality and light to medium acidity. Sometimes Riesling — often older examples — can give off petrol notes on the nose.

It’s in sweetness that Riesling really branches out; German Riesling is typically slightly sweet, while most other Riesling-producing countries trend toward a drier style. The quick and easy way to determine whether a Riesling is drier or sweeter is by the alcohol content listed on the label; the lower the alcohol content on a wine, the higher the sweetness level tends to be. A Riesling in the 11.5 to 13 per cent alcohol range will be dry, while those with 10 per cent alcohol or less will be sweeter.

Here in Canada, Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula is blessed with the ideal climate and soil for producing stellar Riesling. Other great examples of the grape come from Washington State, New York State, and a handful from British Columbia. South of the Equator, New Zealand does well with almost all major white wine grapes, and Riesling is certainly no exception. Likewise, nearby Australia offers some real gems when it comes to Riesling, especially from Eden Valley, Clare Valley and Tasmania.

In addition to being a versatile wine in terms of style, Riesling is one of the most food-friendly wines out there. It works with most of the big holiday dinners — Riesling’s light sweetness and acidity works well with an Easter ham, while it’s also an ideal drink to go with Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. Riesling also shines with Asian food, curry, lighter cheeses, salads, and fish dishes, while sweeter versions work beautifully with fruit-based desserts, too. Super-sweet Riesling icewine and crème brûlée is a match made in heaven.

Because Riesling isn’t as universally popular as, say, Chardonnay, it means you can get a lot of bang for your buck if you’re willing to spend just a few more dollars. Two of the three Rieslings I tasted this week are around $25, and are fantastic examples of world-class, drier-style Riesling. Creep a little higher in price and Riesling in any style is one of the most age-worthy white wines on the market — the combination of residual sugar and acidity makes for wines that will last in your cellar.


BALTHASAR RESS 2009 RIESLING (Rheingau, Germany — $13.03, available at Liquor Marts and beyond)
Bruised red apple, lemon candy and light petrol notes show very well on the nose of this German white, although there’s a slight sweaty note that emerged on my second sniff. It’s off-dry, with consistent ripe red apple and lemon candy notes on the palate. Moderate acidity and some light spritz gets you salivating, which means this would be a great pre-dinner wine (but would also work with Thai dishes or light curries). There’s still some of the 2008 vintage on the shelf, which should be equally good. 87/100


THIRTY BENCH 2008 RIESLING (Beamsville Bench, Ont. — $24, available at Liquor Marts and beyond)
The waxy, honeyed notes on the nose make way for extremely subtle green apple, chalky mineral and lemon aromas — it’s slightly muted at first but changes in the glass. While only 11 per cent alcohol, the Thirty Bench comes across as a drier white, with that chalky minerality keeping the juicy green apple notes from becoming overly sweet. It’s a style that tips the hat to Alsatian Riesling, and will do extremely well with white fish, shellfish, sushi or bitter greens in a salad. It’s a tightly wound white that should loosen up over the next three to five years. 90/100


PEWSEY VALE 2009 INDIVIDUAL VINEYARD SELECTION RIESLING (Eden Vale, Australia — around $25, available at private wine stores)
Sweet pear and modest peach notes are accented by mineral and red apple skin aromas on the nose. Lemon zest, peach, red apple and pear hit the palate hard, with great ripeness imparting light sweetness without gobs of residual sugar (the wine is fermented dry to 12.5 per cent). Pewsey Vale was Australia’s first producer to make Riesling, and they’ve got it down to both an art and a science — this wine is incredibly well-balanced and complex. Drink between now and 2013. 91/100


Classic combos (Winnipeg Women magazine)

Published March 25, 2011. Link

Why do certain dishes go so well with certain wines? While there’s not always a hard and fast answer on the magic of every wine-and-food pairing–and yes, so much depends
on personal preference–there are some logical, objective reasons a particular wine works best with a certain type of food. It’s why some of these classic pairings have survived for as long as they have–because, quite simply, the combinations are unbeatable.

What follows are some classic (albeit sometimes debated) wine and food pairings that have stood the test of time, as well as some hints as to why they work. Some are “fancier” dishes while others are oldfashioned blue-collar favourites–regardless of the style, they’re almost always winners.

Just remember–when it comes to pairing food and wine, there are no rules. Experiment, think outside the box (or the bottle), and have fun creating your own classic pairings.

Muscadet/Chablis and oysters

Fresh, raw oysters need a wine that’s crisp and fresh to counteract their unique texture, and either Muscadet or Chablis–both French whites–can pull it off. Muscadet is a white from the Loire Valley made from the Melon de Bourgogne grape, and provides elegant pear and apple notes with a healthy dose of minerality from the magnesium- and potassium-rich soils. Chablis (from the Burgundy region) derives its chalkiness from the limestone-rich soil; it’s a Chardonnay-based wine made in a much leaner, crisper style than its Australian or Californian counterparts. A richer, buttery New World Chardonnay usually just doesn’t work.

Chianti and pasta in a tomato-based sauce (or pizza)

One of the most rewarding experiences in culinary adventures is trying wine and food coming from the same area of the world. Since we can’t all pick up and head to Tuscany, we might have to make do with a pizza from around the corner or spaghetti with Mama’s meatballs. Regardless, Chianti (or other Sangiovese-based wine, especially from Italy) works exceptionally well with these dishes; the acidity of the grape matches up well with the tangy zip of tomato sauce. Chianti is often medium-bodied as well, meaning it shouldn’t overpower the dish.

Cabernet Sauvignon and steak

Steak works well with a big Malbec, Merlot, Syrah or some combination of similarly dark grapes–any big,dry red should work with steak–but it’s exceptional with a big Cabernet Sauvignon. The grape’s deep blackberry, anise and light bell pepper notes just plain do the trick with steak.

Dry, heavy red wines contain moderate tannins–a component of red grapes found in the skins and seeds that is released when crushed in the red wine-making process. Tannins are often accentuated when a red is aged in oak. Together, they produce that mouthdrying feeling that, if too intense, is akin to biting into a teabag. These bigger wines (especially those aged in oak) work well with beef because the tannins bind to the protein, lessening the mouth-drying aspect.

Syrah and lamb

Another partnership originating from a certain region, Syrah and lamb brings two bold components together. Wine-wise, Syrah brings earthiness, Old World complexity and white pepper notes; it stands up to the meat’s rich flavours as well as virtually any garnish, topping or sauce. Syrah also works great at cutting through the relative fattiness of the lamb. Avoid most lower-priced Aussie Shiraz (the New World name for Syrah)–its simpler, ripe fruity flavours don’t stand up as well with a lamb dish.

Zinfandel and barbecue

Since red Zinfandel didn’t really become widely accepted until the 1990s, this has the makings of a more modern classic. Zinfandel is typically big and ripe, with rich raisin and black fruit notes and the occasional hint of spice and tannin. This helps it work very well with barbecued fare, especially when the food is smothered in some type of barbecue sauce. The tanginess of the sauce and the rich deep fruit flavours in the wine work perfectly together, whether you’re cooking burgers, ribs or steak.

Sauternes and foie gras/Port and stinky cheese

The ultimate in decadence, both these classic pairings create intense sensations on the palate unlike anything else. The viscosity and opulent sweetness of a Sauternes–a white dessert wine from the region of the same name in Bordeaux–sings with the fattier texture of foie gras. Yes, port works quite nicely with chocolate dishes and fruit (or, if you’re so inclined, a nice cigar), especially lighter versions like tawny or ruby ports. But vintage port is best when paired with a smelly cheese–blue, Stilton and the like. The contrast of sweet and savoury is almost addictive once experienced. Either combo is an unforgettable way to finish off an epic meal.