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Brandon Sun - PRINT EDITION

Winnipeg Wine Festival offers delectable surprises

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"What can I pour you, sir?" the friendly chap at one of the Australian wine booths at the Winnipeg Wine Festival asked the somewhat frantic man who had just darted up to the table.

"Oh god," the man said, rolling his eyes. "Anything but Shiraz!"

I smothered a smile and choked back a laugh. But I locked eyes with the pourer, and knew we were both thinking the same thing. What did this guy expect? The featured country at last weekend’s winefest was Australia, and while that nation makes other fabulous wines as well, Shiraz is its signature grape.

Anyway, it just struck me as a funny beginning to the festival. To avoid the lineup, my husband and I arrived about 10 minutes after the start time (and no, dear friends who know me well, I wasn’t late — I was just being practical) and breezed on into the Convention Centre, which was packed with people. The noise level was already high, the energy was palpable, and the wine was flowing. The public tastings had begun!

Since the featured country was Australia, there was plenty of Shiraz to be had. But from the 130 booths, only 26 were dispensing Aussie wines, so there were tons of options to choose from. I did my best to pick ones I wanted to try ahead of time, but sometimes one just gets caught up in the whirlwind of the whole event, leading to tasting some just because they’re there. For once, though, I did manage to try almost all the wines I had earmarked during the drive to Winnipeg, and I was ready to go.

I scarcely know where to begin to tell the tale, as there were so many wonderful beverages to sample. But as is usually the case, there were some standouts, and I’ll do my best to fill you in on the ones I thought were fabulous.

I’ve always loved Shiraz — I liked it a lot before I went to Australia on a press junket in November of 2000, but I came home loving it even more. And while I’ve moved on to many other wines — probably the ones I drink most frequently are Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon — Shiraz (or Durif, which is a very close relative) is my go-to wine to accompany venison and lamb, although I’ve discovered there are many other great options with those meats as well.

The thing I noticed at the Winnipeg Wine Festival this year, though, were many of the wines, particularly the Shirazes, were sweeter than I like and sweeter than I would have expected.

I know that tons of folks like sweet wines, and why wouldn’t producers cater to that demographic? It’s just financially prudent to do so. But I was amazed by the number of people, especially men, which really surprised me, who would approach a table and ask for something sweet. And the purveyors were only too happy to oblige.

Anyway, since it’ll likely take a few columns to get through the list of wines I enjoyed at the festival, I figured rather than categorize them into varietals, I’d just outline some of the ones I fell in love with.

The first, and the only wine I purchased at the show — I got three bottles — was the 2008 Wynn’s Coonawarra Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. This Australian wine is already listed with Manitoba Liquor Marts, so it should be widely available, but I wasn’t taking any chances.

I was blown away by the depth of black fruit flavour, the hint of eucalyptus, and tinge of spice and smoke on the finish. While it’s $22.99 a bottle, it’s a whole lot of wine for that price. And the charming Aussie bloke who poured it for me, and who noted my very favourable reaction, said, "Yeah — this is crazy, right? It sells for $35 in Australia!"

Don’t ask me how we in Manitoba are getting such a deal, but I hightailed it to the on-site liquor mart — well, rather, I politely requested that my husband go and get three bottles of it so I could keep tasting. As is his way, he obliged. He’s really good to me. I don’t tell him that nearly enough.

Other Australian products I liked included the Xanadu Cabernet Sauvignon — I could just taste it with steak — for $24.88 and surprisingly enough, the Wine Men of Gotham Shiraz, which surprised me a lot — it was very tasty and sells for only $13.99. The Jacob’s Creek Coonawarra Reserve Cab Sauv was also a delight ($18.99) as was Mount Pleasant’s Family Collection Philip Shiraz, which showcased spicy red berries and some very definite oak ($21.99).

A definite highlight — one of my top picks of the show — was the Mount Pleasant’s Lovedale Semillon. Both delicately and intensely citrus — I know that sounds nuts, but that’s how many levels there were to this wine — it’s minerality was also very evident, which made for an elegant, refined and truly unforgettable beverage. While it’s not yet listed by MLCC, I suspect it will be. The bad news is that it’s $59.95 a bottle. But OMG — what a wine!

Other noteworthy wines included the Alfredo Dried Grape Shiraz, which is not yet listed, but I’ll be surprised if it isn’t. Referred to by the pourers as "Aussie Amarone," this product from Down Under really did have an Old World quality to it, and it was just off-dry. Anyway, if it’s brought into Manitoba, it’ll be $24.99.

To round out the Aussie picks, De Bortoli’s DB Reserve Chardonnay and DB Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon were really nice for $16.99. And the Wolf Blass Gold Label Chardonnay was very buttery and is already listed — it sells for $24.07.

From other countries, the Bouchard Pere et Fils William Fevre Petit Chablis ($24.99) from France was wonderful, the Cave Spring Riesling ($16.99) and the Cave Spring Riesling Estate ($21.99) from our own Niagara peninsula were very nice, with the latter having just a bit more finesse.

I also adored De Martino’s Gallardia Cinsault Rosé, and was extra pleased to discover it’s only $14.05 a bottle. It’s fairly dry and I could envision myself sipping that on the deck when — if — summer finally arrives. In fact, the whole De Martino line was impressive — the Nuevo Mundi Viognier and the Nuevo Mundi Cab/Malbec are definitely worth a try for $14.05 and $15.05 respectively.

There were a lot of terrific sparkling wines, too, most notably Proseccos, which I’ll detail next week.

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition May 10, 2014

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"What can I pour you, sir?" the friendly chap at one of the Australian wine booths at the Winnipeg Wine Festival asked the somewhat frantic man who had just darted up to the table.

"Oh god," the man said, rolling his eyes. "Anything but Shiraz!"

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"What can I pour you, sir?" the friendly chap at one of the Australian wine booths at the Winnipeg Wine Festival asked the somewhat frantic man who had just darted up to the table.

"Oh god," the man said, rolling his eyes. "Anything but Shiraz!"

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