COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN
Glasses of wine are served during the gala dinner of the annual Westman
Wine Festival Oct. 17 at the Victoria Inn. The festival, which gives
locals access and education on oenology, is organized by the Rotary
Club of Brandon.
Thanks to my friend Steve, I tried a whole new approach to tasting at the Rotary Westman Wine Festival this year.
Wait that’s not entirely true. It wasn’t a WHOLE new approach. At every wine festival I’ve attended, I’ve always attempted to taste only whites on my first stroll (read purposeful jaunt) around the room. But I’ve never succeeded in sticking to that plan until this year. For whatever reason, my determination to sample whites before getting into reds remained firm, and it made for a much better tasting experience.
Even though I know white before red is the preferred way to go, I usually abandon that notion early on because I figure I’ll never make it back to the tables to try the reds they’re offering. And I never have. But I’m already off track here, so let’s go back to the beginning.
I visited Steve a few days before the Wine Festival, and as he often does, he offered me a glass of his fave white, Pinot Gris. Now he knows I’m not a Pinot Gris or Grigio fan — I frequently find those wines light and delicate, sometimes even watery, which is why I generally opt for the much more (in my opinion) luscious and intense Chardonnay.
Don’t get me wrong — there’s a place for light and delicate. Sometimes I don’t want to be smacked in the face with a big flavour punch, and plenty of folks NEVER do. So Pinot Gris and/or Pinot Grigio are perfect if one wants something easy-drinking to sip.
(Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are essentially the same grape, although Gris originated in France, and Grigio in Italy. Nowadays, producers in other countries decide whether to call their products Gris or Grigio depending on their wines’ characteristics. Gris usually boasts richer, rounder, stone-fruit flavours, while Grigio is more light-bodied. And I’ve digressed again. So I’ll try to stick to the main point now. Operative word: "try." No guarantees.)
During this last visit, Steve trotted out the Tic Tok Pinot Gris from Australia, which he’d purchased during a clearout sale at the Liquor Mart. Surprise! I loved it! It wasn’t intense, but it was much gutsier than any other Gris/Grigios I’d tried. So with that experience in mind, I decided that, rather than avoid them like I’d usually done in the past, I’d go all in and try as many Gris/Grigios as I could at the Wine Festival.
I was also determined to check out some sweet wines; again, these are not usually my favourites, but I know tons of folks out there enjoy them, so I was set on finding some recommendations for palates that differ from my own.
The winefest, as usual, was sold out, and was, also as usual, a stellar affair. Twenty-six tables proffered more than 100 wines, and judging from the dozens of folks I spoke to, people were delighted to be there and were already looking forward to next year’s event. (For the record, so am I!)
So my husband and I hit the ground running —well, as close to running as we could without actually doing so. I thought jogging around the room would make me look a little TOO eager, so I did my best to control my enthusiasm.
Given the wide variety of wines available, that was difficult, but I managed. And here are some of the winners I found in the Wine Festival lineup.
From California, Sterling Vintner’s Pinto Grigio had peach and pear notes and a hint of sweetness, but was somewhat acidic. It reminded me of summer. It was light, but more robust than some, which is great by me. I’d definitely pick up a bottle of this for $14.99.
The Astrolabe Voyage Pinot Gris was pleasantly soft and well-rounded, and tasted of stone fruit. At $22.99, this New Zealand offering is a lovely and very refined wine.
The Cono Sur Bicycle Viognier from Chile was a bit on the sweet side for me, but I think lots of folks would like it. I did, especially for $11.99 a bottle.
Those who are into honeyed beverages should check out the Deinhard Piesporter Riesling from Germany. As expected, this wine was sweet, but not gaggingly so. An agreeable sipper, this sells at Manitoba Liquor Marts for $13.99.
White Rabbit Riesling, also from Germany, was recommended to me by a friend who knows his wines, and I was really surprised by the layers in this beverage, especially for $11.75 a bottle! Balance is key here — the wine was delicate, but things got interestingly complicated on the finish with a hint of orange blossom coming through.
Another sweet wine, Pelee Island’s Lucky Stones White, was given an enthusiastic thumbs up by my husband, especially for $12.99. And how nice to support the Canadian wine industry!
Speaking of which, the Peninsula Ridge Top Bench White from Niagara was also very pleasant for $15.99. A blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer, this was one sweetish wine I quite enjoyed.
The Pillitteri Straight Up White ($13.95) is a new release that’s 70 per cent Riesling and 30 per cent Gewurztraminer. The sweetness on the back of the palate was nicely balanced by some crispness, a combination that should make it a winner paired with Asian food.
I really liked the French Marius Terret Vermentino ($14.15), which was a new grape to me. With a hint of sweetness, this wine was also light and refreshing.
And to round things out, the Pagonas Ugni Blanc/Sauvignon Blanc ($13.24) from Greece was easy-drinking and pleasant, particularly after the many primer wines we’d had to that point (more on primers in an upcoming column).
So that takes care of the whites from the festival. Next week, bubblies and reds that impressed.
» Diane Nelson is a long-time journalist and former Sun staffer who really likes wine. A lot. Chat with her online at www.vinelines.ca
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 27, 2012