Port of Wines Festival 2013

I have relocated (temporarily) to rural Nova Scotia and managed to time my arrival in Canada’s ocean playground quite well – it was the week of the NSLC’s Port of Wines festival!  Adopting my usual scheming ways, I managed to line up a designated driver (thanks Dad!) and picked up a ticket for the Friday afternoon Grand Tasting to be held at the Cunard Centre, an event space located on the Halifax harbourfront.  There were several other events during the week, all held in Halifax, including a small plates winemaker’s dinner featuring Italian wine makers and brand ambassadors, and a pairing dinner in support of Symphony Nova Scotia.  My parents live two hours from Halifax – and seeing as how I just arrived in the province – I felt that attending one of the Grand Tastings would be more than sufficient.

There were four sessions being held over Friday , September 27th and Saturday, September 28th.  Each day had an afternoon tasting and an evening tasting, with specified start and end times.  This ensured that the crowds were more manageable and also allowed exhibitors and volunteers to take a well deserved rest between the maddening hordes of wine lovers.  I was only interested in the Friday afternoon event – I would be attending alone, had family commitments on the Saturday and really hate crowds.  Especially really drunk crowds who are trying to get their ticket price worth of wine samples.  A two day pass, which was valid for all four tastings, was also available.

Avondale Sky
Avondale Sky, from Nova Scotia

The festival was featuring the wines of Italy and the wines were featured rather prominently at the furthest reaches of the event space.  Groups of tables, labelled as either Northern, Central or Southern Italy, beckoned to those wandering and sampling the wares.  Attempting to taste Barolo was a foolhardy exercise as that section was constantly under attack by those who really wanted to get their money’s worth, as those were some of the most expensive wines in the tasting.  I decided to leave Barolo to the crowds and sampled my way through Central Italy instead.

I spent a great deal of time sampling Nova Scotia wines.  It is often an easier sell, and it is easier to get, Italian wines than many Nova Scotia offerings – I believe Benjamin Bridge’s Nova 7 and their Brut are the only wines to be released through the LCBO, for example.  I wanted to take the opportunity to compare and contrast some of the Tidal Bay offerings and try some of the traditional method sparkling wines that were on offer.

Mercator Wine Sign (love the name)
Mercator Wine Sign (love the name)

I felt as through the price was reasonable – I paid $50, all in, for my ticket and it included 10 bonus air miles since I bought it in store.  The venue was reasonable – it is downtown, however, there is a bit of a walk afterwards to get to public transit.  I’m a bit spoiled as the major event venues in Ottawa (with the exclusion of the EY Centre which is basically located in the bush), Toronto and Montreal are generally attached to mass transit stations.  I should have worn more appropriate (versus cute) shoes!  Perhaps I’m overly critical because I also had to buy two bottles of wine – there was a free bottle of prosecco with each purchase by a ticketholder – and it was also very windy out.

Cuvée Grand Pre
Cuvée Grand Pre

I am strongly biased towards wine and food events where the attendee pays one entrance price and everything is included.  One of the reasons why I greatly dislike the Ottawa Food and Wine Show (beyond the crowds), is that I generally feel as though I am nickle and dimed at every opportunity.  Wines are often from the general list, the food is very hit and miss and the prices are high.  This event, at $50, provided me with the opportunity to sample through dozens of wines without juggling sample tickets and having to watch my budget.  Another highly appreciated touch was the table of wine glasses, located at both the entrance and towards the back, which allowed me to swap out my wine glass as it started to get a bit grungy.

Sea of Glasses
Sea of Glasses

A few highlights from the day include the Cuvée Grand Pré ($34.95), shown above, which is a traditional method sparkling wine blended using L’Acadie Blanc and Seyval Blanc grapes.  It rests in bottles for up to a year and then, after disgorging, a dosage of Vidal Icewine is added.  I was told they add approximately 3 oz of ice wine for each bottle – after tasting the wine, I honestly thought it was less.  The vidal adds a touch of sweetness but there is nothing cloying or sugary about this wine.  I don’t know if the touch of vidal is actually necessary, but it helped this wine to stand out and it was interesting enough to give me pause.

The 2010 Two Hands Barney’s Block Shiraz (~$89) was on offer at the Australia table and caught my eye for two reasons – the bold, simple label and the price.  I’m not in a place where I will be buying a $90 bottle of shiraz right now, so the chance to sample some wasn’t an opportunity I was going to pass by.  I’m not a fan of the sugary, syrupy shiraz wines that I find at lower price points and I find that I have to spend a bit more to get a glass of wine that I really enjoy.  This was a fruity (blueberries, sour cherries, red berries) and spicy shiraz that hit all of the right notes.

Two Hands Barney's Block Shiraz 2010
Two Hands Barney’s Block Shiraz 2010

One point which I would like to see the NSLC improve on next year is the labeling of exhibitors and the knowledge of those pouring the wines.  I often like to start wine shows with quick sip of sparkling wine so I ventured over to the Italian table to try prosecco.  The gentleman at the table, whose badge identified him as a pourer, could not get the bottle open.  No one else at the table was willing to try so I put on my wine school hat and taught them how to open the bottle of sparkling wine in a safe and relatively proper way (formal service was not the name of the game).  There were a number of pourers at tables who didn’t know very much, if anything, about the wine they were pouring – having worked at a number of these events, I may be pickier than the average patron, but I would either expect someone to have a knowledge of the wines to the extent that they know where it is from, what the grapes are (if a blend) and the availability of the wines.

Finally – and perhaps my greatest annoyance – is that there were also individuals wearing “wine maker” badges at a number of tables who were not wine makers.  They were winery representatives – which is not even close to being a wine maker.  One person sells, the other creates.  I’m sure that many patrons were more interested in drinking the wine but I like to take the opportunity to meet the creators whenever possible which is why I love the Taste Ontario and County in the City events.  When someone is identified as a wine maker, I expect them to be one.

I’m not sure how I feel about the categorization of wines by country.  It makes sense – if I want a shiraz, I will go to Australia, for example, but I struggled to come up with a definitive tasting strategy before arriving and within an hour or so I had completely abandoned my plan based on the layout.  I think I prefer country or region specific tastings where it is easy to move from winery to winery while sticking to consistencies in terroir and wine making philosophy.

I may, however, have failed at the Great Canadian Wine Challenge by picking up my free bottle of prosecco.  I think I’m going to need a ruling from the judges on this one.

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