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Would you like some cheese with that wine?

A cheap guide to expensive taste

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As I approached the Calgary Wine Stage at the Epcor Centre for Performing Arts, I instantly felt as though I should have been about ten years older. Actually, make that twenty. While I searched restlessly for someone young enough to be a student, I reminded myself that an opportunity to consume wine and delicious food is a chance not to be passed up.

I began my rounds by stopping at the Bin 905 merchant, normally located on 4th Street SW, where I sampled a 2002 Artazuri, a Spanish red wine, retailing for $14.90, and then a 2003 French white wine called Domaine de la Pepiere Muscadet, which sells for $18.65. Asking vendor Brad Royale for his recommendations for students, he pointed me to the two I had just sampled--notably the two most inexpensive wines offered. Both were sufficiently appealing and had whetted my enthusiasm to continue experimenting.

I resumed the tasting at the Banff Wine Store counter. Again I was suspiciously presented the least costly of their selections, a $19, 2002 La Carraia Sangiovese. However, when asked for the vendor's recommendation this time around, he suggested a less moderately priced red wine. At $39 a bottle, this 2001 was called Chateaumeuf-du-Pape from the French Domain Chante Pedrix label.

Thanking him, I realized that wine on an empty stomach would not make for a very pleasant night. I wandered around, viewing what some of Calgary's best restaurants--Brava, Divino, Mango Shiva, The Ranche, and Teatro--had to offer. As I ate some delightfully fattening cheese from The Living Room, I stumbled upon The Wine Shop, located at 8th Street and 17th Avenue SW. This ended up being one of my best finds.

At The Wine Shop, I discovered three fellow University of Calgary students, who seemed happy giving me some of their time. Here I learned what were probably the most valuable lessons of the night.

A dry wine will get you drunk faster and won't give you a headache, the way some full-bodied red wines do. To match wine with food, a wine should be chosen to offset the flavour of the meal. If you're having a spicy meal, a sparkling white wine is a nice addition due to its refreshing qualities. I was also told a funny anecdote about a certain U of C professor who has quite the predilection to wine and is a fine customer at this particular wine seller.

My cheeks becoming increasingly pink after having sampled more than a few wines, I rambled on in search of more food, and perhaps a glass of water. I was persuaded to try the fancy hand-rolled chocolate truffles at The Ranche, though I don't even really like chocolate. I think I can blame that one on the wine. Nevertheless, they were absolutely wonderful and I stopped back later that night to steal as many as I could, while trying not to look completely gluttonous.

At this point, I visited the J. Webb wine booth, which is conveniently located in Glenmore Landing for those who live in the city's Southwest. Lo and behold, more U of C students received me. I was beginning to think that maybe a secret underground wine movement existed at the university and perhaps not all students grab a Big Bear when Friday night calls. My suspicions were confirmed when one of the three helpful individuals divulged the fact he wanted to start a wine appreciation club. In addition, he even offered friends his own brand of wine to taste.

His strongest advice was for students to ask for help when purchasing wine, as a salesperson can usually make an inexpensive and tasty recommendation. To those university-bound, he recommended Portuguese wine for its affordability and for the interesting flavours that come out of the country, although one of the others argued in favour of Australian wine for the same reason.

Some more interesting advice I learned from the Metro Vino table was the difference between European and North American wines. In Europe, special vineyards are set aside for wine production and under law, only wines produced from that particular vineyard can bear its name. In North America, individual types of grapes are of greater concern and wines are labeled according to the variety of grape.

I wasn't exactly sure what difference this made and I wasn't sure that I really cared anymore. By this time I had consumed a large amount of wine from all over the world, all of it being enjoyable.

Finishing up the evening I went back to The Ranche for more truffles. At this point I thanked those who were most helpful, especially my fellow students.

However, I think I learned my most important lesson the following day. No matter how much you enjoy wine, do not go out and mix it with several different kinds of alcohol, unless you're asking for one hell of a headache. And most importantly, do not go out to the bar and pay $10 for a single Red Bull and vodka. Save your money and spend it on some wine instead.

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Comments

As the one who would like to start a wine appreciation group mentioned in the article, I would encourage anyone to email me (dancingredshoes@yahoo.ca) with any ideas or interest. A group of people can sample a a couple of bottles for a pretty good price I find, plus I would be more than happy to do a little bit of teaching on the subject of wine.