It’s hard to believe the Calgary Stampede has come and gone for another year. For those not familiar with “the greatest outdoor show on earth”, the Stampede is a study of extremes. There is something for everyone to be found on the grounds. For those seeking a more wholesome experience there is face painting, cotton candy, line dancing and mutton busting. On the other side of the fence there is drunken rants at company parties, misplaced wedding rings, leather chaps and fist fights. Whether good or bad, there is certainly one image the Calgary Stampede doesn’t conjure up…wine.
That’s right folks, amidst the vast sea of Jack Daniels, Budweiser and Coca Cola now sits a small oasis…the Wine Garden. The Wine Garden located in the BMO Center on the grounds and seeks to offer an escape from the general chaos of Stampede. The garden provides an opportunity for visitors to enjoy a sample or full glass of a variety of wines from around the world, as well as optional food pairings. In addition to tasting there is also a series of short talks delivered daily by various wine professionals in the city. This year the list of speakers just happened to include yours truly.
I was given an awesome infommercial style head mic and tasked with delivering six short lectures on topics of my choosing. I pondered several topics before being struck by a little deep-fried divine inspiration…Midway Food and Wine Pairing. I’ve been given some difficult dishes for wine pairing before (such as Haggis), but for this talk I decided to get way out of the box and throw down a truly original challenge. This involved taking four classic midway dishes and using wines being poured at the wine garden, finding a suitable match for each. Here is the rundown:
Act 1: Mini Donuts and See-Ya Later Ranch Brut – In the land of midway food the mini donut may well reign as king. It’s hard not to love these deep-fried, sugar-coated little devils and they were a must have for this tasting. For this pairing I chose the sparkling brut from See-Ya Later Ranch in the Okanagan Valley, British Columbia. My hope was that the vibrant acidity of the sparkling wine would help to cut through the greasy nature of the donuts. This sparkling wine, made in the traditional Champagne method, also displays some toasty/yeasty notes I thought would mesh well with the doughnut. The audience seemed to really enjoy this pairing and the feedback was that the acidity did indeed manage to balance the heavy nature of the donut. Count that as 1 for 1.
Act 2: Corn Dogs and Ravenswood “Sangiacomo” Chardonnay – Corn dogs are another legendary midway delight and I decided a classic Californian Chardonnay might do the trick. The Ravenswood “Sangiacomo” Chardonnay hails from the region of Carneros in the southern Napa/Sonoma Valley’s and is about as classic as it gets. A red wine would likely clash horribly with the corn dogs batter and I thought this deep, rich Chardonnay might stand up to the challenge. The wines deep notes of pear, spice, toasty oak and tropical fruit were delicious on their own, however the crowd seemed to feel that in the end the corn dog was just too much and ultimately bullied the wine. A valiant effort but in the end not a complete success.
Act 3: Pizza and Ravenswood “Teldeschi” Zinfandel – I love pizza and good red wine! This single vineyard offering from Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley was delicious and displayed why the Zinfandel grape performs so well in this region . Bursting with bright red and black fruit flavours, this lively number worked well with the cornucopia of flavours from the pizza. Be sure to pick up a nice Californian Zinfandel with your next pizza pie, or even better with a nice rack of ribs!
Act 4: Funnel Cake and Hardys “Whiskers Blake” Tawny – The final pairing seemed to be the star of the show! Hailing from the land down under, this port style wine was produced from a blend of several grape varieties and was aged for a full 8 years in oak barrels. This extended aging gives the wines its beautiful tawny colour and rich flavours and aromas of caramel, burnt sugar and freshly roasted nuts. Although some participants found the wine too sweet on its own, when paired with the funnel cakes the perception of sweetness was diminished and the wine was allowed to reveal its true depth and character. Although you’re probably not likely to whip up a batch of funnel cakes at home, try this tasty fortified wine with chocolate desserts, blue cheese or apple pie with a caramel drizzle!
After all was said and done the event was a success. Not only was the audience graced with the angelic tone of my voice, but everyone in attendance was treated to a truly unique wine and food experience. Wine and food pairing should be about having fun and trying new things! After all if you can find a wine to accompany your mini donuts, you can find a wine to pair with just about anything!