What could be better than a wine tasting on a hot Winnipeg afternoon? Not much else, as it proved. In company of two close friends, one a self-declared wine lover who tends to favour bold reds and another with a discerning palate that she can’t quite yet articulate, I left work a bit earlier than normal to venture to the South Osborne gem, The Oxbow Natural Wine Bar & Restaurant for Élevage Selections’ 1st annual portfolio tasting. I was a bit nervous, as I tend to prefer beer over wine, but as the afternoon went by, my worries melted away. Sampling exactly 57 wines, wine importers Jesse Oberman and Peter Hill of Élevage Selections poured generous tastings of natural wines - wines made from grapes alone with no added enzymes, flavour enhancers or preservatives.
While the crowd was mostly hospitality insiders, the event was open to the public. Attendees were encouraged to ask questions and learn about the different grape varietals, terroir and techniques behind the selections. More importantly, guests were told of the winemakers and vineyard in detail before being offered a tasting. Oberman and Hill have been hosting natural wine focused events in Winnipeg since 2015 and they are starting to gain traction outside of their inner circle. From thematic Alpine Ski food and wine events in the dead of winter to hip, rooftop parties at Fourth, these two know how to throw a relaxed, educational and entertaining evening. Their goal is to turn Winnipeg’s wine scene on it’s head. They are working with wine shops such as Banville & Jones, Ellement Wine & Spirits and The Winehouse to bring Winnipeggers wines produced by artisanal and small-yield farmers from across the globe. Wines that would be hard-pressed to be found gracing the shelves of Manitoba Liquor Marts.
Throughout the afternoon I sampled over 20 wines. I had to call it quits on the whites and focus solely on lighter reds for fear of being unable to complete this article. Before my self-imposed rules, I was treated to a surprising stand-out: Riesling Nature, 2016 by DB Schmitt ($30.50/bottle at Ellement Wine & Spirits), a fresh and peachy naturally fermented German skin contact wine made from hand-picked grapes. One sip and us three wished we were enjoying this summer refreshment beachside - with cured meats and fresh bread.
Deeper into the afternoon we enjoyed both the smell and taste of Domaine les Genestas, 2018 by Les Vignerons D’ Estézargues ($22.00, arriving in September) from a co-operative cellar in Rhone, France made from a lovely trifecta of Grenache, Syrah and Carignan grapes. It was a lighter-than-expected, unfiltered red that gave off a refined yet fruity flavour with a slight fizzy feel. This wine was perfectly sippable and easy to pair with food, or simply with conversation alone.
I’d be interested in revisiting Antoine Sunier’s Morgon, 2017 ($28.00 - $34.00/bottle at various locations in Winnipeg) from Beaujolais, France. It was one of the more yeasty Gamay’s of the afternoon that was described by a friend as "funky and intriguing." Personally, I thought it was more accessible than she did, which makes it the perfect bottle to pick-up for an evening of tasting and debate. To each their own!
All in all, my friends and I left with a deeper appreciation of small-batch, organic wines and a robust wine list, full of quirky personal tasting notes that sparked a few laughs. We felt completely at ease not having experience in wine and were made to feel as if we were somehow improving the staff’s evening when we chatted about what we tasted or, more importantly, how the wine made us feel. It was a completely different vibe than Winnipeg Wine Festival, one that perfectly matched the artisanal wines that flowed freely. After this afternoon, I am confident that Élevage Selections will keep us Winnipeggers connected to the established global natural wine movement while challenging wine lovers to think critically about issues of sustainability and conscious choice.
Interested in exploring the world of natural wines? Follow Élevage Selections on Instagram (@elevageselections) to keep up to date on their wine parties and tastings, scheduled throughout the year. Check-out The Oxbow Natural Wine Bar & Restaurant for a rotating selection of organic wines, perfectly paired with globally inspired food from locally sourced ingredients.
Amanda Bibeau is a Winnipeg-based food blogger who is passionate about affordable food for all and ‘food without judgment.’ Amanda enjoys hiking, exploring Winnipeg's craft beer scene and working her 9 to 5 as a sr. recruiter with RBC.