Winefest 2018

We did it! We celebrated our first Winefest and lived to tell the tale. I’ll do my best to cover the highlights, but I have to admit that my memory of each individual wine has been left a little fuzzy. But speaking of celebrations – happy first anniversary to me! Matt sweetly reminded me this afternoon as I sat scraping together this post from my hangover spot on the couch that it was one year ago today that I kicked off the blog with my piece about Sweet Relief Pastries!

Hungry in Calgary | Winefest Therapy
A selection from Therapy Vineyards in Naramata, BC – you KNOW I chose the Fizziotherapy!

Matt and I were happy to meet up with some lovely friends at the fest, including Michelle from Wino in the West, who already wrote all about the festival here. Winefest is her favourite event that comes to Calgary and Edmonton because once you pay for your initial ticket ($84-$89 per person), everything is included for a three-hour window (we went from 2-5 pm on Saturday). Passed hors d’oeuvres, carvery stations, food and beverage samples are all “free” and you’re even welcome to take home your sampling glass. I particularly like the opportunity it presents to try pricy and/or cool new bottles just breaking into the local market.

Hungry in Calgary | Winefest Wine Beer
Winebeer: “the sophistication of a good sparkling wine and the refreshing taste of a beer”

I always make a point of trying anything unusual and new. Paired with the fact that I’m a recovering pop addict drawn to fizzier and sweeter drinks, this can sometimes have wild results, like sparkling sweet red Roscato or fizzy, summery Wine Beer from Chile!

Hungry in Calgary | Winefest Honey
Honey-spiked wine from Spirit Hills in Millarville, AB – A little too sweet, even for me!

When I’m starting out for the evening, a “fun” wine means it’s from Georgia (the country, not the US state), which I learned is where the first wine was made in clay pots buried underground! By the end of the night, it means I’m drinking things like Spirit Hills honey wine or Field Stone fruit wine and fortified dessert wines made with produce grown and processed in Strathmore, AB!

Hungry in Calgary | Winefest Favaios

On the topic of fortified wines, we tried many of those as well, including a 45-year-old bottle from Quevedo and a fortified moscato called Favaito Moscatel, both from the Portuguese wine-growing region of Douro Valley. The moscatel was something I’d never tried before – rather than a dessert wine, it’s an aperitif and can be used to make a mixed drink. Michelle hates port, but really enjoyed the lighter sweetness of the moscatel. I love learning something new!

Hungry in Calgary | Winefest Risotto
Creamy Barley Risotto

But my favourite thing, as usual, was all the snacks! Calgary Stampede did a fantastic job catering this event with hot and cold snacks that accommodated a number of dietary restrictions. The first thing we tried was a barley risotto (yum!) with veggies, herbs and parmesan. Really lovely flavours and the creamy, structured barley texture was very cool. I’d definitely eat this again!

Hungry in Calgary | Winefest Bao
Savoury Butter Chicken on a Steamed Bun

I absolutely love steamed buns! This one held up well against the moist filling and could be eaten easily without slopping butter chicken on the ground – always a good thing! The light, spongy texture of the bread contributed without distracting from the delicious, mild and fragrant spices of the chicken, which was cooked perfectly!

Hungry in Calgary | Winefest Salmon
Smoked Atlantic Salmon Tartare with Caper Berry Relish on Fried Bannock

Uh, YUM. This was absolutely delicious and a cool nod to local Canadian cuisine to put this delicious fish on a bite of bannock. Tasty, refreshing and not at all messy – perfect finger food for this mingly event.

Hungry in Calgary | Winefest Beef
Mesquite BBQ Brisket served on Hawaiian Rolls with Creamy Slaw

This. Brisket. Was. Everything! Buttery soft texture, savoury smoke ring and piping hot – not to mention it did a great job of soaking up some of the wine samples. People eating these around us were conspicuously quiet. Well done, Calgary Stampede catering squad!

With all the savoury snacks on hand, we never had to wander far to try something new. Here’s Michelle’s sweet pickled brussels sprout from Mojo Jojo Pickles in Edmonton (you can order them online – my favourite is the sweet and spicy pickled carrot!) and some of my favourite charcuterie meats from Calgary’s VDG Salumi – I couldn’t decide between the fennel-flavoured Finocchiona or the zesty Sopresata. Guess I’ll have to buy both next time I see them at the store!

Hungry in Calgary | Winefest Cheese 1
Springbank Cheese Co. and Crackers – Always a hit!

Calgary staple Springbank Cheese Co. had at least three counters set up at the event, each with a different selection of incredible treats. My favourite cheese plate of the day was (from left to right) aged white cheddar, Morbier with wild mushrooms, apple and cinnamon goat cheese and some nice, ripe Limburger. Michelle is a novice cheese eater, which you may recall from our Rocky Mountain Food & Wine Fest adventures, but I was very proud of her for trying both the mild Morbier and the creamy, tangy Limburger! She was surprised not to like the aged cheddar as much (it was very strong!) but all agreed the sweet apple and cinnamon goat cheese was a lovely bit of dessert.

With the cheese moving us into more of a dessert mindset, we tried bacon peanut brittle from Strathmore’s Sweetsmith Candy Co. and raspberry caramel chocolates from Bernard Callebaut’s new outfit, Master Chocolat. All very delicious, especially with copious samples of port!

Hungry in Calgary | Winefest Cheesecake
Deconstructed Cheesecake Cups with Ginger Graham Crumbs

We tried so many sweets, but my favourite was a Calgary Stampede snack that came in an edible chocolate cup! The tangy, citrusy cheesecake and the ginger crumbs were a very refreshing bite in the midst of so many strong drinks and powerful cheeses.

To sum up, we had so much fun at Winefest! If you missed it this year, I highly recommend planning your visit to the show in Edmonton or Calgary for 2019! Most of the wines can be found locally (check LiquorConnect.com) and at the very least you’ll come away with some great ideas for your next dinner party! You may never have a better opportunity to learn about a delicious new bottle of sparkling wine, pick up a quick history lesson about Georgian clay pot fermentation or completely fill up on snacks and cheeses you’ve never tried before. Plus, I mean – the exercise from walking around BMO Centre? What’s not to love?

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