A Review of Edmonton Winefest 2016

Recently I was lucky enough to win a pair of tickets to Edmonton’s Winefest through a local radio station. This year the two-day event ran February 12-13 at the Shaw Conference Centre. There were three tasting sessions; one on Friday night, one on Saturday afternoon and the last one on Saturday evening. Our tickets were for the Saturday afternoon session.

It’s an interesting model, and different from previous beer and wine festivals we’ve attended. They usually have a small-ish entry fee, and then you purchase tasting tickets on top of that. In the case of Winefest, the ticket cost is much higher ($85 for the evening sessions and $80 for the afternoon session). However, the ticket is all-inclusive. This means it’s all you can eat and drink in the space of the three-hour window covered by your entry ticket. I was curious to see whether this pricing model would create a different experience than the pay-as-you-go models of other similarly-themed events.

When we arrived, we dropped off our coats at the coat check booth. We entered the hall where we were handed tasting notes booklets listing all of the exhibitors. Then we picked up our complimentary wine glasses for the tastings, which were ours to take home at the end of the event. All three sessions were sold out, so there was a good crowd.

winefest crowdsOur primary goal was to try as many rieslings as possible. Since our trip to Germany last year, we’ve gained a new appreciation for sweet, floral, syrupy rieslings. But nothing we’ve tried locally since our return has really matched our new expectations. But if we could taste a bunch at one time, maybe we would luck out and find a new favourite. At least, this was our hope. But we quickly became distracted by other temptations. Like the food:

Winefest food

Butternut squash ravioli, meatballs in tomato sauce, and roasted veggies in balsamic vinegar were just a few of the tasty treats available. There were a few food stations, but also wait staff walking around with various snacks such as thin crust pizzas, gyoza with lemongrass dipping sauce, and Alberta beef tartar crostini with parmigianino and caper aioli. We felt rather spoiled! It also helped to cut the acidity of all the wines to have a variety of snack foods available.

The first hour and a half of the event went very quickly, and we felt a little bit rushed to try everything we wanted to within the three hour event. But we managed to try a few of the rieslings (I think we missed two) and several muscat/moscato wines which are also lovely and sweet. We also made sure to grab a taste of the only pinotage at the event, made by Stoneboat Vineyards (Canada). Pinotage is our favourite red, but it isn’t very common so we were glad to see it represented, even if it was only one.

I also wanted to try the wine gelatos, made locally by Da Vinci Gelato Originale.

Da vinci Gelato

There was quite a line-up for it too, probably about 20 people deep at any given time. They were only giving out wee try-me’s on a spoon though, no scoops or cones. The peach chardonnay gelato was my favourite:

wine gelato

Since we were just in Portugal in November, we made sure to swing by the Taylor Fladgate table, where we re-sampled their white port and vintage port from 2010. These guys really know how to make nice, rich ports.

Taylor Fladgate port

After several wines, I needed a bit of a breather. So while I went through the tasting notes booklet to make sure we weren’t going to miss anything we wanted to try, Mark went to grab some more food. He returned with these lovelies:

Winefest desserts

Chocolate mousse bombs and lemon pie. Oh. My. God. They were both amazing. The lemon pie was zippy and tangy, and the chocolate mousse bombs were rich, smooth and super chocolatey. We had at least six people stop by our table to ask what we were eating and where we got them from. At one point we walked by the dessert table where Mark had found them. The plates were suddenly completely empty, except for three sad little lemon pie slices. There was a waiter by the table, standing guard basically, letting everyone know, “don’t worry, more is on the way”! As soon as the wait staff arrived with more desserts, people descended upon the table like a flock of starving vultures. It was quite amusing to watch. Maybe they should have a Chocolatefest next year?

One of the big surprises of the event was Spirit Hills Honey Winery out of Millarville, Alberta. They make the most lovely, unique honey wines, but they aren’t as sweet as mead typically is. We tried the Wild Rosy, made with our every own Alberta roses, the YeeHaa!, a Canadian sangria, and the Bonfire, a hot mulled wine. They were all amazing, but the Wild Rosy really woke up my taste buds and was by far my favourite.

Spirit Hills Honey WineryThere were also a few wineries from Moldova which I was curious to try. I’ve never had a Moldovan wine before, in fact I didn’t even realize they made wine. The fellow at the Bostavan booth said it’s still a bit of a well-kept secret, but Moldova actually has the largest wine cellar in the world, at an impressive 200km! Bostavan had a particularly wonderful muscat at their table. I will be certain to keep an eye out for Moldovan wines in the future. I was really glad to give them a try.

Something else that pairs very nicely with wine are olives, and Nefiss Lezizz had a booth with olive oil and olives to taste and purchase. They had a spicy olive mix, olives stuffed with orange rind, garlic-stuffed olives, smoked sundried black olives, and cheese-stuffed olives. We purchased some spicy olives and orange-rind stuffed olives, which we’d never had before. They were really very delicious.

Nefiss Lezizz olives

We weren’t sure about the three-hour time limit for Winefest at first. And there were a few moments when we felt a bit rushed. But I think we had just enough time to try most of what we wanted to, with only a few exceptions. Between the two of us we managed to try around 25 different wines in that amount of time. About 20 minutes before the end, Mark and I looked at each other and agreed that we’d both reached the “wined-out” stage. So the timing actually worked out well.

We also managed to buy the very last bottle of Spirit Hills Wild Rosy on our way out. So yes, although there were some rushed moments, I don’t know if I could drink wine for more than three hours. Especially when flipping between red, white, rose, sparkling, and honey wines. It was enough time to try a good variety of samples without going completely overboard.

I’d like to say that it’s not enough time to get completely blotto. But as we were walking out we saw some gals holding onto each other as they stumbled out giggling. Some other folks propped themselves up against the walls while waiting for their rides.

All in all though, the Edmonton Winefest event was very well organized. I can see us adding it to our annual itinerary of local events.

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