The Knowledgeable Wino: Heavyweight tastings

Two big bevvy events are going down this month: Montréal Passion Vin and La Grande Dégustation de Montréal. Wine writer Giancarlo Rivera tells you what to expect.

Drink wine here. Photo by Richard Blouin

Two big bevvy events are going down this month in Montreal. A tasting event, large or small, could be a great chance to learn more about what you already have a crush on or fall in love with something you’ve never tasted before. Montréal Passion Vin and La Grande Dégustation de Montréal, here we come.

Big bash
La Grande Dégustation, back for its second edition, is the largest tasting this town will see this year and probably your best bet for sipping eye-opening samples. Brought to you by the Association québécoise des agences de vins, bières et spiritueux and the Société des alcools du Québec, it will spotlight over 1,200 wines, spirits, and beers (many of them elusive private imports you won’t see in stores) from more than 200 producers from 20 countries.

Each year, an honorary country or region, wine style or grape variety and spirit are showcased. Last year, France, sparkling wine and whiskey, respectively,  were the focus. This year, Portugal (oh, Cristiano Ronaldo would be proud), noble red variety cabernet sauvignon and good old rum are in the limelight.

I couldn’t agree more with these picks. I always tout Portugal, the land of Vinho Verde, port and the home of the world’s oldest demarcated wine region, the Douro Valley, as a special country that shouldn’t be overlooked. Not only does it produce yummy and unique Old World styles, but Portuguese wine also has mind-bogglingly low price tags to boot.

Cabernet sauvignon is the undisputed international king of reds. Along with merlot, it’s the most common red variety found across the board. Unlike Sangiovese, Nebbiolo and Tempranillo, the King Cab travels well. Although it sits on its throne in Bordeaux, it also made Napa (and California, for that matter) a world-class sensation and it’s now reinventing itself in Tuscany, Chile and Australia.

Hey, rummy!
Rum is the choice of spirits for pirates and the national pride of many small island states. The first New World spirit, rum is made from sugar cane and molasses, distilled, and aged to perfection. Sadly, at some point rum got a bad rap due to the poor quality (usually the light-bodied or spiced style) of the product found in the bar scene and was left to mingle with cola. Look for the darker (medium and heavy-bodied) styles to get a taste of fine, oak-aged rum.

There is a lot more to discover at La Grande Dégustation de Montréal, but the three big tickets alone are worth the entrance fee. Admission (18+ years of age only) is $15 per day ($13 in advance at participating SAQ outlets) and $30 for the all-access, three-day pass. Tickets get you a tasting glass and a complete event guide, but samples (you know, the booze) are extra, and those prices depend on the small fee the different producers will charge. There will be many free tastings, though, so keep an eye out for those.

Expensive taste
The week’s other event is a lot smaller but makes up for its size with an incredible program. Montréal Passion Vin is a charity event that raises funds for the Fondation d’hôpital Maisonneuve-Rosemont (almost $3.5 million was raised last year alone). Certain donation amounts will score you tickets to the tastings and/or grand banquet. Only eight producers will be present and their offerings are top tier.

Standouts include Taittinger’s famous premiere Champagne, Burgundy big wig Joseph Drouhin’s pinot noirs and chardonnays and a rare appearance from the Bordeaux Right Bank upper-crust Château Ausone, whose reds easily fetch thousands of dollars per bottle. At $1,900 for tastings, $1,000 for the grand banquet and $2,500 for the whole kit and caboodle, tickets are a little pricey. If that’s too rich for your blood, you can still make a donation by entering a contest to stand a chance of winning over $12,000 in wine, including the Château Ausone. A contest ticket will run you a cool $100.

Now get drinking. ■

La Grande Dégustation de Montréal takes place Nov. 8-10 at the Palais des congrès de Montréal (1001 Place Jean-Paul Riopelle)

Montreal Passion Vin takes place Nov. 2-3 at Hilton Montreal Bonaventure Hotel (900 de la Gauchetière W.)

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