Calgary’s abundant resources have pushed wine to the cultural forefront

In the 20 years she has been in the wine business, Nancy Carten has seen a major shift in consumer awareness.

Carten, a managing partner at Kensington Wine Market, said she believes this shift is a result of the increased availability of wine in Calgary.

“Restaurant lists have become more interesting and retail customers are becoming more knowledgeable,” Carten said via email.

“Customers lament the poor selection in the rest of the country when they travel. Selection in Alberta is the best in the country.”

Kensington Wine Market’s in-store tastings, held two to three times per week, are consistently sold out.

Linda Garson is the owner and creator of the Vine and Dine franchise. She has been running a basic wine course since January of 2008, and the event has sold out 41 times.

“That really shows you the interest Calgarians have in learning about wine,” Garson noted.

But what brought about such a change from the “beer and rye culture” that Garson observed in 2007 when people were “a bit new to wine” in Calgary? Why has the demand for wine seen such rapid increase?

Carten said she believes one factor is the expansion of the market through privatization.

“Since privatization, product availability has soared,” she said.

In 1996 the Alberta Liquor Control Board was demolished and all responsibilities fell to the currently active Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission, which groups the responsibilities of lottery, gaming and alcohol regulation.

Carten said that prior to 1993 the board owned approximately 125 stores.

“There are now over 1,200 independent retailers, each carrying their own unique offerings for a total of over 16,000 products available to consumers.”

With such plentiful options there’s bound to be a wine out there for everyone.

Garson said she is hoping that with Calgary’s continued wine movement, family vineyards will move to the forefront.

“I love family vineyards because families are constantly thinking about the condition they are going to leave the land in for their children and for future generations.”

She said she believes that family vineyards are far less likely to use chemicals in their soil or for treatment of grapes, based on traditional reasons.

The majority of family-owned vineyards produce organic wines.

Carten and Garson both mentioned that restaurants have begun to feature wider selections of wine on their menus.

Guests at a recent Vine and Dine event at Escoba Bistro enjoy some treats and wine in good company.
Photo by: Kelli Zacharopoulos

Darren Hamelin, owner and operator of Escoba Bistro on Sixth Street and Stephen Avenue downtown, said that Escoba’s servers are taught two rules for pairing wines with food (quick folks, get your pens out): oppose the flavours and match the weights.

For spicy foods, a wine with contrasting flavours pairs best.

For gentler food flavours, like lemongrass, a wine with complementing flavours pairs best, he said.

“If I were to climb in the ring with Mike Tyson and throw some boxing gloves on, it would be a disaster, and you need to think of your food and wine pairing in that way,” Hamelin advised.

“If you have a full-bodied bottle of wine, you’re going to overpower and overrun the subtleties of your food if that food doesn’t have similar weighting.”

Hamelin’s advice and the knowledge of his staff follow a pattern that further demonstrates how our city is embracing wine culture. Resources for information about wine are continuing to multiply and sprouting up in new forms.

Carten said the best place to start is at your local wine shop, “relying on knowledgeable staff to help you with your selection.” She also suggested attending wine seminars, which are offered for wine connoisseurs of all levels.

Vine and Dine, Garson’s food and wine pairing course, is another option that provides a social setting for people to try new menus along with wines paired by Garson herself.

A new tool in the search for wine information has emerged through the Internet.

Kensington Wine Market’s website (kensingtonwinemarket.com) features an interactive wine-choosing element that allows people to search through their catalogue based on age, grape type and region. The wines are all accompanied by detailed descriptions.

“Our website has changed the way we do business,” Carten said. “We sell more and more wine online every year.”