“I wish people would not ignore the sweet wine category. It breaks my heart. Rather than having a dessert, have this for dessert – or if you’re having cheese, have this sweet wine and end on a high note,” says Laurie MacKay, CBC radio’s House Wine columnist.
MacKay is from Saint Albert, and is proud to be born and raised in Alberta. Her studies took her to NAIT for Marketing Management, and then to Western University for a degree in Economics and Political Science, during which she worked at the Canadian embassy in Washington DC, and decided the diplomatic path was for her.
A trip in 1990 to the Middle East, Africa, and Europe, gave her cause for thought though when she learned she was a really good traveller, and after a spell as an intern at the Alberta legislature, she knew it wasn’t her future.
“So I did what I always do at crossroads, and go traveling,” she explains. “That’s always been the thing that nourishes me and invigorates me.” She lived in southern Japan, and travelled in India, Thailand, and Nepal for a couple of years before moving to Calgary.
In 1999, she took a job at Kensington Wine Market for six months – and stayed for six years as she’d caught the wine bug. “I get pretty bored of things that stay the same, and wine isn’t like that,” she says.
“There are different countries to explore. There are different regions within the countries to explore. You have the people behind the wine to explore. And when you think you might know everything, it’s a different vintage and every year you basically start over.”
And now it’s 20 years later. In that time she has taught classes, worked in wine wholesale, continued her own wine education, and launched her company, “Soul Vines”. In 2006, she was selected for CBC radio’s Homestretch. “It was a dream come true for me because I always wanted to work at CBC. So it means a lot to me, and that I’ve been there 13 years,” says MacKay.
She’s tickled pink about her latest venture though, as she’s combined wine and travel, and in October next year will be the beverage guide for Expedia’s first beer and wine cruise – a 10-day tour, starting with beer in Prague and Pilsen, then seven days cruising through Germany, Austria, Slovakia, and Hungary, where wine will be the focus.
“And I hope to run two or four of those trips a year and become the river cruise wine and beer specialist,” she smiles.
What bottle MacKay is saving for a special occasion?
“Well, this is an exciting bottle because it’s 1999, the year I started in wine, and that’s important to me. It’s Royal Tokai, and I didn’t pick it because it rhymes with my name,” MacKay laughs. “But I really like indigenous grape varieties, and I really like acidity in wine.”
“And this is the wine of kings, and it’s from Hungary,” she adds. “That’s a coincidence because I bought this many years ago when I worked in Kensington, and now it’s come full circle because I’m doing the wine tour in Hungary, but it’s probably the best pairing I ever had. When the mood catches me and I open this, I am going to recreate it – a Medjool date stuffed with Roquefort cheese, and an organic walnut on top.”
“What makes this wine really special are the rich, unctuous flavours of apricots, pear and orange peel, and a backbone of acidity that kicks in mid-palate. So it doesn’t just coat the tongue, it really lights up the palate. Talking about that pairing, I want to open it soon. Like right now!”