Tasting Note: Undercurrent Muscat-Sauvignon Blanc 2007 and other crazy wines from Creekside Estate Winery

Creekside is one interesting winery. They can make some very straightforward, accessible wines with a great quality-price ratio, as shown not only by their Estate series of wines (like that nice, pepper-strawberry driven shiraz), but also by the 60,000 some odd cases the same winemaking team makes for No. 99 Estates Winery, generally known as the Wayne Gretzky wines. Good stuff all around, star power or not on the label.

They can also make some serious, original reserve wines that are very often quite out of the ordinary. When I visited last summer with assistant winemaker Erin Harvey, I had the chance to taste a number of solid bottlings, including a delicious Close Plant riesling from the Butler’s Grant vineyard that I reviewed in a previous post. I was impressed by a 2007 Reserve Pinot Gris aged in French oak barrels, that was pretty wild and intense, with great spicy character and some wild aromas of prosciutto and cantaloup, and a long finish structured by a touch of bitterness.

I was also taken aback by the 2004 Lost Barrel, a mix of red grapes (“a bit of everything”, said Erin) made from the “tippings” (the dark, rich, sediment-laden stuff left at the bottom of barrels of red after they are racked) of top reds that are collected into a single barrel. After five years settling in oak, the wine showed up as a big, chunky, bloody, spicy, meaty, wild, wild thing with big whacks of fruit and intense flavors coming at you intensely. So much stuff that a slight whiff of volatile acidity felt refreshing, in all that unusual mass of vinous stuff.

Making a cuvée from the tippings is basically a crazy idea. But what’s beautiful about Creekside is that this crazy spirit leads to some of the most successful wines they make. (The spirit also permeates the way the cellar is organized: tanks are named after scientists, philosophers, filmmakers or… The Beatles. That last row of four tanks recently got a fifth one added, quickly named Yoko, as it was a late addition and proved to be a bit of a troublemaker. More on the workflow in this Creekside blog post.).

That’s where the Undercurrent series comes in – the place where Creekside winemakers really have the most of their winegeek fun. You want an almost-late-harvest sauvignon blanc? Why not. A once-in-a-lifetime cofermented blend of muscat and sauvignon blanc? You got it.

When I drove back to the Niagara, a couple of weeks ago, and stopped by to get a couple of bottles of the close-plant riesling, I also got myself a 500 ml bottle of this very unusual blend of varieties. We opened it this week, as a match to an oven-grilled halibut with herbs and olive oil, and a sort of corn-basil-sweet pepper salsa. Boy did that work well, as the mix between the freshness and slight grassiness of the sauvignon blanc and the highly aromatic, stonefruit-driven aromas and flavors of the muscat playfully blended with the sweetness of the corn or cut through the rich fish. One day after opening, the wine tasted even better, with a well-rounded feel and a touch of honey added to the mix.

The completely unusual aromatic profile explains why the label bears the words “Product of Canada” (showing it’s made from 100% Canadian grapes), rather than the usual VQA. The singular profile threw the VQA tasting panels for a spin, and since typicity is one of the factors that qualify a wine for the official appellation, the Muscat-Sauvignon Blanc got stock on its edge. It’s the VQA’s loss, really.

If you want to taste it, you’ll have to make your way to the winery. And do it soon, because that exact blend won’t be coming back. There is a 2008 blend of muscat, sauvignon blanc and gewurztraminer from 2008 on the way, but the addition of gewurz takes the whole thing in a very different direction. Another unique bottling – just like that 2007 sangiovese that my little finger tells me is also in the works…

TasteCamp in Long Island: I AM drinking merlot

I can say one thing about last weekend’s TasteCamp East, organized by Lenn Thompson for a group of about 15 bloggers (see the whole list here, with very personal notes from Dale Cruse) who enthusiastically went around the vineyards of Long Island. I’ve never had so much merlot in so little time.

Actually, I can say two things about TasteCamp East: I’ve never had so much merlot, and never before had I enjoyed it that much.

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Bud break on a merlot vine at Shinn Estate Vineyards

It’s not that I’ve never had good merlot – or at least, good merlot-based blends. For instance, I’ve enjoyed many good and some great Pomerols or Saint-Émilions where merlot was playing a leading role. But I tend to find more to please me in the Médoc, with cabernet sauvignon in the forefront. And years of being disappointed again and again by flabby or imprecise or just undistinguished varietal bottlings from the likes of California and Chile just brought my enthusiasm for merlot very close to ground level. 

So what was I doing in Long Island, where merlot is king? (more…)

Quebec City hosts its first ever Salon des vins

Tomorrow, Quebec City’s very first Salon des vins et spiritueux (site in French only) will open, providing wine lovers and professionals from the region (and beyond) with a first event of this scale. Organizers have managed to get a lot of people on board, showcasing a higher number of industry participants than the Montreal Salon, which was, up to now, the only one in Quebec.

Of course, it remains to be seen if (more…)

WBW 55 Trial Run: North vs South in Radio-Coteau pinots

Periodically, I’m grabbed by the urge to pull a bottle out of the cellar, unplanned and by itself, not for a meal or special occasion. That’s how I wound up pulling out a 2005 Savoy pinot noir by Radio-Coteau, Eric Sussman‘s winemaking operation in Forestville, California.

Sussman, who started Radio-Coteau in 2002, learned the trade in Washington State before heading to Bordeaux and especially to Burgundy in the mid-1990s. After four years at Dehlinger, he started collecting 90+ scores from just about every wine writer of influence. Descriptions got me so excited that I even ordered a case for myself all the way out to Quebec. A costly proposition, just counting the import taxes. But it was worth it, especially for the La Neblina, which remains one of the finest, most subtle and well-focused California  pinots I’ve had.

Beyond providing a satisfying drink, the Savoy, sourced from a vineyard in Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley, also provided a clear example of what I’m aiming for with the theme for Wine Blogging Wednesday 55: North vs South.

The Neblina and the Savoy I’ve had are two wines from the same vintage, same variety and the same producer, the only difference being vineyard location – and perhaps the farming practices in each vineyard – single vineyard for the Savoy, two different ones for the Neblina, one in Annapolis, and the other one along Gravenstein Highway, west of Sebastopol.

A quick look at a map (more…)

Poetry in a bottle, and all the hard work that goes into it

Opening a bottle, pouring yourself a glass, sensing the complex aromas and flavors, the velvety texture: that’s the pleasure of wine.

But to get there, it’s good to remember just how much hard work has been put in by everyone that’s hard at work in the vineyards and cellars. As Wayne Young writes on the Bastianich Winery blog:

There’s  romantic misconception about the harvest… Grape Picking. Most people imagine lovely ladies in sun-dresses happily carrying their wicker baskets of beautiful fruit through the vineyards…

I would rather spend 8 hours in the cellar working with tanks and pumps and hoses, than 4 hours picking grapes. It’s messy, buggy, sticky, hot, nasty work.

Wayne has been doing a great job giving a sense of what harvest is all about, by describing everything from the equipment and how it’s used to fermentation, grape varieties, the method of drying grapes by appassimento, wasp attacks and the quick onset of a storm, just as fresh grapes are waiting to be brought into the winery. In other words, (more…)

Regional Wine Week: Quebec wine, now ready to drink

In the same that California is no longer exclusively synonymous with wine in the United States, Niagara is no longer the only game in town for Canadian wine. Not that either place is losing its importance. Rather, it’s the growth of viticulture all over North America that is truly remarkable. After all, if Poland can get into the winemaking game, why not Poland, ME – or for that matter, why not Quebec?

That’s what the Regional Wine Week, the kickoff to the Regional Wine Writing Project, brainchild of Dave McIntyre and Jeff Siegel, is all about: getting the word out about all the great wine being produced in lesser-known areas of our continent. A web site, DrinkLocalWine.com, has been set up, and connects you to close to thirty wine writers, bloggers and/or journalists who have come on board.

I found out about the initiative on (more…)

Tasting Note: Creekside Estate Winery 2006 VQA Cabernet, Niagara Peninsula

On my short vacation on Manitoulin Island, last August, I took a minute to stop by the Gore Bay branch of the LCBO to grab some wine (and a bit of cider), and chanced upon a bottle of 2006 VQA Cabernet by Creekside Winery, which I’d heard much good about in the last few months.

Among other things, Creekside scored high in the most recent Canadian Wine Awards and was a finalist for Winery of the Year.

Of course, to get a full sense of what the winery is about, (more…)

Got corked wine? We want your data.

A few days ago, I started a discussion on the Open Wine Consortium regarding the actual prevalence of cork taint in wines. It followed a previous blog post on data from the Société des alcools du Québec, our very own state monopoly, that suggests cork taint should be present in well below 1% of all wine sold.

Quite a discussion that has been. Fiery at times, even. The lack of reliable data was regularly cited – and not really answered.

That’s when we got a suggestion from (more…)

Champagne expansion: sober second thought

I’ve been very skeptical about the expansion of vineyards admitted into the Champagne appellation, which has caused quite a stir in the greater Champagne region. If more vineyards are being brought in, it has to do with business opportunities, of course, since demand for Champagne has been growing steadily in recent years, and producers want to sell more. For land owners, it’s also a great financial opportunity, as the value of land can increase hugely when its status changes.

Where does quality stand in that whole process? Not too far behind (more…)

Dreaming of Starting Your Own Vineyard? Read This.

In the last few weeks, I’ve been reading through a special Decanter page called “Living The Dream“, where Richard Mayson, a writer from said magazine, presents his thoughts and impressions on a project that has been taking him away from wine writing. Back in 2004, he decided to start his own winemaking operation and bought an estate in the Alentejo, in Southern Portugal. Twenty hectares up in the mountains, called Quinta de Centro, which he decided to partly replant, as he went on to built a new winery and deal with everything that Portugal had in for him, from weather to bureaucracy and commercial practices.

It’s a fascinating read, pages and pages full by now, that you have to read from the bottom up if you want to read the story in order. You’ll find a bit of everything in there, from winemaking questions, of course, to the importance of the cafés in the portuguese business world to local authorities’… er… peculiar management schemes, environmental questions, fauna and flora, branding, exports, wine transportation, etc.

Going from a dream to the reality of vineyard ownership, winemaking and sales is quite a step, as Richard Mayson’s writings clearly show. But as you go through it, it does seem that, if you really, really want it, the pride and satisfaction felt are truly worth all the gigantic hassles.

Now, I seem to remember there were some nice old vineyards around Calce…