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…

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Ontario’s best rieslings: a collective tasting on Spotlight Toronto (and two extra tasting notes)

It’s nice when social media pushes the idea of social forward, encouraging collective thinking and group efforts. Like this Ontario riesling project that was proposed to a small group of wine writers and professionals by Rick Van Sickle, of the St Catharines Standard, and Suresh Doss, of Spotlight Toronto.

Six writers, including this guy who does The Wine Case blog, were included in the informal panel and submitted a series of wines. It was noticed, among the reviews submitted, that Cave Spring and Thirty Bench came up quite often in everyone’s lists. Discussions ensued about how to process and package the whole thing, various opinions were expressed, and finally selections were made and posted here. It’s quite a nice list, with a nice price range, starting at as little as 12$. (Why anyone would rather drink Cellared in Canada when good VQA wines are available at such reasonable prices is beyond me.)

I had two more choices in my list which weren’t included in the already long list provided on Spotlight Toronto. Wouldn’t want them to go to waste, so here they are, exclusive to The Wine Case.

Creekside Wines Close-Plant Reserve Riesling VQA Twenty Mile Bench
The folks at Creekside are at their most interesting when they get experimental – as they do with their whole Undercurrents series. This could be an undercurrent, but its steady quality, over the years, has made it a regular part of the Reserve series. Drawn from a closely-planted section of a particular vineyard (Butler’s Grant) dating back to the 80s – an experiment gone absolutely right – the wine has remarkable personality and originality. Part of the wine is aged in oak, but you don’t sense it much, as you concentrate on the clover, pear, quince and ginger ale – yes, ginger ale – that just jumps from the glass.

Hidden Bench Felseck Riesling
Owner Harold Thiele and winemaker Jean-Martin Bouchard may be focusing on Burgundy varieties, but that doesn’t mean they take other grapes for granted. Their rieslings tend to have a steely, clean feel to them, with a good mineral backbone, to which the Felseck vineyard, located just east of the winery buildings, seems to add an extra depth, along with hints of flint stone and, in the 2007 vintage, lovely flavors of pear and caramelized apples. Nice to hear they’re planting more.

Now, I’m going back to Niagara on Tuesday, and should be tasting more rieslings from Fielding and Flat Rock. And hopefully dropping by Creekside to pick up a bottle of that Close Plant. Work, work, work…

WBW 63: Finding my muse in a bottle of 1990 Mas La Plana

It seemed like an easy theme, what Rob Bralow proposed for Wine Blogging Wednesday. Find your Muse. That’s easy, here it is:

There, done. And there’s plenty of other songs from that band available on the Internet.

Oh, wait. That’s not what he meant?

All right. Enough with the silly musical asides. But it is a wicked, inspiring song, isn’t it?

But then again, I’m not sure I’m going to rush to listen to that song again in 15, 20 years.

Whereas I can easily see myself inspired, 15 years from now, to go down to the cellar and grab a bottle of Mas La Plana, the 100% cabernet sauvignon, single vineyard cuvée from an old Torres family vineyard in Penedes. Because every time I’ve had that wine, I’ve found something bright, expressive, significant about it, whether I was tasting it young or old.

Last year, I posted about tasting a 1988 I’d pulled out of the cellar for my father’s birthday (and reminisced about the 1981 I’d had a few years before, a wine that was still remarkably fresh at 20 years of age).

A couple of weeks ago, I tasted a 1999 Mas La Plana with a tasting group, in a horizontal tasting of the 99 vintage. It was one of the stars of the evening, with its intense, focused, open aromas and flavors: cherry danish, spice, a touch of coffee and a beautiful finish that went on and on and on. It fared a lot better than the 1999 Le Pigeonnier, a “super” Cahors designed by Michel Rolland for Domaine Lagrézette’s Alain-Dominique Perrin, a superlative cuvée that was actually a very stupid wine: all wood, rough tannins sticking to your teeth, barely any fruit, overextracted, overdone in every way. No muse came over that wine, no divine inspiration, for sure.

But that didn’t stop Robert Parker from being suckered into calling this overblown thing ” the finest wine I have tasted from Cahors. (…) Made from extraordinarily small yields of 18-20 hectoliters per hectare, it is aged for 24-30 months in 100% new French oak, and bottled without filtration. The wine is produced under the guidance of famed oenologist Michel Rolland. A fine wine, an inky/purple-colored offering with tremendous intensity as well as an extraordinary nose of blackberries, cassis, licorice, and smoke. Extremely full-bodied, with low acidity and sweet tannin…” The type of wine that looks good early on, but is all steroid, looking worse and worse as it deflates over time.

No such problem with the more restrained, but always elegant Mas La Plana. The 1990 we opened today didn’t quite have the intensity of the 1999, but it had enough stuffing left to make a good pairing with skirt steak and caramelized onions deglazed with Pedro Ximenez sherry – a tasty, intense dish, to say the least. After showing mostly cedar, right after opening, the nose opened up to freshly cooked jam (not unlike the cherry danish of the 1999, come to think of it), with a bit of spice and a fair bit of mushroom, forest floor character. Not very big on the mouthfeel, but still long and, again, solid enough to be a great match with steak. A firm hand in a silk glove.

Beyond these prosaic tasting notes, is there some poetry to be waxed out of this wine I particularly love? Well, let’s see…

Mas La Plana, who made thee?

Dost thou know who made thee?

Gave thee drinkability,

that serves meals so pleasantly;

Gave thee layers of delight;

Softest cherry, flavors bright;

Gave thee such a tender voice,

Making the tastebuds rejoice?

Mas La Plana, who made thee?

Dost thou know who made thee?

Mas La Plana, I’ll tell thee,

Mas La Plana, I’ll tell thee:

He is called Miguel Torres,

And he can make a mean wine

That is intense,  and also mild;

He became a rich man.

In la tierra catalan,

And the world knows his name.

Mas La Plana, I’ll drink thee!

Miguel Torres, I thank thee!

(With a toast to William Blake, and a nod to Randall Grahm, master of the wine-poetic parody)

Tasting Note: 2005 Catena Alta Cabernet Sauvignon, Bodega Catena Zapata

This wine review – and all the new content from The Wine Case – has moved to winecase.ca. Click here to read the review.

Tasting Note: Robert Mondavi 1995 Napa Valley Zinfandel

Zinfandel is like white wines: it doesn’t age well, right?

Wrong. Oh, so wrong.

IMG_4209On Saturday night, I opened a bottle of 14-year-old zin I’d pulled from the cellar a couple of weeks ago, to set it up right and make it ready for drinking on the right occasion. Which, in the end, meant pizza night on a lazy Saturday evening.

The 95 Napa Valley zinfandel from Robert Mondavi – back when it was really a Mondavi winery – opened up on an intense and well-defined aroma of sweet pipe tobacco, with some prune and spice showing up afterwards. All that carried through on the mouthfeel, where a very decent level of acidity kept the wine lively and easy-drinking, despite a solid 15% alcohol level. I wouldn’t go as far as saying it was refreshing, but it certainly found its balance, and did not feel heavy at all.

Better yet, as the wine opened up, more fruit came through, as black cherry notes came to the forefront. Eventually, the wine actually smelled like the tanks of fermenting pinot noir I punched down at Closson Chase vineyards, ten days ago. As if that zinfandel still had a touch of fresh picked grapes at its core.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had solid, mature zinfandel that felt like it could keep going and going. About four years ago, I drank a bottle of 1979 Glen Ellen Zinfandel I’d picked up at the tasting room at Ridge, one of my favorite California wineries. Although it felt a bit more like an old port, in some ways, it still had balance and life to it, at a good 25 years of age. Lots of pleasure to be had yet – and it was far from being over the hill.

How’s that for a wine that doesn’t age?

While I’m at it, I could tell you about the 1998 Doisy-Daëne white Bordeaux we had with Thanksgiving dinner,  as another example of graceful aging. But that’s another story.

I’d love to see how the Anderson Ranch zinfandel from Quivira, a biodynamic winery I visited last year, during the Wine Bloggers Conference, or a Preston Old Vines Zinfandel would taste like in 10, 15 or even 20 years. From what I’ve tasted so far, I think there could be much rejoicing.

Oh, by the way, the old zin went really well with the chicken-mushroom-onion pizza. Just wrapped around it smoothly, and matched nicely with the tomato sauce. Simple food that gave the wine all the room it needed to shine.

Tasting note: Cave Spring 1995 Beamsville Bench Riesling Icewine, Niagara Peninsula VQA

A little oxydation can be a good thing, now and then. Not only for all these wonderful, “geeky” wines from Jura, as Eric Asimov points out in his New York Times column this week (where he rightly praises the Ganevat Trousseau as a great steak wine… but that’s another story). It can even be true for wines that are not, by design, meant to be oxydated.

Take this 1995 Riesling Icewine from Cave Spring that a good friend of mine recently brought me at a dinner, with a bit of doubt about its condition. There was a tiny bit of leakage on the edge of the cork, and the wine, which he had dug out of a less-travelled part of his cellar, was showing a lot more color than one would usually expect from an (usually bright-gold) icewine.

Was it past its prime? Still drinkable? Hard to tell.

IMG_4170

Instead of opening it with the evening’s dessert, I pulled out a 2001 Ambre from one-0f-a-kind Swiss wine producer Christophe Abbet (see a few words about him here), a fabulous, voluntarily oxydative dessert wine made from late harvest marsanne and arvine. It showed intense candied orange and caramel flavors, and a remarkable freshness, due in good part to arvine’s natural acidity. Not a bad pick at all.

So, my friend did not get short-changed in this exchange of sweets. But neither did I, as I discovered on opening it last week.

The color, when I poured it, was a bit worrisome, as the photo here shows. Dark caramel, almost terra cotta colored, it looked as though it had gone overboard. But the aromas, however, told a different story.

You could sense the oxydative character, with a good dose of baked apple showing up right from the start. But as the wine opened up and met with more oxygen, it started going towards caramelized sugar and, gradually, apricot jam, with a tiny touch of something more earthy, like wet autumn leaves. Nothing rough or tired there, I must say, and the still bright acidity kept it quite fresh and pleasant, with apricot and orange flavors and a touch of spice showing up, with still nice length.

Of course, the high sugar and high acidity in icewine certainly have a good part to play in making it ageworthy and resistant to oxydation. But the extent to which this wine had withstood it – combined with the great impression a four-year barrel-aged icewine from Nova Scotia made upon me last spring – tells me that there could be considerable interest in working that frozen treat with long ageing in oak, which could well bring it more complexity, without taking much away from it.

Tasting Note : 1996 Cornas, Paul Jaboulet Aîné

I’ve long had a particular liking for the wines of Cornas, this supposedly toughest, most masculine appellation in the Rhône. I’ve always had a few bottles in my cellar, and was appalled when a scare over some of the oldest vineyards shook the region two years ago.

One of the first Cornas I cellared, shortly after I started putting away a few bottles, was the Paul Jaboulet Aîné Cornas – the regular cuvée, which had the advantage of being more affordable, allowing me to keep two of the 1996 on their side for the following decade.

The 1996 vintage was a significant year for the Jaboulet domaine, since it was the last worked by Gérard Jaboulet, the patriarch who had done so much to enhance the estate’s reputation over the previous decades. Gérard died suddenly in 1997, leaving the family in clear disarray. The quality of the wines suffered in the following few years, as many comments and reviews repeatedly stated.

The long-term result of that difficult period has been the purchase of Paul Jaboulet Aîné, a family operation for almost two centuries, by the Frey family, owners of Château La Lagune, among other properties. Only one Jaboulet, Frédéric, is still working with the company : seven were at the helm up to the sale, in 2006.

The sale has certainly meant an influx in cash. What it means in terms of quality and reputation will have to be seen over the next few year

In the meantime, I am finishing the last few bottles of Jaboulet wines from the Gérard era in my cellar, including a recent tasting of the second bottle of 1996 Cornas. I had tasted the first bottle a year ago, and written a tasting note on my French blog where I was perplexed at the rather reserved flavors and aromas it displayed.

This time was different. Animal smells jumped forward right after opening, blending afterwards with a lovely touch of licorice, some cedar, coffee, a touch of black fruit, and a bit of herbal notes. The licorice and cedar were the most noticeable flavors on tasting, with a pleasant mouthfeel that faded a bit on the finish.

Though this was a pleasant and complex enough cuvée, it seemed unlikely that the wine would have gained anything from staying longer in the cellar. The orange edges and the evolved set of flavors and aromas hinted that while it hadn’t faded, it was on the edge of doing so. Nothing like the 20-year minimum wait time that used to be touted by Rhône experts about the « black wines » of Cornas. Maybe that duration would be more appropriate for the Domaine Saint-Pierre of the same era, the best Cornas vineyard owned by the Jaboulet estates, or for the cuvées of top producers like Clape, Jacques Lemenicier, Vincent Paris or Mathieu Barret’s Domaine du Coulet, to quote a few. I guess I’ll still wait a bit before opening that 98 Clape…

P.S. : Thank you, Jancis !

I’d like to thank Jancis Robinson for her help with this post. Being away from my home, and without any reference books, I couldn’t find any trace of Gérard Jaboulet on the Jaboulet web site or just about anywhere on the web, and my memory was failing to remember the first name. How quickly someone of that stature can seem to be forgotten… I posted a tweet asking for help, and Ms Robinson was kind and generous enough to provide an answer in the next couple of hours. I promise to raise a toast to her with the next bottle of Jaboulet – or Cornas – I open.

Tasting Note: 2008 Txomin Etxaniz Getaria Txakolina

This review – and all the new content on The Wine Case – is now at a new address, winecase.ca. Click here to read the review.

Dan Aykroyd is coming to Montreal. Does his wine taste funny?

If I was in Montreal, I’d be tempted to go. Dan Aykroyd, the famous Canadian actor of Saturday Night Live fame will be touring Montreal, today and tomorrow (June 25 and 26), to present the line of wines that bear his name. He’ll be visiting three SAQ stores (see the list here) over the two days, to give the drinking public a taste of what’s bottled for him by Diamond Estates Wines and Spirits, the company behind Lakeview Cellar Wines, East Dell and 20 Bees, among other things.

If I could go, I’d certainly ask him what the deal is with all the celebrity wines appearing on the scene, this past couple of years. Like the Madonna, Kiss and Streisand wines from Celebrity Cellars. Or the Mike Weir and Wayne Gretzky wines made by Creekside Wines. Or the icewines and Napa Cab made for the Rolling Stones by Ex Nihilo Vineyards.

I’d ask him if he sees a difference between having a line of wines made by someone else, with your name on it, from various vineyards from here and there (Dan Aykroyd’s wines are sometimes VQA, sometimes not, sometimes from Canada, sometimes from Sonoma…), and actually owning your vineyards. Like Sting’s Il Palagio Sumner Family wines from Tuscany, Gérard Depardieu in the Loire, David and Victoria Beckham in California, Sam Neill in New Zealand, or even Francis Ford Coppola in California – although that last case definitely has more winemaking tradition in it than just celebrity trendiness.

Wine is certainly fashionable, if celebrities enjoy having their names on labels. It equates with luxury, health, pleasure, the good life. A good association if there ever was one. And you can even make a noble statement about biodiversity, the environment, and farming tradition – as the Sumners do in their biodynamic estate in Italy.

Oh, and by the way, I’ve had one of the Dan Aykroyd Discovery Series wines, before. The chardonnay, on a summer trip in Ontario. And no, it didn’t taste funny, despite my attempt at humor in the title. It wasn’t memorable, but it was simple and easy-drinking. In other words, it was fun.

Canadian Icewine: Quality and Diversity from Coast to Coast

I used to love Canadian Icewine and its less expensive, but often quite as tasty counterpart, the late harvest. And then, for some odd reason, I practically stopped having it.

Over the last few months, however, I drank icewines from Ontario, British Columbia, Québec and Nova Scotia. And baby, I’m back.

Those were fine, fine wines, with all the apricot, honey and floral aromas and flavors you’d want, the acidity needed to balance out the concentrated sweetness. What struck me the most, however, was the diversity of styles – a much greater range than I would have expected.

Let me give you an idea of this range of styles by giving tasting notes from West to East. (more…)