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…

Moscato for the Holidays

It’s a little late for Christmas wine recommendations, I realize. But it’s still early for New Year’s, so that’s still all right.

Especially when you suggest a wine that is as festive as it is (relatively) inexpensive, so much so that it could be pulled out for any excuse for a celebration.

The wine is moscato, or more precisely, moscato d’asti, the low-alcohol, sparkling, refreshing, fruity wine that is a specialty of Piemont, in Northern Italy. Made from that most aromatic of grapes, muscat, (more…)

Blogging Live from Santa Rosa, CA

Well, here we are. A whole bunch of bloggers, usually glued to their screen, pretty much alone in their office (or kitchen, or television room), writing for people from often far away, are gathered for the weekend in Santa Rosa, at the heart of Sonoma. We’ll still be glued to our screens, but all together (and there are vineyard walks in the program, mind you…)

It’s time for the Wine Bloggers Conference, the first of its kind in North America, and only the second in the world, after the European Wine Bloggers Conference held late August in Spain. Both conferences have been exceeding expectations, if only in terms of attendance. Both got booked to capacity – and beyond.

Over 160 people are attending (more…)

Tasting Note: 1998 Conundrum, Caymus Vineyards

If you do things well enough, you can make pretty much anything work in winemaking. Even combinations and approaches that simply shouldn’t make sense.

Want proof? Try some Conundrum, the impossibly complicated blend created by Caymus winemaker John Bolta. It’s made from chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, semillon, viognier and muscat from Napa Valley, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Lucia Highlands and (more…)