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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California Wine all tastes the same? Says who?

Well, finally back to blogging. After an intense weekend at the Wine Bloggers Conference, followed by four full days of running around Sonoma and Napa – and Fairfield, and Berkeley and San Francisco – and then returning to a new position at the newspaper in Quebec City, and mulling over about twenty different potential post subjects, I finally managed to focus long enough on one subject. And here it is.

One of the things that truly struck me, throughout the tastings I attended at the Wine Bloggers Conference and in the days that followed, was the great diversity of wines I tasted. Yes, there were a good lot of big, fruity, oaky cabernet sauvignons and chardonnays, but there was also a great deal more, in terms of grape varieties, climate variations and winemaking styles. More than I had expected, certainly.

Over my week, I had everything from grassy sauvignon blanc to jammy zinfandels, rustic carignan to (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…)

On the way up, New Zealand is stopping by

In recent years, New Zealand has certainly been a growing concern on the international wine scene. The sauvignon blancs, of course, and, increasingly, the pinot noirs have been making great headway on world markets. The growth of the industry in general has been simply phenomenal.

Over the last decade, the number of wineries in New Zealand has doubled, the number of hectares under vine has more than tripled (from 7,410 to 25,355 hectares), and the value of exports has been multiplied nearly by ten (from 75.9 million NZ$ to 698.3 million NZ$).

In Canada as elsewhere, the signature sauvignon blanc (more…)