Sauvignon Blanc for Early Summer - Creekside and No.99 Wayne Gretzky Estate

May 27, 2010

Last summer we complained about the rain and it looks like this summer we're going to be griping about the heat. I suppose that's human nature. One thing's for sure, if the past few days have been an indication of things to come, the sale of white wine is assured. 

As I mentioned in a previous blog, Ontario is a cool climate viticultural area. The Niagara Region is just above 43 degrees north latitudinal band. We share similar growing conditions to southern Germany. What this means is that we can grown and produce exceptional white grapes that will in turn make lively and refreshing white wines. 

When it comes to whites, Riesling and Chardonnay are the two main varieties that excel here. In their shadows, you can find Gewürztraminer with some great Pinot Gris/Grigio and Pinot Blanc. 

If you're looking for something to chill for these summer days, you can't go wrong with the above-mentioned as most wineries do good if not exceptional varietal or blends.

There's also Sauvignon Blanc which I've found typically depends on who you buy from...

When Sauvignon Blanc is done right, it is easily distinguished from other whites. Sauvignon Blancs around the world are known for their grassy, herbaceous, green fruit, gooseberry and sometimes 'tomcat' aromas  and flavours (the latter often referred to as 'cat's pee'). 

It is grown throughout both the Old and New Worlds. In France look no further than the Loire Valley: Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé are the two best place to start learning about Sauvignon Blanc. The whites are definitely herbal but the former's whites have a unique smoky mineral quality while the latter are known for their 'flint'. 

In Bordeaux, the grape is typically blended with Sémillon to make white Bordeaux and high-priced sweet Sauternes and affordable Barsac. 

Speaking of Bordeaux, it is interesting to note that DNA profiling has revealed Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc to be the noble parents of the great red variety, Cabernet Sauvignon. Apparently back in the 18th century, these two vines spontaneously crossed somewhere in the region to create the most popular red grape in the world.

Sauvignon Blanc is also important to New Zealand's wine industry. In the 1970s, Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc sparked a revolution on the international market and the entire country has reaped the benefits since. Today it is the most-widely planted variety in the country with Chardonnay a distant second. 
The famous Cloudy Bay label

In the Casablanca Valley along the Pacific coast in central Chile, the white grape does especially well. In South African you can find excellent varietal Sauv Blancs from Stellenbosch. In California, the white wine is lightly oaked giving the herbal component a softy creamy-toast character.

Last year when I went wandering the wine route, I gravitated towards Riesling and Chardonnay. I tried the occasional Sauvignon Blanc here and there, stopping at wineries in both NOTL and Jordan/Beamsville but found the varietals wanting. The acidity didn't seem as bright as the best of France or New Zealand. The grassiness was quite sad in a few instances and the structures of most were a bit wobbly. 

I had really given up on Canadian Sauv. Blanc.

Then yesterday, while out buying wedding gifts, I happened on a few excellent Sauvignon Blancs from two interesting wineries.

First, I have to mention Creekside and No.99 are actually sister companies. 

Creekside came into being in 1998 when Peter Jansen and Laura McCain-Jensen, newly returned from a honeymoon/wine tour in California bought V.P. Cellars, a languishing winery on 4th Avenue.

In June 2007, Monique Beech in the Niagara Falls Blog (she now writes for the St.Catharines Standard) announced the Great One would be opening a winery in Niagara. The location was not disclosed at the time but it turned out to be the former Willow Heights Winery at 3751 King St. in Vineland. 

The two wineries are in partnership and share both the land and winemakers. If you're looking for a tour, please call up Creekside as the Gretzky facility is not yet set up to accommodate eager wine students. Both locations have restaurants.

I wouldn't say Sauvignon Blanc has the same potential here in Niagara as Riesling or Chardonnay but with innovation and care, it can be unique. 

Take the No.99 Wayne Gretzky Estate Series 2007 Sauvignon Blanc. I mentioned that Sauv. Blanc is lightly oaked in California (they call it Fumé Blanc). This wine has the herbs, the grass but also a lovely gooseberry character. The wine is a combination of both barrel and stainless steel fermentation and you'll find a light, creamy texture to the wine that is no way intrusive but intriguing. $18.95 and available through the winery or on-line wine buying sites. 

For those that want a beautiful, zesty, green fruit gooseberry and grapefruit summer sipper, I highly recommend the Creekside Estate 2008 Sauvignon Blanc at $13.95 (winery and LCBO). A wonderful white, it's delicate but lively and a great wine to reach for after being out in the sun. 

Creekside Estate also offers a Reserve 2007 Sauvignon Blanc ($26.95). Again, if you like the idea of the Gretzky lightly-oaked Sauv., then this one might be for you. The wine was rated 4 1/2 stars out of 5 by Rick VanSickle, wine writer for the St.Catharines Standard and is a Gold Medal winner at both Cuveé 2010 and the Ontario Wine Awards 2009.  

The wine is bigger with the tropical fruit and gooseberry notes turned up in volume. It isn't as grassy as the Estate series offering but if you can imagine a grapefruit gently dipped in whipped cream, then this is your wine.

Overall, these varietal are ideal on their own or with a side salad. With the Reserve from Creekside, however, I would pair it with a creamy Alfredo pasta.

Crisp white wines like Sauvignon Blanc are also excellent with fried foods so if you need something to sip with your fish and chips, look no further this summer. 



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My focus is mainly on wine culture, history and education. I love the stories behind wine - the people, places and the regional personalities of the wine-countries around the world.

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