Friday, September 19, 2008

Calling all Celebrities...You’re Good At What You Do but How Are You At Wine?

Throughout the world, each and every wine producing country has a handful of celebrities that are adding winery owner or wine producer to their name. In Australia we find golfer Greg Norman, in California - Michael Andretti, Francis Ford Coppola and, according to rumours, Victoria and David Beckham can now be added to the list. In France, Gerard Depardieu has been involved in wineries for years. These days, in Canada, the numbers are growing each and every day. Dan Aykroyd became a majority shareholder in Diamond Estates Wines and Spirits years ago and it seems that with each passing week, there is something newsworthy relating to the company coming out. Diamond Estates Wines and Spirits is the company behind EastDell Estates, Lakeview Cellars and Birchwood Estate Wines in the Niagara Peninsula. Plans are underway to build the Dan Aykroyd Estate Winery on the site where Birchwood Estate Wines now stands and they have recently taken over 20 Bees Winery and DeSousa Wine Cellars. Now, aside from Dan Aykroyd’s major investment in our local wine industry, we also have guys like Mike Weir, Wayne Gretzky and Bob Izumi making contributions to the wine industry in the Niagara Peninsula. Now, when you ask a lot of wine professionals what they think of celebrity wines, a lot of them are sceptical – and with good reason. It is great that celebrities are trying to promote an industry, outside of their own, but if they do not take the time to invest in a good winemaker, the results could be disastrous.

My first exposure to celebrity wines had actually been on a trip to California years ago where I had a chance to try red wines from both Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Andretti. The red wine from Coppola was good with the meal we enjoyed that night and the Merlot from Andretti Winery was so intriguing that I bought a bottle which returned home to Canada with me and was served with Christmas dinner the following year. Knowing that my first exposure to celebrity wines was a pleasant one, I decided it was time to give the celebrity wines from Ontario a try. So, on a recent trip to the Niagara Peninsula, I stopped in at each of the four celebrity wineries to try their portfolio of wines to see if I was going to find good wine, bad wine or mediocre wine. Here are the results:

Dan Aykroyd Wines

These wines are currently available for sampling and purchase at Lakeview Cellars in Vineland, Ontario. Dan has plans to build his own winery, alongside the Queen Elizabeth Way, which will eventually be built to showcase these wines that, I have to admit, surprised me.

2006 Discovery Series Sauvignon Blanc 4 ½ stars out of 5
$14.75 + bottle deposit

Great tropical fruit nose with hints of stone fruit and gooseberry; Pear & gooseberry palate. Medium finish. Out of the white wines from Dan Aykroyd, this particular one was my favourite. Everything about this wine flowed nicely and makes it a perfect wine to pair with seafood, chicken dishes or your favourite Thai food.

2006 Discovery Series Chardonnay 3 ½ stars out of 5
$14.95 + bottle deposit

Great aromas - apple, peach. Palate is different than expected - slight mineral quality. This wine just did not have the same “flow” that the Sauvignon Blanc had. Although the apple and peach flavours did continue through, the surprising mineral quality of the wine was too much of a shock for my palate and left me feeling odd after trying it. Chances are, what it needed was a good food pairing - maybe a great herb crusted chicken dish?

2006 Discovery Series Cab Merlot 4 ½ stars out of 5
$16.75 + bottle deposit

Predominantly berry fruit and spice nose. Berry fruit, bell pepper palate with a slight smoky finish.
Good structure to this wine making it a great wine to pair with a wide variety of foods. Try pizza, sausages, veal scaloppini or a wide variety of pastas with this extremely food friendly wine.

2005 Signature Series Vidal icewine 5 stars out of 5
$79.95 + bottle deposit
Gold at Ontario Wine Awards 2008 & Wine of the Year

There is a reason why this wine is a multiple award winner. Every aspect of this wine had some unique characteristic to contribute that just made it – overall – a truly elegant wine. The colour in the glass was this amazing amber colour which I do not believe I have found in any icewine ever. The nose – well, this took a while to pin down – due to the sheer number of complexities going on here. Right at the beginning of your sniffing the glass, there is this almost unidentifiable, intriguing scent which took quite a while to identify. After ten minutes, we eventually realized that what we smelt was a roast turkey – or more specifically, the herbs within the stuffing of that turkey. It was very faint, it was only there briefly but there was no denying the hint of sage in the aromas. After the sage aroma disappeared, a powerful tropical fruit nose joined in and carried through to the palate where it was joined with a slight hint of citrus. There was great structure and great balance to this wine and it felt like it could continue on forever.

My next stop this particular day was at Wayne Gretzky Estate Wines. Now, I had previously visited this winery – for the Niagara Icewine Festival in January 2008 – and, I have to admit that a lot of the wines did not impress me. There was definitely a certain degree of scepticism on my part concerning these wines but I think I have managed to find the secret to making Wayne’s wines truly great – time! Take a look at my tasting notes from his variety of wines and you’ll see why I am saying this.

Wayne Gretzky Estate Wines

2007 Unoaked Chardonnay 3 ½ stars out of 5
A lot of the white wines I am noticing this year are coming across almost completely clear to the point where most people looking at a glass of wine are questioning whether it is wine, water or vodka they are looking at. This particular wine is bearing that same characteristic but from certain angles you do see a faint peach hue in the glass.
The aromas on this wine are incredibly muted. I asked the staff behind the tasting bar when this particular wine was bottled since it is the 2007 vintage which is fairly new on the shelves but it had been bottled a few months before so I was able to rule out any possible bottle shock. This particular wine just has a very subdued aroma making it hard to detect but the palate makes up for this diminished bouquet.
The palate is definitely what surprised me the most. There was a good balance of acidity and sweetness and it has great structure which means it will age well in the next 3-4 years. The main flavours were citrus and mineral making it a perfect wine to match up with Pork dishes, Cream sauce pastas or, for the more adventurous, Paella.

2007 Merlot 4 stars out of 5
This wine was a lot of fun – it is a typical Merlot in that it shares the same flavours and aromas as many of the Merlot’s from the neighbouring wineries but the great thing about this is that it is a ready to drink now wine. The aromas were mostly berry fruit – blackberry & raspberry – but there was just a very slight hint of vanilla which also translated into the flavours.
The wine has great structure and the tannins are just right so that your face doesn’t pucker up like you’ve swallowed a lemon when you drink it. The flavours are more berry, some oak, and a great hit of chocolate to make it really complex and give it a great finish. It would be interesting to see how this wine is doing in 2-3 years but you are definitely able to drink it now if you’re dying to try some of the “Great One’s” wines.
Pair this wine up with mild curry dishes, souvlaki, chilli, stew or even pork tenderloin.

2006 Meritage 4 stars out of 5
This wine is the total package – but instead of drinking it right now, I would put this one away for 4-5 years. It is a blend of 61% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Cabernet Franc and 17% Merlot and the best of each of these grapes are fully displayed in this wine.
There is so much complexity to this wine that it is difficult to distinguish all the flavours and aromas but the major components are cocoa and berry fruit.
In the palate, those aromas continue and are added in with oaky spice and cassis. Medium tannins and great structure make this a wine that will age well and will also pair up well with the big meats when you are ready to serve open it up.

2005 Vidal Icewine 3 ½ stars out of 5
I had previously tasted this wine in January of 2008 at the Niagara Icewine Festival and, to be honest, I was not impressed at that point. I am very glad that I decided to revisit this wine when I visited the winery because I was rewarded with my patience. I’m a firm believer in aging Icewines – when I buy a bottle of icewine, I put it away for a minimum of six years and, in some cases, more than ten years, before I open it.
It has been almost eight months since I tried the 2005 Vidal Icewine and in that time frame, the aromas have developed more, the palate is no longer falling flat and the citrus and apricot aromas are developing nicely. I would suggest that if you buy a bottle of this you wait until 2010-2012 before you open it because you will definitely be rewarded for your patience.

2006 Shiraz Icewine 3 ½ out of 5
The colour on this wine is something else – it looks like the colour of oranges on the tree after a rainfall. I do not believe I have ever seen such an intense, vibrant shade of orange in a glass of wine ever. Now, this icewine is a year younger than the Vidal Icewine I just mentioned and, like it’s counterpart, it does need time. My suggestion is to wait until 2012 as a minimum to see how the apple, apricot and cherry flavours develop. Since it was made from Shiraz grapes, I would expect to see a little bit of spice in the palate after that time frame as well.

The next story I have to tell you is about Mike Weir Estate Winery and this is possibly one of the saddest stories I have to tell but it shows just how difficult a time new wineries have when trying to open a winery in our province. Back in the early years of this decade, Mike Weir joined forces with the owners of Creekside Estate Winery. With the help of their winemakers, they set about to create a line of wines that would bear Mike’s name where the proceeds would be donated to the Mike Weir Foundation. Mike had the immense good fortune of having two of Ontario’s most talented winemakers behind his dream – Rob Power and Craig MacDonald, who were recently awarded for their talent by being named Winemakers of the Year at the 2008 Ontario Wine Awards. The plan had always been that in the beginning, Mike’s wines would be available for sale at Creekside Estate Winery and, eventually, he would open his own showcase winery in the Niagara Peninsula with a retail space where his wine could be purchased. Well, the land was found, purchased and there were some production facilities put on the property but the members of the city council in the area made it increasingly difficult for this aspect of the dream to be realized. With the increasing frustrations and the opportunity to purchase land in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia presenting itself, the decision was made to move the winery to the west coast which is what the winery is in the process of doing. However, until December of 2008, the people of Ontario have the good fortune to be able to buy some of Mike’s wines at Creekside Estate Winery and, I have to tell you, it is absolutely imperative that you pick yourself up some of these delectable wines before they are no longer available in our province. Check out Mike’s wines and see what I found when I visited Creekside Estate Winery.

Mike Weir Estate Winery

2007 Sauvignon Blanc 4 stars out of 5
This is another wine that is almost clear in colour which is surprising because it has spent some time in oak which generally adds some colour to it. The aromas are intense – grass and gooseberry with a slight hint of tropical fruit. The flavours are crisp and clean like a good Sauvignon Blanc should be. There is a slight lemon quality to the wine and it has good structure and a nice finish.
If you are looking for a good value, easy drinking every day kind of wine, this is definitely a good candidate for the job.

2006 Pinot Gris 4 ½ stars out of 5
This is possibly the most vibrant colour, in terms of white wines, that I have had from the 2007 vintage in Ontario – it is a bright lemon yellow colour. The aromas seem a little muted but you can detect peaches, apricots, oranges and grapefruit coming out of the glass. The flavours are very alluring, have an underlying richness which is not common for Pinot Gris, which develops into a mostly citrus wine with a slight smoky character.

2007 Chardonnay 4 stars out of 5
Another almost clear coloured wine, the aromas are mostly floral and citrus in nature while the palate has a lovely cream base with some hidden minerality. The wine is not overpowering; it is very easy drinking and there are some spice components to the finish.

2005 Pinot Noir 4 ½ stars out of 5
Given that Pinot Noir, while on the vine, has some extremely dark grapes, it is not surprising that the colour of this wine is just as dark. The aromas can only be described as intense, dark and brooding – mostly beetroot and toasted spices – while the flavours are very deep and complex with violets and berry fruit being its main components. This wine is definitely silky smooth in the mouth and there is a nice hit of spice on the finish.

2006 Cab Merlot 3 ½ stars out of 5
This is quite possibly the only wine out of Mike’s that needs some aging to reach an optimum point. The colour is even darker than the Pinot Noir, the aromas and flavours are intense and the tannins are firm. All in all, this is a great candidate for aging and would be great to revisit in 3-4 years.

Before we go any further, I need to make mention to the fact that the following two wines – Mike’s two Icewines – are the reason why I am so sad that he is in the process of moving the operation to British Columbia. These wines will be EXTREMELY difficult to get our hands on once December has passed and there is just something so unique about these two Icewines that no one else in the province seems to be able to capture which makes Mike’s move to British Columbia a real shame.

2005 Vidal Icewine 5 stars out of 5
Everything about this wine is INTENSE! From the bright yellow colour to the apricot and honey aromas to the crisp and lively palate of citrus and tropical fruit, everything about this wine screams WOW! The wine was fermented in stainless steel tanks and, although I do not normally ask this question, the stainless steel tanks are all several years old. The reason behind asking this is because what I was tasting was not a typical icewine. A typical icewine is supposed to showcase a good balance of sweetness and acidity the entire way through the taste but this wine took a different path. The kick of sweetness lasted for the first third of the taste but then it quickly diminished leaving you tasting something as clean and crisp as a Sauvignon Blanc or a dry Riesling.
I am a big believer in aging Icewines but, in the case of these particular wines, I do not believe that extended aging would benefit this wine. I would not give it much more than three years of aging if any at all because it is drinking so incredibly well right now that extended aging may diminish its greatness.

2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Icewine 5 stars out of 5
Just as the 2005 Vidal Icewine was intense in every way; the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Icewine was interesting in every way. The colour was a slightly darker orange than Gretzky Estate Wines 2006 Shiraz Icewine – almost a rusty orange shade. The aromas were mostly toffee and raisins which translated into the flavours and was finished with a slight hint of citrus.
Like the 2005 Vidal Icewine, this particular wine took the same pattern where the first third was a great level of sweetness, followed by a that same crisp and clean feeling that the Vidal Icewine gave.

The final stop of the day was at Coyotes Run Estate Winery, where Bob Izumi has paired up with winemaker David Sheppard, Jeff Aubry and Patti Aubry to make a Bob Izumi White and a Bob Izumi Red. It would be easy to assume that since it has a generic name that it is a blend and may or may not be good but that was not the case with these wines.

Bob Izumi Wines

2006 Bob Izumi White 4 stars out of 5
I had originally thought that since the aromas were citrus fruits with a slight hint of honey that this was a blend of Semillon and Riesling. It turns out that in this particular vintage it was strictly a Riesling. The flavours were the truly interesting component to this wine. Initially, there was a slight sweetness but then the tastes changed to a point where they were almost tart. The major taste was lemon but it had some other citrus components to give it a slight complexity. It would be interesting to see if this wine would benefit from a slight amount of aging but it is perfectly ready to drink now too.

2005 Bob Izumi Red 3 ½ stars out of 5
Coyotes Run Estate Winery is known for their Pinot Noir and it is the major component in the Bob Izumi Red blending of grapes. The other grape in this blending is Cabernet Franc and by the aromas you can tell that both of these grapes are standouts. The Pinot Noir brings along smells of barnyard and forest while the Cabernet Franc brings the berry component out. The berry fruit continues on to the palate where there is good structure and firm tannins. This is a decidedly bold wine that would benefit from some aging in a wine cellar before it is ready to drink.

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