Niagara wine

By Rick VanSickle

Conformity is not what Creekside Estate Winery in Niagara does. No, not at all. Never has, never will.

Creekside is Jefferson Airplane in a world of Rolling Stones. For the kids out there, a refresher:

“And if you go chasing rabbits, and you know you’re going to fall
“Tell ’em a hookah-smoking caterpillar has given you the call …

“When logic and proportion have fallen sloppy dead
And the white knight is talking backwards
And the red queen’s off with her head
Remember what the dormouse said
Feed your head, feed your head”

— Grace Slick, White Rabbit

Watch and listen:

The point here is this: While the vast majority of Niagara wineries chart a predictable course of core varietals — Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc — the winemakers at Creekside have taken the rabbit hole less travelled and have found immense success doing it.

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The steady team of head winemaker Rob Power, top photo, and assistant winemaker Yvonne Irvine, above, love the challenge of being different.

“There are guys that stick to Chardonnay and Pinot and there are guys that don’t,” says Power. “And we definitely don’t.”

Their portfolio is deep and varied and by their own admission is the antithesis of Pinot Noir/Chardonnay, mainstays in Niagara winemaking. Here it is Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah and wild things that are lost and found in the darkest corners of the cellar that get top billing.

Or, as Irvine says: “We make wines we want to drink ourselves.”

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The lineup here is deep in Sauvignon Blanc in every incarnation you can imagine: Stripped down bare, oaked, blended and sparkled. Syrah also plays a starring role in equally varied styles right up to the flagship wine from the winery: The Broken Press Syrah with and without the inclusion of Viognier. And, of course, the big bruiser and one of the region’s most sought-after wines, made just five times in 18 years — the Lost Barrel Red, a zany concoction of highly concentrated remains of wine and “tailings” that’s collected, stashed in a barrel and forgotten for years and years in a dark corner of the cellar only to emerge as a wine very unlike anything else made in Niagara.

Creekside has always marched to the beat of a different drummer, even has ownership as changed. And what a beat it is.
I got a front row seat to the winery’s chaotic mass of wine that was laid out in the barrel cellar to taste with Power, Irvine and retail director Britnie Bazylewski — an endless array of whites, reds and big bruisers including one red that just may be the last one in Niagara released from the hot, hot, hot 2010 vintage (that aforementioned Lost Barrel).

Here’s what we tasted and what I can recommend. The wines reviewed are either available now or will be soon.

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Our tasting was followed by a delicious meal on The Deck where one of the great Niagara characters and chefs, Nathan “Nate” Young, presides over his In the Smoke Cookery, serving up locally inspired, Southern-style barbecue Friday to Monday.

I can highly recommend the pan-seared steel head trout on a bed of green lentils, carrot, red onion, fresh herbs and buttermilk dressing. It is delicious with the Creekside Pinot Noir Rosé 2016.

I also got a taste of the new cider Creekside Rood Apple Cider made by Irvine. It was previously reviewed here.

The wines

Creekside Backyard Bubbly Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($25, 88 points) — A fresh and lively nose of citrus, lemon grass, lime and pear. Just pure joy on the palate with a popping range of citrus, pear and grassy undertones all lifted by racy acidity.

Creekside Undercurrent Semillon Naked 2016 ($26, 89 points) — A stripped down, unoaked version of Semillon. It’s highly aromatic with notes of pear, white flowers and grapefruit. It has lovely texture on the palate and freshening acidity with citrus and pear fruit that’s all together delightful.

Creekside Iconoclast Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($23, 90 points) — Almost a 50-50 blend of these two varietals that form the backbone of white Bordeaux wines. It sees some oak aging. The nose is redolent in honeysuckle, citrus, herbs and luscious spicy notes. It has beautiful texture on the palate with bold flavours of grapefruit, guava, pear and spice that is quite juicy but lifted by racy acidity.

Creekside Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($30, 90 points) — This style of Savvy needs time to fully express itself, says Power. It’s aged in oak, about 50% of which is new. Still, it’s showing a lovely mélange of citrus, grass, herbs and spice on the nose. On the palate there is a range of savoury citrus fruit and toasted oak spices with subtle herbs and grassy notes, but noticeably tight at the moment. Wait for it!

Creekside Backyard Block Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($22, 89 points) — From grapes you can see growing right off the back deck at the estate. Beautiful aromatics of fresh squeezed lemon and lime with subtle herbs and grass notes. It’s bright and vibrant on the palate with citrus goodness and underlying garden herbs through a clean finish. Fresh and pure Savvy.

Creekside Queenston Road Vineyard Chardonnay 2015 ($25, 89 points) — Since Power is not a “malo guy” he turns to Irvine to handle the craftsmanship on this oaked and “malo-ed” version of single-vineyard Chardonnay. It has lovely aromatics of pear, spice, toast, apple crumble and citrus. It’s quite rich and spicy on the palate with notes of pear, apple, citrus on the edges, full spice profile, broad flavours with decent acidity to keep it fresh through the finish. See? It’s not all Savvy and Syrah at The Creek.

Creekside Undercurrent Wilding Chardonnay 2015 ($35, 92 points) — The juice is allowed to spontaneously ferment, then the wine slowly develops over 12 months élevage and full malolactic fermentation in four French oak barrels. “What you get is more complex and interesting,” says Irvine. Kind of makes you think back to the now distant memory of Game of Thrones Season 7 finale, doesn’t it? This wilding has a beautiful yet untethered nose of ripe pear, minerality, butterscotch spice, baked apple and lemon drops. It is bold and sassy on the palate with orchard fruits, integrated barrel spice notes, flinty minerality and tingling acidity through a long finish. Time will tame this wilding, but it will always show its wild side.

Creekside Reserve Viognier 2015 ($30, 91 points) — Aged in 100% French oak, all used barrels. Interestingly, the skins from this Vio go into the making of the signature Broken Press Syrah. The nose shows tangerine, peach, apricot, exotic tropical fruits and integrated spice notes. It’s rich and bold on the palate with succulent tropical fruits and subtle spice notes on a voluptuous, fleshy frame. An exotic treat.

Creekside Queenston Road Vineyard Pinot Noir Rosé 2016 ($23, 88 points) — There is still plenty of time to enjoy rosé, in fact it should be an all-season wine. Power says he can’t make enough of this fresh and dry style of rosé with sales doubling almost every vintage. “People are generally getting the whole pink thing,” he says. “I credit Martin (Malivoire) for getting people to see things through rose-coloured glasses.” Power’s style for this wine is pretty and personable with notes of fresh strawberry and cherry on the nose. It’s crisp and perfectly dry on the palate with the full range of fresh and delicate red fruits. Exactly what I look for in good rosé.

Creekside Iconoclast Syrah 2015 ($25, 91 points) — Iconoclast wines are the little brothers of Broken Press, essentially declassified grapes from the flagship wine. The 2015 Syrah gets a smidge of Viognier. The nose is rich and savoury with meaty, bright dark fruits of black currants and cassis with spicy/peppery notes. The tannins are firm here on the palate with a range of meaty dark fruit, bay leaves, pepper, lovely texture and length through the finish. Classic Syrah that will age beautifully as those tannins melt into the wine.

Broken Press Syrah 2015 ($45, 92 points) — The Broken Press benefits from aging with about 3% Viognier skins and sees a mix of French and Hungarian oak (mostly older barrels). “We don’t want the oak to yell at you,” says Power. It’s tightly wound at the moment and should begin opening up when it’s released later this year, but still shows a thick and rich nose of grilled meats, cracked black pepper, dark fruits, boysenberry and fine oak spice notes. It really shines on the palate with concentrated and layered blueberry, cassis, black currants, graphite, leather and spice. Such persistence and length through the finish and a promise to improve with extended aging in the cellar.

Creekside Unbroken Press 2015 ($45, 91 points) — The Unbroken Press is made sans Viognier. The nose shows more umami accents, more meat, more earth and more spice than the Broken Press with a range of dark fruits. This is even tighter on the palate with thick dark fruits to go with tar, graphite and firm tannic structure. Cellar 5+ years to fully enjoy the full potential of this wine.

Creekside Laura’s Red 2015 ($22, 88 points) — This is the first Laura’s Red since 2012. It’s a Merlot-driven Meritage blend with just a touch of Syrah added in. It has a lovely nose with bright black fruits, cherry in the background and elegant barrel spice notes. It has good structure on the palate to go with pepper, blackberries, cassis, spice and lifted acidity.

Creekside Cabernet Franc 2015 ($25, 89 points) — Sourced from Four Mile Creek sub-appellation, this has a nose of black currants, dark cherry, cocoa, light herbal notes and spice. Classic Niagara CF on the palate with notes of currants, cherries, raspberry, smoky cedar plank, savoury spices and a bright, perky finish. Very nice.

Creekside Lost Barrel Red 2010 ($75-$80, released in mid-Sept., 93 points) — Where to start with this mythical beast? Rearing its head from the dark reaches of the cellar for only the fifth time in 18 years (other vintages are 2001, 2002, 2004 and 2007), the “accidental” Lost Barrel is one of those most curious of experiments that has now become the most collectible wine in The Creek’s arsenal.

The blend, as far as anyone can remember, is predominantly Syrah and after that every red varietal that’s grown or sourced from the estate. The exact quantities are unknown. When racking red wine barrels, Creekside winemakers routinely combine the lees (the yeast and grape solids which collect on the bottoms of the barrels) from them. A barrel typically has 4-5 litres of cloudy wine left in the bottom after racking — this wine is tipped into a bucket and transferred to another barrel along with all other ‘‘tippings’’ from the racking and left to settle and clarify for a whopping six years. The barrel essentially is sent to the far reaches of the cellar to get lost until someone remembers it’s there. It’s a jarring beast in the glass with plenty of sediment to deal with, which only builds with time.

The nose is a complex and intricate mix of fortified cherries, meaty darks fruit such as plums, blueberries and currants with a rich and savoury spice bath. The uplifting aromatics are as confounding as they are irresistible. It is a big, tannic monster that will need time to soften, but underneath that wall is a powerfully thick and rich red/dark fruit bomb with attractive minty eucalyptus, caramel, clove, truffle, cracked black pepper corns with a creamy texture that caresses the entire palate. This is all backed up by firm acidity and warm alcohol that will give it the stuffing (much needed!) to allow you to sock it away in your cellar to get lost for awhile before you even think of finding it again for a few years. A big wine, with an unusual upbringing, that somehow works. But be patient.