He Pours! He Scores!


I’m not much of a sports fan. Sure, like almost every other warm-blooded Canadian with a pulse I was riveted by the final men’s hockey game…you know…the one against the Americans!!! For the GOLD!!! I am, however, a big wine fan, and I have to admit to some skepticism when I heard that The Great One was now in the wine making business. Wayne Gretzky has only ever been a character who exists on the periphery of my life and interests. Yes, I knew he was one of the greatest hockey players ever. And I knew he’d left his beloved homeland to play for some American team…with a goofy, not very scary name? Was I the only one to feel ever so slightly betrayed by this person I barely even knew of? But as far as I’m concerned, the man has redeemed himself.



Number 99 has teamed up with Creekside Estate Winery to create two series of eminently drinkable, casual, and approachable wines: No. 99 Estate Series and No. 99 Founders Series. And even though the way these wines taste is enough of a reason to buy them, there’s an even better one. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of his wines will be donated to the Wayne Gretzky Foundation. Another member of Team Gretzky, The Fairmont Hotel’s like the wines and the charity so much, they’ll be on wines lists across the country. Visit the Fairmont site for more info.

And no, Wayne is not tending the vines, or blending the wines, he’s leaving that to the experts, namely Australian vintner Craig McDonald. Though Craig says that Wayne isn’t just a figurehead, not at all. “He told me what he wanted; very relaxed, un-pretentious wines, but he leaves the wine making to me, and I make sure there is a synergy between my wines, and who Wayne really is.” And that is? “Unassuming, drinkable, user-friendly, available across Canada for all Canadians–very communal.” (The wine, not Wayne!)

I had to know about the challenges faced by an Aussie wine maker in such a cold climate as Canada’s. “This is a marginal climate–we’re right on the edge here of being able to make wines. So that means, there is no room for error, and the process–out in the vineyard–is very hands on, with 80% of the effort being made out in the vineyard, not the winery. I get out into the vines regularly and have to be in tune with the vines, the weather, the terroir.” Like I said, there’s no room for error, but a lot of room for making amazing wines.” And while we’re on the topic of Ontario’s abilitiy to make fantastic wines, especially wines from grapes that are best suited to our cool climate, I have to mention that Creekside Estate has one of its chardonnays heading off to London, UK with 34 on VQA’a best to show the English what we can do. Visit Seriously Cool Chardonnay to read all about it.

So what about the wines? Well, I’m no sommelier, but thought they were really good, for the most part, and a great value.


The sauvignon blanc is fantastic!
It’s dry and perfectly balanced with a bit of fruit sweetness, and tangy, acidic, pink grapefruit. There’s even a round buttery-ness which comes from the wine sitting on its lees (the spent yeast cells) for 6 months. It’s clean and bright with good but not killer acidity.

The cab sauv-cab franc-merlot blend is soft and fruity, a perfect summer red, with notes of strawberry jam, game meat, earth. It’s perfectly dry, but it’s fruit-forward enough to give the impression of sweetness. And to be sure, cabernet sauvignon is not a grape that we grow particularly well here–we just don’t have the heat and sun required to build either the sugars or tannins–but why can’t we re-define this grape? Eh? This is a Canadian style cab sauv, and looking at it that way, it’s lovely.


This riesling is a sussreserve wine. That means, before bottling, after the fermentation has been stopped, pure, un-fermented riesling juice is added. This provides a touch of sweetness–and therefore, balance–to what can be a powerfully acidic wine. The Estate Series riesling is made from 30 year old vines.

There is much care taken with these wines. The Cab-shiraz blend–pepper, cassis, licorice, juicy, soft tannins–has its caps punched down by hand, twice a day for up to 27 days. I’ll explain: in the fermentation tank, the must (grape skins) float up to rest on the surface of the juice, forming a cap. It’s the must that provides colour, tannin, and tons of flavour. So, by forcing it back down into the juice, a richer, deeper wine results.

I’ll give McDonald the last word. “With Wayne’s wines, what we do at Creekside, and what we do in The New World, in general, we pay homage to the past, but look forward toward innovation.”

Uh, cheers, eh!


Now, while we’re on the subject of wine. I have to let the cat out of the bag on an incredible opportunity for you serious oenophiles out there. I’ve got a real treasure for your cellar!


Volpaiole vintner Oliverier Paul Morandini is releasing a very few bottles of his two spectacular Tuscans for sale in Canada: the 2006 Classico, a Sangiovese, merlot, cab sauv blend and a 100% merlot, also 2006. There will only be 240 bottles available in Canada, so contact Wine on Line, to reserve yours.

I had the rare opportunity to taste wines from Moradini’s own cellar, at Catering with Style, here in Toronto. Sipping the 1997 was like looking into a crystal ball, and seeing just how wonderful, integrated and soft these rather tannic big boys will become after a few years in your own cellar. “These are very concentrated wines,” explained Moradini, “on our 1.5 hectares of land, we have only 5000 vines,
and from those, we make only 5000 bottles.”

And while the young wines were perfectly enjoyable, for the fullest expression of what these wines can be, put them away for at least 3 years. Patience, Grasshoppa! And you will be rewarded, by the currently hard, edgy tannins softening, and green, unripe flavours receding and juicy red fruit stepping up to the fore.