Monday, November 29, 2010

Niagara Peninsula Winery Visit: Wayne Gretzky Estate Winery

Another in our series of reports on Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, wineries.

Wayne Gretzky is acknowledged as the greatest hockey player of all time. When he retired he held forty regular-season NHL records and fifteen playoff records. And when you are in Canada, as we were for our Ontario wine tasting trip, there is no bigger celebrity than “The Great One.” He sure knows how to blast a slap shot – but can he make a quality wine?

We were about to find out as our itinerary brought us to the winery of the famous No.”99."

Wayne Gretzky Estate Winery was established to raise money for the Wayne Gretzky Foundation, which supports numerous charities, including minor hockey programs for less fortunate kids. The winery, in Vineland, is a great destination for hockey fans and wine lovers alike. 

All the Gretzky wines are designated as Niagara Peninsula VQA (the Canadian designation for a wine-growing appellation). The winery features its Grille restaurant with a great outdoor seating area. The tasting room, which is one of the smaller ones we visited, is nicely decorated and has the added appeal of plentiful Gretzky memorabilia on display. The winery gift shop is also a dynamite location if you have a friend or family member that is a sports fan – especially someone who follows hockey.

In 2009 the winery launched its Estate Series and we sampled a couple of bottles. Leading off was the 2007 Estate Series Sauvignon Blanc. I found this to be a unique twist on Sauvignon Blanc, less zingy than a New Zealand Sauv Blanc with decidedly grassy flavor notes mixed with tropical fruit. This wine is finished 70% in stainless steel and the remainder in oak – adding some nice character to the wine and a medium body. The Founders Series is the entry-level, value wines and the Estate Series is the next step up in price and quality. However, the price for this Sauvignon Blanc is only $18.95 Canadian – very reasonable.

The 2007 Estate Series Pinot Noir was light-bodied with pronounced tannins. The wine was aged for 12 months in French oak (a combination of old and new). The wine has tangy cherries with a bit of spice. 830 cases were produced. A pleasant wine, but not exceptional in our minds. This wine also is priced at $18.95.

This is an upper-tier winery with some good wines. It is boosted into the “must-see” category by the fame of its celebrity owner. The fame of No. 99 may get you in the door, but you’ll find the high-quality wines a compelling reason to stay.

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