Multi-Wine Review: Calliope/Burrowing Owl Octet

24 11 2015

[These wines were provided as samples for review purposes.]

No time to spare for a huge intro tonight, as we have a whole whack of impressive Canadian wines to assess in what is sure to be a super-sized review.  I was fortunate enough to get the chance to taste through a series of recent releases from Okanagan stalwart Burrowing Owl, which is based in the scorching deep south of the Valley, near the US border in Oliver, British Columbia.  The tasting pack included a quartet of bottles from the parent winery and a quartet from its new offspring, Burrowing Owl’s second label Calliope Wines.  In keeping with the main estate’s unusual-bird-based theme, Calliope is named after a tiny hummingbird (Canada’s smallest bird) found in southern BC (not to be confused with the Greek muse or the steam organ of the same name).  According to its website, Calliope “is a full line of easy sipping, fruit-forward wines, designed to pair with casual lunches on the patio, or with contemporary cuisine”.  According to the pictures on the website, the wines also appear to pair with unnaturally beautiful Photoshopped women and neck beards.  Polite suggestion to Calliope:  Your wines are solid.  Your website is trying too hard.  It needs to relax.


I had often heard strong praise about the Burrowing Owl lineup from Wine People Who Know Things but hadn’t previously gotten around to experiencing it for myself, so getting to dive into a sizeable chunk of the portfolio all at once was an amazing way to get caught up on one of the brightest lights in Canadian wine.  Without further ado, here are eight mini wine reviews, starting with the second label and finishing with the main house (all prices based on Alberta retail).

Read the rest of this entry »

Rioja Quality Ladder: Bodegas Montecillo

11 11 2015

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

Crianza vs. Reserva.  And one of the hardest sets of labels to photograph well.

Crianza vs. Reserva. And one of the hardest sets of labels to photograph well.

If I had to pick one European red wine region that was my Old Faithful, that always delivered quality and intrigue, regularly delighted and rarely disappointed, it would be Rioja.  Something about the wines coming out of Spain’s original star region just speak to me, offering up traditional character and depth and a unique voice at often-amazing prices.  Rioja is perched at altitude in north-central Spain, closer to Bordeaux (a 4 hour drive north) than Barcelona (5.5 hours east), and has long been the king of the Spanish wine world:  it was the first D.O. (Denominacion de Origen, or classified geographical quality region) in the country to be granted super-elite D.O. Calificada status in 1991, the highest quality category in Spanish wine law.  Only one other region, Priorat, has been awarded the designation since.  There are always challengers for Rioja’s crown in a country with soils, grapes, styles and traditions as rich and varied as Spain, but at its best, there is nothing quite like it. Read the rest of this entry »

Bargain Bubbles: Prosecco Showdown

7 11 2015

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

Bring on the bubbles!

Bring on the bubbles!

Sparkling wine is instantly celebratory — unless you’re opening two bottles simultaneously, by yourself, at your kitchen table, on a weeknight, like I did.  Even then, the brisk pops of the corks out of the bottles lightened my mood and made my analytical tasting exercise a little more festive.  You almost can’t drink Prosecco and be in a bad mood.

Prosecco is very, very hot right now.  Global sales of this Italian sparkler have increased by double digit percentages every year since 1998 (!), and last year they were up an astonishing 32% (!!) over the year before, five times the sales growth of sparkling wine overall (!!!).  In 2013, global Prosecco sales actually overtook global Champagne sales at over 300 million bottles.  Suffice to say it is on trend, buoyed by its general approachability, fruit-centered flavours and highly attractive price tag.  And yet, before now, Prosecco had never featured on Pop & Pour:

Screen Shot 2015-11-06 at 8.44.02 PM

So since this is uncharted blog territory, allow me to toss out a bit of a primer before we get into the bubbles themselves.  Prosecco is made in the Veneto and Fruili regions of northeast Italy; the Prosecco DOC quality region actually spans and overlaps most of both.  The wine is named after the village of Prosecco (which may have been its birthplace) near Trieste on Italy’s eastern border at the top of the boot.  Its made primary from a grape that used to also be called Prosecco, but as of 2009 is now known as Glera, primarily to annoy you and make it harder for you to remember it.  Just like all quality sparkling wine, it is created by first making a low-alcohol still base wine and then starting a second fermentation of that wine (by adding extra yeast and unfermented juice to it) in an airtight container, such that the carbon dioxide created as a byproduct of the fermentation cannot escape and becomes trapped in the wine, making it bubbly. Read the rest of this entry »

Whisky (!) Review: Glenmorangie Tusail

3 11 2015

[This bottle was provided as a sample for review purposes.]

A little PnP history.  Bring on the whisky.

A little PnP history. Bring on the whisky.

Let me bask in this one for a minute.  Last December, I got a whisky advent calendar for Christmas and on a lark decided to blog about it on a daily basis (which seemed like a great idea until about Day 9, although I’m doing it again this year, so call me a glutton for punishment).  It was my first experience writing about whisky and was a highly rewarding, if difficult, extension of my wine-soaked senses.  I was happy enough not to embarrass myself, happier still to get some positive feedback on the experiment, and now happiest of all to receive my very first sample bottle of whisky to write up on Pop & Pour.  Let’s make this happen.

This is the sixth version of Glenmorangie’s annual Private Edition release, a unique and special malt released in addition to the established Glenmorangie lineup.  Each rendition of the Private Edition is completely different from the one that preceded it, and many of the prior PEs focused on a particular type of maturation vessel to enhance the flavour and colour of the finished product, but this one is a new kind of mousetrap entirely.  It might be the world’s first single varietal malt whisky, made entirely from a rare and vanishing strain of barley called Maris Otter, a high-quality, low-yielding winter barley known for its wild rusticity and deep, rich flavour profile.  (I am as surprised as you are that there are top-end varietals of grain just like grapes.  Booze is so cool.)  Maris Otter barley fell out of favour with whisky distillers over the years due to higher-yielding strains coming available, but it was carefully kept alive by a few quality-conscious supporters.  After it came to the attention of Glenmorangie’s Whisky Director, he set out to secure a parcel of Maris Otter to make this one-off Private Edition spirit. Read the rest of this entry »

Border Crossing: Kaiken Ultra Wines

28 10 2015

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

From Chile to Argentina with love.

From Chile to Argentina with love.

It’s not uncommon to see producers from other countries head to Argentina to create a second label or side project.  There’s lots to like about the South American nation as a startup hub, from truly unique altitude-induced terroir to surprising access to old-vine plantings to ultra-low input costs. What is unusual is for the immigrating winery to come from right next door:  Argentina’s skinny western neighbour Chile offers many of the same producer advantages and is often similarly sought after by wineries off the continent for new ventures, but you rarely see a producer from one of these countries set foot in the other to make wine.  That’s what makes these bottles interesting.

The Montes family is one of Chile’s pioneering wine clans, and its Vina Montes may be the country’s best known winery, churning out everything from weeknight wine champions to top-end stunners like Montes Folly, an unprecedented Syrah from Apalta that’s one of my favourite wines of all time.  Patriarch Aurelio Montes Sr. visited Argentina in 2001 and was immediately intrigued by the Andes-hugging Mendoza region; he wasted no time in deciding to expand operations there, starting up the Kaiken label in 2002.  The word “Kaiken” is an anglicized version of “Caiquen”, a type of wild goose that regularly travels over the Andes Mountains from Chile to Argentina, just like Montes himself.  Once the winery was up and running, he made the call to keep the winemaking in the family, recently naming his son Aurelio Montes Jr. as winemaker.  Kaiken owns three vineyards in Mendoza, two in and around the Lujan de Cuyo region near the town of Mendoza itself and one in the Uco Valley further south; one of the vineyards is fully biodynamic, a set of principles Kaiken is working to embrace. Read the rest of this entry »

PC Wine Fall Collection Faceoff

22 10 2015

[These wines were provided as samples for review purposes.]

Grocery store wines are making strides.  Supermarket labels are no longer (or at least not all) resigned to Two Buck Chuck ignominy, and a select few are starting to pair their expected wallet-friendly price tags with actual quality inside the bottle, making them legitimate value plays in a competitive buying environment.  The Kirkland label from Costco comes immediately to mind, a negociant-style operation that sources wines from prestigious regions across the globe (even Champagne!  And it’s not bad!) and makes them accessible at a fraction of the cost of other bottles from the area.  Now Loblaws is making its own foray into the value wine world with a curated lineup of stylishly branded PC Wines, currently only available at an Alberta Superstore liquor store near you.  Take that, rest of Canada.

A step up from the No Name wine labels.

A step up from the No Name wine labels.


The PC Wines approach differs from similar supermarket offerings in a couple of ways.  First, the wine collections will be seasonally rotated, so the five bottles in the fall collection will be replaced with a whole new set of wines in a few months.  Second, the pricing is uniform:  all of the bottles cost exactly $20, but that price drops to $15 in each case if you buy 3 or more.  The fall collection was hand-selected by Aaron Bick, founder of local vino e-commerce site, and features offerings from four different producers in California, Italy and Spain.  Although each bottle bears a PC Wines label, it still recognizes its original producer on the front, which is a nice touch.  There’s even some back-vintage stuff in the mix!

Read the rest of this entry »

Side By Side: 2012 Tinto Negro Malbec x2

7 10 2015

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

Malbec vs. Malbec.  Mendoza Civil War.

Malbec vs. Malbec. Mendoza Civil War.

Forgive me if you’ve heard me say this before, but:  comparative tastings are the best.  You can learn a lot about wine by taking your time over a single bottle, properly assessing what’s inside and picking out colour and smell and flavour notes common to a country, region or grape.  You can learn way more about wine by doing this to two similar bottles at the same time, with almost the same characteristics, but for a single isolated variable:  same wine, different vintage; same producer, different grape; same grape, different country.  You pick up a whole bunch of what makes them the same, but you can also focus on the impact that primary thing that makes them different and see firsthand the tremendous effect that every single input going into a wine has on the finished product.  You learn from both the commonalities and the distinctions.  Plus you end up with two open bottles of wine, which generally always leads to a good night.

In this case, the similarities are massive and the differences apparently slight, but the impact remains noteworthy.  These two bottles are from the same producer (Tinto Negro, founded by the ex-vineyard manager and wine education director of renowned Argentinian winery Bodega Catena Zapata), the same country (Argentina), the same grape (Malbec), the same vintage (2012) and even the same region (Mendoza, Malbec’s New World spiritual home nestled in the foothills of the Andes).  However, the first bottle, the 2012 Tinto Negro Mendoza Malbec, is an entry-level regional bottling, and the second bottle, the 2012 Tinto Negro Uco Valley Malbec, is from the next quality tier up, a sub-regional bottling from the Uco Valley sub-zone in southwestern Mendoza.  Apart from their divergent price points, you might have a hard time differentiating them in the store, but does this little sourcing difference make a difference?  When you taste them side by side, oh yes. Read the rest of this entry »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,171 other followers