Wine Review: Calliope White Trio

3 10 2017

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

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Pop and pour power.

There are a few ways to measure how far British Columbia has come as a wine industry in the past 10-15 years, during which time for my money the jump in quality, understanding and identity has been close to exponential.  Here’s one way:  15 years ago, I don’t think you could have convinced me that a BC winery’s SECOND label could produce a suite of balanced, expressive and generally delightful wines worth seeking out.  In 2017, Burrowing Owl (or, more accurately, Wyse Family Wines, founders of Burrowing Owl) have managed that exact feat with the 2016 releases of their Calliope label, a lineup of wines that according to the accompanying campaign literature is meant for easy and early enjoyment; a true pop and pour.  Sourcing grapes from both the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys, the Wyse family focuses mostly on whites for Calliope, creating (at times) multi-regional blends under the general “British Columbia” appellation, yet still under the BC VQA banner.  These are marketed as easy-drinking patio wines, meant for drinking rather than dissecting…but since we’re all here, let’s dissect them anyway.

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Stelvin Rating:  8/10 (See what you can do if you apply yourself to screwcaps?  Dead sexy.)

I was provided three different single-varietal examples of Calliope’s white regime:  Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Viognier.  When I’m drinking single-grape wines on the lower end of the price spectrum (these bottles probably straddle the $20 mark Alberta retail), the first thing I look for, even before balance of component elements or general deliciousness, is typicity.  In non-wino speak:  if the wine is a Sauvignon Blanc, does it smell like a Sauvignon Blanc?  Does it taste like a Sauvignon Blanc?  Does it help people understand what Sauvignon Blanc is all about, and does it then go the next step and show people what Sauvignon Blanc from its particular home region is all about?  Varietal wines that do this exhibit strong typicity, and as such become extraordinarily helpful barometers for both learning about wine and understanding your own preferences.  If these 2016 Calliopes have any major strength, it is dialled-in typicity:  they are clear and precise examples of what’s in the bottle and what comes out of the ground.

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2016 Calliope Sauvignon Blanc

All three of these Calliope whites are virtually indistinguishable by colour, each coming out of the bottle a young, pale, clear lemon hue flecked with green.  But all three are immediately and vastly different aromatically, directly attuned to their respective varietals and each smelling like they could almost not be anything else.  That was especially the case with the 2016 Sauvignon Blanc, whose piercing grapefruit (sufficiently prominent and evident that my 4 year-old immediately identified it), gooseberry and currant aromas unrepentantly beamed out the grape’s DNA yet were also lent intrigue by passing hints of fresh mint leaves and chalk dust.  Sharp acidity shaped an electric, slightly grassy palate roiling with limeade, Sour Patch Kids, kiwi and pomegranate, lightened just a whisper by a trace of sweetness towards the finish.  A surprisingly powerful, but still playful, textbook Sauvignon Blanc.

87+ points

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2016 Calliope Riesling

Now the true test, in my books at least:  it’s very hard to fake a good Riesling.  I had positive vibes about this bottle before I even poured a glass, after seeing that the wine’s pH was a riotously low 2.88, a number that would rank among the lowest and most acidic in the entire world of wine, but that is an absolute hallmark characteristic for Okanagan Riesling and one that I was thrilled to see was embraced here.  The dance between the near-omnipotent levels of acid and the small amounts of relieving sweetness shapes this whole wine, which unsurprisingly is more subtle and linear than the Sauvignon Blanc, carving out straight lines of citric precision:  fresh-squeezed lemon and knife sharpeners, orange zest and whetstones.  Tiny bubbles litter the bottom of the glass, possibly reflective of a quick CO2 dose at bottling, which lend the wine bursts of energy as it courses down your throat, a cold rope of citrus surrounded with a pleasant rockiness, like new asphalt.  I feel like calling this a patio sipper would trivialize this wine; it means business from the start.

89+ points

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2016 Calliope Viognier

This is basically the anti-Riesling, exchanging the prior wine’s cold-minded and achingly precise personality with a playful, near-nihilistic hedonism.  The 2016 Viognier is basically a giant hot tub filled with peaches:  honeysuckle, nectarine, mineral salts and bananas, sure, but mainly oceans and oceans of ripe fresh peaches.  This is one of the friendliest smelling wines I have ever come across.  On the tongue it is pure Viognier, lush and oily and sensual, overtly forward and exuding pleasure.  Honeyed (you guessed it) peach flavours are accompanied by rowdy canned pear, gumballs, Runts candy, ginger and sweet tea, leaving a sticky trail of butterscotch as your glass disappears and begs for replenishment.  It is a roller coaster ride that feels chaotic as you sip but ends up giving a pretty accurate account the messy glory of Viognier in retrospect.  Three drink-now second-label Canadian wines that properly and astutely convey varietal characteristics and regional terroir?  Forget the patio and have yourselves a comparative tasting — you’ll learn a ton about this golden age of BC wine, and about your palate in the process!

87 points

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Really impressed by the wine; love the name and logo; a touch less sure about the marketing material.  Those people are all suspiciously attractive.  And does anyone actually fill their glass up THAT much on the patio?

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