Burrowing Owl Fall Release Trio

8 11 2018

By Peter Vetsch

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

I have now been receiving and reviewing Burrowing Owl releases since 2015, and in addition to some minor shock about my blogging longevity, this has also given me enough familiarity and enough reps with the wines to truly help me understand the winery’s house style.  The whites tend to be creamy and generous, often buoyed and propelled by oak but not at the expense of the underlying fruit.  The reds are bold and ripe yet not overdone, a strong reflection of the scorching desert-like climate of the estate’s Oliver, BC home.

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Year over year, the releases and the winemaking choices behind them come across as impressively consistent, part of the reason why Burrowing Owl has long been on the short list of top quality wineries in the Okanagan Valley.  Now that the snow on the ground here in Calgary seems permanently settled in until April, it feels like there’s no better time to tuck into this trilogy of warm, rich, classic bottles, which always seem to be best enjoyed with a notable chill in the air, starting with a wine that just might be setting a new PnP record.

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2016 Burrowing Owl Chardonnay (~$33)

I am nearly certain that this is the first bottle in Pop & Pour history, outside of a formal vertical tasting, that has been reviewed on this blog three vintages in a row.  I first tasted the 2014 Burrowing Owl Chardonnay almost exactly two years ago, and quickly followed it up with the 2015 Chardonnay the following spring; now the hat trick is complete a year and a half later with the 2016 vintage, which strikes a familiar chord from the second it first hits the glass.  While the oak treatment noted above certainly plays a prominent role in this Chardonnay’s identity, the process behind its creation reads like a cry for balance:  exactly half of the juice was fermented in stainless steel tanks to preserve fruit and vibrancy, while the other half was fermented in barrel to encourage the development of secondary flavours that so expertly align with the base canvas of the Chardonnay grape.  Only partial malolactic fermentation took place, to add some creamy buttery oomph without eliminating the wine’s bite.  Oak aging occurred in barrels that were part (63%) new, part old, to avoid excessive flavour transference.

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It worked.  The 2016 edition of the Owl Chardonnay is a beaming electric lemon colour and runs the aromatic gamut, reflecting both oak- or malo-derived (empty buttered microwave popcorn bag, sourdough, Cinnamon Toast Crunch) and grape-innate (salted lemon, quince, Vaseline, green peppercorn) notes in an effortlessly harmonious melange.  Broad on the tongue but not at all soupy, the wine is lifted by still-fresh citric acid and nicely integrated, matching canned pear, tangerine and frozen banana with tapioca, bread crumbs and caramel.  This clearly planned approach to try to show all sides of this at-times unfortunately maligned grape pays dividends all the way through an extended finish.

89+ points

2014 Burrowing Owl Merlot (~$42)

Speaking of unfortunately maligned grapes, this is probably the long-reigning king of that category.  All poor Merlot ever really wanted to do was love, ripen earlier and more reliably than Cab and help with blending decisions, but a dozen-year run of movie-induced popular derision and a lack of a distinctive defining characteristic has left it with a target on its back, and often without its name on the front of bottles as a solo star. This is too bad, particularly in the Pacific Northwest, because it can show remarkably well here, both in Washington State (where it is a rock star and was one of the area’s early successes before, well, you know) and in the Okanagan.  All of that is to say that I was quietly excited when I pulled the bottle out of the box – maybe the redemption story starts here.

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Burrowing Owl has an endearing quirk when it comes to its oak program, which might be the most international and varied in Canada.  This Merlot is matured in oak from FOUR different countries for 18 months:  65% French, 18% American, 10% Hungarian and 7% Russian.  The former two countries are the global stalwarts for oak barrels; I didn’t even know the latter two had oak TREES until I started diving into the offerings from this winery.  The 2014 Merlot comes out of its passport-filling barrel odyssey in crazily aromatic fashion, its arresting nose startlingly primary and alive, anchored in achingly fresh blueberry and Saskatoon berry fruit but also extending to include fennel, tomato leaf, blackcurrant Wine Gums and Coke Classic.  A bigger wine at 14.8% ABV, this reflects a warmer vintage in its round, full body, but it remains vibrant thanks to scrubby tannins and fairly vivid acid.  The fruit pulls back slightly as the wine expands, retreating in favour of malted chocolate, stout beer, fresh coffee grounds, bay leaf and capsicum, but it returns as you swallow, bright and alive, blackberry and watermelon-kissed.  Here’s to continued star turns in this region for a grape that deserves a rebirth.

90 points

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Cork & Stelvin Rating:  3/10 & 5/10 (Why are the two red corks different from each other?  I admire the colour and design on the screw cap but it likely needs a revamp.)

2014 Burrowing Owl Meritage (~$61)

We end with a flagship bottling from this winery, the 2014 Meritage, which is a term that is far less French than it seems (it rhymes with “heritage”) and is meant to reflect a blended wine made from the Bordeaux grapes.  This red incorporates all five active red Bordeaux varietals, in surprisingly egalitarian proportions:  it’s 32% Merlot, 23% Cabernet Franc, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Malbec and 11% Petit Verdot.  Rare is the red Bordeaux blend that makes use of this entire quintet and has them all clocking in at over 10%, and this particular Meritage changes its composition year over year, but 2014 was a vintage that let all of the elements shine.  All of the grapes were separately vinified and barrel-aged, then after the final blend was chosen, the finished product was matured together for a short further period to allow everyone to get to know each together before the bottles hit the shelves.

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This is both far more purple and glass-staining than the Merlot and far more likely to age for two decades:  there is significant structure and depth here and still clearly needs time to settle and evolve.  Right now, everything is black, both figuratively and literally; it is dark, mysterious and impenetrable, a wall of pavement, smoke, licorice, char, dirt and tar smeared over blackcurrant, black tea and plum, massive tannins clamping down and holding the tongue hostage until well after you swallow.  As the wine sits in the glass, and on the tail end of the finish, whispers of sweet fruit peek through, careful and pure, but the skeleton is currently the story of this monolith, a frame that will effortlessly permit lengthy aging.  I never know what to expect with premium-level Bordeaux blends in Canada, but this one tells a proud story of the quality and potential of its creator.

91+ points

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2 responses

9 11 2018
Philip Angino

Great article and yes one of the best producers in the Okanagan, consistently produces great wines Cheers 🍷

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9 11 2018
Peter Vetsch

Thanks a lot! They are definitely one to depend on!

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