Burrowing Owl Spring Releases

16 05 2017

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

Some people chart the seasons using a calendar; others look to the melting snow and the first robins to mark the start of spring.  For me and this blog, the new season only arrives when the box of new releases from Burrowing Owl is delivered and tasted.  I can now happily announce:  spring is here.

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OK, yes, I had a glass of the Chardonnay before the tasting started.  I regret nothing.

Burrowing Owl is one of the few Canadian wineries that has been consistently able to juggle both quantity and quality, producing 35,000 cases annually from 16 different varietals grown across 170 acres and three different estate vineyard sites encircling the scorching southern Okanagan hubs of Oliver and Osoyoos.  It is likely best known for its Bordeaux varietals, but also makes room in its vineyard sites for less expected offerings like Tempranillo and Viognier, not to mention a killer Syrah that is proof of concept of the region’s suitability for the grape.  Burrowing Owl’s two largest vineyards are scant minutes away from the US border, on western-facing slopes angling down towards the temperature-modulating Lake Osoyoos, which both restrains the Okanagan desert heat during the day and extends it at night.  The third is due west of Oliver, in the neighbouring Similkameen Valley, using its proximity to Keremeos Mountain to help grow Bordeaux whites Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, where 2017’s spring releases conveniently start. Read the rest of this entry »





Sub-$16 Red Throwdown: Old vs. New World

11 01 2017

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

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Have you EVER seen a red wine bottle shaped like the one on the left?

The $15 bottle of wine is a vanishing category nowadays, and what you can actually get for that price may often make you wish you couldn’t.  A combination of the struggling Canadian dollar, increased liquor taxes and the inexorable power of inflation is slowly pushing up that minimum purchase threshold where you can expect to find decent quality…if you look hard enough amongst the oceans of double entendre-named or critter-adorned labels at that price point.  However, there are still a select few value crusaders scattered here and there in this cost category, from under-appreciated regions where production costs remain low and climatic abundance makes ripening easy.  I happened to have two such examples lying around, one from the Old World and one from the New, so what better way to make use of them than to have them battle to the death for my weeknight enjoyment?  Since the estimated retail price on each creeps barely over $15.00, we’ll play it safe and call to order the first ever Pop & Pour Sub-$16 Wine Challenge.

In this corner, from the Old World, comes a representative from arguably the most overlooked source of good, solid, inexpensive table wine:  Portugal. Read the rest of this entry »





Sacred Hill Marlborough Trio

29 11 2016

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

fullsizerender-488If you follow this blog (thank you!) and enjoy wine reviews (I do too!) but aren’t as into other forms of alcoholic beverages, I would suggest that you cherish this write-up.  Mull over it.  Take your time reading it.  Stop halfway through and come back tomorrow to finish it.  It will have to last you a long time.  This is officially Pop & Pour’s last wine review until after Christmas, as on Thursday I dive headlong into Year 3 of Whisky Advent, with 25 straight days of write-ups about the little bottles sequentially coming out of Kensington Wine Market’s tremendously awesome Whisky Advent Calendar. Pray for me.  Incidentally, Advent in 2017 may look a little bit different for PnP, as my years-long quest to get somebody to make a proper Wine Advent Calendar just might be coming to fruition:

Make it happen, Bricks Wine Company.  I’ll be ready, and I’ll make sure everybody who reads this site is ready too.

Anyway, since this is my last wine write-up for a calendar month I figured I’d make it a multi-bottle one, from an area that is a bit at risk of becoming a victim of its own success:  Marlborough, New Zealand.  Since catapulting onto the scene 30-odd years ago with a distinctive lean, blisteringly aromatic and herbaceous style of Sauvignon Blanc initially popularized by now-mega-label Cloudy Bay, this region on the northern edge of the South Island has become synonymous with this piercing, vegetal, unabashedly flavourful take on the grape.  Producers have rushed to respond to global demand for Marlborough’s established house style for NZSB, to the point where it is now one of the most readily available bottles around, no matter where you are.  This is good in the sense that you know that a solid, consistent bottle of white that will not disappoint is always around the corner.  It’s bad in the sense that a lot of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc has become almost mechanical, put together as if by rote to satisfy an expected flavour trope.  The old challenge for NZSB was to become relevant; the new challenge is to regain its individuality and joie de vivre.  Easier said than done at a competitive price point, but certain producers are proving up to the task, like Sacred Hill, to whom I was introduced by the three bottles below.

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Sacred Hill was founded 30 years ago, in 1986, at the start of New Zealand’s wine explosion; however, unlike many similarly timed winery ventures, it was not started at the epicentre of the Sauvignon Blanc earthquake, hailing from Hawkes Bay on the eastern side of NZ’s North Island as opposed to Marlborough.  Hawkes Bay is a warmer region known mainly for red wines, and the two brothers behind the Sacred Hill label grew up there and came by their wine aspirations naturally:  their father was one of the first farmers in the region to take the plunge and start planting grapes as opposed to more common (at the time) agricultural crops.  The business has since expanded and Sacred Hill now has vineyards in both Hawkes Bay and Marlborough, which the brothers (correctly) call the “engine room” of New Zealand’s wine industry.  They have access to half a dozen different vineyards in Marlborough, one of which, the eerily named Hell’s Gate, is their own.  Their Orange Label line of wines, including the three below, are multi-vineyard blends offering up a true sense of the region without any sticker shock. Read the rest of this entry »





2013 Nugan Estate Third Generation Chardonnay

28 10 2016

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

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Nice to see some work go into a value label design.

If you were on the hunt for the largest subnational designated wine region in the world, the gargantuan South Eastern Australia appellation might be your first and last stop.  While most demarcated wine appellations gain their distinction by having a set of physical characteristics or surroundings in common — climate, soil, terrain, aspect, varietal — this one is intentionally celebrated for its internal differences.  Spanning five separate states within Australia (Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia, Victoria and even Tasmania) and covering the bulk of the prime vine-growing area in the country, South Eastern Australia is an umbrella region created to permit the blending of grapes from a variety of disparate conditions across a vast geographic area into a single appellation-level wine.  While the scorching Barossa Valley may have nothing in common with the cool, maritime Yarra Valley 800 kilometres away, producers under the SE Australia label can pick and choose grape characteristics from each (like rich fruit in Barossa and juicy acidity from Yarra) and meld them together to create a more balanced, interesting blend.  Australia has long been a wine nation that does not frown on cross-regional blending (the country’s top grape, Penfolds Grange, is such a blend), and when used correctly, it can allow for producers to put out well-made and eminently drinkable wines and surprisingly accessible prices. Read the rest of this entry »





2013 Emiliana Novas Gran Reserva Carmenere/Cabernet Sauvignon

13 10 2016

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

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Chile: home of Carmenere and inexpensive quality.

If you were starting up a wine venture today and were looking to maintain high quality but stretch your viticultural buck as far as possible, you would almost certainly go to Chile.  While braver souls are now starting to venture to the more extreme climatic and geographical parts of the country in search of cutting-edge lands and the flavour potency and complexity that can come with them, those who stick to Chile’s warm central valley find themselves in something close to a grape-grower’s paradise:  warm, mild, consistent growing seasons, refreshing cooling breezes at night off the surrounding mountains and a relative lack of vineyard pests.  Since the Southern Hemispheric nation is fairly segregated from the rest of the world’s vineyard (with its closest main viticultural neighbour, Argentina, walled off by the Andes), it has managed to keep itself free from the devastating vineyard louse phylloxera, which has ravaged vines almost everywhere else and has required the bulk of the world’s wineries to graft their vines onto resistant North American rootstocks to allow their crops to survive.

What does all that mean from a commercial perspective?  It means that you can have a vineyard with a lot of beneficial, normally highly costly or dangerous features — organic viticulture, no pesticides or herbicides, own-rooted vines — without the associated price tag or risk of crop loss.  That allows you to make bottles like this one, a single-vineyard wine from 25 year-old vines planted on their own rootstocks, farmed organically and then hand-harvested, and then sell it to export markets at a shade over $15 a bottle.  That combination of price and input quality is basically impossible in the majority of the wine world. Read the rest of this entry »





Luigi Bosca: 2013 Malbec Value Tiers

1 09 2016

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

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Now THAT’S a label rebrand. Thing of beauty.

Once you dive deep into the world of wine and start devoting more time and money than most people deem sane into bottles and glasses and books and storage systems, it can be a challenge sometimes to maintain a sense of discovery about larger-production brands, the workhorse wines you see on the liquor store shelves.  In part that can be valid:  some of them aren’t very good, a fact thrown into stark relief after you’ve learned about production differences and downed a quality bottle or three.  But others have found a way to keep that quality and that sense of vinous wonder despite stepping up in scale and availability, and the best of these manage to do this at an easily accessible price.  It may be as hard to create a well-made, interesting, varietally accurate bottle of 100,000-case $20 wine as it is to create a small-production luxury showpiece bottle at $100.  I’ve been able to try a few different Luigi Bosca wines over the past couple years, and they are making the former happen on a consistent basis.

I say this a lot and apologize for repeating myself, but if you want to learn about a grape or a producer or a region, buy a representative bottle and pay careful attention as you drink it.  If you REALLY want to learn a lot MORE about that grape, producer or region, buy TWO different representative bottles, drink them side by side, and note the similarities and differences.  Comparative tasting is probably the biggest educational gift you can give yourself…plus you also get to open two bottles at once, which can never be bad.  Tonight’s comparative tasting should be particularly illustrative because so much about the two Luigi Bosca Malbecs sitting in front of me are alike:  same producer, same grape, same vintage (2013), same general region (Mendoza, Malbec capital of the New World in Argentina).  What’s different?  Price points ($18 vs. $35), site specificity (general regional wine vs. single-vineyard wine from quality subregion) and grape-growing/winemaking techniques.  What shines through – the similarities or the differences? Read the rest of this entry »





Saint Clair Family Estate – Marlborough Battle

11 08 2016

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

FullSizeRender-392When you’re in a brand new wine shop or liquor store looking at a string of unfamiliar sub-$20 labels and hoping not to take a step too far wrong, the word “Marlborough” should be a huge source of relief to you.  It is the name of New Zealand’s most famous wine region, and more than maybe any other star region on Earth whose bottles you can still grab without a price cringe, it offers a very high quality floor, a strong baseline that offers confidence that even the lower-end offerings on the shelf will be somewhat well-put-together.  Marlborough, located on the northern tip of New Zealand’s South Island, is most renowned as the birthplace of Sauvignon Blanc’s most distinctive New World expression, that zingy, grassy, refreshingly searing style that almost anybody under 30 now associates with the grape.  Producers there have locked down on that mythical combination of quality, quantity and value that make Marlborough the safest, if at times one of the more redundant, “I’ve-never-had-this-bottle-before” picks out there.

A relatively new region on the global scale, Marlborough has been on the world’s radar since the mid-1980s, but the owners of Saint Clair Family Estate have been at the wine game longer than that.  Neal and Judy Ibbotson have been grape-growers on their estate since 1978, but previously sold off their crops to other wineries and didn’t decide to start making wine themselves until 1994.  They opted for the name “Saint Clair” for their winery because their vineyard property was initially settled by a James Sinclair back in the day; the added words “Family Estate” are not just lip service, as all three of their children are currently involved in various aspects of the business, with one of them even designing the wines’ labels.

This is an intriguing tasting, pitting Marlborough’s bread and butter Sauvignon Blanc against another white grape that’s starting to gain acclaim in the area, Chardonnay.  Enough acclaim to unseat the viticultural ruler of the region?  Let’s find out. Read the rest of this entry »