Burrowing Owl: Avian Miscellany

26 10 2020

By Raymond Lamontagne

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

Oh man. September and October are tough months, at least this year. I dislike keeping people waiting for new entries on here, particularly after I tasted my way through some bottles with the purest of intentions to share my thoughts in a timely fashion. When you work in health care and run a business during COVID, however, it is quite likely that some of your good intentions around pastimes are going to fall by the wayside, at least temporarily. It is fortunate that I take decent notes and have a good gustatory memory. Burrowing Owl…where did we leave off? Oh yes. This one will be a bit of a grab bag offering that details the possible king of the Calliope value line, two whites, and a lone medium-bodied red whose provenance I particularly favour. Let’s delve in.

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Culmina: R&D Summer 2020 Releases

9 08 2020

By Raymond Lamontagne

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

Welcome back to our coverage of Culmina’s newly released summer offerings. Peter recently guided us through two classic Culmina bottlings and a unique saignée rosé. Now I get to analyze the winery’s new R & D offerings. Do not presume that such wines are necessarily experimental or cutting-edge in style, although admittedly that’s where my mind goes as well, and it turns out that “R & D” might actually stand for “research and development”. It is also possible that it stands for “Ron and Don”, representing Don Triggs, the founder of Culmina, and his twin brother Ron. The charming labels of these wines would seem to shore up this hypothesis, particularly since pushing boundaries seems to be more the purview of Culmina’s limited release “Number Series”. The R & D line represents wines that are fairly easy on the pocket book, less serious in their general demeanour than the upper-tier Culmina offerings, and intended for early consumption. In short, they are fun, cheerful, and not the sort of thing you are likely to encounter in dusty old cellars curated by the sorts of folks who only buy Bordeaux futures.

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Before we rock out, I will mention that Peter provided coverage of the prior 2018 vintages of both the R&D Riesling and rosé. Although we are course different tasters, this still allows for some assessment of how these wines vary across vintage. I made a point of revisiting Peter’s write-ups only after doing my own tasting notes, and I may pull in a few observations here and there around vintage variation or other comparative musings. To the crucible that is the most enjoyable type of study: wine research. Read the rest of this entry »





Castoro de Oro: The Beaver Resplendent

15 07 2020

By Raymond Lamontagne

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

Familiarity tends to breed appreciation, at least to a point, and I am pleased to revisit Castoro de Oro in bottle form, after Peter’s informative trek through their new canned offerings. Although you can find more detailed background information on this exuberant Okanagan winery in our previous posts linked above, I will mention here that I harbour a special appreciation for its primary mission to deliver wines of good value: crushable and tasty, yet with just enough complexity to take them beyond the omnipresent mass-commodity products on many liquor store shelves. These are still wines, ultimately agricultural produce, but you will not find much in the way of rusticity here. I like rustic wines, but I don’t wish to drink them every day. Sometimes it’s nice to sip something that doesn’t taste like soda pop but is still shot through with a certain sunny, carefree joie de vivre.  In my prior encounters with them, the wines of Castoro de Oro filled this niche well, coming across varietally correct yet not too dense or serious, aromatically enticing but sporting compact palates that did not require a boatload of cognitive work to decipher. I’m pleased to report that this new round of vintages does little to shift my schema. I was able to meet new vintages of two old friends, but first, a new acquaintance.

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NV Castoro de Oro Vidal (~$25)

We begin with a 100% Vidal. I’ve long been intrigued by dry wines made from this hybrid much better known for ice wine production, an offspring of Ugni Blanc (aka Trebbiano Toscano) and the now totally obscure Rayon d’Or, itself a hybrid. This means that Vidal is more vinifera than not, perhaps accounting for its uncanny ability to be cold-hardy while also avoiding the foxy aromas that typically plague varieties with too much American ancestry. Dry Vidal wines tend to be redolent with fruity pineapple and grapefruit aromas, with high acidity. What’s truly curious in this case though is the absence of a vintage! This merits further investigation, but alas, this wine is not currently featured on the Castoro website. Another review references grapes “saved from the ice wine harvest”. Perhaps some of these grapes were picked late one year when a proper ice wine harvest did not seem likely, were vinified, and were then blended with further Vidal grapes picked the following year? Whatever the true origin, I’d be lying if I claimed I wasn’t dead curious to taste the curiosity that is non-vintage dry Vidal. Read the rest of this entry »





Obscure Italian Varieties I: Grignolino, the Polarizer

4 03 2020

By Raymond Lamontagne

It is high time that I turned my wine blogging pen (errr, keyboard) to a project that has been bouncing around the dusty caverns of my mind for some time now. For several years, I have been enamoured by the viticultural diversity that is Italy. This country contains more unique native grape varieties than any other, and this sort of cornucopia deeply appeals to the part of me that relishes new experiences. My mind never stops collecting: a new plant in my (limited) deck garden, a new bird or mushroom found in the woods, a new wine grape that I’ve perhaps (likely!) read about but never experienced in person. My brain is just wired to quest. And why Italy? Well, Italy is part of my heritage, I love the food (who doesn’t?), and honestly, I can appreciate that so many of these wines are truly the products of a distinct culture. Although international grape varieties are entrenched in the Italian viticultural landscape and won’t be going anywhere, the natives are currently ascendent.

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Grignolino

So my plan is to provide a series of blogs that introduce our intrepid readers to an Italian wine grape that they many not have heard of or tasted. Each will describe the grape in detail and then provide a tasting note for a single bottle that is hopefully emblematic of the grape in question. This project feels like a poor man’s homage to one of my wine writing heroes, Ian D’Agata, who spent more than a decade tasting nearly all of Italy’s native wine grapes. The resulting book shall be my primary companion as I share my own musings. Some (including probably Ian himself) would take umbrage with my use of the word “obscure” to describe these grapes. I am going to use the word because my view is that none of these grapes that I will cover are obviously well-known in wine markets outside of Italy, nor are they commonly available in this wine market, although fortunately Calgary wine shops feature a unique bounty that likely does not exist elsewhere in this country. Of course these grapes are not obscure in the Italian wine regions from which they hail, and perhaps some of them will become better known outside these confines. So there you have it. Let’s begin with one grape, Grignolino, that I find particularly compelling. Read the rest of this entry »





Cellar Direct Winter Wines: Giraudon Bourgogne Chitry

21 12 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

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

Week three of our Cellar Direct winter run sees us land in some classic territory, at least in the broader regional sense. You can obtain a good rundown of how this wine club works here, although I have an important update to report before I launch into this week’s release. Due to some confusion stemming from the three-tier pricing system, you can now order one bottle or more of any release, with bottles no longer offered in hard multiples of three. So if you want to try something without committing to a larger minimum allotment (as is often the case for me, someone who drinks very widely across regions and grapes), voila. You are set. However, shipping will still be by the case, so if you order 1 bottle, 6 bottles, or 10 bottles, the shipping cost will be the same as for a full case of 12. If you don’t mind committing to a full case, you will get a 10% discount on your order. As before, you can also accumulate bottles up to a full case, so making shipping costs far more economically viable (I recommend this option if you can be patient). Clear as mud? Alright. Let’s talk Burgundy.

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Can you find Chitry on here?

Novelist and wine writer Jay McInerney once stated “If it’s red, French, costs too much, and tastes like water that’s been left in the vase after the flowers have died and rotted, it’s probably Burgundy”. I think he meant this with love. You’d still be hard pressed to find a more polarizing wine region, with the faithful continuing to chase that haunting essence that can be obtained nowhere else, while the detractors keep mustering arguments (often quite reasonable) that the region remains a maze of brittle, boring wines that ride the coattails of the few otherworldly but cost-prohibitive estates and vineyard sites. I fall firmly into the “intensely passionate about Burgundy” camp, and just maybe it is becoming a bit easier to find that bargain sweet spot where the wines are supple and delicious but do not require taking out a second mortgage to obtain in quantity. I’ve skinned knees exploring the dusty Burgundy quality pyramid, but I’ve also faceplanted into some surprises where I did not expect to find them, Premier Cru quality at village prices. Don’t give up hope and try to enjoy the ride. All that being said, where the hell is Chitry? Read the rest of this entry »





Volcanic Hills I: Molten Whites

9 10 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

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

It’s days like today when I truly value my connection with wine, fermented grape juice yet so very much more. You know, the sort of day where everything hits the skids, and wine is there at the end of it to provide an affirmation of the pleasurable things, to stimulate intellectual curiosity, and to infuse existence with a certain beauty that works to counterbalance any ugliness that cannot help but seep in around the edges of even the best-curated life. White wine is where it all started for me. At its best it is sharp and crystalline yet hedonistically fruity, linear yet complex, tart yet comforting. My first wine that I actually cared to attend to – you know, I am drinking wine and I’m actually going to notice that it’s wine! – was a Canadian Gewürztraminer. I won’t say which one. It was delicious back at that juncture, but at this point leaves me wanting on those rare occasions when I loop back to it. Nevertheless, I still seek out all things Gewürztraminer in this country, and am rewarded every so often with beacons of surprising revelation. It just so happens that the Volcanic Hills Estate Winery has made something of a specialty of this perfumed grape, offering an entry-level multi-vineyard blend, a single vineyard offering, a late harvest dessert wine, and even a sparkling Gewürz. They also offer two takes on Viognier, another notoriously perfumed fruit bomb currently making a name for itself in the Okanagan. I may be just the Canadian wine writer to guide our loyal readers through this particular romp.

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The Volcanic Hills Estate Winery is operated by Sarwan Gidda and his son Bobby, and is now into its 11th year of operations. Sarwan, born in India, founded the Mt. Boucherie Estate Winery in 2000 with his two brothers. According to Noel Gallagher, “Everyone knows that if you’ve got a brother, you’re going to fight.” Sure enough, Sarwan departed the partnership to start Volnanic Hills in 2008, with Bobby designing the layout of the geothermally heated and cooled winery. The winery itself is situated on the southeastern slope of Mt. Boucherie, which most agree is a 60 million year-old dormant volcano. The Okanagan’s Mt. Etna? I’m not sure, but according to the Giddas, the 70 or so acres of estate vineyards benefit from this rich volcanic heritage. Many swear that you can taste such soils in the finished wines. My own experience with certain Old World whites does corroborate this, even if the mechanisms involved remain poorly understood. The Giddas trust winemaker Daniel Bontorin, who trained locally in the Okanagan, to create complex yet affordable wines from estate grown grapes as well as the produce of various contract growers. Let’s check in on the whites. Read the rest of this entry »








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