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. Read the rest of this entry »

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Happy Canada Day: Stag’s Hollow Summer Set

1 07 2017

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

Happy Canada Day all!  Our majestic and humble home turns 150 today, which makes me both celebratory and reflective, emotions which both inevitably lead to wine.  (OK, many things inevitably lead to wine, but these do too.)  As a nation, even at its sesquicentennial, Canada is still young and developing, growing increasingly confident in its global identity but not yet possessed of that inner calm of countries who have already seen and lived through it all.  As a wine nation, we are younger still:  while grapevines have been planted in Canada since the 19th century, our movement towards becoming a commercial producer of quality wines probably only dates back 40 to 50 years; the oldest producing vinifera vines in British Columbia are likely of a similar age.  In many ways, we are still finding ourselves and only starting to chart our path.

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British Columbia wasn’t blessed in centuries past with Burgundy’s army of soil-testing, site-delineating monks, who segregated cohesive parcels of land and determined which grapes did best in which spots.  As such, and without a suite of indigenous varietals to choose from, BC is playing global catch-up, still trying to sort out what might succeed in its soils and what is destined to fail.  In this New World landscape, it would be useful for the province to have a sort of advance wine scout, someone who is unafraid to push the envelope in terms of planting options and help set the boundaries for the area’s future course.

I nominate Stag’s Hollow Winery in the Okanagan Falls, which, led by winemaker Dwight Sick, has done nothing but innovate since I first found out about them.  Make reserve-level small-production Tempranillo?  Check.  Create the Okanagan Valley’s first-ever bottling of Grenache?  Check.  Solera-style fortified wines?  Orange wines?  If you can envision it, Sick and Stag’s Hollow have probably made it, and have expanded the range of possibilities for Canadian wine in the process.  A recent further jump:  Albarino, the crispy, crunchy white grape that is the pride of Galicia in northwest Spain, features heavily in Portugal’s Vinho Verde and has been gaining an increasing worldwide audience.  I had never yet seen a Canadian version of this hot and trendy grape – but if I had had to place a bet on who would be among the first to come up with one, it turns out that I wouldn’t have been wrong.  I got to check out this trail-blazing New World version of Albarino along with a couple other patio-friendly new releases from the winery just in time for summer. Read the rest of this entry »





Entering The Hatch, Spring 2017

23 05 2017

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

IMG_6146Ever since I first saw The Hatch’s avian-Thomas-Crown-Affair primary logo shortly after it opened a couple years ago, I have been sort of transfixed from a distance, finding both the winery and its artistic ethos strangely compelling despite knowing basically nothing about them.  Based out of a rustic-modern “shack from the future” in the heights of West Kelowna and sourcing grapes from across the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys, The Hatch initially comes across (quite intentionally) more like an artists’ collective than a commercial winery, listing Salman Rushdie on its personnel page and expounding in esoteric wine-code about “Ross O” and B. Yanco” (I’ll give you a second to sort that one out).  They confidently found their visual style from the outset thanks to the remarkable imagery provided by local western Canadian artist Paul Morstad (who is also found on The Hatch’s personnel page, playing a banjo); once people have been drawn in by the graphics, it’s up to winemaker Jason Parkes to keep their attention.  The whole artistic cacophony and the simultaneously grand yet whimsical presentation lends The Hatch a jolt of personality that the generally strait-laced BC wine scene can happily use…but does the buzz extend to what’s in the bottle?  Happily, I got to find out.

FullSizeRender-601The Hatch releases its wines in stylistic series, of which I had the opportunity to experience two:  the mid-tier Hobo Series wines, featuring a panoply of hand-drawn labels of hobos (seriously) that risk making you cry thanks to their sheer beauty (also seriously), and the ambitious Black Swift Vineyards series wines, which collectively form an expansive single-vineyard project focused on the various facets of BC’s glorious dirt.  The wine, like the winery, was never boring. Read the rest of this entry »





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 »





Desert Hills Estate Six Pack

25 04 2016

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

One of the things I love seeing most in Canadian wine nowadays is a renewed sense of focus on locating, separating and promoting quality subregions within an overall wine area, those special geological or climatic zones that yield wines with a distinct character and personality.  Anyone reading this in Europe right now may be incredulous at any such modern quest for discrete sub-terroir, as this process took place in many Old World growing regions up to a millennium ago.  We have a bit of catching up to do, and now we’re doing it.

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This is critical for regions like British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, which currently sees almost all wines coming out of it released under that general appellation name.  If you’ve ever stood in the breeze by the lake in Kelowna in August, and then stood in raging parched inferno of the Osoyoos desert two hours later, you’ll understand why “Okanagan Valley” doesn’t exactly capture any of the nuance of those two highly individual experiences.  Last year saw big news on the BC subregion front, as the Golden Mile Bench, a stretch of slope just west of the highway running from Oliver south to Osoyoos, became the province’s first ever recognized sub-geographical indication, meaning you’ll start seeing that name on bottles released this year in place of (or in addition to) the broader Okanagan designation.

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If you walk east from the Golden Mile Bench and cross the highway, on the other side of the road you’ll find another slope, angled west, with extremely hot days and surprisingly cool nights, where vines grow on highly sandy soils that run hundreds of feet deep and require irrigation to retain hydration.  This is the Black Sage Bench, another obvious BC candidate for subregional distinction and home to some of Canada’s top wineries.  On the southern end of the Bench, nestled between Okanagan luminaries Black Hills and Burrowing Owl, is Desert Hills Estate Winery, a family-run producer founded by the three Toor brothers and focused largely on wines made from their aptly named estate vineyard, the Three Boys Vineyard, purchased in 1989.  The first released production from the vineyard was in 1996, and now, 20 years later, Desert Hills is solidly entrenched in the Okanagan wine world and making a renewed push into the Alberta market. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2010 Prospect Winery Major Allan Merlot

3 10 2012

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

Prospect Winery, colour me impressed…again.

After being quite pleasantly shocked by the first bottle of red wine that the Prospect Winery sent my way (the 2009 Red Willow Shiraz, written up here), I opened the second and final red they had provided last night thinking that it was fighting against a strong precedent.  I wasn’t heading into this bottle with the lowered expectations with which I had traditionally approached inexpensive Canadian wine; instead, after Prospect’s dynamic Shiraz, I was looking for big things, at least as far as sub-$20 BC Merlot goes.  And while I’m still trying to figure out whether I was satisfied or disappointed with the outcome, I continue to be refreshed and enthused by the fact that I’m starting to approach my own country’s wines with something resembling optimism…because of that alone, Prospect Winery has already succeeded in its mission to showcase the various varietals of the Okanagan in an affordable way.

Since I covered the winery’s corporate ancestral lineage in detail in my previous PW post, I won’t rehash it here other than to say that the Prospect lineup is part of the Mission Hill family once removed, with its own winemaker and plans to create a stand-alone winery.  Of the various brands falling under the umbrella of MH affiliate Artisan Wine Co., it may be the one with the brightest prospects (pun only half intended), putting out dependable, varietally-correct wines at very reasonable prices.  Each of Prospect’s bottlings is named for a different ecological or historical feature of the Okanagan Valley; the Major Allan Merlot is an homage to Allan Brooks, a prolific wildlife artist whose wildlife paintings are known across North America (and on this bottle’s label, which showcases one of them).  I was particularly interested to try this wine, because, as far as I could tell, unlike many of Prospect’s other offerings, the Major Allan is not currently available in Alberta.  In other words, unless my research is wrong, my home province may just have to take my word for this. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2010 Mission Hill Martin’s Lane Pinot Noir

22 08 2012

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

As aptly pointed out by my 19 month old son: P!!!

It was with great sadness that I uncorked (OK, unscrewed) the last of the sample bottles that the Okanagan’s Mission Hill winery had sent my way.  When MH sent me their small-batch limited edition Martin’s Lane Riesling a few weeks ago, they included with it the Riesling’s vineyard twin, the inaugural release of the Martin’s Lane Pinot Noir.  This bottle of Pinot was many years in the making (the vineyard was planted in 1995), but MH held back on releasing it as a single-vineyard offering until the vines and the grapes were fully ready to show their stuff.  I laid out the story behind Martin’s Lane in my Riesling review, but to quickly recap, it’s a high-quality, steeply-sloped vineyard located right by Mission Hill’s winery property just outside of Kelowna, and it’s named as a tribute to MH proprietor Anthony von Mandl’s late father Martin.  Only 485 cases of this Pinot were produced, and this is the first bottle I’ve seen in this province, so unless you live near the winery, this bottle is probably hard to come by.  All the more reason to enjoy it if you have it! Read the rest of this entry »