Wine Reviews: Red ShowDownUnder

13 06 2017

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

FullSizeRender-646I first got seriously into wine about 10 years ago, when the Australia Phenomenon was in its heyday and Argentinian Malbec was just a glint in some clever investor’s eye in Mendoza.  Yellow Tail Shiraz was my gateway drug, a fact that is assuredly true of more than one of you currently reading this as well.  Looking back now on the Australian wine scene then, there are still tons of similarities.  Critter wines, like it or not, are still a thing. On the quality pinnacle, the high-end wines from Down Under rocking people’s worlds in 2017 aren’t that different from those doing so in 2007.  But I’ve noticed a couple clear differences in the imports from Australia that have evolved over the last decade:  first, a welcome explosion of site-driven elegance from the cooler areas of the country, be it Pinot from Yarra or Mornington or bubbles from Tasmania or the laser purity of some of the post-modern wines coming out of the Adelaide Hills.  Second, a new focus on bottles like the ones below, step-up bottlings, a shade above entry-level in price and a world above the critters in authenticity and quality.  The $20-$30 tier of wines has never had stronger representation on our shelves from Australia than it does currently, as more and more producers zone in on these bottles as the best way to build a lasting relationship of trust with consumers as opposed to an $11 fling.

So what better way to celebrate how far Australia has come as a mature wine producer, and how far I’ve come in my 10 years of Yellow Tail-catalyzed oenophilia, than by lining up two step-up bottles, each from highly respected multi-generational family wineries and legendary regions, and tasting them side-by-side?  It’s not about picking a winner — the mere fact that the exercise is possible is a win in and of itself — but I’m sure that won’t stop Jim Barry and Yalumba from exerting full effort in this battle of reds under screwcap.  Let the showdown from Down Under begin. Read the rest of this entry »





Burrowing Owl Fall Release Set

12 11 2016

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

Burrowing Owl Fall Release Week is quickly becoming one of the highlights of the Pop & Pour blogging calendar.  The winery is highly engaged with consumers and media alike and  is ahead of the game in terms of finding new ways to get its wines into the collective consciousness, and its renown is expanding well beyond its home province of BC as a result.  When the season’s current releases arrive in Calgary around harvest time, I’m ready to do my small part to spread the word.  Bring on the new vintages!

fullsizerender-462

A glorious Pop & Pour fall tradition.

Burrowing Owl is an Okanagan Valley stalwart, and it’s become such a ubiquitous part of the region that it’s easy to forget the winery is less than 20 years old.  The story started in 1993, when founder Jim Wyse replanted a series of vineyards between Oliver and Osoyoos in the extreme southern Okanagan.  There were no immediate plans to build a winery, but Wyse’s vision expanded once he saw the quality of the new grapes.  Burrowing Owl’s first vintage was 1997, and construction on the gravity-flow winery and massive underground cellar on the property was completed in 1998.

fullsizerender-468

 Initially focused on Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris planted on a single 130-acre site, Burrowing Owl is now up to 14 different planted varietals on 170 acres of estate vineyards in three different sites. It is no accident that the winery is named after the rare underground-nesting owl that was declared extinct in British Columbia in 1980 but is now back on the upswing due to the dedicated conservation efforts of a small group of individuals:  Wyse is one of those individuals, having contributed significant amounts of both time and money to the burrowing owl’s preservation.

fullsizerender-472

Stelvin Rating: 8/10 (Love the colour, love the side pattern and smoothness; not a huge fan of the top embossing.)

 This year I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to try a sextet of different bottles from the Burrowing Owl 2013 and 2014 vintages, including return engagements with a couple of wines I had in last year’s releases, the Cabernet Sauvignon and the particularly eye-opening Syrah.  Let’s see how the fall 2016 lineup compared, starting with my introduction to one of Burrowing Owl’s founding whites:  Chardonnay.

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.]

fullsizerender-430

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 »





Return of The Mules: Torres Summer Values

12 06 2016

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

It’s been so long since I sat down and wrote a straightforward normal wine review that I’m having trouble remembering how to start one.  Thankfully, I’m aided by an old PnP standby:  if they’re not there already, the Torres family of wines has to be close to the record for largest number of individual write-ups on this site, aided in part by their broad-based dual-continent operation and vast lineup but mostly by their consistent ability to deliver quality and identity for less than you’d expect.  I made the mistake last year of prejudging their “Las Mulas” line of entry-level Chilean wines by its lighthearted name and beast of burden on the label, only to be reminded by the emphatically delicious Las Mulas Rose that Torres takes all its wines seriously.  This year, with the Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon from the Las Mulas brand, I will not make the same error twice.

FullSizeRender-375

The wines for Las Mulas come from Chile’s warm, flat and fertile Central Valley, where the benign climate and the absence of most common vine diseases make it the country’s most productive and most popular grape-growing region.  This can be both a good thing and a bad thing:  obviously getting your crop to ripen without heroic efforts is a benefit, but wine grapes specifically tend to derive much of their flavour concentration and character from having to struggle a bit to grow, and when they’re deprived of that opportunity to strive the results in the glass can be flat and uninteresting.  To combat the Central Valley’s generosity, Torres planted the Las Mulas grapes on nutrient-poor soils and entirely avoided the use of herbicides or pesticides (the vineyard sites are certified organic).  The vineyards are wholly hand-harvested, with nary a machine in sight, making this New World wine done in old school ways…yet somehow still hovering around the $15 CAD mark on the shelf.  Each of the offerings below cleared by (pre-primed) expectations for that price point with ease. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: Jim Barry Value Red Showdown

13 01 2016

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

I'm not making up the vertical/horizontal label dichotomy, right?  Totally something thematic there.

I’m not making up the vertical/horizontal label dichotomy, right? Totally something thematic there.

Australian wine is in sort of a weird place right now.  I first got into wine during the Great Shiraz Rush just over a decade ago, when critter wines ran rampant and the overtly ripe, sweet, boozy style and approachable branding of big-name Aussie Shiraz rolled over the global wine scene like a tsunami, spawning copycats galore and creating ripples that are only now just starting to settle.  The behemoth brands at the front of this wave are mostly still around today, and their bold, fruity, slightly concocted style certainly retains its share of popularity with casual drinkers, but the world has moved on to other phenomena and the scene in Australia seems caught in aftermath phase, not wanting to totally abandon what brought it to global prominence but understanding that its long-term prosperity is likely tied to being something more than liquor store filler.  The country is taking steps to avoid being a one-hit wonder, surprisingly churning out some of the best Riesling you’ve never tried, finding cooler pockets for Pinot Noir and (especially in Tasmania) sparkling wine, using its plentitude of remarkably old vines to its advantage, and dialling its Shiraz back a notch or two while still keeping it lush and appealing to New World palates.  It is also finding stronger and more quality-focused expressions of its value wines which are less industrial commodities and more genuine expressions of grape and place.  This is where Jim Barry comes in.

This family-owned producer is now run by second-generation executive winemaker Peter Barry, the son of eponymous founder Jim, who was the first qualified winemaker in South Australia’s Clare Valley, where the winery is based.  Its tailored lineup of wines runs the gamut from dynamite supermarket bargains (see below) to one of Australia’s very best and priciest bottles, The Armagh Shiraz (as experienced by me in one of my favourite tastings ever).  I was first converted to the Jim Barry cause a few years ago when I bought the Cover Drive Cabernet Sauvignon on a whim because of its circus-tent striping on the neck foil and the cricket player on the main label and was wowed by what I found inside.  I could be wrong, but by its participation in the JB value red duel below, I believe Cover Drive becomes the very first wine in PnP history to be reviewed in three separate vintages, following its write-ups here and here.  Can it hold off a spirited challenge from its neck-striped brother, the Lodge Hill Shiraz?  Let’s find out. Read the rest of this entry »





Multi-Wine Review: Calliope/Burrowing Owl Octet

24 11 2015

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

No time to spare for a huge intro tonight, as we have a whole whack of impressive Canadian wines to assess in what is sure to be a super-sized review.  I was fortunate enough to get the chance to taste through a series of recent releases from Okanagan stalwart Burrowing Owl, which is based in the scorching deep south of the Valley, near the US border in Oliver, British Columbia.  The tasting pack included a quartet of bottles from the parent winery and a quartet from its new offspring, Burrowing Owl’s second label Calliope Wines.  In keeping with the main estate’s unusual-bird-based theme, Calliope is named after a tiny hummingbird (Canada’s smallest bird) found in southern BC (not to be confused with the Greek muse or the steam organ of the same name).  According to its website, Calliope “is a full line of easy sipping, fruit-forward wines, designed to pair with casual lunches on the patio, or with contemporary cuisine”.  According to the pictures on the website, the wines also appear to pair with unnaturally beautiful Photoshopped women and neck beards.  Polite suggestion to Calliope:  Your wines are solid.  Your website is trying too hard.  It needs to relax.

FullSizeRender-169

I had often heard strong praise about the Burrowing Owl lineup from Wine People Who Know Things but hadn’t previously gotten around to experiencing it for myself, so getting to dive into a sizeable chunk of the portfolio all at once was an amazing way to get caught up on one of the brightest lights in Canadian wine.  Without further ado, here are eight mini wine reviews, starting with the second label and finishing with the main house (all prices based on Alberta retail).

Read the rest of this entry »





Border Crossing: Kaiken Ultra Wines

28 10 2015

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

From Chile to Argentina with love.

From Chile to Argentina with love.

It’s not uncommon to see producers from other countries head to Argentina to create a second label or side project.  There’s lots to like about the South American nation as a startup hub, from truly unique altitude-induced terroir to surprising access to old-vine plantings to ultra-low input costs. What is unusual is for the immigrating winery to come from right next door:  Argentina’s skinny western neighbour Chile offers many of the same producer advantages and is often similarly sought after by wineries off the continent for new ventures, but you rarely see a producer from one of these countries set foot in the other to make wine.  That’s what makes these bottles interesting.

The Montes family is one of Chile’s pioneering wine clans, and its Vina Montes may be the country’s best known winery, churning out everything from weeknight wine champions to top-end stunners like Montes Folly, an unprecedented Syrah from Apalta that’s one of my favourite wines of all time.  Patriarch Aurelio Montes Sr. visited Argentina in 2001 and was immediately intrigued by the Andes-hugging Mendoza region; he wasted no time in deciding to expand operations there, starting up the Kaiken label in 2002.  The word “Kaiken” is an anglicized version of “Caiquen”, a type of wild goose that regularly travels over the Andes Mountains from Chile to Argentina, just like Montes himself.  Once the winery was up and running, he made the call to keep the winemaking in the family, recently naming his son Aurelio Montes Jr. as winemaker.  Kaiken owns three vineyards in Mendoza, two in and around the Lujan de Cuyo region near the town of Mendoza itself and one in the Uco Valley further south; one of the vineyards is fully biodynamic, a set of principles Kaiken is working to embrace. Read the rest of this entry »