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 »

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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 »





Calgary Wine Life: Cakebread Tasting with Dennis Cakebread

15 04 2015

I have long held a soft spot for Cakebread Cellars wines, dating back to when my knowledge and interest in wine were in their infancy.  At the end of my articling year a decade ago, my co-workers and I were out at a nice dinner courteously paid for by our firm the night before we were to find out who would be hired back after articles.  There was suitably fancy wine to go with the upscale meal at our group’s aptly named Last Supper, but the only bottle I remember from that night came after dessert, when a couple wine-loving fellow students ordered a bottle of Cakebread Sauvignon Blanc to the table.  I know (now) that this isn’t Cakebread’s go-to grape or claim to fame, but it stopped me in my tracks.  I had never had a wine like it.  It was instantly memorable and made me understand how people could invest so much time, attention and money in the enjoyment of fine wine, which I have now spent the last ten years doing myself.  When I was in Napa a few years ago I made sure to stop by Cakebread (and have matching wine glasses at home to prove it), all because of that one bottle of Sauvignon Blanc.  So when I got invited a few weeks back to taste through a lineup of Cakebread’s wines with its VP and second-generation owner Dennis Cakebread, my wine life flashed in front of my eyes a little bit.  It was like coming full circle.

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Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2011 Carmen Gran Reserva Carmenere

19 11 2014

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

If someone made a movie about the story of Carmenere, I would watch it.

If someone made a movie about the story of Carmenere, I would watch it.

The story of Carmenere is one of my favourite stories in all of wine.  It starts, as many wine stories do, in France, where centuries ago Carmenere was one of the six varietals used to make red Bordeaux, along with Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec.  As French explorers set out to claim and colonize new territories outside of Europe, they often brought plantings of their national vines with them, introducing these grapes to foreign soils.  It turns out they were lucky they did, because when the phylloxera louse decimated the vineyards of Europe in the mid-19th century, it wiped out Carmenere in Bordeaux completely — today, there are only five red Bordeaux varietals.  Everyone thought that Carmenere had been tragically lost forever…and then it randomly showed up in Chile over a hundred years later.

On November 24th, 1994, the French ampelographer (actual meaning: one who identifies and classifies grapevines) Jean Michel Boursiquot was paying a visit to the Carmen vineyards in Chile when he noticed that the Merlot growing there wasn’t actually Merlot at all, but Carmenere.  The lost grape of Bordeaux had been growing in the Southern Hemisphere for more than century, but due to its vines’ and grapes’ uncanny resemblance to those of its Bordeaux cousin Merlot, everyone assumed it was the latter, particularly given the general understanding that Carmenere no longer existed.  This led to some extensive (and confusing) cross-planting of vineyards that proved extremely difficult to unwind.  Boursiquot’s epic discovery was a boon to world viticulture, and it gave Chile what it needed most at the end of the 20th century:  a wine identity, forged in what is now proudly recognized as the country’s national grape.  It was also a big help to the resulting wines:  Carmenere ripens weeks later than Merlot, and if picked early (due to mistaken identity) it can exhibit strong, and generally unpleasant, green pepper flavours. 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: 2006 Therapy Vineyards Superego

1 07 2011

A+ label art -- even cooler up close, AND appropriate Canada Day colouring.

Happy Canada Day, everyone!  I would have been remiss if I didn’t focus on a wine from my home and native land tonight, but that proved to be more of a challenge than I thought, as my cellar’s currently a little thin on the Canada front — out of the 90-odd bottles that I keep stored in an army of wine fridges in my basement, only two of them are from Canada.  One of them is a $15 Niagara Cabernet Sauvignon that I’m a little scared to open, and the other one is this bottle.  Fearing the patriotic retribution that might ensue if I rated a cheap Canadian wine 65 points on Canada Day, I instead went with this bottle, the 2006 Superego from Therapy Vineyards in the Okanagan Valley.  You may know Therapy from their ink-blot labels and punny wine names (Freudian Sip white blend, Pink Freud rosé, etc.); the Superego is their top red bottling, made from top quality grapes using stringent processes to be Therapy’s flagship wine.  As you can see in the picture to the left, it comes in an absolutely spectacular-looking bottle that rivals Chile’s Montes Folly Syrah as my favourite wine label art of all time.  I got this particular bottle from a fellow wine lover and a Therapy devotee (thanks Allison!) and have been holding it for the right occasion.  Happy 144th, Canada — tonight I pop and pour for you! Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2007 Mercer Columbia Valley Merlot

19 06 2011

Special delivery from the tasty factory.

Right after reviewing a wine (the 2007 Amavi Syrah) that was identical to one reviewed previously but for the vintage, tonight I’m tackling a wine that’s identical to a prior review but for the grape.  I reviewed the 2007 Mercer Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon at the end of March, and tonight I stick with the same vintage (2007), the same producer (Mercer) and the same subregion (Columbia Valley in Washington State), but I’m subbing out one full-bodied red (Cab) for another (Merlot).  As I look back on my previous Mercer review, it strikes me how similarly these two wines have been put together; both are built to pop, pour and enjoy in the near term, with big accessible fruit and no hard edges, and both are ripe, friendly and easy to drink.  Both are also a direct shipment from the tasty factory — they’re absolutely delicous, the Merlot even more so than the Cab.  I bought this wine over the weekend from Highlander Wine & Spirits because it was crazily on sale:  half off normal retail price at $20!  It’s one of my rules in life not to turn down Washington State wine when it’s 50% off…I’m principled that way. Read the rest of this entry »