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 »





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 »





International Sauvignon Blanc Day: 2016 Adobe Reserva Sauvignon Blanc

5 05 2017

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

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International SB Day 2017!

I swear that not every future entry on this blog will begin with “Happy [Varietal-Specific Holiday] Day!”, but…Happy International Sauvignon Blanc Day!  Yes, there is an entire calendar of world wine days now, each concocted by various marketing geniuses, and as it turns out, a couple weeks after World Malbec Day and a scant four days before World Moscato Day comes a designated day to celebrate the safest grape to pick out of a strange new liquor store and the varietal that first introduced the vinous world to New Zealand, the consistent and omnipresent Sauvignon Blanc.  Unlike today’s grape of honour, I am not omnipresent, and as this piece posts I am actually going to be hanging out in Walla Walla drinking world-class Syrah; International SB Day falls on my birthday this year, and I am spending this spin-around-the-sun in my personal wine Mecca.  So the blog and I will celebrate simultaneously this year, albeit in different places and for different occasions. 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 »





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.

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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 »





NZSB Playoff Challenge

4 05 2016

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

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Two enter, one leaves. Well, actually zero leave; there were no leftovers.

I need very little reason to open and taste two bottles side by side, especially when their comparison can tell me even more about them and where they’re from.  Somebody decided that Friday, May 6th would be known as Sauv Blanc Day (or #SauvBlanc Day, to be more accurate, even though it makes no sense to put a space in a hashtag), although this is a fact not without controversy, as others seem to have settled on April 24th for International Sauvignon Blanc celebration.  We can all agree that some time within this two-week window would be a great opportunity to open some Sauv Blanc, and with the playoffs upon us in two of the four major professional sports leagues, my dining table was also primed for a showdown of some sort.  Enter the titans.

These two bottles are excellent references for each other, as both are from the same vintage (2014, a shorter growing season with a wet harvest), the same country (New Zealand), the same region (Marlborough, the kickstarter of the NZ wine industry and of global New Era Sauv Blanc) and the same grape (the aforementioned SB).  Flavour and textural differences thus largely stem from slight climatic and geographic alterations at the vineyard level and minor distinctions in winemaking choices by the producers, as well as whatever cosmic forces make good wines end up just so.  Going in, I have to admit I was leaning toward the 2014 Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc as the likely favourite; this winery, run by former Cloudy Bay winemaker Kevin Judd (who literally put New Zealand on the world wine map with a now-ubiquitous tropical/herbaceous style of Sauv Blanc), now turns out deeply personal, characterful expressions of the grape year after year.  They are no stranger to love from this blog.  But strange things can happen in the playoffs.  Onward. Read the rest of this entry »