Wine Review: White Australia

19 07 2018

By Peter Vetsch

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

Sometimes your moneymaker becomes your millstone.  Australia, which had been making wine for a couple centuries without raising much of a global fuss about it, burst onto international liquor store shelf traffic jam within the past two or three decades thanks to a flamboyant, fruity, brash, ripe style of Shiraz, buttressed by a New World-friendly Cabernet Sauvignon that was easy on the pocketbook.  A mammoth export industry emerged, but typecasting of Australian wine as a whole inevitably followed, leaving those longstanding producers with histories older than the Dominion of Canada stuck in their own misleading shadow.

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Now the Shiraz spotlight has pulled back a bit, giving everyone a bit of room to breathe and again find comfort in the space of their own natural identities; for longstanding affiliates Pewsey Vale and Yalumba, this has meant a continued push to enhance the white side of Australia’s wine spectrum, and perhaps the sowing of a few carefully nurtured seeds which might ultimately settle the debate of what should be known as Australia’s signature white grape.  Two deserving contestants, from two benchmark wineries, lie below. Read the rest of this entry »

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Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 15

15 12 2017

Tonight’s wine might suffer from a disconnect between actual and anticipated identity.  When the first words you note on a label are “California Viognier” and the listed alcohol clocks in above 14%, you think you’re in for a fun, flouncy, slightly provocative stone fruit and flower party.  When the label in question is from an Oakville winery, based in the heart of Napa, which is the heart of big, brash, Cali wine, you doubly brace yourself in anticipation of something raucous.  This bottle is solidly drinkable but has none of that carefree, sultry attitude.  It’s Viognier without joy.

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Miner Family Winery was founded by a husband and wine team in 1996, making this 2015 Miner California Viognier their 20th anniversary vintage bottling.  They make an astonishing array of wines, from Cab and the other Bordeaux varietals to Burgundy’s Pinot Noir and Chardonnay to the reds and whites of the Rhone Valley to Tempranillo and Sangiovese.  There are multiple bottlings of most of these, so their winemaker obviously stays busy.  The winery’s pride and joy is likely its 20,000 square feet of underground cellaring caves carved into a Napa rock face, which were dug at great expense shortly after Miner came to be.  Despite being Napa-based, they source from across the state of California, as evidenced by the straight “California” designation on this particular bottle.  62% of this Viognier comes from a single vineyard in Paso Robles, while the other 38% comes from the Sierra Foothills; since the wine crosses appellations, it has no choice but to revert to the broader state-wide statement of origin on the label.

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Stelvin Rating:  8/10 (Love the gold, love the sun god logo, love the interest yet simplicity.)

The 2015 Viognier is a surprisingly pale lemon colour coming out of the bottle, partly due to the lack of any oak treatment (which deepens the colour of white wines).  It is almost shockingly lean and citric for a 14+% abv California Viognier, leading with lemon zest and mountain stream aromas backed by frozen honeycomb, Tums and talcum powder.  It broadens slightly in waxy, watery ways on the tongue, adding tart pear fruit and some kind of tropical musk, but retaining an overall sense of distance and a prevailing greenness — fresh leaves and flower stems, grass and baby spinach — finishing with a touch of astringency.  Viognier’s trademark bouncy peachiness and sensual mouthfeel don’t make an appearance, almost like these grapes were picked before those elements got there (harvest dates: August 19th-27th); despite significant sugar ripeness, the phenolics and ultimate character of the wine never quite caught up.  I had no issue crushing the bottle, but this would not be the expression that Viognier sends with its cover letter to land a job interview.

87- points





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 »





The Great Coravin Test, Part 5: Six Months Later

26 01 2016

To catch you up on the epic journey that is concluding with this post:

  • I got to borrow a Coravin back in July (Part 1)
  • I accessed three awesome bottles with it and wrote tasting notes (Part 2)
  • I checked back on them two weeks later to see how they were doing (Part 3)
  • I dove into some cellar treasures and gave some final Coravin thoughts (Part 4)
  • I promised to come back to my three test bottles one last time…in half a year.

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Take 5. One last time.

How time flies.  Suddenly it’s six months from the week of my original Coravin tasting write-up and I owe this story an epilogue.  After seeing this trio of my bottles front and centre in my cellar on a daily basis and accessing them multiple times through the Coravin needle, I actually felt sort of bad cutting off the foils and pulling the corks out of them like they were any old weeknight wines.  But science does not wilt for sentiment, and I had a job to do.

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.

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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 »





Wine Review: 2012 Alice May Crosswinds Syrah

13 08 2015

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

The sequel. Even more awesome.
The sequel. Even more awesome.

I love when I have the chance on this site to track a wine’s development over successive vintages.  I love it even more when the wine in question has a strong local connection, something you don’t get to say very often when you’re based in Calgary.  Last year I had the chance to write up the inaugural release from Alice May Wines, a new label conceived by Calgary sommelier-turned-wine-agent Alex Good in collaboration with noted California winemaker McPrice Myers of Barrel 27 Winery.  Alice May’s stated focus was on Rhone-based varietals, and its 2011 Crosswinds Syrah was a silky, elegant Cote-Rotie style co-ferment of Syrah and Viognier that I repeatedly sought out and drank over the course of 2014.  Having exhausted my supply, I was happy to turn to the 2012 edition of the Crosswinds, and even happier that it carried the Alice May torch with aplomb. Read the rest of this entry »





The Great Coravin Test, Part 3: Two Weeks In

2 08 2015

OK, so to recap:

  • I got lent a Coravin and figured out how to use it (Part 1).
  • On July 17th, I accessed three different bottles – a white and two reds – via Coravin and wrote up control tasting notes (Part 2).
  • Exactly two weeks later, on July 31st, I Coravinned the bottles again to see how they were doing.  Now the real fun begins (Part 3, right now).

FullSizeRender-91Some brief methodological notes:  after tasting the bottles on July 17th, I put them back in my cellar as if they were brand new – on their sides, no special treatment.  They stayed there till the 31st, when I gave them a brief chill before accessing them again.  I took detailed tasting notes without looking at my initial set of notes and then compared the two sets after the fact to see if the descriptions were similar and if any notable changes to the wines had taken place.  After the second round of tasting, the bottles are all about half full, and they have been put back in my cellar until I pull them out again for the grand finale of this Coravin experiment six months from now.  So how did the wines do?  Is the Coravin all it’s cracked up to be?  Let’s get to it, again:

Read the rest of this entry »








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