Friday, October 28, 2011

Burrowing Owl's new Athene and Cabernet Franc wines

Photo: Bertus Albertyn

It was once something of a tradition in Europe to make wines that were referred to as field blends.

Those wines resulted either when varieties were intermingled in the same vineyard or when grapes from adjoining blocks were picked and fermented together.

In the new world, the practice has been to pick and ferment varieties separately, blending them many months after the vintage. There is some logic to that. Not all varieties ripen at the same time.

If there is ever a winery on the Okanagan that epitomizes the best of new world winemaking, it is surely Burrowing Owl Estate Winery.

It came as a surprise to learn from Bertus Albertyn, the winemaker, that one of Burrowing Owl’s best blends, a red called Athene, actually is a field blend.

It happened by chance and it was started by one of the predecessor winemakers. Bertus decided it was worth continuing the practice.

The winery has two blocks of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon which began bearing fruit in the 2006 vintage. There was not much fruit that year or the next. The grapes were fermented together and the resulting wine ended up in various other Burrowing Owl wines.

But the winery noted that the wine was quite interesting. So in 2008 and again in 2009, this co-fermented blend was barrel-aged on its own and released as Athene.

The 2009 Athene is 52% Syrah, 48% Cabernet Sauvignon. The grapes from the two blocks were fermented together on their skins for more than two weeks. Between the time of fermentation and the maceration after ferment, the wine was on the skins for 25 days, picking up great colour and intense flavours. The wine spent 16 months in French and American oak before being bottled.

The result is impressive. Here are notes on that one and on Burrowing Owl’s Cabernet Franc, both of which have just been released.

Burrowing Owl 2009 Athene ($35). The winery’s tasting notes, prepared by a Master of Wine, aptly describe this as a “dark, brooding wine.” This is quite simply a ripe, full-bodied red (14.9% alcohol) that is already drinking well but will age well for perhaps 10 more years. It begins with attractive aromas of plum, black cherry, vanilla, coffee and spice. On the palate, there is a core of sweet berry flavour – blackberry, black currant – with a long and complex finish of red liquorice, chocolate and pepper. 92.

Burrowing Owl 2009 Cabernet Franc ($33). Most tasters agree that Burrowing Owl consistently makes one of the best Cabernet Francs in the Okanagan. This is another big ripe red (alcohol of 14.5%) with the classic brambly aromas and flavours of the variety. The aromas recall blackberries and black currant jam. On the palate, there are flavours of black cherry, plum and fig. The tannins are plush and ripe. 91.


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