Thursday, July 10, 2014

Burrowing Owl and Calliope releases in 2014

Photo: Burrowing Owl's Tom DiBello

Among the new releases from Burrowing Owl Winery, the 2013 wines draw a little extra attention.

That was the first Burrowing Owl vintage for Tom DiBello, the University of California-trained vintner who spent 10 years at CedarCreek before leaving in 2010 to consult and to develop his own label.

Consulting went on the backburner in 2013 when he was offered the cellar at Burrowing Owl, one of the south Okanagan’s most iconic wineries.

It must have been a comfortable fit. A solid California winemaking style has been stamped on Burrowing Owl from its first vintage in 1997. Consulting winemaker Bill Dyer, who had been the winemaker at Sterling Vineyards, was hired and the first seven vintages were made under his direction.

He was followed by a succession of winemakers including Steve Wyse, Scott Stefishen, Jeff Del Nin and, most recently, Bertus Albertyn. While Steve was mentored by Bill Dyer, Scott and Jeff both trained in Australia. Bertus is a graduate of South Africa’s top wine school.

Throughout all those changes, the Burrowing Owl house style remained remarkably consistent. In part, that is because the vineyard sources have been consistent and have been farmed very well by Burrowing Owl. However, the Dyer style still seems clear, especially in the winery’s ripe and full-bodied reds.

The winery has yet to release any of the reds made by Tom in 2013. Judging from the whites, however, there are no major departures in style that was not dictated by the vintage.  And the 2013 vintage generally was a good one. Undoubtedly, the wines were tweaked by Tom. Good winemakers never rest on the laurels of their predecessors.

While that was Tom’s first year working with Burrowing Owl fruit, he is quite familiar with the south Okanagan terroir. He made some of CedarCreek’s big reds from that winery’s vineyard just north of Osoyoos. If memory serves, CedarCreek also had a vineyard southeast of Osoyoos, as does Burrowing Owl.

The new terroir for Tom probably is the Similkameen. Chris Wyse, Burrowing Owl’s president, has a vineyard near Keremeos. The fruit for those vines support production for Calliope Wines, a winery that the Wyse family launched several years ago. The new Calliope releases include three delicious whites from the 2013 vintage.

Here are notes on current releases.

Calliope Sauvignon Blanc 2013 ($13.90). This is made with Similkameen fruit. Refreshing crisp and tangy, the wine has aromas and flavours of lemon and lime, with herbal notes on the finish. 90.

Calliope Viognier 2013 ($15.99).  This is also made with Similkameen fruit. The wine begins with aromas of apricot, peach and pineapple; it delivers flavours of apricot, cantaloupe and citrus. There is a touch of spice on the dry finish. 90.

Calliope Figure 8 White 2013 ($15.99). This is quite a complex wine at a budget price. It is a blend of 30% Sauvignon Blanc, 22% Pinot Gris, 21% Viognier, 15% Chardonnay and 12% Riesling. The Chardonnay was fermented in oak barrels while the Sauvignon Blanc was fermented in oak puncheons. The other varietals were fermented cool in stainless steel. The individual wines were blended four months after vintage and bottle-aged another two months before release. The wine is vibrantly fresh with aromas of grapefruit, melon and grass. It delivers flavours of lime, peach and apples, with a backbone of minerals and a dry finish. 90.

Calliope Rosé 2012 ($13.90). This is 70% Syrah, 30% Viognier. It has aromas of raspberry and spice, with flavours recalling raspberry jam. 89.

Calliope Figure 8 Red 2012 ($15.99). This is 54% Merlot, 34% Syrah and 12% Cabernet Sauvignon. All the fruit in this exceptional vintage came from Burrowing Owl’s Oliver and Osoyoos vineyards. The wine is generous in texture, with aromas of plums, cherries and spice herbs. It delivers flavours of black currant, blueberry, cherry and vanilla with notes of pepper on the finish. 90.

Burrowing Owl Pinot Gris 2013 ($20). This wine begins with aromas of Asian pears, apples and nectarines, leading to flavours of pear and grapefruit with notes of herbs and spice on the dry but refreshing finish. Most of this wine was cool-fermented in stainless steel but a small portion was barrel-fermented, adding texture and spice. 90.

Burrowing Owl Chardonnay 2011 ($25). This wine was barrel-fermented (mostly French oak) and was left on the lees in barrel for nine months. The lees were stirred every two weeks to promote the wine’s texture. The oak provides a subtle and elegant frame around the citrus aromas and flavours of papaya, nectarine and grapefruit. 91.

Burrowing Owl Sauvignon Blanc 2013 ($22). A new wine in the Burrowing Owl portfolio, this is 88% Sauvignon Blanc, 12% Sémillon. Sixty percent of the wine was barrel-fermented and a portion was aged in a remarkably complicated selection of new (7%) and older French oak, along with some American and Hungarian oak. Here, the winemaker was giving himself a rich palate for blending the final wine. The wine is luscious with tropical fruit aromas and flavours – lemon, guava and gooseberry. The creamy texture is balanced against bright acidity. The finish just doesn’t stop. 92.

Burrowing Owl Merlot 2010 ($30). A wine has the juicy and generous style that is the hallmark of Burrowing Owl. Savoury on the nose, it has aromas of black cherry, plum and blackberry. The wine delivers flavours of those fruits and berries, along with notes of dark chocolate and vanilla. 91.

Burrowing Owl Malbec 2011 ($30 and available only at the winery). This wine also is new in the Burrowing Owl portfolio, made with fruit from the winery’s Osoyoos vineyard. The wine begins with aromas of violets, spice and red berries. On the palate, there are flavours of black cherry and mulberry mingled with notes of spice and black pepper. Even though the wine has been aged in oak for 20 months (only a third new), the texture is still firm. It will age well. 90-91. 

Burrowing Owl Athene 2011 ($38). This wine was born several years ago when Burrowing Owl had to top up a half-filled tank of Cabernet Sauvignon with Syrah. The wine was a big hit. Now the grapes – 55% Syrah and 45% Cabernet Sauvignon – are co-fermented and aged 18 months in barrel. This is a ripe and juicy wine; while 2011 was a cool year, the grapes were not picked until November 7. To steal another winery’s quote, this is the steel fist (Cabernet) in the velvet glove (Syrah). There are aromas of pepper and black cherry, leading to flavours of  blackberry, blueberry and cassis. There is a touch white pepper on the finish. 91.

Burrowing Owl Syrah 2011 ($33). These grapes were also picked late in the season, resulting in a big ripe wine with 14% alcohol. It has black cherry and vanilla aromas with black pepper. On the palate, it shows the variety’s classic gamey, leathery flavours that recall the meat counter of a deli. The texture is rich and generous. The touch of pepper on the finish wraps up a delicious wine. 91.

Burrowing Owl Cabernet Franc 2011 ($33). The winery was an early proponent of this variety, which is now being embraced by many other producers. The appeal lies in the brambly aromas and flavours – raspberry, blackberry – with touches of pepper and tobacco on the finish. 91.

Burrowing Owl Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 ($35). Aged entirely in French oak (30% new), this elegant wine begins with aromas of black currants. On the palate, there are flavours of black currant, plum, coffee and cola. The texture is firm; this is clearly a wine for cellaring at least five more years. 91.

Burrowing Owl Meritage 2009 ($30 for 500 ml). This wine, almost sold out, is now available only at the winery. The winery bottled some in half-litre bottles, thinking that size would be more appealing to restaurants and other consumers than the usual 750 ml size. The winery skipped bottling that size for 2010 and 2011 but have bottled some 2012 in the smaller bottle. The 2009 Meritage is a terrific red from a great vintage. This is 38% Merlot, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Cabernet Franc, 4% Malbec and 2% Petit Verdot. Dark in colour, it begins with a dramatic aroma of black cherry and cassis. Fruit flavours fill the mouth with grace notes of coffee and cocoa on the finish. 95.


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