Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Calliope Wines: quality at good value

Photo: Jim Wyse, owner of Burrowing Owl and Calliope

Recently, I shared some wines from the Calliope brand with a neighbour, telling him that the brand is owned by Burrowing Owl Vineyards.

He was impressed with both the quality and the prices, adding that he was not surprised, given the Burrowing Owl ownership. He had not known that.

And you would not know it by reading the labels on the bottle, where the ownership is identified as the Wyse family.

Burrowing Owl founder Jim Wyse bought the Calliope brand several years after the brand closed in 2005. (Calliope is the name of a small hummingbird that lives in southern B.C.). While the Wyse family always acknowledge their connection with Calliope, they have carefully differentiated the Calliope and Burrowing Owl labels.

The Burrowing Owl wines all are made from estate grapes, grown so well that the wines can command between $25 and $50 a bottle. And the wines are worth it.

Calliope wines, on the other hand, are made with purchased grapes or with fruit from young plantings. The wines, now sold across Canada, are priced at $20 and under in British Columbia. In terms of value for money, these wines over-deliver.

The Calliope brand was launched in 1999 by a partnership that included winemakers Ross and Cherie Mirko. They met in New Zealand when Ross, a Canadian, was completing winemaking studies there. They worked at various Okanagan wineries while trying to get the Calliope brand off the ground. Hampered by a lack of resources, they closed Calliope and moved to New Zealand, where both resumed their winemaking careers.

They struggled to sell the Calliope brand until Jim Wyse decided to buy it. A label named after a hummingbird was a big plus for Jim, a naturalist and a bird lover.

“My dad purchased it,” Jim’s daughter, Kerri McNolty, told me in 2011. “They were closing down and he thought the bird allusion was neat. He thought he would tuck it away and save it for some future date, when we have a brand that needs a name.”
That interview was done just as the brand was relaunched. It has become a national success.

Here are notes on current releases.

Calliope Viognier 2016 ($16.90). The wine begins with appealing aromas of peach, apricot with floral notes. The palate is rich, with flavours of stone fruits and vanilla (35% of the wine was fermented in barrel). The generous and bright flavours linger on the finish. 90.

Calliope Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($18.90). The wine begins with zesty aromas of grapefruit and lime, which are echoed on the palate, along with notes of herbs and spice. Good acidity gives the wine a crisp and refreshing finish. The finish is lingering. 91.

Calliope Riesling 2016 ($16.90). Typical of many Rieslings, this wine still needs more time in bottle to develop its complex aromas and flavours. It begins with aromas of apples and pears with a touch of lemon. Bright acidity gives this dry wine a tangy note on the palate, with flavours of grapefruit zest. A spine of minerality defines the structure. This wine will reward anyone patient enough to cellar it until next year. 90.

Calliope Gewürztraminer 2016 ($16.90). This wine begins with aromas of rose petal spice, pear and lemon zest. On the palate, there are flavours of peach and ripe pear with a suggestion of ginger and spice. The slight amount of residual sugar is nicely balanced with acidity, but it adds flesh to the texture. 90.

Calliope Figure 8 White 2015 ($18.90). This is a complex five-grape blend: 38% Viognier, 25% Chardonnay, 24% Pinot Gris, with Gewürztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc accounting for the remaining 13%. Each variety was processed and aged separately, with the Chardonnay fermented in barrel. The wine begins with aromas of apricot and vanilla. The wine is rich on the palate, with flavours of tropical fruits. Notes of marmalade and butter linger on the long and persistent finish. 91.

Calliope Figure 8 Cabernet Merlot ($18.99). This is a highly drinkable blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Intense aromas of plums, black cherries and raspberries jump from the glass. That potpourri of fruit is reflected on the palate, along with red currants, cloves and pepper. The long ripe tannins were polished by aging the wine in barrel (mostly three-year-old barrels) for 12 months. The fruit is  bright and the texture is juicy. 90.


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