Thursday, June 27, 2013

Burrowing Owl releases in 2013

While reviewing these wines, I shared the Meritage with a neighbour who is familiar with the style of Burrowing Owl wines.

“Is there a better winery in British Columbia?” he asked.

The question was rhetorical. In his mind, this is the best winery. I evaded the question since, after all, I have to do business with all the producers. However, the scores achieved by these wines speak for themselves. The Wyse family who own this winery could utter the classic line attributed to Baron Philippe Rothschild, that his chateau was “first among equals.”

That puts a heavy on Burrowing Owl president Chris Wyse who is in the midst of perhaps the most important decision he will make this year: hiring a new winemaker.

Bertus Albertyn (left), the South African winemaker who has been at Burrowing Owl since October 2009, is stepping aside later this season to concentrate on Maverick Estate Winery. Maverick, which has just begun to get its wines into the market, is a project launched by Bertus and his father-in-law, Dr. Skalk de Witt.

Bertus trained at South Africa’s leading wine school. By the time he came to the Okanagan, he had been seasoned by work with a large co-operative winery and then as head winemaker for  Avondale, a well-regarded family-owned winery.

One of Burrowing Owl’s strengths has always been the consistent style of the wines that was stamped on the winery by Bill Dyer, the consultant from California who made the first seven vintages here, starting with 1997. The reds, especially, have always delivered bold and satisfying flavours. Burrowing Owl consumers always knew what to expect. The wines made by Bertus probably exceeded those expectations.

Obviously, his departure leaves a hole. However, I expect that the winery has been inundated with résumés from strong winemakers eager to take over such a strong legacy. “I am certain we will have a strong replacement for Bertus,” Chris told me recently.

Here are notes on the winery’s recent releases.

Burrowing Owl Pinot Gris 2012 ($20). The winery’s flagship white, this begins with appealing aromas of freshly sliced apples with a squeeze of lime. On the palate, the wine delivers flavours of pear and guava with a hint of grapefruit. The fine mineral spine leads to a crisp and refreshing finish. 91.

Burrowing Owl Merlot 2010 ($30). The vintage was a cool one but Burrowing Owl, with its great site and superb viticulture, pulled of a terrific Merlot with 14% alcohol. In the glass, the wine presents an appealing aroma of black currant, black cherry, lingonberry, spice and chocolate. The wine is full on the palate with juicy flavours that mirror the aromas. In spite of the year, the wine presents the plush texture and concentration of a ripe Merlot. There are notes of spice and cedar on the lingering finish. 91.

Burrowing Owl Cabernet Franc 2010 ($33).  This wine won a Lieutenant Governor’s Award of Excellence. I can do no better than to echo the notes published by the winery: “An intense nose of blackberries and ripe cherries evolves into cedar and dried herbs with a faint hint of cocoa and vanilla. The palate has round lush flavours of juicy red fruit, black tea and ripe plums. Bright red raspberry in colour with well integrated tannins and a balanced acidity. This wine will benefit from decanting and pairs perfectly with herb roasted leg of lamb, or smoked duck breast.” 92.

Burrowing Owl Athene 2010 ($35). This is a blend that includes Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah – always a good marriage, as the Australians showed. This wine begins with appealing aromas of vanilla, blueberry and plum. On the palate, there are flavours of black currant, black cherry and plum, with spice and pepper on the finish. 90.

Burrowing Owl Syrah 2009 ($35). This is sold out at the winery website but will be in restaurants and perhaps private wine stores. This is a powerhouse red with 15% alcohol but with such good balance and texture that you only experience the richness of flavour on the palate. This begins with black cherry aromas and delivers flavours of black cherry, blackberry, plum, spice, chocolate and red liquorice. 92

Burrowing Owl Meritage 2009 ($45).  This is also sold out on the winery website but may be available in restaurants and private wine stores. Burrowing Owl’s flagship red, it is simply terrific. It is 38% Merlot, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Cabernet Franc, 4% Malbec and 2% Petit Verdot. It begins with lush aromas of black cherry, cassis and spice. On the palate, there are layers upon layers of savoury black berry and boysenberry, with coffee and cocoa and cedar on the finish. The tannins are firm enough to allow this wine to be cellared another five years; but also ripe enough that it can be enjoyed now. 93. 

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