Big and bigger: Burrowing Owl

Dusty the Burrowing Owl Photo © http://www.bovwine.ca

Dusty the Burrowing Owl
Photo © http://www.bovwine.ca

The Burrowing Owl Vineyard portfolio is a big one, in varietal scope and in style. That the winery is situated on the most northern outpost of the Sonoran desert, an arid and agriculturally inhospitable stretch of terroir that originates in Mexico, is not exactly so well known. That the Owl can produce such wines of extraction spinning on a compass of intensity is one of the wonders of the Okanagan Valley.

A second point of interest centres on the winery being at the forefront of a captive breeding program to help the endangered Burrowing Owl in British Columbia. Fundraising at the winery has helped make possible a recovery program to reestablish them in the Okanagan. The natural grassland habitats available to the owls comprises less than one per cent of the province. It’s a matter of burrows. Agriculture and civilization are taking away their space. Why save the owl? Because they are different – they nest in underground burrows rather than in cavities or in the branches of trees and they are often active in broad daylight. The winery’s co-operation is an example of the landowner’s stewardship agreements needed to ensure the owl’s survival.

Burrowing Owl Estate Winery Photo © http://www.bovwine.ca

Burrowing Owl Estate Winery
Photo © http://www.bovwine.ca

Burrowing Owl was started by Jim Wyse and its location in one of North America’s most diverse ecosystems is the source of one of the wine world’s most constant preoccupations. Caring for wildlife and wine don’t also coincide but they do at BO. Jim’s son Chris is now at the head of the portfolio. Wyse brought the show to Toronto Fine Wine Reserve along with their Ontario agent, Le Sommelier.

The Burrowing Owl wines do not shrink away from tasters, are not shy and to a bottle show their strength in elicitation. They are wines that give a hoot and leave a zaftig impression. Their strengths travel from big to bigger but in the end, after tasting nine examples, palate fatigue is not an issue. Balance is struck across the portfolio, as is diversity and a shared private moment. Thanks to Bernard Stramwasser, Jan Didriksen and of course, Chris Wyse. Here are 12 Burrowing Owl wines tasted in November at the FWR and at the LCBO Media lab for VINTAGES releases.

Burrowing Owl Vineyard Photo © http://www.bovwine.ca

Burrowing Owl Vineyard
Photo © http://www.bovwine.ca

Calliope Figure 8 Red 2010, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (324582, $17.95, WineAlign)

For all intents and purposes this is Okanagan Syrah, in content (75 per cent), protein (meat and smoke) and cool climate aromatics (mint, eucalyptus and graphite). The (25 per cent) Merlot component adds little to nothing, save for mellow softening. That, or the simple fact of what four years of age will elucidate fruit made to simply please from the get go. Elevation may have once made a terse statement but is now resolved with an easy-going temperament. At this time the Calliope is a slice of sweet, tart and savoury cherry pie, at once “revved up like a deuce,” but now just “another runner in the night.” Still, at $18, painted and abrasive, it can leave one blinded by the light. Still has the legs to make it through the night.  Tasted November 2014

Burrowing Owl Malbec 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Winery, $30.00 – B.C.)

The fruit comes from the southern reaches, near Osoyoos Lake. The Malbec differs from the other reds; it’s both stoic and pleasant, easy on the olfactory and gustatory senses. So very red, in direct proportion for smell and taste, of berries, in plum, for tea and spices. In condition of being a Burrowing Owl red, it tightens late but takes longer to not play nice, to turn away from its easy-going ways. Extended leisure time prevents an early turn to reach deeper into the bed of intensity and so this Malbec finishes more abruptly with shorter length than the others.  Tasted November 2014

Burrowing Owl Chardonnay 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (208694, $33.95, WineAlign)

Intimates warm sunshine but can’t hide from its cool nights. An element of periodic surprise wafts straight up and grabs the little nose hairs by the tips, tugs and then lets go. Hatchoo. Wisps green apple skin, daikon radish and a metal tang. Full on fruit-mineral-earthy expression. Big Chardonnay as ripe as its gets for the Okanagan but carries a hefty (though you might ponder an inordinate exorbitance of 14.5 per cent abv) with relative ease. Goes on at length, about what, I do not yet know, but I’m willing to hang in there for 5-7 years to find out.  Tasted September and November 2014

Burrowing Owl Merlot 2010, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (585737, $40.95, WineAlign)

The softest and only downy wine in the Burrowing Owl lot, elegant, pure, ripe and yet intimately Merlot. Just a minor crack of the whip shudders on the back-end, indicating some minor tannic matters that are yet to be resolved. Three more years of attitude reducing time will fully complete this ’10’s adjunct necessity. Though it’s not the most dusty of Merlots, nor masculine neither, overall it’s bright and vibrant.  Tasted November 2014

Burrowing Owl Pinot Noir 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (556613, $40.95, WineAlign)

The hot climate, sandy soil and water-deprivation all combine to intensify Burrowing Owl’s Pinot Noir, like desert fruit in a Sonoran landscape. It exhibits extreme unction in high tones; of cherry extraction, blanketed warmth and west coast favour. Sun, ripeness and a full hand scooping through the olive tart. Has heft and flavours in abundance, of rich plum treacle, like Christmas cake in Pinot Noir form. The angles are all on the back end, in voluminous, hydrated granules of gravelly fruit. The Black Sage vineyard runs through, infiltrating every pore. Crazy, overblown and over the top.  Tasted November 2014

Burrowing Owl Syrah 2010, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (Agent 73072, $41.95, WineAlign)

Here there lists a depth of intensity, from out of a vintage that gave cause for struggle and the necessity in fortitude. Richly layered, full on red fruit, smoky, smouldering and mired in solder. Iron wine, on a horse, from out of the sinking depths of deep, deep sand. From my earlier, October 2013 note: “This Syrah will cure so many ails. Vouchsafe for a pepper-laced, plasmic mouthfeel, a maroon liquid pewter party of rocks and stones in the mouth. Playful and childlike, digs a pony, playing and offering really good fun. Does its own Okanagan thing because “everything has got to be just like you want it to.”  Last tasted November 2014

Burrowing Owl Cabernet Franc 2012, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (349019, $43.95, WineAlign)

The Owl’s ’12 Cabernet Franc is first real-time proof in magnified proportion of the true savour of the magnanimous red line up. This is the wine that proves the varietal transparency, the wise and sage terroir that all the wines can’t help but put on display for the world to engage. Cabernet Franc that is distinct, popping, bracing and very physical.  Tasted November 2014

Burrowing Owl Athene 2010, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (371336, $44.95, WineAlign)

A co-fermented, single tank Syrah (60 per cent) and Cabernet Sauvignon (40) blend from vineyards in Oliver and Osoyoos. A generously oaked, eerily Barossan mimicked concoction that spent 18 months in 40 per cent new French and American barrels. The vanilla, chocolate, mocha, lavender and coconut shake texture and waft is uncompromising and concomitant. Burrowing Owl’s experimentations indicated that co-fermentation leaves a desired effect, much more so than separate vinification. While it’s a rich, hooting, wild-eyed and shivery red, this shows more elegance than the solo Syrah. It’s a different sort of intensity, of sage, Cassis and graphite, but also a sandy grit liquified. Shorter too and admissable as evidence of heavy blending, as a shrewd companion of heroes and a goddess of heroic endeavour.  Tasted November 2014

Burrowing Owl Meritage 2010, BC VQA Okanagan Valley, British Columbia (343038, $59.95, WineAlign)

The Meritage ’10 has integrated in niceties, settled into domesticated, symbiotic grips with its varietal relationships. Though it may have struggled earlier on, it has now entered its period of glory. The pitchy brood on the back palate persists, wrapped in strength to strength from texture and through structure. Epitomizes the attitude of a Burrowing Owl red. From my earlier, November 2013 note: “A National Wine Awards of Canada Platinum Medal winner. As massive a corporeal attack as can ever be ascertained from a B.C. Bordeaux blend, of the earth, or any other prodigiously structured Canadian red. Uproariously ripe fruit de rigueur and storming tannins. A boast of plum crushed by an intense, dry, rocky intent. To this Okanagan I say, “you’re the book that I have opened and now I’ve got to know much more.” Crazy stuff for sure, full of unfinished sympathy, with enough fruit to push it to 10 years and beyond. Priced at $45 (winery) and at a premium through VINTAGES.”  Last tasted November 2014

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The artfully applied science of Versado Malbec

Versado Vineyard Manager Sergio Rinaldi reviews the plan for the harvest with winemakers Ann Sperling and Peter Gamble Photo: (Elene Galey-Pride, www.winestains.ca)

Versado Vineyard Manager Sergio Rinaldi reviews the plan for the harvest with winemakers Ann Sperling and Peter Gamble
Photo: (Elena Galey-Pride, http://www.winestains.ca)

A popular but unconfirmed theory claims that Malbec is a mathematical acronym, “Math, Algorithms, Learning, Brains, Engineering, Computing.” The inky and tannic grape variety no doubt connects growers and winemakers in scientific ways but that hardly separates the expatriate, signature Argentinian from other varietal relationships. The learning, perception, and behaviour of the people who produce the dark wine is the crux and the rub.

Malbec’s spread may be the work of a Hungarian peasant, it was surely introduced to Argentina by French agronomist and botanist, Miguel Aimé Pouget and the natural lines differentiating modern renditions of Cahors and Argentina blur like the Clarets of Napa and Bordeaux. The homogeneity in style, mainly due to elevated quantities in production, has begun to deplete the star power of the Mendozan idol. The computative cipher jives because Malbec requires an analytically brilliant dream team to coax humanity from the quotidian grape. The wine making axiom, “is it science or art” applies to Malbec as much as any other. Making exceptional Malbec requires artfully applied science.

Villa Viamonte in Chacras di Coria Photo: (Elena Galey-Pride, www.winestains.ca)

Villa Viamonte in Chacras di Coria
Photo: (Elena Galey-Pride, http://www.winestains.ca)

In 2007, Peter Gamble and Ann Sperling, winemakers who may as well be endowed with the title “First Canadian Couple of Wine,” went to Argentina to seek their cerebral Malbec fortune. With the aid of investors Moray Tawse and Gerry McConnell, the two found their varietal calling in Mendoza. They settled at the estate of Villa Viamonte in the old town of Chacras de Coria, now a neighbourhood of Mendoza.

With the aid of the experienced and professional Roberto de la Mota they purchased an ancient vineyard on the legendary Cobos Road. Altitude, meso-climates, topography and ‘micro-terroirs’ became their linguistic vernacular, a royal, ancient and new Malbec their opera omnia. Vineyard Manager Sergio Rinaldi directs all the daily viticulture activities.

Versado means ‘well-versed’ and the phrase describes the Gamble-Sperling output as well as any that can be equivocated.  The Canadian dream team travels circuitously from British Columbia, to Ontario, Nova Scotia and through Argentina in mimic of the seasons for a vine’s life cycle. Through the stages of weeping, flowering, fruit set, veraison and harvesting, Peter Gamble and Ann Sperling are in constant motion, checking in at all their properties to make essential decisions. I am exhausted by the prospect.

Harvest starts early - the Versado vineyard before sunrise Photo: (Elena Galey-Pride, www.winestains.ca)

Harvest starts early – the Versado vineyard before sunrise
Photo: (Elena Galey-Pride, http://www.winestains.ca)

Versado is a unique Malbec outpost, a place of river, road and air. The ancient bed of the Rio Mendoza, the Calle Cobos and the cool air corridor of that river combine for a micro-climate to challenge all micro-climate comers in the region. Increased thermal amplitude (up to 15 to 16°C difference between day and night-time temperatures) means low pH numbers for their Malbec. The results should translate to elegance and balance. As the Versado team begins to scale back their oak program, the wines will increasingly reflect their specialized and cooler terroir.

Peter Gamble told me “we’re making them with classic tannin structures.” That statement intimates French and even Italian but with Mendoza’s already rich history, it also endorses a notion of Argentina. Versado’s Malbecs are both serious and epicurean. They are gorgeous and alone. They come from a very specific parcel of land, though Peter Gamble admits that “borders are sort of Alice in Wonderland in Argentina.” The Versado Malbec origins may participate in a Mendozan Venn Diagram but their character is utterly unique. Here are six tasted over the past 12 months.

Versado Malbec 2013, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (317008, $25.95, WineAlign)

The rocks beneath the earth precede the rich, dark fruit. After the berries and the candy beets and the spices subside the flowers grow and take over the room. The vintage brings more layers than before. Malbec of character and belief, even a touch of good VA, a coat that only the Southern Hemisphere can provide. It is not usually present in Mendozan Malbec so it’s really a breath of fresh paint here in the Versado. Great purity. Protracted length. Most expansive and intriguing vintage to date. The Reserva will be killer.  Tasted September 2014

Versado Malbec 2012, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (317008, $25.95, WineAlign)

Having been defined early in its development by the Mistral-esque drying eastern lee slopes Andean wind known as viento zonda, the low-yielding 2012 Malbec is berry intense and highly concentrated. The foehn or, rain shadow wind had a major effect on flowering and so 2012 may be considered a Malbec example of what happens when vines are subjected to the first law in thermodynamics. The vintage gaveth depth and structure, even as it taketh away moisture, quantity and profits. In this Malbec, earth in terroir stands firm and while the fruit is full, it must fight for early investigative attention. Though presently rigid, a time will come when that fruit will fully receive its due. Sanguine and ferric, the adiabatic Versado 2012 is a heat transfer work in progress. Its system will integrate into its surroundings after a minimum three years have passed. Drink from 2015-2022.  Tasted September 2014

Versado Malbec 2010, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (317008, $25.95, WineAlign)

The sub-terra tectonic shift and uprising to firma awakening is just beginning to give after four integrated years. That said, this Malbec continues to play a ragtime roll in shades of cumulative bandwidth. When the ’10 entered bottle it may have insisted “I don’t care what mama don’t allow I’ll play my guitar anyhow.” Now settled, somewhat, it persists in saying “I don’t care what mama don’t allow, we’re all gonna play all at the same time anyhow.” The dusty fruit, the resolving tannins, the revolving door of driving blues, of crossover terroirs. “Borders are sort of Alice in Wonderland in Argentina,” notes Peter Gamble. The Venn circles include piano, rare earth, bass, big fruit and guitar.  Tasted September 2014

Versado Malbec Reserva 2009 Photo: (www.versado.com)

Versado Malbec Reserva 2009
Photo: (www.versado.com and http://www.stevenelphick.com/)

Versado Malbec Reserva 2011, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (316984, $59.95, WineAlign)

Peter Gamble describes the ’11 Reserva as “integrated right out of the gate” and blessed with “a little more fruit component.” That is can show such freshness this early in its life span (especially in consideration of the beasts that are 2009 and 2010) is nothing short of a Malbec miracle. This is a wine that saw spontaneous fermentation, which made for very nervous times in the winemaking hands of Roberto de la Mota. Stems were used and their participation lends a Mediterranean feel, in the aromatic impart of sea salinity and kelp. The oak is scaled back a touch so the chalk push, while present, integrates in finer grain within the gritty, iron structure. This is the softest (hyper-relatively speaking) Reserva to date with a newly defined massive attack. The temperature fluctuations of the vineyard are integral in its structure and the question needs to be asked, “how can you have a day without a night?” In the Versado Reserva 2011 you have both. It is a Malbec of unfinished sympathy. Drink this sooner, starting in 2017 and for longer, to 2030.  Tasted September 2014

Versado Malbec Reserva 2010, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (316984, $59.95, WineAlign)

The floral emergence is a lodestar as periscope just now peering up from the seamless cake layering in Versado’s most liberally applied oak-imbued Malbec. The 2010 adheres in sticky savour though it remains two to three years away from finding its true gliding form. From my earlier notes through tastings on Oct. 25 and Nov. 14, 2013. “This ultra-premium Mendozan from the Canadian winemaking team of Peter Gamble and Ann Sperling boasts fruit from “the finest barrels from the finest blocks.” While certainly riding a splintered and jammy horse (what fully extracted Mendozan does not), this reserve Malbec has so much else happening, I owe it my time and focus. Dances to a triple jump height in oozing berry, compacted, brick wall infrastructure and overlapping delineation. Really like the consistency here, with no hollow middle, no umlaut, no pregnant pause. Very well made.” Last tasted September 2014

Versado Malbec Reserva 2009, Luján De Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina (316984, $59.95, WineAlign)

From a vintage the seasoned Mendozan pro knew to rank with the best, the 2009 Reserva persists as a concentrated, wild beast. On a rare occasion, such as tasting this Reserva, Malbec leans in an Italianate direction, no doubt a result from the combining forces of aridity, concentration and micro-heteroclitic terroir. The dry, slow ripening conditions sealed a vineyard funk into the shriveled, dehydrated berries. Though the wine is just now beginning to come around, that funk will take years more to play nice with the huge flavours, striking structure and resounding tannins. Fast forward to 2017 and imagine the crest over which a plateauing initiative will trigger. It may very well be 2025 before the slow decline begins.  Tasted September 2014

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All I want for Christmas is a big red wine

Red wine

If you have $20 or $40 or $60 to spend on that red wine consumer in your life with a hankering for bold and beautiful, then this list’s for you.
Photo: 7artman/Fotolia.com

as seen on canada.com

The three of you who read my bi/tri-weekly column must have noticed by now that I am diplomatic, almost to a fault, to be as inclusive as possible. I certainly make a point to unearth and make public the best Canadian wines that I can find, especially when they originate so close to home.

Old world, new world, rosé, Sparkling, red wine, and an increasing focus on white wine may have some of you running for the hills but spreading the wealth is the name of the game. Diversity is my keeper but there comes a time when logic and proportion need a break. All I want for Christmas, and for those of you who know me that’s a ridiculous thing to say, is a great big ole’ bottle of red wine.

Who doesn’t? If you have missed the last 25 or so recommendations I’ve laid at your gift giving feet, if you have $20 or $40 or $60 to spend on that red wine consumer in your life with a hankering for bold and beautiful, then this list’s for you. Or, you can buy them all, seven reds for $250 and change. Not too shabby.

From left: ROCCA DELLE MACÌE CHIANTI CLASSICO RISERVA 2008, BURIED HOPE CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010, and BURIED HOPE TEMPRANILLO 2010

From left: ROCCA DELLE MACÌE CHIANTI CLASSICO RISERVA 2008, BURIED HOPE CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010, and BURIED HOPE TEMPRANILLO 2010

BURIED HOPE CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010, North Coast, California (356113, $19.95, WineAlign)

This 2010 is a new let’s groove label from the somewhat ambiguously defined North Coast appellation of California. An area of three million acres that includes Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake counties, and portions of Marin and Solano counties. Dusty entry, peppery finish. In between there is distilled cooler red fruit which sweet-heat spikes if only temporarily and ultimately settles into a fine balance of earth, wind and fire. Gifts an admirable sense of wood restraint. Simply “let this groove, set in your shoes” and enjoy its simple pleasures. Available in small quantities for a limited time.  87  Tasted December 2013  @hk_Canada

BURIED HOPE TEMPRANILLO 2010, Ribera del Duero, Spain (350215, $19.95, WineAlign)

The Iberian cousin to the North Coast Cabernet an ocean away likewise enters the fray dusty and flecked by white pepper. What gives it immediate density identity is the juicy, just picked cherry flesh and pencil lead minerality. A sweet blueberry flavour gets lift from edgy tannins so as you ponder this Tempranillo you will note that ”it’s gonna take you years to find out” what it’s all about. But there’s hope, however presently buried, in the descendent nature of its roots.  88  Tasted November 2013

ROCCA DELLE MACÌE CHIANTI CLASSICO RISERVA 2008, Docg Tuscany, Italy (930966, $21.95, WineAlign)

One of the most reliable Tuscan houses offers no apology for this CCR’s flamboyance and it works a great vintage for the genre to maximum advantage. There is an intoxicating, exotic soaking of teak, vine stem and bhang counterbalanced by a berry sweetness that cannot be denied. In the end there’s the expected enunciation in modern Italian verse. Like a Tuscan-treated Gaja, gorgeous and tough.  89  Tasted November 2013  @roccadellemacie

From left: SALTRAM MAMRE BROOK CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010, WHITE OAK CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2006, LE VIEUX DONJON CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE 2011, and BURROWING OWL MERITAGE 2010

From left: SALTRAM MAMRE BROOK CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010, WHITE OAK CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2006, LE VIEUX DONJON CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE 2011, and BURROWING OWL MERITAGE 2010

SALTRAM MAMRE BROOK CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010, Barossa Valley, South Australia, Australia (48579, $26.95, WineAlign)

Behold the utter pitchy Barossan, privileged by full-on extraction in as much fruit this amount of money can buy. Tempered by a cool centre, complimented by a tangy finish. The coverall make-up is in high fashion and the big red lives to tell a passionate story after 22 months maturity in oak. Lifted by temperate zest and though it’s more Barossa than Cabernet per se, there is a fortune to be won in the bottle.  89  Tasted November 2013  @SaltramWines

WHITE OAK CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2006, Napa Valley, Califonia (357723, $49.95, WineAlign)

A curious magnum of this highly underrated Napa Cabernet appeared for tasting. Really delicate and already maturing savoury/sweet florals lengthened by a chain of vanilla grain. Fruit looming large, with a Gershwin summertime grace and Holiday ”unique diction, inimitable phrasing and acute dramatic intensity.”  Cool, soulful, jazzy Cabernet, loaded with pepper and phite. Lady Day Easy Living90  Tasted November 2013  @WhiteOakWinery

LE VIEUX DONJON CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE 2011, Rhône, France (700922, $57.95, WineAlign)

Following a string of excellent vintages from 2003 to 2010, this clumsy Donjon could be dismissed as not up to par but I beg to differ. Such distinct aromatics can only come from a Donjon. Redolent red berry musk, exotic spices from islands east and west, metal replicate and a brush of vineyard funk. Though it thistle-stings the palate and is presently held back by a tannic core, this CdP has the track record and muscle memory for moving forward. Gathers anise, more funk and so much fruit as it aerates but clearly so much time is needed to settle it down. Look to patience in the requiem realm of 10+ years.  92  Tasted November 2013

BURROWING OWL MERITAGE 2010, British Columbia, Canada (343038, $59.95, WineAlign)

A National Wine Awards of Canada Platinum Medal winner. As massive a corporeal attack as can ever be ascertained from a B.C. Bordeaux blend, of the earth, or any other prodigiously structured Canadian red. Uproariously ripe fruit de rigueur and storming tannins. A boast of plum crushed by an intense, dry, rocky intent. To this Okanagan I say, “you’re the book that I have opened and now I’ve got to know much more.” Crazy stuff for sure, full of unfinished sympathy, with enough fruit to push it to 10 years and beyond. Priced at $45 (winery) and at a premium through VINTAGES.  90  Tasted November 2013  @BurrowingOwlBC

Good to go!