Happy Canada Day: Stag’s Hollow Summer Set

1 07 2017

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

Happy Canada Day all!  Our majestic and humble home turns 150 today, which makes me both celebratory and reflective, emotions which both inevitably lead to wine.  (OK, many things inevitably lead to wine, but these do too.)  As a nation, even at its sesquicentennial, Canada is still young and developing, growing increasingly confident in its global identity but not yet possessed of that inner calm of countries who have already seen and lived through it all.  As a wine nation, we are younger still:  while grapevines have been planted in Canada since the 19th century, our movement towards becoming a commercial producer of quality wines probably only dates back 40 to 50 years; the oldest producing vinifera vines in British Columbia are likely of a similar age.  In many ways, we are still finding ourselves and only starting to chart our path.

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British Columbia wasn’t blessed in centuries past with Burgundy’s army of soil-testing, site-delineating monks, who segregated cohesive parcels of land and determined which grapes did best in which spots.  As such, and without a suite of indigenous varietals to choose from, BC is playing global catch-up, still trying to sort out what might succeed in its soils and what is destined to fail.  In this New World landscape, it would be useful for the province to have a sort of advance wine scout, someone who is unafraid to push the envelope in terms of planting options and help set the boundaries for the area’s future course.

I nominate Stag’s Hollow Winery in the Okanagan Falls, which, led by winemaker Dwight Sick, has done nothing but innovate since I first found out about them.  Make reserve-level small-production Tempranillo?  Check.  Create the Okanagan Valley’s first-ever bottling of Grenache?  Check.  Solera-style fortified wines?  Orange wines?  If you can envision it, Sick and Stag’s Hollow have probably made it, and have expanded the range of possibilities for Canadian wine in the process.  A recent further jump:  Albarino, the crispy, crunchy white grape that is the pride of Galicia in northwest Spain, features heavily in Portugal’s Vinho Verde and has been gaining an increasing worldwide audience.  I had never yet seen a Canadian version of this hot and trendy grape – but if I had had to place a bet on who would be among the first to come up with one, it turns out that I wouldn’t have been wrong.  I got to check out this trail-blazing New World version of Albarino along with a couple other patio-friendly new releases from the winery just in time for summer.

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Stelvin Rating:  8/10 (Love the colour, love the logo. Great use of screwcap.)

2016 Stag’s Hollow Sauvignon Blanc

Stag’s Hollow is continually increasing the amount of fruit that is sourced from its own estate vineyards:  by the end of the year, 85% of their wines will be fully estate-grown, and over a dozen of these will be single-vineyard efforts, including this one, from the on-the-nose Stag’s Hollow Vineyard.  I am a sucker for highly specific tech sheets, and this one delivers by clarifying that, after pressing, 27% of the juice was fermented in large old oak puncheons while the remaining 73% was fermented in steel, presumably to allow for some openness and breadth of texture while still largely maintaining Sauvignon Blanc’s trademark freshness.

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The 2016 Sauvignon Blanc has just recently hit the market and was only bottled this January.  It is a pale, cool lemon colour in the glass and ricochets intense aromas of Wine Gums, currant and citrus fruit, fresh grass, menthol and Honey Lemon Halls around the sinuses like bullets, staying true to the grape’s classic aromatic profile without seeming redundant.  Fuzzy Peaches, gooseberry and nectarine flavours are carried by a silty, slightly watery texture and given an exclamation point by sharp, tingly acid.  This is emphatically Sauvignon Blanc, and an easy sell at $20ish.

88- points

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2016 Stag’s Hollow Albarino

It was a treat having the highly anticipated Albarino immediately after the Sauvignon Blanc, as both grapes tend to be go-tos for people reaching for a bright citric refreshment package, making me wonder initially if the former would stand out from the latter.  I needn’t have worried.  This Albarino hails from Stag’s Hollow’s newer Shuttleworth Creek Vineyard, planted only five years ago in part as part of SH’s commitment to exploring new varietals for the Okanagan.  The grapes went through two separate harvests, spaced out a week and a half apart:  the bulk of the Albarino was in the first harvest and was fermented cool in stainless steel, while the remainder was kept on the vine a little longer and then fermented in old oak.

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Any concerns about distinctiveness as compared to the Sauvignon Blanc vanished the instant the wine came out of the bottle, its bright gleaming golden colour immediately setting it apart.  I spent a long while revelling in the Albarino’s beautiful tropical nose, all compressed pineapple and lemon drop tinged with flowers and something interestingly herbaceous, green without being green.  The palate is highly perfumed (it is almost literally like drinking perfume), a potent whirlwind of potpourri, honeycomb, melon and chalky minerality, powering into a finish that leaves you wondering what exactly you just tasted.  It is a powerful and mysterious version of Albarino that keeps you coming back to the glass for more.

90+ points

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2016 Stag’s Hollow Syrah Grenache Rosé

A summer tasting set would not be complete without a pink wine, and this one is particularly compelling due to what goes into it.  You wouldn’t think twice about seeing a Syrah/Grenache pink blend in the south of France…but in the south of the Okanagan Valley?  To call it unusual would be an understatement, but one of the benefits of Stag’s Hollow figuring out how to plant and ripen Grenache in BC is that they get to scoop some of their crop for rosé purposes.  This is the only multi-vineyard wine in this trio, with the Syrah hailing from western Osoyoos and the Grenache planted in SH’s home for the grape, the Kiln House Vineyard on the west bench of Penticton.  The Syrah (70% of the blend) was harvested first, followed by the Grenache (30%) nearly two weeks later; both were fermented in steel, but the Grenache ferment was allowed to proceed at a warmer temperature.

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I have been admittedly distressed by an apparent trend of nearly colourless non-pink rosés on the market, which can often seem like failed whites instead of their own proud category.  This bottle was an overtly pink wine that was not subject to any such identity issues; the pictures do not do its deep yet electric salmon colour justice.  My main aroma note is “the whole strawberry”:  it smells like both the flesh of the fruit and its leaves, augmented by cantaloupe and prosciutto.  The wine hits in pinpoint fashion at a bunch of different places on the palate, like acupuncture needles of flavour, with a kaleidoscope fruit (pink grapefruit, cherry, green apple/watermelon Jolly Ranchers) reined in by bath salts minerality, bracing acid and a peppery finish.  A fitting end to the tasting, and a fitting July 1st salute to its country of origin.

89+ points

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2 responses

2 07 2017
Dwight Sick

Thanks Peter for the kind words. Hopefully see you sometime this summer.

D

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2 07 2017
petervetsch

Cheers Dwight – thanks for the opportunity to try these wines!!

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