Wine Review: Stag’s Hollow Fall Reds

18 10 2017

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

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If this is where we are in the Okanagan, we’re in good hands.

What’s this?  Two reviews in the span of three days??  Is this inspiration or panic?  Turns out it’s a little of both.  For reasons that will shortly become clear, the next couple of months are going to be content-intense here at Pop & Pour HQ (aka my kitchen table), which has me geared up and focused on my current inventory of samples to make sure everything gets its full and proper due.  But I’ve also had a lingering eye on these particular wines ever since they landed on my doorstep, as they represent the latest missive in a wonderful conversation I’ve been having over the past months and years with one of the most intrepid, curiosity-filled, quality-focused wineries in the Okanagan Valley, Stag’s Hollow.  Over the summer I looked in on the white and pink side of their portfolio, but now that my trees no longer have leaves, the time has come to fully commit to autumn, and tonight’s trio of reds has me in the mood to cast off thoughts of T-shirts and shorts and embrace my favourite season.  This lineup features an Okanagan stalwart, only rarely done justice; an utter Okanagan rarity, borne of winemaker Dwight Sick’s unabashed intention to push viticultural limits in the region; and a burgeoning Okanagan star that will hopefully soon get the attention and acreage it deserves.  Pinot Noir, Grenache (!), Syrah.

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Pretty easy to tell where the Syrah can be found…(look right)

2015 Stag’s Hollow Pinot Noir Shuttleworth Creek Vineyard

Shuttleworth Creek is Stag’s Hollow’s newer estate vineyard in Okanagan Falls, known primarily to me as the site of most of the winery’s unique or experimental varietals, including the Albarino I tried back in July, along with Tempranillo, Dolcetto and even Teroldego, all mostly unseen anywhere in Canada outside of this 5 year-old vineyard.  But Shuttleworth was primarily chosen and planted due to its latent potential for good Pinot Noir, and the winery didn’t mess around in its quest for quality with the varietal, planting a swath of different Pinot Noir clones in the vineyard, FIVE of which find their way into this bottle.  Dwight Sick compares the results in bottle from Shuttleworth Creek to Central Otago Pinot Noir from New Zealand, and the connection is an apt one, though this Okanagan Falls Pinot also carries with it a sense of ease and comfort that is all its own.

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This is the winery’s non-reserve-level Pinot ($35-$40ish Alberta retail) but it showcases its quality from the second it first hits the glass, reflecting a deep but translucent ruby colour and unveiling sweet but herbal aromas:  part ripe cherry and redcurrant, part rosemary and sage, with baker’s chocolate and sandpaper lurking around the edges and alluring notes of baking spices (can I say pumpkin spice without it being weird?) pulling your mouth to the rim.  The wine’s silky but delicate mouthfeel is utterly Pinot, more elegant than rich but yet still coating the whole tongue in a thin veil.  Rosebuds, strawberries, mineral water, shades of liniment and celery root — warm fruit and perfumed florals nestle onto the palate, sheltered by earthy vegetation.  This has pinpoint balance but a quiet, subtle touch, not forcing acid or tannin or flavour, just existing in quiet confidence and in harmony with its surroundings.  An eye-opening BC Pinot.

90 points

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Stelvin Rating:  8/10 (See? Look what you can do in non-black, actually logoed screwcaps!)

2016 Stag’s Hollow Grenache

It has somehow been over four years since I first tasted and wrote about a bottle of Stag’s Hollow Grenache.  Back then I could barely believe that the concept of Okanagan Valley Grenache was a real thing.  Now I am better versed in Sick’s ability to basically plant and grow anything, but I still eye that grape name above that appellation name on the bottle label and wonder how it came to be.  Grenache is well known as a late-ripening, sun-loving, sugar-hoarding warm climate grape, and while the southern Okanagan surely brings the heat during the summer months, they pass quickly, and the overall growing season does not start early or linger too late as it can in the Southern Rhone.  But every second of it is harnessed in the two vineyards that source BC’s flagship Grenache, Kiln House on Penticton’s West Bench and Hearle in Osoyoos, boosted by a 10% addition of the next wine in my tasting lineup, Syrah from the Amalia Vineyard.  After whole berry fermentation structurally enhanced through the addition of 40% stems (stems rule!), this Grenache was aged in large used French oak puncheons before being bottled about 15 minutes ago (OK, in late summer 2017, which is more or less the same thing).  Less than a year ago, this was still on a vine.

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The very first thing I wrote about the 2016 Grenache was:  “Even more transparent than the Pinot?”  I think so:  it is a hauntingly graceful pale ruby colour, utterly pristine, looking like you might break the wine if you touched it.  There is a bit of everything in the lifted nose, from candied raspberry and strawberry to Flintstones multivitamins and celery sticks to grape juice and cardamom, all coming across almost in echo form, a ghostly reflection of a fruit explosion.  The wine is feathery and almost weightless in the mouth, to the point where if you hold it on the tongue you nearly forget that it’s there, save for a slight bouillon-like viscosity.  Whispery flavours of potpourri, red fruit, asphalt and baby powder float like fog, carefully dissipating well after the wine is gone.  This is a ballerina-en-pointe expression of what can at times be a loud and over-exuberant grape, and a bottle that will come together much more fully with a bit of time.

88 points

2015 Stag’s Hollow Syrah Amalia Vineyard

Many people more wine-adept and better attuned to the Okanagan Valley than I have suggested that this corner of BC is classically suited to Syrah (more so than the Bordeaux reds that have until recently dominated the pigmented consciousness of wineries in the area).  I have been slower to come around to this hypothesis, but in the last couple of years I have come to adopt it fully, having tasted example after example after example of revelatory rock star Syrahs from the region.  Well, concept completely proven with this bottle, a classically styled tour de force from the Amalia Vineyard on the Osoyoos East Bench in the deep south of the Okanagan.  This isn’t even Stag’s Hollow’s top Syrah from Amalia (that would be the black-labelled Renaissance Syrah, which is a third more expensive), but it is raining holy fire at the moment.

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If you look at the colours of each of these wines in the glass, this Syrah is the laughable outlier, displaying THE most vividly electric purple colour without lapsing into opacity.  It’s not thick or dank or glass-coating, but I still feel like I could turn into The Hulk if I stared at it long enough.  But I needn’t bother, as The Hulk shows up on an aromatic beast of a nose, featuring a swirling rolodex of Syrah’s greatest features:  granite, fields of dark flowers, blackberry and blueberry, fresh tomato, campfire, anise, all fully realized but still fresh and lifted.  The Amalia then manages to combine a middleweight body and a languid texture (pH 3.83 — very Rocks District for acid-known BC) with firecracker explosive flavour, adding caramel and candle wax, vanilla and topsoil and baby soap to the cascades of dark fruit and florals.  This is monumental now and has a steep upward trajectory, so buy in multiples and drink in one-year shifts!

91+ points

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