Wine Review: Stag’s Hollow Renaissance Reds

5 04 2018

By Peter Vetsch

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

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The big guns.

As I have mentioned in reviews past, my first thought of Okanagan Falls’ Stag’s Hollow Winery is always as a forward-thinking, try-everything trailblazer, the continual vanguard of varietal suitability and experimentation in British Columbia, constantly checking in on whether the next potential star grape of the province (be it Albarino, Grenache, Dolcetto, or any number of others in its viticultural Rolodex) might be one that few had previously considered.  So it’s a fun change of pace tonight to sit down and see how they handle the classics, those big red varietal stars so often seen across the Old World and New World alike, the first grapes you expect to see on any wine store shelf.  This review set is a particular treat, because all three of the bottles below hail from Stag’s Hollow Renaissance line, the winery’s premium flagship tier of offerings, produced only in vintages when the wines can live up to the bottle’s special black label.  I have heard rumblings that the 2015 Renaissance set breaks new ground in terms of quality and longevity; I had not previously had the opportunity to test this theory for myself, but it would not surprise me out of a winery that always seems to be improving.

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2015 Stag’s Hollow Renaissance Syrah (~$35 Cellar Door)

This is surprisingly only the second ever Renaissance Syrah made by Stag’s Hollow, and is the big brother of the white-label SH Syrah I reviewed back in the fall.  Like its younger sibling, the Syrah grapes for the Renaissance bottling hail from the Amalia Vineyard on Osoyoos’ East Bench, which the winery explains is perfect for quality Syrah production because it is hot enough to ensure full ripening but protected by mountain shadows, which prolongs the ripening period and helps preserve precious acidity.  The wine is rounded off with the addition of 5% Petit Verdot, which renders a deep and colourful wine all the more so.  The winemaking technical notes contain a phrase often uttered by my favourite winery (and Syrah superstar) Gramercy Cellars:  Stems Rule.  Half of these Syrah grapes were fermented whole-cluster, without destemming; the inclusion of the stems in the fermenting must can increase complexity, boost tannin and act as a sort of automatic regulator that helps control ripe fruit and round out aromas.

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The 2015 Renaissance Syrah is an immediate visual standout, hitting the glass a dark, pulsating, glass-tracing purple, just a hair shy of opaque.  It smells like it could only be Syrah:  malted chocolate, beef jerky, blackberry, blue and purple flowers, citric tanginess and warm topsoil, all somehow woven together in rich and chewy fashion, seeping into the senses like molasses and lingering in the air.  Round and full in body, it is pierced down the centre with a cautious core of orange-and-tomato acidity that is a welcome and impressive relief for a wine whose pH clocks in remarkably close to 4.0 (3.88, to be exact).  Umami swirls of Kikkoman and pizza sauce dance around smoky blueberry, asphalt and mushrooms, the fruit not showy or confected but singing in a complex chorus line with funk and rocks and things on fire.  This is a big beast that will integrate further in the bottle over the next year, but is an expertly layered and beautiful Syrah.

91+ points

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Stelvin Rating:  8/10 (But you already knew that. Just classic.)

2015 Stag’s Hollow Renaissance Merlot (~$35 Cellar Door)

Stag’s Hollow has grown Merlot grapes on their initial estate Stag’s Hollow Vineyard for over 25 years, committing to the onerous viticultural practices and severe yield restrictions required in order to allow this big Bordeaux grape to fully physiologically ripen in Canada.  Like the last wine, this Estate Merlot borrows 5% of another varietal, in this case Cabernet Sauvignon, to round it out, but unlike the last wine all stems were removed prior to fermentation (stems can rule with Syrah, but tend to be less of a synergistic pairing with Cab and Merlot).  However, the Merlot fermentation also has some tricks up its sleeve:  winemaker Dwight Sick left around half of the berries whole and uncrushed when fermentation kicked off as opposed to crushing all of the grapes at once and allowing them all to rest on the skins during the fermentation process.  These skins are (presumably) ultimately pierced as the wine continues to ferment and the cap of skins is manually punched down, and they are definitely punctured when the must is finally drained of all free run juice and any remaining skins are lightly pressed.  Fascinating approach.

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This is a far more gentle and translucent ruby-purple colour than its tasting predecessor, but its aromas are initially hard to pin down, coming across more ephemeral and constantly blending together.  Black cherry?  Dusty raspberry?  Sandpaper?  Celery root, cinnamon, black licorice Jujubes, grape suckers — not fully honed in yet, but far from flat.  Flavours spread in a creeping fog across the tongue when you taste, darker and thicker than the nose and taking its time to cover each taste bud.  Charcoal, blackberry, pavement and baker’s chocolate are lifted by a floral impression, like carnations, before being pulled back down to the depths thanks to a tremendous tannic presence.  This emerges at the end of the sensory whirlwind as a darker, fiercer Merlot than I expected, but one with some hidden verve.  Even more so than the last bottle, time will be your friend with this one.

90 points

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2015 Stag’s Hollow Renaissance Meritage (~$44 Cellar Door)

On the surface, this should be much the same as the last wine, a 95%/5% Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon blend from the Stag’s Hollow Estate Vineyard:  this one is a 76%/13%/11% Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc blend from the very same vineyard.  Yet it is so remarkably different, which is why it has earned the designation of being the first Renaissance Meritage produced by Stag’s Hollow in a decade.  Why?  How?  One key difference is that this bottling is a co-fermented field blend, where the different grapes are all harvested at once from the same site and then all fermented together as opposed to being harvested and fermented discretely by varietal and then only blended together after each have been made into separate wines.  With co-fermentation, you give up control — if the combined blend doesn’t quite come out as you like, too bad for you — but you gain a heightened sense of integration in the finished wine plus some heightened aromatics.  The Meritage got 3 more months in barrel than the Merlot before bottling as well (18 months vs. 15 months), though it also seems more cohesive and better able to stand up to a touch of extra oak.

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The visual impression of this wine is basically an exact mix of the first two, with the additional traces of vivid purple showing through likely another product of the co-fermentation process, as are the abjectly gorgeous aromas of sweet white flowers, currant, fresh grapes, cola, rainwater and anise, the nose powerful and coiled, but still fresh and clean and delicious.  Flavour impressions are similarly both more open and more tightly woven than in the Merlot, a baby giant that remains accessible in its youth.  Black and purple fruit, elderberry syrup, pomegranate, hot rocks and pen ink are surrounded by wonderfully integrated yet massive tannin and welcoming fresh acidity, everything so effortlessly cemented into its rightful place.  This may be the best wine I’ve had from this winery, and it’s one of the top Canadian Bordeaux blends I’ve had ever.  Bravo.

92- points

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