PnP Panel Tasting: The Hatch – Library Release

28 05 2018

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

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(Re)Entering The Hatch.  In stereo.

It had been far too long since we last held a panel tasting, and we were missing it – there’s something about tasting outside of the echo chamber of your own brain that is gloriously refreshing and invigorating.  Plus multiple wines and multiple friends is generally a guaranteed recipe for a proper time.  One of us (Ray) wondered about reaching out to his friends at the Okanagan’s weirdest and most interesting winery, The Hatch, for inspiration.  We naturally assumed that we would get some intriguing and tasty wines from this divergent, artistic, even edgy winery (the latter word is drastically overused but still rather works in this case).  The common approach would have been to send a set of current releases, bottles that the reading public could come scoop if they were so inclined.  Well, The Hatch is not common.  PnP’s second ever Panel Tasting turned into a library release celebration, focused on a trio of bottles with a few years on them, from the mysterious and mildly depraved depths of the winery’s cellars.  It not only allowed us to get a sneak peek at what the future might hold for some more recent bottles that we were holding, but it also gave us a chance to answer a question that nags at a number of people in our home and native land just getting into wine:  can Canadian wine age?  Does it improve?

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The answers, in order, are “yes” and “it depends”; in the upper echelons of our national wine industry are scores of producers who are creating layered, complex, long-term wines that easily stand the test of time.  The eye-opening part of this tasting wasn’t so much that ageworthy BC wine was possible, but that it was starting to be accessible even at lower price points, another sign of the province’s rapid progression into a globally competitive wine power.  After this, there will be far more local bottles that spend more cellar time before seeing the light of day.  It made sense for us to each choose a bottle to write up, but rest assured there was much group analysis of everything we were tasting, making the below report a true joint effort.

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2014 Black Swift Vineyards Kurkjian Farm Riesling (by Raymond Lamontagne)

The Black Swift Vineyards line represents The Hatch’s cream of the crop, elite bottles hailing from “the first exclusively single-vineyard multi-regional wine project in British Columbia”. Individual vineyards of repute are showcased with an eye towards letting both terroir and varietal character shine forth. It seems fitting to lead this off with a Riesling, a varietal much beloved by the Pop and Pour team.  One might hear that Ontario produces the best Riesling in Canada.  In my humble opinion, BC is putting up a tremendous fight of late, this one more laudable than the other more political one currently ongoing. This sample was bottle #1855 of 2700 produced. The Kurkjian Vineyard resides south of Kelowna on the eastern side of Lake Okanagan. This 4-acre organically farmed west-facing plot features heavy clay soils topped with some sandier elements, a combination of traits considered to yield prime Riesling country. It was fortuitous that we received the vintage that immediately preceded the same vineyard bottling previously reviewed by Peter on this very blog. The confounding influences of vintage conditions aside, where is Kurkjian Riesling at in 2018?

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Turns out it’s in a pretty similar place. Perhaps the acidity has mellowed somewhat based on Peter’s prior observations of the prior bottling, but this is still rather tart and austere.  What we have here is a wine hopefully destined for true elegance and aromatic complexity, although this future admiral is still trying to find its sea legs.  The nose recalls classic Mosel jasmine for a moment, followed by a procession of lime popsicles, fresh lemon juice, rain barrels, and brand new rubber tires.  On the palate I get a few encouraging portents: curious precursors or proto-forms of kiwi, pineapple skin, peach, Meyer lemon, yet these all remain nascent and decidedly underdeveloped.  Some fresh blackcurrant leaf flits through what is still a stony, steely, roiling cacophony dusted with talcum powder.  The long citric and floral finish continues to provide much encouragement.  I shall be keeping a patient but curious and perhaps slightly wary eye on the 2016 in my cellar. Wait…and wait some more.

Peter: 90 – points      Raymond: 90 points      Dan: 89 points

$25 to $30 CDN

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2012 The Hatch Screaming Frenzy Meritage (by Dan Steeves)

This was my first (and long overdue) experience tasting a wine from The Hatch, which has caught my attention for a while now thanks to their distinct personality and outrageous labels/wine names. Case in point: the Screaming Frenzy lineup, where each wine label depicts an animal, be it an elephant, pig, or in this case a cigar-smoking bearded stegosaurus, being transported in the air by a flock of birds. The flock of birds are actually Black Swifts (which explain the brand names of the bottles above and below), a North American bird that migrates up into southern BC, and a group of them are known as a screaming frenzy. All of the bottle name puzzle pieces are starting to come together now, although I have no idea about the basis behind the Stegosaurus, other than its pure awesomeness…  The big question is whether the wine will live up to its bold and edgy personality and, with this bottle being both the oldest and the least expensive of the library wines sent to us, can it stand the test of time?  Sub-$30 Canadian Bordeaux blends can be a trepidatious category, particularly after six years in the bottle, though it is also one of the most quickly improving.  We shall find out…

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The wine is a blend of 60% Cabernet Franc, 30% Merlot, and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and has a soft ruby colour but immediately bursts with dark berry aromas of blackberry, blackcurrant, and black cherry from the outset.  The Cab Franc component shows off with some green leafy notes followed by eucalyptus oil, fresh mint leaves and spicy liquorice.  Halls cough drops and a medicinal balm-like Rub-A535 or Vicks VapoRub lurk persistently in the background along with slight oak and resin notes. Red fruits are present as well, most notably in the form of cherry Nibs; with further time, dried flowers and wet gravel aromas also emerge from the glass. On the palate, the green leafiness is even more pronounced, but the dark fruit (still strongly primary) and spice still show well.  The tannins have definitely softened a touch with bottle age but are still very much present when sought, and overall the wine has a beautifully soft and balanced mouthfeel with a lengthy finish.  This Frenzy certainly exceeds expectations and clearly has the ability to stand up to Father Time, though whether you want prolong enjoying the deliciousness is totally up to you!  A fine effort, particularly at this price point.

Peter: 88 points      Raymond: 92 points      Dan: 91 points

$25 to $30 CDN

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Cork/Stelvin Ratings:  6.5/10, 2/10, 6.5/10 (Trail of Black Swift birds is sweet. Plain black screwcaps are not sweet, but extra point for strange tape.)

2013 Black Swift Vineyards The Long Road Merlot (by Peter Vetsch)

The Long Road brought a flash of instant recognition for me:  in addition to tasting a prior incarnation of the Kurkjian Farm Riesling in my last Hatch report, I also got the glorious opportunity to bathe in Black Swift’s 2014 The Long Road Syrah, a mouth-filling umami forget-me-not that is permanently embedded in my memory.  I didn’t even have to change vineyards this time around, sticking to this scorching rocky outpost in Keremeos, in the rapidly ascending Similkameen Valley next door to the Okanagan, but I went back in time a year and switched to the Bordeaux side of the tracks for this bottle experience.  Five year-old hot-site BC Merlot is not exactly a can’t-miss category, but the sight of The Long Road made me immediately relax.  In addition to the rocky water-poor soils that lower and concentrate yields, the vineyard is subject to continual winds that keep things from ever becoming wholly unbearable, regardless of what the thermometer says.

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The 2013 Black Swift Merlot is dead opaque in the glass, an abyss of ruby-maroon from which it can be difficult to escape…at least until the kaleidoscope of meaty, smoky, spicy, reductive, fruity aromas begins to bombard your senses.  Struck match, smoke and briquettes are brightened by raspberry and açai fruit but then dragged right back into the grime by salumi, brine, axle grease, Montreal smoked meat, Peters’ burger sauce (Calgary-specific tasting note — basically think ketchup and relish and dill pickle mixed together) and Dijon mustard.  16 months in French oak (one third new) adds some luxury to the mouthfeel but does not distract from The Long Road’s signature (based on the two bottles I’ve tried, at least) funk on the tastebuds, black olive and elastic band tang  supplementing the plum and strawberry Fruit Roll-Up fruit with wacky dank salinity.  Much like the Long Road Syrah, the Merlot was notably lower in acid and possessed a Tums-like chalky texture, yet sustained its presence and finish with ease.  Two bottles is a tiny sample size, but I’m still ready to declare a dominant vineyard personality, the indelible stamp of terroir on a unique BC Merlot that is nowhere near tired.

Peter: 90+ points      Raymond: 91 points     Dan: 90+ points

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