PnP Panel Tasting: Midnight’s Children – The Many Syrahs of The Hatch

14 06 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

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

It has been a prolific week for PnP Panel Tastings! This one was a doozy. Peter, myself, and PnP spirits guru Tyler convened to open some Okanagan wines; we also ended up taking a massively (possibly Okanagan-wine-induced) deep dive into ’90s alternative rock, which was good for a monumental spike of nostalgia and a slew of earworms for the rest of the weekend. Sometimes hangovers sound like Wide Mouth Mason. The company was of course excellent, tolerant of my occasional requests for overly long Rush tunes (OK, it wasn’t all ’90s). That aside, this was the sort of night from which memories are made, frivolously pleasant and soul-searching alike, and what better vinous companion for me than The Hatch?

The-Hatch-Wines-West-KelownaYou see, four of the suspects hailed from the cellars of the Hatch, subject of a previous PnP Panel Tasting and still my favourite BC winery. I defy you to find a similar blend of idiosyncrasy, creativity, whimsy, and sheer stubborn courage in our westernmost province. There is a true artist’s aesthetic behind the wines. These guys do what moves them, unabashedly and without any discernable pretense. That kind of genuine interface with the world at large is becoming an endangered species other than in the world of wine, where uniqueness has long been a virtue, one that has likely only gathered steam in recent years. I think The Hatch has grown by leaps and bounds since its inception, pushing well beyond some initial growing pains into the world of truly fine wine, even as they never truly forsake the uncanny, the weird. After all, “a poet’s work is to name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it going to sleep”. The Hatch shall continue to keep us awake (except perhaps if you kill all four of these on the same night. Not recommended.)

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2016 Screaming Frenzy Shiraz

In their infinite wisdom, the fine folks at the Hatch sent us a review set dominated by Syrah. It is almost as if they know we adore this grape, even if it took some careful searching of the bright yellow font on this first bottle to confirm that that was indeed what was inside. I look at the Screaming Frenzy Shiraz and have my typical “love the label” reaction that occurs whenever I look at one of these wines. The Frenzy’s iconic dinosaur mascot is replaced in this rendition by a kangaroo and an eagle wearing a military helmet that appears to be Prussian chic circa the 1890s, and I ponder the “Syrah versus Shiraz” distinction. Same grape, very different style. Shiraz was born in the land Down Under, a fruit-forward, boisterous, even jammy rendition that contrasts with the more restrained, less fruity, more spicy classics from the northern Rhone. Winemaker Jason Parkes has a fun Australian vision here, if the choice of “Shiraz” on the label is intentional (which it is). How’s the execution?

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If you look VERY carefully, you will see the “Shiraz”.

Frankly, I am more than a little blown away. I just keep pulling aroma after aroma off of this supposedly straightforward crowd-pleasing fruit bomb. I first get the expected blackberry and cassis notes, followed by some contraband (in Alberta) cherry-flavoured cigarillo (I miss those at times). Then a fistful of pickling spices, dill and fennel seeds, and heady vanilla extract as the tobacco moves into classy pipe territory. Star anise and iris? The hell? That’s not classic Shiraz territory. I finally take a sip, and get a blast of Fig Newtons, black Sun Rype raisins (the ones in the red boxes that got eaten dead last in any Halloween candy haul), dates and molasses. The palate is dark and sun-kissed. I loop back to the nose and get a hit of brown butter and sundry opaque sodas (is it Coke Classic? Sarsaparilla? Hires? All of them?). The sturdy medium acidity helps preclude any truly jammy character. The whole package manages to coalesce into a kaleidoscope that shifts back and forth between deft floral/spice aromatics and oozing sugarplums. Where’s my remote control? Crowd-pleasing despite the layers? I think I think so.

Raymond: 90+ points       Peter: 89 points       Tyler: 90- points

2015 Black Swift Vineyards “The Long Road” Syrah

We all walk the long road. Typically I love these releases, originally conceived as the Hatch’s top tier of single-vineyard releases from across the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys. Recently Black Swift has left the nest to become its own full-fledged premium winery that encompasses 12 distinct vineyards, a nuanced approached to exploring terroir in the Canadian context. The present wine hails entirely from the Hans Estate Vineyard on the East Osoyoos Bench. This place gets HOT and the slopes are precipitously steep. The Syrah from this spot cannot help but get ripe. This wine is fermented slowly and finished for 16 months in a mixture of new and older French oak. I tossed a review of the previous vintage of this wine onto Instagram some time ago, and concluded that it constituted equal parts Washington State, Barossa, and St. Joseph. As ridiculous as that may sound, I stand by that assessment once again. But this vintage is better than the last.

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For one thing, there is more acid this time around. The tannins are plentiful, fine and grippy. And there are more fresh flowers too: lilacs, crocus and other purple stuff. Finely ground brown spices and smoky black cardamom, layered with something gently caustic like mustard seed. The fruits swing toward raw chopped black and red currants and blueberries, joined at the party by olives, fresh paprika pods, hickory-smoked BBQ sauce. Meaty notes combine with the latter two and cause me to form an inane association with Hungarian goulash. And there it is, that trippy link between this wine and certain distinctively bloody Washington State Syrahs from the Rocks District that never ceases to amaze. There is a bit less of that briny umami Rocks-ness this vintage, though, in favour of a graceful rhubarb-like tang that is not subsumed by the dill-like Rioja-styled oak flourishes. Adjustments were made. Or maybe vintage variation reigns supreme. Hey man nice shot.

Raymond: 90 points       Peter: 90+ points       Tyler: 90- points

2017 Crown + Thieves Chenin Blanc

You may note that this is not a Syrah. A detour, if you will, as amongst the Syrah(ezes) lurked this lone white. We decided that slotting it in here might help break things up, a welcome palate reset before the grand finale, and we wanted to keep the Thieves amongst themselves. The quality relationships amongst the various labels or tiers of Hatch wines are not always immediately obvious. Sure, price points provide a guideline but are not surefire. The Crown + Thieves label conjures up all kinds of associations: the arcane, the mythological, royalty but also skullduggery. Maybe the notion of a quality hierarchy is less important than the fact that each tier is not really a tier but rather a separate artistic turnpike. Much like Black Swift, Crown + Thieves will be its own standalone winery soon, but I’m guessing it will never fully lose its Hatch-like sense of adventure. According to winemaker Jason Parkes, this wine pays homage to South African Chenin (or “Steen”) even though the land where these grapes are grown is more comparable to the Loire valley. “Go for broke. Always try and do too much”.

IMG_0753This mentality that can pay off, and as it happens this wine is not too much. It is poised yet broad, linear to the extent that big(ish) white wines can be linear, rather steely, perhaps a little spiky, but like a stalactite as opposed to a thumbtack. Yup, that’s Chenin all right, the quintessential wine geek’s grape: like someone threw a few packets of Neo Citran into a hot tub along with a few baked yellow apples and a squirt of pineapple juice. A perfume of dandelions and white ginger (galangal root) emerges from the depths, and a delicate fog of light floral honey and chicken stock drifts lazily along for a bit until it settles back into the lemony pool where we began. It’s gonna shine on. “I’m pretty stoked on our very own little Savennières here”, says Mr. Parkes. We are too.

Raymond: 90+ points       Peter: 90 points       Tyler: 90 points

2017 Crown + Thieves “The Broken Barrel” Syrah

Well, there’s still a pen in my hand at this point in the evening. Looking back at my journal now, I am more than a little amused to see “PURPLE MR. SKETCH MARKER!!” jump off the page. That’s just the sort of autobiographical association a guy needs to kick start a tasting note like this. This is a special wine, something of a Hatch Holy Grail for us. The Hatch boys themselves put it best: “This wine was/is one of the most iconic of all the hatch wines ever made and after much soul-searching and attempted accidental on purpose barrel breaking we finally have a worthy follow-up.” An early vintage of Broken Barrel was actually lost to a barrel accident, with all further vintages seeming all the more precious because of it. The grapes hail from the Saddle Ridge Vineyard on the Black Sage Bench, another region known for long sunny days and correspondingly immense ripeness: indeed, the BSB is dubbed “Canada’s only pocket desert”. This sees about 800 years in a mixture of American oak puncheons (OK, I exaggerate – 3+ years, still a healthy time in US oak for anything outside of Spain). I suspect the grapes can more than handle it.

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Suspicion confirmed. This juice holds its oak like Atlas himself bearing the entire globe on his shoulders, as a dark purple sea of Saskatoon berries and black plums expands into an extradimensional space full of black jelly beans melting on a cast iron skillet, blood sausage, tar-covered sandpaper, and dill sprigs. I get a few of the Northern Rhone comparisons that have been tossed around about this wine…to a point. This has more hedonism, more panache. This starts as a serious concerto but then distorts into a spacy jam (that Rush song again) full of luscious cream soda and jangly shards of Ceylon cinnamon before going all dark star again. The Mr. Sketch is floating around in there, somewhere amongst the velvet glove tannins. This was well worth the climb.

Raymond: 91 points       Peter: 91+ points       Tyler: 90+ points

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Cork / Stelvin Ratings: 1/10 (aww come on!), 7/10 (much better, rather Gothic), 6.5/10 (the birder approves), 4/10 (I dig the colour).

     


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