Amulet Wines: Vinous Talismans

6 11 2019

By Peter Vetsch

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

When the intrepid Dwight Sick left his longtime position as winemaker at Stags Hollow Winery and took up the same role at the Naramata’s Moraine Winery, he took two things with him:  (1) a trailblazing sense of adventure, forcing drinkers to check their premises regarding which grapes can work best in the Okanagan Valley, and (2) access to the best and most established plantings of Grenache in Canada, from the Kiln House Vineyard near Penticton.  That combination could never lie dormant for too long.  Sick helped plant the Kiln House Grenache vines over a decade ago, and he nurtured them into the Okanagan’s first bottling of varietal Grenache after years of effort and patience.  It didn’t seem right to let the red Rhone dream die, so soon after it had been realized.  So Sick didn’t.


Enter Amulet Wines:  a special new side project that Sick has undertaken in collaboration with Dylan and Penelope Roche of the thrilling recent Okanagan venture Roche Wines, fulfilling a vision 15 years in the making.  Amulet is focused solely on Okanagan-grown Rhone varietals, a lesser-known but burgeoning (and shockingly effective) subset of British Columbia’s melting pot of grape influences.  The inaugural Amulet release is a duo of bottlings, both blends, both heavily featuring the Kiln House Vineyard, both aimed at proving that Canada is (or at least can be) a New World Rhone haven.  As Dwight Sick was one of the first to make me believe the truth of this latter proposition, I was eager to see how far an entire brand focused on this goal, and inspired by his vision, could carry it.


First things first:  god damn are these visually commanding bottles of wine.  I don’t know how gripped I am by the “good versus evil” thematics that pervade the Amulet branding, but I am entirely enthralled by the bottles themselves, which harken back somewhat to Sick’s old Cachet bottlings from Stag’s Hollow in their transparent monochrome-and-red colour scheme.  However, what particularly elevates these new offerings are their centrepieces:  the curved golden metal coins emanating from the heart of each bottle, which are apparently replicas of Elizabethan-era “Gold Angel” coins, depicting St. Michael slaying a dragon, that were carried or worn as amulets to ward off evil.  Whatever these coins added to the overall production cost of the bottles, it was worth it — they are simply stunning.  I tried to pry mine off the bottles once they were empty, but to no avail.  I’ll look for a dragon next time.  Were the wines equally as compelling as their packaging?


2018 Amulet White (~$27 cellar door)

Knowing that the legacy of Kiln House Grenache was being carried on by the bottle after this one, I briefly wondered whether Amulet’s Rhone white would end up being an afterthought to the heightened novelty of its red.  That musing lasted roughly two seconds.  From the first smell, this wine makes an emphatic statement, to the point that it might ultimately eclipse its more intriguing red sibling.  The 2018 Amulet White is a blend of 90% Viognier (30% from Kiln House itself, and the remaining 60% from the Kozier Vineyard on Naramata Bench) and 10% Kiln House Marsanne.  The grapes were hand-harvested, whole-cluster-pressed, cold-soaked and then fermented slowly in French oak barrels (largely used), after which the wine sat for six months on its lees, with periodic batonnage for textural development.  Blending and bottling took place this past July, with the final production comprising only 163 cases.


The Amulet White is a deep compelling straw colour with the slightest hint of haze, reflecting its unfined and unfiltered nature (these processes produce a crystal clear wine, but at the expense of added manipulation and potential loss of character and complexity in the wine).  The nose is classically Viognier, to an extent rarely seen on this side of the Atlantic:  confident swirls of beeswax, lanolin, honeysuckle, vanilla bean, dill, melon and steamed milk; strutting, sultry, languorously waiting to be experienced.  An expansive creamy palate is laced throughout with landmines of prickly acidity, scoffing at the flabbiness that can sometimes plague this varietal.  Measured flavours of lemon meringue, wildflower honey, lavender, chalk and white flowers are amplified by three-dimensional texture and extended by the noteworthy acid, pulsating in stereo for at least a minute after the wine has disappeared, echoing in reverent memory.  If this Amulet duo is supposed to be an Angels & Demons thing, this is definitely the angel.  Just a beautiful wine.

91+ points


Cork Rating:  5/10 (The neck foils are lights-out awesome, but I have to think a brand steeped in this much heavy symbolism could have amped up the cork intensity a bit.)

2018 Amulet Red (~$36 cellar door)

This would not be a full-blown Rhone tribute project if it did not offer a GSM, and the Amulet Red delivers just that:  46% Kiln House Grenache, 28% Syrah (from what might be an even more impressive vineyard, the Amalia Vineyard on Osoyoos’ West Bench, home of some mind-blowing Stags Hollow Syrahs of years past) and 26% Mourvedre.  Yes, Canadian Mourvedre — even after being desensitized to the concept of Canadian Grenache, I still never thought I’d see the day.  The winemaking process is very similar to the Amulet White, with indigenous yeast fermentation after a long cold soak, but in this case some of the riper Grenache stems were added back into the tanks for flavour and structural enhancement.  After fermentation the wine was gently pressed and matured in French oak barrels (20% new) for 7 months before being bottled alongside the Amulet White this summer.


The 2018 Red is striking from the instant it hits the glass, combining the nearly violent purple hue of Syrah with the delicate translucence of Grenache.  The aromas are at once candied and bitter, Grenache’s strawberry jelly and watermelon Jolly Ranchers brought into the basement by Mourvedre’s lava rocks and grip tape, bakers’ chocolate and cooled sauna, all being emitted in pointed little beams, focused and chiselled if slightly disparate.  That focus continues on the palate, where this classic blend that can often err on the side of opulence instead goes the other way, with all elements honed in and pared back across a lithe frame, chewy flesh stretched tight over structural muscle and bone.  The fruit is darker now, black raspberry and currant, and the rest darker still, pavement and copier toner and pen ink, but it’s a graceful blackness, the tannins powdery and subtly biting at the end of the midpalate, the finish softly subsidizing with a careful whisper.  This was not entirely what I expected, and a departure from non-Amulet BC Grenaches of the past; this one fully embodies its inner darkness, but does so in a remarkably elegant way, a fitting dichtomy for a label based on just that.

90- points




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