Amulet Wines: Fall 2021 Releases

1 11 2021

By Peter Vetsch

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes]

One of the most anticipated sets of releases out of the Okanagan Valley for me every year are those of Amulet, winemaker Dwight Sick’s Rhone-fuelled collaboration with Dylan and Penelope Roche. Made at Roche’s winery near Penticton, from grapes sourced via Sick’s extensive network of prime vineyard sources (including Kiln House Vineyard, which is assuredly Canada’s most established Grenache site), the Amulet wines are always honest, complex and expressive, firmly demonstrating that Rhone varietals might be BC’s most exciting viticultural play right now. The most arresting part of the Amulet visual experience is the striking golden metal medallion painstakingly hand-glued to each bottle, a replica of an Elizabethan era talismanic coin showcasing St. Michael battling a dragon. Amulet’s recent set of releases breaks new ground in two different ways: not only do they feature a brand new Amulet wine, but also a second medallion, this one dragon-free, featuring a merchant ship at sea and an embossed inscription that translates to: “This is the Lord’s doing and it is marvellous.” It sure is. It took all my willpower not to peel it off the bottle so I could collect the whole set.

The Amulet wines are all crafted using minimal intervention in the cellar: indigenous yeast fermentation, no fining or filtering, and very low doses of SO2 at bottling. Production is microscopic and demand increasingly high, so much so that individual bottle limits had to be imposed on online orders in the Roche Wines shop. The new addition this year is a reserve-level Syrah that pushes its way into consideration as our country’s best rendition of the grape, cementing the vision and increasing confidence of this fledgling label. Bring on the medallions.

New medallion!

2019 Amulet White (~$26 Cellar Door)

OK, this was actually a spring release wine, not a fall release one. It’s also sold out already, rendering this review somewhat superfluous, but if you ever stumble onto a bottle somehow you should absolutely pounce. A blend of 88% Viognier and 12% Marsanne, this wine doubles as a reaffirmation of the remarkable Kiln House Vineyard, from which the Marsanne and a third of the Viognier hails. This warm, sun-drenched spot is located in the hills west of Penticton (right near the par 3 golf course, apparently) and should basically be a Rhone heritage site given how well it has hosted the grapes of that region. Like with all Amulet wines, the grapes for this white were hand-harvested, followed by a long fermentation in French oak barrels (20% new) and maturation on gross lees with periodic batonnage to add texture and energy.

My attention is immediately absorbed by the wine’s vivid shimmering lemon colour, a harbinger of the energy within. Creamy meringue and steamed milk aromas layer themselves over surprisingly incisive limeade, Mandarin orange and chalk dust, with smoky graham cracker oak notes lingering in the background. The textural weight so vital to Rhone whites is present here but not overwrought, the acid measured but somehow amplified thanks to the wine’s inner drive, a force of life propelling it forward. This is no meandering Viognier blend, and yet it still maintains the essence of its primary grape, that heft and plumpness and stone fruit and floral creamsicle serenade of flavours that is so true to type, finishing with a pleasantly bitter quinine note. It can be easy for New World Viognier to lose the plot, but this is a serious (and, I suspect, ageworthy) declaration of intent in what can be a hit-or-miss category.

90+ points

OG medallion. Still awesome.

2020 Amulet Red (~$35 Cellar Door)

Fewer than 100 six-bottle cases of this Grenache-fuelled blend were made, highlighting both the artisanal nature of this venture and the controlled levels of Kiln House’s Grenache yields. This may be the first GSV (Grenache/Syrah/Viognier) blend that I’ve ever seen: the middle grape is routinely paired with both the former and the latter one, but not usually at the same time. It’s like a Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon thing in a bottle. The 2020 Amulet Red is a true pan-Okanagan wine, with Penticton’s Kiln House Grenache (50%) joined by Oliver’s Suncrest Vineyard Syrah (48%) and Naramata’s Kozier Vineyard Viognier (2%, but the source of most of the Viognier component of the White above). The resulting blend (which I can only assume was co-fermented) spent 7 months maturing in neutral oak barrels before bottling.

I am always going to associate Amulet with Grenache because of the depth of Dwight Sick’s commitment to making this varietal work this far north, but in this rendition of the Red blend it’s the other components that make themselves known. The wine is bright but deep, semi-opaque and very nearly purple, heavily Syrah-influenced. Add in molten currant and blueberry fruit, maple bacon, pen ink and lava rock aromas and you start to think that the middle grape has run away with the show before hints of rhubarb and strawberry Fruit Roll-Up pull you back. It is equal parts flamboyant and ominous on the palate, dark and chewy but only medium-bodied, its blackberry and star anise core scuffed by sandpaper, sage and caraway accents. Fine half-submerged tannin creates subtle architecture for a red that seems more foreboding than past vintages, right in line with its label’s brand image.

90 points

Cork Ratings: 0/10 (How can a brand with this much badass identity have shiner corks? And why does the white get a Diam 10 while the reds only get Diam 5s?

2019 Amulet Syrah (~$64 Cellar Door)

And now for the newcomer, which had an additional year of barrel age before its debut release: a long-awaited reserve-level Syrah from the aforementioned Suncrest Vineyard in Oliver. Kozier Vineyard Viognier completes its Amulet release hat trick by contributing a 4% aromatic and textural boost to the wine in classic Northern Rhone fashion. Despite hailing from the searing southern Okanagan and being harvested at the end of October, this Syrah actually clocks in at a highly controlled 13.8% ABV, lower than the Red blend above. After an initial 7-day whole-berry cold soak, the must was warmed up enough to allow indigenous fermentation to proceed over the ensuing three weeks, complete with hand punchdowns to assist with tannin and colour extraction. After 22 months in 50% new, 50% second-use French oak, the 2019 Syrah was bottled in parallel with the 2020 Amulet Red this past July.

This is even darker, and incalculably denser, than the Red blend, even after an extra year of maturity. It is a study of contrasts from the beginning: light-meets-dark, massive-meets-airy, goods-meets…never mind. Sunny florals (lilac, daffodil), angel food cake, blood orange and even straight-up tropical notes like pineapple somehow radiate out of an abyss of topsoil, pot roast, raisins, blackcurrant and tar. I smell Sunny D, but also smell roadwork. Only Syrah (with 4% Viognier, which has a wildly significant impact on the whole makeup of the wine). This expands eternally on the palate but doesn’t sink down, its bass notes suspended an inch above the tongue. Both the acid and the tannin are so ingrained as to almost be invisible, the overall package remarkably cohesive given the extremes it encompasses. Monumental but breezy? The best wines work in contradictions, and this is one of the better ones I’ve ever had out of this country.

92+ points


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3 responses

2 11 2021
Dwight Sick

Hi Peter,
Thanks for trying the wines and your reviews are always welcome feedback.
FYI – In regards to cork selection, we chose to go with Diam 10 for the entire production due to a number of quality and availability issues from our previous cork supplier. Unfortunately, the decision was made during the peak of the pandemic and COVID production delays prevented branding our corks. The samples you received from us were hand bottled the day before our bottling line run to avoid bottle shock with shiner corks while the main bottling is closed with Roche Wines branded Diam 10 corks. Honestly, I no idea how the Diam 5 corks ended up in the bag….
Best,
Dwight

Liked by 1 person

2 11 2021
Peter Vetsch

Thanks for the clarification, Dwight – any plans for a return to Amulet-specific corks in the future? The wines were tremendous!

Liked by 1 person

3 11 2021
Dwight Sick

Yes, the upcoming bottlings will be under their own branded corks. We will be continuing with Diam 10’s.
D

Liked by 1 person

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