Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Stags Hollow releases 2014 Grenache

By coincidence, Stag’s Hollow Winery released its third Grenache on the same weekend that Pope Francis arrived in Cuba.

What’s the connection?

Tasting this fantastic wine immediately reminded me of some of the great Cuban cigars I enjoyed when I was still smoking (and when I could afford Cuban cigars). Pope Francis is incidental to this story. I doubt that someone with just one lung even smokes.

The 2014 Renaissance Grenache from Stag’s Hollow has rich, spicy and smoky aromas that climb from the glass and waft about the room like the aromas of a good cigar. On the palate, flavours of sweet tobacco mingle with fruit cake and red liquorice.  The wine totally seduced me – just as Cuban cigars once seduced the English writer, Rudyard Kipling.

Kipling authored one of the most famous lines about cigars: “A woman is only a woman but a good cigar is a smoke.” You have to look up his poem, The Betrothed, to see the context. The poem, hardly his best piece of writing, has numerous references to Havana.

I might change the line now and write: A cigar is only a cigar but the Renaissance Grenache is a drink.

The release date of the wine, of course, had nothing to do with the Pope’s visit to Cuba. It was released for International Grenache Day, the third Friday in September. Stag’s Hollow released the Okanagan’s first Grenache in the 2012 vintage. I seem to have missed the 2013, which is still available on the winery’s website.

A reader of my blog recently found a bottle of the 2012 in her cellar and asked how long to cellar it.

Stag’s Hollow recommends drinking the 2014 over the next five years. Judging from that, the 2012 should peak in 2017.

There are not many plantings of Grenache in British Columbia. The variety has the reputation of being excessively winter tender, probably because some of the Okanagan plantings were done shortly before 2009. The early October freeze in 2009 and several subsequent hard winters savaged a lot of young plantings, including several of Grenache.

Perhaps it is too early to close the book on this variety. According to the Grenache Association: “It’s the most widely planted red grape in the world and responsible for the velvety, voluptuous mouthfeel that people love in wine; but it rarely gets the credit it deserves because it’s often used in blends.”

The variety, a staple in Spanish reds, is also known as Garnacha Tinta. The detailed discussion of the variety in the massive Jancis Robinson book, Wine Grapes, is under that name. Robinson (and her co-authors) writes that the variety is “relatively early budding but late ripening, so has to be grown in fairly warm climates.”

The Okanagan certainly has a warm climate but, with a risk of spring frost and a season-ending frost in October, Grenache is perhaps a tight squeeze for the growing window.

Dwight Sick, the winemaker at Stag’s Hollow, has a particular enthusiasm for Grenache that began in 2006 when he helped plant a small block in the Kiln House Vineyard near Penticton. The 2014 Grenache is made with grapes from that vineyard and from the Hearle Vineyard on the Osoyoos East Bench. (In 2012, Dwight had some Similkameen Grenache to pair with the Kiln House fruit.)

The quality of the wine reflects the pains Dwight took in making it. Whole berries went into one-ton fermenters; 40% of the ripest stems were added. Fermentation began with cultured yeast after a three-day cold soak. After 10 days, the wine was pressed into second-fill French barrels (300 litre hogsheads) and aged six months on the lees. After racking, three per cent of Syrah was added. The cuvée was bottled unfined and unfiltered in the late summer of 2015.

The packaging is sophisticated.  The closure is a crystal plug made by a Czech glass producer, Vinolok. Judging from the website, the closure was only developed several years ago.

This is an elegant solution to avoiding cork taint. Stag’s Hollow believes that the wine under this closure will maintain “varietal freshness for many years.” Indeed, it would be a delight to come back to this wine in a few years and find it still bursting with its current youthful charm.

Here is a note on the wine.

Stag’s Hollow Renaissance Grenache 2014 ($40 for 65 cases). This is a wine with aromas of black cherry, vanilla and cloves. Those are echoed in the flavours, along with fruit cake, red liquorice, rich sweet tobacco and a pinch of black pepper. The texture is ripe and generous. The wine is seductively delicious. 94

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