Thursday, April 30, 2009

Tinhorn Creek's new labels, new wines

Winemaker Sandra Oldfield and the progression of Tinhorn Creek's wine labels

The wines released this spring by Tinhorn Creek Vineyards all bear brilliant new labels. This seems to be the fourth redesign since the winery opened in 1995.

The new labels are crisp and fresh. The winery’s name and the varietal stand out smartly on white textured paper. The bottles now look as sharp as Barack Obama in his pristinely white dress shirts.

There is more going on here than a label overhaul. The wines themselves have benefitted from subtle but important style shifts as winemaker Sandra Oldfield has once again raised the bar.

The new labels also speak to a growing sophistication of Tinhorn Creek’s consumers. Gone are the precious back labels in which each varietal was assigned a personality.

Do you remember the 2003 Merlot? “If this wine were human, it would grab you by the hand and insist you dance – even if no one else was. It would yell ‘I love you’ at the top of its lungs. It wouldn’t be afraid of a little elbow grease – especially if it meant helping a friend. It would live by the philosophy: ‘work hard so you can play hard.’”

You have to ask: What were they smoking?

The new back label is just the facts: a few words on the winery’s history, a note on how the wine was made and what it tastes like; and useful food recommendations.

Three whites from 2008 have just been released, while other releases are scheduled for summer and fall, depending on when Sandra concludes the wines are ready for release.

One of the several changes is that Tinhorn Creek will let some of its wines mature longer in bottle before releasing them, starting with Pinot Noir. The 2008 Pinot Noir wine will be aged in barrel and bottles for three years (one year more than the current practice) before coming to market. A new premium Pinot Noir the Oldfield Series label will be held back four years.

The point is to let the wines develop character and richness in the winery’s cellar, since most consumers drink wines almost as soon as they buy them, thus missing the quality improvements that happen with a little cellar aging.

While it is not cheap for a winery to hold inventory back, Tinhorn Creek is not planning to raise its prices significantly, if at all. The Pinot Noir will remain under $20 and several of the Oldfield Series wines remain under $30. That makes them among the Okanagan’s most reasonably priced reserve wines.

Note that the winery has tweaked the name of its premium tier to Oldfield Series from Oldfield’s Collection. This is in keeping with expanding this from the original two – Merlot and 2Bench White – to include as well Syrah, Pinot Noir and 2Bench Red. About 20 percent of the winery’s total production is being directed to the premium tier.

Tinhorn’s 2008 whites – like so many of the Okanagan whites from 2008 – reflect the fact that 2008 was a very good vintage for white wines.

Vintners are still assessing the 2008 reds. Sandra reports that her reds, while soft in tannin, have good acidity, deep colour and lively flavours. The implication is that the 2008 reds will be earlier-drinking reds than the last few vintages.

Here is what is just out or soon to be released from Tinhorn Creek:

Gewürztraminer 2008 ($16.50). In the early 1990s Tinhorn Creek decided to include Gewürztraminer in its new plantings at Sandra’s suggestion, after she vetoed Pinot Blanc as too similar to Chardonnay. The variety has become one of Tinhorn Creek’s most popular wines. The 2008 is, arguably, the best one yet from the winery. It begins with lovely spicy aromas (the winery says they are reminded of the sagebrush growing all over the south Okanagan). The flavours present an array of tropical fruits, including lychee, peach and grapefruit. The wine has a dry and crisply refreshing finish. 90 points.

Pinot Gris 2008 ($14.50). Sandra had never dealt with Pinot Gris before arriving from California in 1994 to make Tinhorn Creek’s wine. At the time, there were only a few other wineries here making it – and each winery had a wildly divergent style. She explored a variety of approaches, even aging half the blend in oak, before settling on Tinhorn Creek’s classic fruit-forward unoaked Pinot Gris.

This wine begins with attractive fruity aromas and tastes of pears, apples and peaches. The winery has achieved richness in texture by maturing some of the wine on lees in special stainless steel barrels. The lively acidity gives this a refreshing finish. 88

Chardonnay 2008 (to be released in July at $18). Once again, the style is fruit forward. Only 20 percent of the wine was aged in new French oak, and just for two months. The finished blend has a touch of oak in the aroma and taste. By the time the wine is released, that will integrate completely, leaving a juicy but dry wine tasting of citrus, with a good core of minerals. 88

Oldfield Series 2Bench White 2008 ($23). This is Sandra’s aromatic blend. It is a complex dry white with spicy and floral aromas, with flavours of melon and citrus and with a crisp finish. The current blend is 33% Sémillon, 31% Chardonnay, 20% Sauvignon Blanc, 13% Viognier, 3% Muscat.

Oldfield Series Syrah 2006 (October release at $35). This is a big, meaty Syrah, with plush, soft tannins and flavours of plums. It is attractively earthy with a touch of pepper. 88

Oldfield’s Collection Merlot 2005 ($28). This is an elegant Merlot with concentrated flavours of plum and blackberry, and with long ripe tannins. 90

Oldfield Series Merlot 2006 (released in October at $28). The 2006 vintage was marginally cooler than 2005. This wine reflects that with lightly herbal notes on the aroma. The vibrant flavours are of red currants and cherries and the structure is firm. 89

Oldfield Series 2Bench Red 2007 (barrel sample; release in 2010). While Sandra has not quite finished putting this blend together, the sample was very impressive. It is a bold, brooding red tasting of plums, black currants, blackberries and mocha, with a long finish. This is a blend of about 44% Cabernet Sauvignon and equal parts of Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Future vintages will incorporate Malbec and Petit Verdot. 91+


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