Friday, October 30, 2009

Tinhorn Creek Vineyards at fifteen years

Photo: Robert Shaunessy (l), Sandra Oldfield, Kenn Oldfield (r)

This is Tinhorn Creek Vineyards fifteenth anniversary. In several ways it has been a momentous anniversary.

To begin with, this year’s releases from the winery – the whites in the spring and the reds this fall – have been among the best ever from Tinhorn Creek.

The releases also included the first new varietal from the winery since its launch: a fine Syrah has joined its portfolio.

As well, the winery committed itself this summer to becoming one of Canada’s first (possibly the first) winery to be carbon neutral. That involves capping the carbon emissions from winery operations and then beginning to reduce its production of greenhouse gases.

The first steps down that road are such common sense measures as replacing overhead sprinklers with drip irrigation; that reduces the winery’s energy consumption, to say nothing of conserving water resources. In addition, the vineyard tractors have been switched to using biodiesel fuel.

There is a delicious irony that Tinhorn Creek, of all wineries, should be leading the pack toward carbon neutral. The winery’s major owner, Robert Shaunessy, is an Alberta oil executive. He is obviously one oilman who is on side with the struggle to contain global warming.

In the immediate term, what matters to consumers is that of Tinhorn Creek’s wines are strong – and reasonably priced. Even the reserve wines, called Oldfield Series, are much less aggressively priced that most reserve wines from the Okanagan.

Oldfield refers to winemaker Sandra Oldfield and husband Kenn, whose focus is on the vineyards.

Currently, the most expensive table wine in the portfolio is the debut Syrah, the Oldfield Series Syrah 2006 ($35). Only 340 cases were released in October. This wine is a blend of Syrah grown at Tinhorn Creek’s Diamondback Vineyard on Black Sage Road; and Syrah grown across the valley at the winery. The wine spent 18 months in French oak barrels and another year in bottle before being released. This is a dark-hued and full-bodied red, as one would expect, a powerhouse with concentrated fruit. The complex flavours of this generous wine include plums, black cherry, liquorice and pepper. The finish lingers. 90

Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series Merlot 2006 ($28), with 1,551 cases released, has been tweaked for this vintage with the addition of 6% Cabernet Franc and 1% Syrah. The wine also spent 18 months in barrel (French and American) and one year in bottle before release. It is ready to drink now but can also be cellared at least five more years.

This is a rich and well-balanced wine with spicy berry aromas and with flavours of blackberry, cherry and plum. I saved half a bottle for next day and found that the core of sweet fruit flavours had become even more generous and appealing. 90-92.

Tinhorn Creek Merlot 2007 ($19) should be widely available because the winery released 10,442 cases. For obscure reasons, I found myself tasting and re-tasting this wine over five days and I swear that it was better on each succeeding day. It is a sturdy red, tasting of black currants, cherries, vanilla and dark chocolate. The tannins were a touch bitter on the first day but they softened right out, as one would expect. Do yourself and the wine a favour by decanting it. My score started at 87 on the first day and climbed to 90 by the fifth.

Tinhorn Creek Cabernet Franc 2007 ($18). On first impression, this is a rustic, earthy and spicy example of Cabernet Franc, with concentrated fruit and flavours of plums and currants – and the expected zesty lift of this varietal. This is another one to decant and let the fruit emerge. My point score improved over three days of tasting to settle at 88. The winery released 6,444 cases.

Tinhorn Creek Pinot Noir 2007 ($19). If my tasting memory is accurate, this is Tinhorn Creek’s best Pinot Noirs, more full-bodied that some of that rather light examples in previous vintages. The aromas are somewhat jammy but also a touch herbal. On the palate, it is a veritable berry cup of strawberries, raspberries and plums. The winery released 3,650 cases. 87

This fall’s release also include the winery’s Kerner Late Harvest 2008 ($13 for a half bottle). That sample has been set aside for a sweet wine tasting. Previous examples have been appealing, as is this price.


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