Monday, January 10, 2011

Tinhorn Creek releases solid 2008 wines and projects good wines from the 2010 vintage

The South Okanagan will get another winery restaurant in April when Tinhorn Creek opens its Miradoro Restaurant under the management of Le Gavroche proprietor Manuel Ferreira.

The restaurant plans have been underway for about two years. Sandra Oldfield, the winemaker and co-proprietor, had the formal announcement late last year while presiding over a dinner to show off the winery’s latest releases.

It has become something of a tradition for her to speak to the winery’s autumn releases at Le Gavroche, a French restaurant in Vancouver that was opened in 1979. This restaurant established a fine reputation that has endured for more than 30 years. That creates considerable anticipation about Miradoro. The restaurant, which will seat 65 inside and as many outside in fine weather, is to operate 10 months a year. It will close only in January and February.

Construction of the restaurant began just as Tinhorn Creek finished its grape harvest on October 28. That was one of the latest harvests in the winery’s history. “This really was a difficult harvest,” Sandra said about the 2010 vintage.

Some of the challenge was self-inflicted. Early last year, Andrew Moon, the winery’s new Australian vineyard manager, decided to remedy what he believed were poor pruning practises in the 130 acres of vineyards. His actions had the one-time effect of reducing the crop yield to about one tonne an acre compared with a normal yield of three to four tonnes an acres.

The winery brought in about 200 tonnes of grapes and, for the first time in its history, purchased grapes – about 150 tonnes. That may also have been a one-time purchase because the winery’s vineyards should produce normal tonnages again in 2011.

As it turns out, the big reduction in Tinhorn’s own yields was “a blessing in disguise,” as Sandra wrote the winery’s current newsletter. “This was the prefect year in which to have a low crop,” Sandra told her audience at Le Gavroche. “We ended up with pretty awesome wine.”

The growing season in 2010 was perverse. It began late with a cool spring and continued through a summer that was sporadically cool and wet. By August, and probably earlier, growers were concerned that they might not ripen the grapes properly. Most also began reducing the crop left on the vines so that the vines could ripen what remained.

As an example of an extreme reaction to the lousy weather, Poplar Grove Winery dropped so much crop that its final harvest was 80 tons, down from 200 tones in 2009. (Some of that reflected damage to young vines from the October 2009 frost as well.) Poplar Grove winemaker Ian Sutherland speculates that overall grape production in the Okanagan and Similkameen was down as much as 50% on average – and certainly was 20% down at least from 2009.

The irony is that the 2010 growing weather turned around in mid-September and the valleys enjoyed long Indian Summers. “Even Cabernet Sauvignon got ripe,” Ian said. And the cooler summer favoured certain varieties. Sandra comments that the “star” in Tinhorn’s cellar is Pinot Gris.

Since the 2010 wine production is generally lower than in earlier years, one might want to stock up from the abundant vintages now available. One would be well rewarded by adding some of Tinhorn Creek’s current releases to the cellar.

There are two ranges here. The reserve wines are released under the Oldfields Series label to set them apart from the higher volume varietals.

Here are some notes on the wines:

Oldfields Series 2 Bench White ($22.99). This wine is a blend of 44% Chardonnay, 26% Sauvignon Blanc, 17% Sémillon, 12% Viognier and 1% Muscat. Fresh and crisp on the finish, this is a wine with complex flavours of melon, apricot and citrus. 88.

Oldfields Series Merlot 2007 ($24.99). This wine’s dark colour signals its concentrated texture. It is a brooding, muscular red, boldly oaked, with flavours of plums and black currants. This wine deserves to be cellared for another five years. 90-92.

Oldfields Series 2 Bench Red ($29.99 but sold out). The winery released only 350 cases of this wine, its first Bordeaux blend. It is 42% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Merlot and 29% Cabernet Franc. It is an elegant wine with aromas of mint, and currants and flavours of sweet berry fruit with a touch of chocolate and spice on the finish. 91.

Oldfields Series Syrah 2007 ($29.99). This wine begins with aromas of blueberries and mulberries. On the palate, it is both meaty and fruity, with notes of pepper and with firm ripe tannins. The winery made only 500 cases. The wine should be cellared another two or three years. The 2005 version of this wine, which was also tasted at the Le Gavroche dinner, has blossomed into a 94 point wine. For the moment, I give the 2007 Syrah 91 points, with potential to grow in the cellar.

Oldfields Series Kerner Icewine 2009 ($29.99 for 200 ml). Here is a delicious and affordable icewine. It begins with pineapple aromas; this carries over to the palate where pineapple flavours mingle with raisin, caramel and baked apple. The acidity is fresh but not aggressive. 89.

Tinhorn Creek Cabernet Franc 2008 ($17.99). The winery generally makes a very solid red with this variety. This is a particularly delicious example, with blackberry and black currant aromas and flavours plus a touch of black cherry. The long ripe tannins contribute to the satisfying richness on the palate. 90.

Tinhorn Creek Merlot 2008 ($17.99). Like all of Tinhorn’s wines (except for the Icewine), this is closed with a screw cap. Don’t be too casual with the wine: do it a favour and decant it. In my experience, it showed the rich and juicy flavours of plum and currants when the half bottle left over from the tasted was retasted on the second day. 87-89.


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