Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Tinhorn Creek and friends – Black Hills, Clos Du Soleil, Laughing Stock and SpierHead

Here, I am relying on the broad shoulders of Tinhorn Creek Vineyards to carry an accumulation of reviews – not just of Tinhorn but of some of its peers.

The big news from Tinhorn Creek is the release of the winery’s first reserve Pinot Noir, its 2008 Oldfield Series Pinot Noir. This variety is virtually every winemaker’s Holy Grail. When a winery gets it right, it means that this finicky variety was well grown and that the winemakers did not screw it up.

Tinhorn Creek got it right. The other detail to note is the age of both of its Pinot Noirs. The reserve is almost four years old and the regular is almost three years old. After working on its release cycle for several years, the winery is able to give its reds more time to develop in bottle before release. Thus, the wines are more ready for consumption when you buy them.

In theory, that should increase the price of the wines. Somebody should be paying for the storage. But Tinhorn Creek is pricing its wines very fairly.

The winery reviews are alphabetical here.

It has been a busy summer at Black Hills, with the opening of a $1 million tasting room and, now, the release of a second label, called Cellarhand. At least, that is how the winery spells it in a media release. On the bottles, the label is two words, both lowercase.

The logic behind a second label is simple. Any winery that wants to elevate its first labels – and Black Hills certainly is trying to raise the bar with Nota Bene, its premium red blend – will have some wine that does not make the cut for the blend. This certainly still is good wine, just not up to bottling in wines selling at more than $50 each.

A winery without a second label usually sells the cull wine. There are not many Okanagan wineries that would turn down the culls from Black Hills, knowing the quality is there easily for blends fetching $20 to $25.

Well, Black Hills decided to bottle the culls for its own second label. The result: very good wines at reasonable prices.

The current releases from Black Hills include both its flagship wines and the new second label wines.

Black Hills Nota Bene 2010 ($53 for a production of 3,300 cases). As usual, this blend is anchored with Cabernet Sauvignon, at 57%, with Merlot at 32% and Cabernet Franc at 11%. The Cabernet Sauvignon contributes a touch of mint to the aroma and flavour, complementing the cassis aroma. The wine has luscious flavours of black currant and plum, with long, ripe tannins. The wine finishes with a polished elegance. 92.

Black Hills Carmenère 2010 ($50 for a production of 300 cases).  This is an interesting and complex red with aromas of pepper and red berries. The pepper carries through to the palate, along with flavours of plum, black cherry and chocolate. The alcohol is a moderate 12.2%, as it was in 2009, a much warmer vintage. This seems to be a variety that develops flavour before packing on the sugar. 90.

Black Hills Alibi 2011 ($24.90). This is a blend of 75% Sauvignon Blanc and 25% Sémillon. The Sémillon was barrel-fermented in oak puncheons. The wine begins with aromas of herbs, grapefruit and lime, leading to flavours of grapefruit, kiwi and peach. The Sémillon contributes to the full texture and the subtle notes of honey. 90.

Cellar hand Punch Down Red 2010 ($24.90). This is a blend of 45% Syrah, 27% Cabernet Sauvignon and 28% Merlot. This is a delicious and accessible red, with aromas of plum, black cherry and pepper. On the palate, there are flavours of peppery black cherry along with the gamy fruit of the Syrah. The texture is generous. 89.

Cellar hand Free Run White 2011 ($15.90). This is amazing value. The wine is a blend of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Viognier, Chardonnay, Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc. The percentages are not disclosed, not that that matters to most consumers. The wine is a fruit salad of aromas and flavours: ripe peaches, apricots, melons and a touch of apple. It has a fine spine of minerals and tannin (the Viognier kicking in?) that gives the wine a crisp focus; yet the texture is rich and lingering. 90.


Clos du Soleil Winery is a four-year-old producer which sells its wines through its website, and private wine stores and now from its wine shop on Upper Bench Road near Keremeos.

The partnership which operates this winery, headed by a former Canadian naval officer named Spencer Massey, draws its wine styling inspiration from France. The wines are made by Ann Sperling, a member of a pioneering Kelowna grape growing family. A winemaker now with 28 years experience, she works in Ontario as well as in the Okanagan. Her hand shows in the polished wines that Clos du Soleil is releasing.

Clos du Soleil Fumé  Blanc 2011 ($19.90 for 450 cases). A portion of this wine, which is 98% Sauvignon Blanc and 2% Sémillon, was fermented in new 500 litre French Oak puncheons.  The oak is suitably subtle, allowing the fruit aromas and flavours to keep the centre of the stage. The aromas includes herbs, lemon and lime. There is a lovely note of lime on the textured palate, with a crisp, dry finish. 91.

Clos du Soleil Pinot Blanc 2011 ($18.90 for 180 cases). This is the second release of this wine from the Baessler family’s Similkameen vineyard. The wine is crisp and tangy, with aromas of green apples and citrus. On the palate, there are flavours of apples with a backbone of minerals and bright acidity. The wine is clean and refreshing; I think setting aside a few bottles for a year would be rewarding. 88

Clos du Soleil Célestiale 2010 ($24.90 for 250 cases).  One of several Bordeaux blends from this boutique producer, this is 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 39% Merlot, 9% Petit Verdot. The wine begins with aromas of red fruit and vanilla. On the generous palate, there are flavours of cherries, plum, chocolate and tobacco, with long ripe tannins. 90.

Laughing Stock Vineyards has emerged as one of the star producers on the Naramata Bench since David and Cynthia Enns opened it in 2005.  This summer, the winery made Profit magazine’s annual list as one of the 200 fastest growing companies in Canada – the only winery on that list. According to the magazine, the winery – which produced 6,000 cases in the 2011 vintage – has had a five year revenue growth of 279%.

That reflects both the effective way in which the wines are marketed and the quality of the wines. Among Laughing Stock’s niches: Portfolio, its flagship Bordeaux blend, has become a leading gift wine among corporations. And Portfolio and its little brother, Blind Trust Red, were among the top sellers last year among B.C.’s Meritage style wines.

(The top five Meritage sellers in B.C.  last year were Road 13 Rockpile, at 4,140 cases; Nota Bene at 2,736 cases; Osoyoos Larose Les Petales at 2,123 cases;  Osoyoos Larose Le Grand Vin (1,745 cases); and Laughing Stock Portfolio at 1,706 cases.)

Portfolio is not among the releases that the winery sent me earlier this spring. Blind Trust Red 2010 ($29.10) was but the bottle was corked; hence, no review. However, Laughing Stock has such a track record that I never hesitate in buying the wines even without having tasted them.

A note for wine tourists: Laughing Stock has reverted to opening its wine shop by appointment only this year. With only a six-car parking lot, it had to do something to control the traffic that overwhelmed the winery last year.

Here are notes on those I did taste.

Laughing Stock Pinot Gris 2011 ($22.10). This appealing wine begins with aromas of pear and citrus, leading to flavours of pear and peach in a juicy fruit cup of a wine. 90.

Laughing Stock Blind Trust White 2011 ($25.10). When you unwrap the capsule, you find that this is a blend of 43% Pinot Gris, 29% Pinot Blanc and 28% Viognier. The blend varies from year to year – you need to trust winemaker David Enns to come up with an interesting blend. This is a crisp and dry white with flavours of apples, melon and citrus, with a spine of minerals and with the full texture that suggests lees stirring was involved. 88.

Laughing Stock Viognier 2011 ($26.10). The wine begins with tropical fruit aromas of apricot, peach and guava. It delivers a rich bowl of fruit, including flavours of pineapple, papaya and apricot. The fruitiness fools the palate with luscious sweetness. The finish is dry and refreshing. 90.

Laughing Stock In The Pink Rosé 2011 ($22.10). Every $2 from a sales of this wine goes to the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. Salmon pink in colour, the wine has aromas of strawberry, plum jam and, surprisingly, chocolate. There are flavours of crabapple, plum and cherry. The wine has a crisp and almost austerely dry finish. 89.

Laughing Stock Syrah 2010 ($34.10). This wine, only the third Syrah release from the winery, won a Lieutenant Governor’s Award of Excellence this year. In fact, Laughing Stock is a repeat winner of this award; last year, it won with a Pinot Gris. This wine is made in the classic Côte Rotie style, blending 94% Syrah with 6% Viognier. The grapes are grown near Osoyoos, superb Syrah terroir. The wine has white pepper on the nose, with a touch of that on the palate. Big and generous, the wine tastes of plum and black cherry. 90.


SpierHead Winery is a two-year-old winery in East Kelowna, located in former apple orchard. A number of the trees have been retained, bordering the charming driveway that leads to this winery.

The estate vineyard is called the Gentlemen Farmer Vineyard, reflecting that the partners here – a professional photographer, a lawyer and a broker (and their wives) – might be considered gentlemen farmers.

The Riesling is the second vintage from the property while the Pinot Noir is the first vintage. “Recognizing that the Pinot Noir is a juvenile wine, we are not trying to overreach with pricing,” says Bill Knutson, one of the owners, explaining why it has been released at $17.90.

Well, I think he is underselling the wine. You should snap up this wine because, at that price, it is a great bargain. Look for it in VQA and other private wine stores if you don’t get to the winery.

The latest news from this winery is that it has just hired Bill Pierson as its winemaker. Bill most recently was the winemaker at Fort Berens and, before that, assistant winemaker at CedarCreek.

SpierHead Riesling 2011 ($21.90 for 185 cases). This wine begins with aromas of citrus and herbs. On the palate, there are bright lemon flavours with a refreshing, tangy acidity. Even though the wine has almost 12 grams of residual sugar, the balance gives it a finish that is crisp and seems dry. 89.

SpierHead Pinot Noir 2010 ($17.90 for 534 cases). Dark in colour, this wine is made with three Pinot Noir clones. It spent 11 months in French oak. The aromas include hints of the oak, along with spicy cherry. On the palate, there are cherry and strawberry flavours, with a texture that is evolving toward the silkiness of the varietal. This wine has 12.1% alcohol, accounting for its lively feminine style. 90.


Tinhorn Creek Chardonnay 2011 ($17.99). This is a light, fruit-forward Chardonnay; only 15% went into new French oak. The aroma has a hint of orange, leading to apple and citrus flavours and a spicy, dry finish. 88.

Tinhorn Creek Pinot Noir 2009 ($19.99). This fleshy wine, with 14.7% alcohol, reflects the big ripe vintage that 2009 was. There are aromas of spice, herbs and cherries, with flavours of strawberries and cherries. 89.

Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series Pinot Noir 2008 ($29.99 for 250 cases). Three years of bottle aging have enabled this wine to develop an elegantly silky texture. The aroma opens with spice and raspberry. On the palate there are concentrated flavours of cherry and raspberry, with a hint of mocha on the finish. 90.

Tinhorn Creek Cabernet Franc 2010 ($19.99 for 2,882 cases). This wine explodes with vibrant, juicy red fruit – raspberry, blackberry – with a note of vanilla and cedar on the finish and with a tannin structure suggesting this will develop well in the cellar. The screw cap is doing its job in keep the fruit lively and fresh. 89.

Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series Kerner Icewine 2011 ($29.90 for 200 ml). This wine begins with rich aromas of honey, baked apples and apricot. Superbly balanced, it is not at all cloying. Rather, the flavours of apple pie with cinnamon and caramel are delicious and linger cleanly on the long finish. 92.


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