Thursday, November 15, 2012

Tinhorn Creek's red quartet impresses

Photo: Tinhorn Creek Vineyards

The judges in several recent wine competitions have been a little stingy with Tinhorn Creek’s newly released reds.

In my view, these four are all gold medal wines. But the judges at the Canadian Wine Awards and the B.C. Wine Awards only awarded them silver and bronze medals.

It could be that I have a generous palate. But it could also be that I took the time to taste these wines over two days, with the extra aeration that involved giving me a chance to gauge where these wines would go with a few years of aging. In every instance, the wines were richer and more satisfying on the second day.

Now, wine competitions are necessarily a snapshot in time. I am not aware of any competition that even has the time to decant young reds.

But consumers, if they don’t have the patience to age young reds, do have time to decant. That allows the aromas of young reds to open and the texture to become a little fleshier.

Clearly, I am impressed with Tinhorn Creek’s latest quartet of reds. Three are Oldfield Series (reserve) wines from the marvellous 2009 vintage. And the one from the more challenging 2010 vintage also is more than satisfying.

Tinhorn Creek is a familiar brand. The winery opened in 1995. Its wines can be found in most restaurants and wine stores, having gained a following because the quality is reliable and the prices are reasonable.

Since there are far more Okanagan wineries today than when Tinhorn Creek was getting established, no doubt some of the winery’s earlier followers have been seduced by the competition.

If that is so, you need to revisit Tinhorn Creek. It seems to me that the wines have become noticeably better during the past three or four vintages. The reason? There have been significant and positive changes in how Tinhorn Creek is growing its grapes.

Good wine always begins in the vineyard. It shows in each of these four reds. The wines have more concentration and more length than I recall in earlier vintages (and I liked those wines, too).

Note the alcohol levels, which show that the grapes were fully ripe before being picked. These are not unusual alcohol levels for the Okanagan, yet Okanagan reds seldom taste “hot” – as the jargon has it. Perhaps that is because the Okanagan’s good natural acidity helps balance wines which might taste hot in another region.

Here are my notes.

Tinhorn Creek Merlot 2010 ($18.99). This is made with grapes from 17-year-old vines planted on Black Sage Road. 2010 was a cool vintage but the winery carried a moderate crop load and got the grapes good and ripe. This has a robust 14.8% alcohol, with the weight and concentration that easily carries the alcohol. It opens with aromas of cassis and blueberry, going on to bright berry flavours of currants and plum. 90.

Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series Merlot 2009 ($29.99). The Canadian rules state that a wine can carry a single variety on the label as long as at least 85% of the wine is comprised with that variety. Here, the blend is 87% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc and 2% Syrah; those additions clearly added complexity. A big, ripe wine with 15.3% alcohol, it was aged about 20 months in French oak barrels (a mix of new, one-year and two-year barrels). It was also bottle-aged about 14 months before release. In effect, the winery has begun to do some of the cellaring for its consumers.

This wine is a powerhouse, with aromas and flavours of vanilla, black currant and figs. Everything about this wine was more powerful on the second day. Do yourself a favour and decant this wine. 91.

Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series 2Bench Red 2009 ($29.99). This is 45% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petite Verdot. It also was aged about 20 months in a selection of French oak barrels and then another 14 months in bottle before release.

With 14.3% alcohol, this is another big ripe red, beginning with aromas of spice, tobacco and black currant jam. On the palate, there are flavours of black currants, plums and figs, with an earthy note and a firm texture that becomes fleshy on the second day. The winery recommends drinking this within five to seven years. It is nowhere near its peak of potential yet. 92.

Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series Syrah 2009 ($34.99). The winery only began making Syrah a few vintages ago, but Tinhorn Creek really hits its stride with this vintage. This again was aged about 20 months in barrel and 14 months in bottle. In all of these wines, the use of oak is exemplary. The mix of new and used barrels means that oak flavours never override the fruit, even as the wine benefits from the slight oxygenation of time in barrel.

This is a generous wine with 14.8% alcohol. It begins with aromas of black cherry, plum and pepper. On the palate, there are flavours of pepper, spice, plum, and fig with the variety’s characteristic gaminess. Tasty right from the bottle, it adds fleshiness overnight with breathing. 91.

This quartet sings wonderful harmony.


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