Monday, February 18, 2019

Tinhorn Creek's current releases celebrate Sandra Oldfield's legacy

 Photo: Winemaker Andrew Windsor

Sandra Oldfield’s last year as president of Tinhorn Creek Vineyards was 2017, the year in which Andrew Peller Ltd. purchased this pioneering South Okanagan winery.

Her legacy still informs the portfolio. The six recent releases from Tinhorn Creek are all top notch wines from Sandra’s watch.

Sandra turned over the winemaking (after making the wines for 20 years) in 2014 to Andrew Windsor. He may have been one of her best recruitments. Significantly, he is the only winemaker who has not moved on since Peller acquired this and two other wineries in the Okanagan just before the 2017 vintage.

In the era before Peller, Andrew and Sandra had launched several important additions to the Tinhorn portfolio. One was the creation of a wine called The Creek, a flagship Bordeaux red that raised the bar on the winery’s previous flagship red.

Another was the launch of wines under a new label, called the Innovation Series. Andrew was turned loose to make experimental wines or wines from rare blocks of fruit beyond the Tinhorn Creek estate vineyards. These are small lot wines. Very likely, Tinhorn Creek’s massive wine club has the first crack at buying them.

Tinhorn Creek’s success is due to the consistent quality of the wines since the first vintage in 1994. More importantly, there has been a consistent improvement in quality over the years due to improvements in viticulture and in the cellar (which is true for many Okanagan and Similkameen wineries).

Andrew’s winemaking is arguably a little more daring than Sandra’s was. For example, he is fermenting many of the wines with indigenous yeasts. To the best of my knowledge, Sandra relied on the cultured yeasts she had trained with in California.

It is, I think, a generational change. More and more of the Okanagan winemakers now rely on natural yeasts as a way to make wines that are more complex. Not every winemaker agrees with that strategy – but it clearly doing no harm to the quality at Tinhorn Creek; and may be raising the bar.

The latest releases are among the most interesting wines yet from Tinhorn Creek. Here are notes on the wines.

Tinhorn Creek Chardonnay 2017 ($20.99 for 3,022 cases). This wine benefitted from quite complex winemaking: a portion was fermented in stainless steel with selected yeast and another portion was fermented in barrels (30% new) with indigenous yeast.  The wine was then aged one third each in barrel, stainless steel and concrete until May 2018 when it was lightly fined and bottled. The result is a wine with aromas and flavours of citrus, apple and peach. The subtle oak lifts the flavours. The texture is rich but good acidity retains the freshness. 90.

Tinhorn Creek Merlot 2016 ($23.99 for 7,899 cases). This wine was fermented with natural yeast and aged 12 to 14 months in oak barrels. At this stage in its evolution, the wine still shows youthful grip and benefits from being decanted. It begins with aromas of cherry, plum and cassis. There is dark fruit on the palate with a touch of dark chocolate and hazelnut on the finish. 90.

Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Reserve Pinot Noir 2014 ($31.99 for 1,060 cases). With this wine, Tinhorn Creek has raised the bar for the winery’s Pinot Noirs. The wine is dark in colour, with aromas of cherries and spice. The silky palate delivers intense flavours of bright cherry and cranberry notes with classic forest floor notes on the finish. Again, the winemaking was complex – a portion was fermented in open top tanks with wild yeast while the other portion was fermented whole berry in closed tanks with selected yeast. The wine then aged 14 months in barrel and a further 18 months in bottle before release. The result – a wine of considerable elegance. 91.

Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Reserve Merlot 2015 ($28.99 for 1,525 cases). The winery sys this is “one our best Oldfield Reserve Merlots in years” and I agree entirely. This is a bold and exuberant wine, beginning with intense aromas of black cherry, cassis and figs. On the palate, layer upon layer of flavour unfolds – black cherry, black currant, dark chocolate and spice. Long ripe tannins give the wine a luscious texture and a finish that will not quit. 94.

Tinhorn Creek Innovation Series Cabernet Franc 2016 ($45 for 536 six packs). The grapes for this wine are from the Red Brick Vineyard on Anarchist Mountain near Osoyoos. The wine was made by fermenting whole clusters with wild yeast – a long, slow fermentation that extracted excellent color and flavour. The wine was then aged 16 months in barrel before bottling. The wine begins with brambly/blackberry/raspberry aromas. There is great vibrancy on the palate, with flavours of cherry and raspberry jam. Leading to notes of licorice, chocolate and cherry on the spicy finish. 92.

Tinhorn Creek The Creek 2015 ($55 for 1,959 six packs.) The winery also has released 149 six packs of magnums. The blend is 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Franc, 9% Malbec and 2% Petit Verdot. The wine was aged 24 months in oak (40% new), accounting for the elegant and polished texture. However, the structure is firm because the wine is built to age 15 to 20 years. Decant it for drinking now. The wine has aromas of black currant, blackberry and chocolate. Dark fruits mingle subtly on the palate with chocolate and leather. 93-95.


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