Friday, October 31, 2008

Tinhorn Creek wines may not follow the price rise trend

Tinhorn Creek’s 2005 Oldfield’s Collection Merlot, just released at $28 a bottle, should be a $35 wine on the basis of its inherent quality.

There’s a good chance that the next vintage of this premium red will also sell for less than $35. Over the next few weeks, the management at Tinhorn will sit down to talk about wine pricing for next year’s releases, just as the economy shows signs of tanking.

“We wonder if this is the time to raise the price,” admits Sandra Oldfield, the general manager and the winemaker at Tinhorn Creek.

That is great news for consumers who have come to expect Tinhorn Creek to deliver value. Indeed, in Wine Access magazine’s recent International Wine Awards competition, the winery’s $18 “regular” 2005 Merlot was judged the best value Merlot.

If a market leader like Tinhorn Creek is thinking of holding prices, look for many of its peers to do the same. If that happens, VQA wine, now averaging about $18 a bottle, should plateau after rising from a $13 average a decade ago. That is not an unreasonable price, given the limited scale of production in the Okanagan compared with, say, the massive wineries in Chile
or Argentina.

By Okanagan standards, Tinhorn Creek is a large winery. Its annual production of about 40,000 cases gives it the financial resources to hold the price line during tough times. Perhaps the owners should have been more aggressive when pricing their Oldfield’s Collection or reserve wines when the opportunity was there a year or two ago. But they didn’t. The Tinhorn Creek fans are going to get relative bargains for a year or so at least.

The Oldfield’s Collection 2 Bench White 2007, the winery’s top white, is only $23 a bottle. This wine has a marvellous tropical fruit aroma, good mineral and fruit notes on the palate and a crisply dry finish. It is a blend of five white varieties: Sémillon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and a dash of Muscat. It is an outstanding food wine. 88

The Oldfield’s Collection Merlot 2005 ($28) is a dark red with attractive aromas of red fruit and vanilla that are preserved by the screw cap closure. This elegantly svelte wine has flavours of plums and blackberries. While the tannins are long and ripe, there is a structure here that suggests good aging potential as well. This wine, which has eight percent Cabernet

Franc and two percent Syrah, spent 16 months in new French and American oak and as long again aging in bottle before release. The winery produced 1,551 cases. 90

Tinhorn Creek also released two other reds in October. The 2006 Cabernet Franc ($18) – the winemaker once said this is her favourite red – has the bright fruit aromas and the vivacious flavours of spicy currants and blackberry that are typical of the variety. The wine has a firm texture but is drinking well already. Some 2,566 cases were released. 87

The 2006 Cabernet Merlot ($18) is a blend of 60% Cabernet Franc, 40% Merlot. The varietals were aged separately in American oak before being blended and bottled last spring. The Cabernet Franc contributes aromas of red currants and mint. On the palate, the wine has a generous texture and an easy quaffability. The winery made 1,611 cases. 86

Friday, October 24, 2008

New releases: Pentage Winery's six pack

The Pentâge Winery at the south edge of the Penticton city limits has, for the most part, flown beneath the radar screen since opening in 2003. There are a couple of reasons why founders Paul Garner and Julie Rennie have maintained a low profile.

First, there has been no tasting room because, until recently, Julie continued to work at her day job in Vancouver (executive secretary to a top financier). Meanwhile, Paul was fully engaged with created a spectacular winery in 4,000 square-foot man-made cave in the mountainside. It has taken him at least two years but the cave was completed for the 2008 crush. There is a spot set aside for a wine shop.

Secondly, Paul’s real priority has been the development and nurturing of his vineyards, most of which now are producing good quality grapes.

With most of the heavy lifting done, the owners of Pentâge now seem to have a little more time to tweak their marketing. This fall’s release included six wines spanning three vintages, including three 2007 whites. The latter come along just as 2007 Okanagan whites – most of which are released earlier in the year – are getting hard to find.

Not only are the wines good but, unlike some wineries, this one has its prices rooted in reality. The wines are well-priced for the quality, in some instances better than the international competition.

The release includes the winery’s flagship red, Pentâge 2005 ($29). The winery’s unusual name is rooted in the Greek word for five, pente, because there would be five varietals blended in the winery’s best wine. The 2005 is a blend of 45% Merlot, 43% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Cabernet Franc, 2% Syrah and 1% Gamay. The result is a wine with a powerful aroma of plums and spice and sweet fruit that just explodes from the glass. The flavours are a complex play of red currants, liquorice, chocolate and spice, laid over an earthy minerality. The structure is firm and robust. This wine drinks well now with decanting but can easily be cellared for another five years. 89 with potential to break into the 90s with age.
Pentâge Merlot 2005 ($25) begins with red berry aromas and flavours of currants, spice, plums and vanilla. The structure is robust with long ripe tannins and good concentration. It is a touch firm on the finish but that suggests the wine also has a fine potential to age. 88

Pentâge Pinot Noir 2006 ($23) has an attractive ruby hue in the glass. The aroma begins with a touch of toastiness as well as cherry. This is a bold, even gamy, Pinot Noir, with red berry flavours and a hint of that earthiness that Burgundy lovers appreciate. 87

Pentâge Gewürztraminer 2007 ($18) is an excellent Alsace-style of this variety; a boldly fruity but dry wine ideal for serving with your Christmas turkey, at a lot less that Alsace gewürztraminer. The wine has spice on the nose, with flavours of citrus and lychee and a spicy finish. The texture is rich and the finish is long and satisfying. 90

Pentâge Sauvignon Blanc-Sémillon 2007 ($20). A wine with greenish tinges, it has an attractive grapefruit aroma. Not surprisingly, there are also grapefruit flavours, with a good backbone of acidity and minerals and with a dry finish. This tangy wine is a good food wine. 87

Pentâge Pinot Gris 2007 ($18). This is a lean, tangy Pinot Gris, with aromas and flavours of lemon and with bracing acidity, which is surprising since the 13.5% alcohol suggests the grapes were picked close to optimum ripeness. The wine is crisp and refreshing; it needs food to show off its best qualities. 86
The wines can be ordered on-line from the winery's website,

Friday, October 3, 2008

New releases: Quails' Gate reds

There was little respect for Maréchal Foch wines in British Columbia before an Australian winemaker at Quails’ Gate Estate Winery in 1994 made an Old Vines Foch so big and rich that he passed it off at one tasting (only briefly) as an Australian Shiraz.

The wine has had a cult following ever since the first release. The winery has just released the 12th vintage, some 9,300 bottles of the 2006 Old Vines Foch Reserve at $40 a bottle. Who would have predicted that a wine from a French hybrid grape not even permitted anymore in Europe would command such a serious price? And deserve it.

Once again, this is a bold, robust wine with a dark, almost brooding hue in the glass. There are aromas of vanilla and plum, along with flavours of vanilla, mocha, plum and black cherries, even with a hint of port. The texture is rich and round, with soft tannins. The wine has been aged in new American oak barrels which add a note of spice. It is a very satisfying red, just the wine for game dishes. 90 points.

The secret here is that the grapes come from 40-year-old vines in the estate vineyard at Westbank that are well-farmed. The knock on Foch in the 1980s was that the wines were thin and medicinal. The problem was that the vines, which are quite vigorous, were over-cropped by virtually all growers. When Quails’ Gate started cropping Foch at low tonnages comparable to its vinifera grapes, lovely full-flavoured wines resulted.

A few vintages ago, Quails’ Gate bought an Osoyoos vineyard that has Foch vines which currently are 26 years old. These grapes go into the 2006 Old Vines Foch ($25) and the winery has released 26,500 bottles of this wine. Once again, the wine is dark enough to practically stain a table clothe through the glass. The aromas and flavours include plums, black cherries and mocha. The wine is slightly less concentrated than the OVF Reserve, which probably has something to do with the sandy soil in the vineyard. The alcohol is higher, at 14.8% compared with 14.4%, because grapes get riper in hot Osoyoos. It’s another delicious wine, also great for game. 87

Two other fine reds also have just been released by Quails’ Gate.

The winery has released 6,200 cases (12-bottle cases) of 2006 Merlot ($27), made primarily from grapes grown at the estate vineyard near Westbank. Winemaker Grant Stanley, who likes to live on the edge, fermented the wine with wild yeasts. He also gave it extended skin contact to extract maximum colour and flavour. The result is a plump, full-bodied Merlot. It begins with attractive aromas of red berries. It is layered and complex on the palate, tasting of plums, red fruit and chocolate, with long ripe tannins. 89

The winery also released 2,200 cases of 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon ($27), all of it from grapes grown on the Westbank vineyard. It says a lot for how well the vines are farmed that the winery makes a Cabernet so good from a comparatively cool site. This wine is every bit as delicious as Cabernets from hotter terroirs in the Oliver and Osoyoos area. Winemaker Stanley approached this much as he did the Merlot (both were aged 18 months in French and American oak barrels).

A medium-bodied wine, it is deep in colour, with aromas of spicy red berries, vanilla, chocolate and the classic cedar/cigar box note that Bordeaux lovers will appreciate. The long ripe tannins frame attractive sweet berry flavours on the palate. 89

The bottom line: four very solid red wines.