Monday, July 5, 2010

Tinhorn Creek's 2009s include a first-ever rosé

Like many wineries, Tinhorn Creek Vineyards operates a membership club. It is called the Crush Club. Membership is free as long as one commits to buying a case of wine a year, as selected by winemaker Sandra Oldfield.

Members get a 15% discount, not that Tinhorn Creek overcharges for its wines in the first place. And there are a lot of other benefits, including advance notice on tickets for winery concerts and VIP tastings.

If you have not joined and if you love rosé, there is another reason for joining. The winery’s spring releases included Tinhorn Creek’s first rosé ever. It is a wine so good that it is released under the winery’s premium Oldfield Series label. And it is being sold at $20 only to the Crush Club members. It is so exclusive that it is not even listed on the winery’s web site.

The overall appeal of the winery’s 2009 whites and the rosé speaks well for the quality of the 2009 vintage at Tinhorn Creek and in the south Okanagan. The vineyards benefited from a long, warm summer during which the grapes galloped to early maturity. That was a lucky thing. When a hard frost hit on the Thanksgiving weekend, unusually early for the Okanagan, most vineyards had picked all their whites and a lot of the reds.

Not enough reds have been released to allow one to judge the quality of 2009 reds. However, you can buy the whites and rosés with confidence.

The Oldfield Series 2Bench Rosé 2009 is the first rosé that Sandra has made in her 15 vintages at Tinhorn Creek. Notes from the winery say that “it was done covertly in the wee hours of the morning.” I am not sure I know why one of the winery owners would have be stealthy about that, but never mind. This vintage, her partners will be demanding she make rosé.

The blend here is 46% Merlot, 46% Cabernet Franc and 8% Pinot Gris. Juice from the two red varieties was bled from vats of crushed grapes; the Merlot juice was bled after six hours and the Cabernet Franc after 24 hours of skin contact. This is a useful French trick, called saignée, which not only harvests juice for rosé but leaves the remaining red wine darker and fuller. In general, no more than 15% of the juice is bled away for rosé. Sandra likely bled far less because the winery, which makes a lot of Merlot and Cabernet Franc, released a mere 103 cases of rosé.

This is a bold wine with cranberry hue, the sort of rosé that a man would drink and not lose face. It begins with a big blast of fruit – cherries and ripe strawberries – with aromas of strawberries and rhubarb. The wine is well balanced: the residual sugar is perceptible only in the texture because the lively acidity finishes the wine toward dryness. 90.

Oldfield Series 2Bench White 2009 ($22.99) is a label that has been around for several vintages and has acquired a loyal following for this complex white blend. This is 44% Chardonnay, 26% Sauvignon Blanc, 17% Sémillon, 12% Viognier and 1% Muscat. This is a rich white with 14.4% alcohol – but the fruit flavours are so generous that one does not notice the alcohol. It begins with herbal and floral aromas. On the palate, there are flavours of melons, pears, and citrus fruits, with peach on the long, lingering finish. The winery released 1,331 cases. 90.

Chardonnay 2009 ($16.99). This is a textbook Chardonnay in showing how to use oak to enhance the varietal without submerging the fruit. Only 23% of this wine went into new French oak, and then only for two months, with lees stirring. The rest was aged in stainless steel before a final blend was made. The result is a lovely, fruit-forward Chardonnay bursting with citrus, guava and apple flavours. The oak is nicely in the background, barely perceptible but doing its job in adding complexity. As well, the time on lees give the wine a full texture. The alcohol level may seem a bit on the edge but once again, the wine has so much fruit and texture that one never notices the alcohol. In a word, this is a delicious wine. There is a lot of it and the price is very good. If you have not had a good Chardonnay in a while and are leaning to “anything but”, this will bring you back to Mother Church. 2,240 cases were made. 90.

Pinot Gris 2009 ($16.99). The winery has released 4,781 cases of what is perhaps its flagship general-release white. The grapes for this wine were partly machine-picked at night or early morning because experience shows that the best way to preserve fruit flavours is that start with cool grapes and then ferment the juice at cool temperatures. Two-thirds of the wine was fermented in large tanks, one-third in small steel barrels, a technique to get more lees contact and thus more texture. Thanks to its bright acidity, this is a tangy wine with aromas and flavours of citrus, pears and apricots. The winery’s own tasting notes also speak of a touch of honey. 88-89.

Gewürztraminer 2009 ($16.99). The winery released 3,922 cases. I want to retaste this wine in a couple of months. My sample was unusually mute in aroma which is a clue to a Gewürztraminer that wants more bottle development before it will show the expected lychee flavours and spicy, rose petal aromas. 85.

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