Friday, October 28, 2011

Burrowing Owl's new Athene and Cabernet Franc wines

Photo: Bertus Albertyn

It was once something of a tradition in Europe to make wines that were referred to as field blends.

Those wines resulted either when varieties were intermingled in the same vineyard or when grapes from adjoining blocks were picked and fermented together.

In the new world, the practice has been to pick and ferment varieties separately, blending them many months after the vintage. There is some logic to that. Not all varieties ripen at the same time.

If there is ever a winery on the Okanagan that epitomizes the best of new world winemaking, it is surely Burrowing Owl Estate Winery.

It came as a surprise to learn from Bertus Albertyn, the winemaker, that one of Burrowing Owl’s best blends, a red called Athene, actually is a field blend.

It happened by chance and it was started by one of the predecessor winemakers. Bertus decided it was worth continuing the practice.

The winery has two blocks of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon which began bearing fruit in the 2006 vintage. There was not much fruit that year or the next. The grapes were fermented together and the resulting wine ended up in various other Burrowing Owl wines.

But the winery noted that the wine was quite interesting. So in 2008 and again in 2009, this co-fermented blend was barrel-aged on its own and released as Athene.

The 2009 Athene is 52% Syrah, 48% Cabernet Sauvignon. The grapes from the two blocks were fermented together on their skins for more than two weeks. Between the time of fermentation and the maceration after ferment, the wine was on the skins for 25 days, picking up great colour and intense flavours. The wine spent 16 months in French and American oak before being bottled.

The result is impressive. Here are notes on that one and on Burrowing Owl’s Cabernet Franc, both of which have just been released.

Burrowing Owl 2009 Athene ($35). The winery’s tasting notes, prepared by a Master of Wine, aptly describe this as a “dark, brooding wine.” This is quite simply a ripe, full-bodied red (14.9% alcohol) that is already drinking well but will age well for perhaps 10 more years. It begins with attractive aromas of plum, black cherry, vanilla, coffee and spice. On the palate, there is a core of sweet berry flavour – blackberry, black currant – with a long and complex finish of red liquorice, chocolate and pepper. 92.

Burrowing Owl 2009 Cabernet Franc ($33). Most tasters agree that Burrowing Owl consistently makes one of the best Cabernet Francs in the Okanagan. This is another big ripe red (alcohol of 14.5%) with the classic brambly aromas and flavours of the variety. The aromas recall blackberries and black currant jam. On the palate, there are flavours of black cherry, plum and fig. The tannins are plush and ripe. 91.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

JoieFarm's siblings from the 2009 vintage

The JoieFarm winery on the Naramata Bench releases most of its wines in the spring and the releases are wines from the vintage just completed..

But it has two wines that involve barrel aging; these are released in the fall, almost two years after the vintage in which they were grown.

Here are notes on the two recent releases.

JoieFarm Reserve Chardonnay 2009 ($29.90 for a production of 502 cases). This wine presents a creamy richness to the palate, reflecting both the warm vintage and the pains taken with the grapes in the winery, beginning with pressing whole clusters and berries. The wine was fermented in French barrels and puncheons (12% new, 36% one year old, 52% neutral). A quarter of the wine was fermented with natural yeast. All the wine went through malolactic fermentation and then was aged nine months in oak. The lees were stirred regularly, promoting the rich texture on the palate.

The wine begins with aromas of orange and other citrus fruit. It has layered flavours of good marmalade and ripe pears, with a delicate touch of cloves on the finish. 91-93.

JoieFarm PTG 2009 ($25.90 for a production of 900 cases). This is a blend of 63% Pinot Noir and 37% Gamay. It is worth noting that 10% of 2010 Gamay was blended into this to brighten the fruit flavours. PTG stands for “Passetoutgrain” – the term used in Burgundy for red wines made by blending these two grapes. The wine was fermented in stainless steel and then aged in a combination of French barrels and puncheons (13% of the oak was new).

The result is what one looks for in a PTG – a cheerful, almost playful red beginning with aromas of spice, strawberries and cherries. On the palate, there are notes of cherries. My tasting companion found a hint of red liquorice which may be the same as what the winery, in its own notes, refers to tamarind. 89-90.

Black Hills confirms it will launch second label

Along with its latest releases, Black Hills Estate Winery has disclosed that it will definitely launch a second label next June.

The new label will be called Cellarhand. There is no information yet on the wines but there will certainly be a red wine.

The role of Cellarhand is to be a home for the wines that are left over when Nota Bene and other blends have been assembled.

This is standard practice among wineries with icon wines. When the winemaker signs off on what he considers is the very best blend for the icon wine, there will always be a few barrels of this or that left over. These are not necessarily lesser quality wines. In fact, they are often quite good wines. It is just that adding them all to the icon blend will change it from what the winemaker considers the optimal blend.

Some wineries sell the extra wine in bulk to other wineries. But it is more profitable to bottle it and sell it as a second label.

The consumer, however, gets a bargain. For example, the second wine at Osoyoos Larose sells for $25 a bottle, almost half the price of Le Grand Vin. One would expect Cellarhand wines will also be lower priced that the Black Hills wines.

The current range of Black Hills wines includes the winery’s first Syrah and its second Viognier. I have reviewed several of these before from a tasting this spring at the winery. However, I include notes on all the wines. Nota Bene is technically sold out at the winery but there are bottles available in private and VQA wine stores.

Here are my notes.

Chardonnay 2009 ($30). The barrel-fermented Chardonnay is a lovely and complex wine, especially if it is not overly chilled, which will mask some of aromas and flavours. It begins with aromas of citrus and pears, with a touch of breadiness from the lees. The flavours follow through with notes of apple, citrus and a touch of butterscotch. The bright but balanced acidity leaves a crisp, refreshing finish. 90.

Viognier 2010 ($30). This is the winery’s second vintage of Viognier. This wine begins with aromas of grapefruit, pineapple and apricot and delivers layers of those flavours, especially stone fruit, to the palate. It has that delicate backbone of tannin that makes Viognier such a special white wine. The acidity assures a bright, crisp finish. 90.

Alibi 2010 ($25). A blend of Sauvignon Blanc (about 75%) and Sémillon, this is a lovely aromatic wine, with floral and herbal notes, and with flavours of grapefruit and lime. The crisp, refreshing finish lingers. 90.

Carmenère 2009 ($50). Black Hills was the first winery in Canada to release a Carmenère (from the 2005 vintage). This is a late-ripening red now most often seen among the wines of Chile. This wine’s 12.2% alcohol tells you that the grapes would have preferred to stay on the vine a few weeks beyond the October 13 harvest date of that vintage. The winery had no choice since a hard early freeze closed the door on an otherwise fine 2009 vintage. When there are no leaves remaining on the vines, ripening stops.

To his credit, winemaker Graham Pierce pulled off a good medium-bodied Carmenère. It begins with aromas of pepper and red fruit and delivers flavours of cherry, mocha and pepper. 88.

Nota Bene 2009 ($53). This wine, one of the best Nota Bene wines since the first vintage in 1999, was released in the spring. I repeat my notes from tasting it at the winery. This is 48% Cabernet Sauvignon, 41% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc, a fairly classic blend. Those who collect this wine will find this ripe, rich vintage reflects the house style that has been consistent throughout its history. There is vanilla, eucalyptus and dark fruits on the nose, with flavours of plum, black cherry and chocolate. The ripe tannins give the wine an immediate accessibility but it certainly will cellar well over the next five years. 93.

Syrah 2009 ($35 for a production of 1,200 cases). This is the first Syrah from Black Hills and seems an obvious companion to Nota Bene. Dark in colour, the wine begins with aromas of pepper, black cherries and game meat. On the palate, the flavours are generous, with flavours of plums and figs and the spiciness of good deli meats. The wine is full, with the textural elegance of ripe tannins. 90.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Sandhill and friends: a tasting with Howard Soon and his team

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Photo: Winemaster Howard Soon

After Andrew Peller Ltd. took over Calona in 2005, three major labels were brought into that sprawling winery.

This is the home of Calona Vineyards, Peller Estates and (until, and if, a separate winery is built on Black Sage Road), Sandhill Wines.

The wines from the three labels are remarkable distinct. Calona, where the winemaker is Sandy Leier, gets most of its grapes in the north Okanagan, producing wines that, for the most part, are fruity, uncomplicated and seldom oak-aged.

Peller Estates, where the winemaker is Stephanie Leinemann, has one tier of wines that is affordable and a higher tier that, while still affordable by Okanagan standards, is more complex. The grapes are drawn from both Okanagan and Similkameen vineyards that are either owned by Peller or under contract to Peller.

Sandhill, whose winemaker is Howard Soon, produces strictly single vineyard wines. The object is to showcase the individual terroirs. Sandhill never blends wines from more than one vineyard.

Sandhill now has five single vineyard designations. The largest is the 174-acre Sandhill Estate Vineyard (SEV) on Black Sage Road, the likely home of the long-planned standalone winery. The 43-acre King Family Vineyard near Penticton, is owned by the Don and Rod King, who grow Pinot Gris for Sandhill.

The seven-acre Phantom Creek Vineyard and the adjacent 12-acre Osprey Ridge Vineyard are owned by veteran vineyard managers who have been associated with Sandhill ever since the wines were launched in 1999.

Finally, Sandhill has released its first wine, a Cabernet Merlot, from the 104-acre Vanessa Vineyard in the Similkameen. This vineyard, owned by a Vancouver developer, was planted about five years ago. It now sells all of its grapes to the Peller group of wineries.

I have been able to taste many of the wines from these three producers at two recent tastings with the talented winemaking team. The quality is excellent to outstanding. Here are my notes.

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Photo: Calona winemaker Sandy Leier

Calona Artist Series Chardonnay 2010 ($13.99). This is a charming and focussed fruit-forward Chardonnay, with clean, fresh flavours of citrus and peaches. 89

Calona Artist Series Gewürztraminer 2010 ($13.99). The spicy rose petal aromas of this wine jump from the glass. There are flavours of grapefruit with a spicy finish. 88.

Calona Artist Series Sovereign Opal 2010 ($13.99). This is a Calona exclusive, a white wine with exotic spice on the nose and palate. It is produced from a varietal developed at the research station in Summerland. Only one vineyard grows it. The wine is selling so well that the plantings are being increased from six acres to nine acres. This is a mouthful of fruit – peach and pink grapefruit – with just a hint of sweetness on the balanced finish. 89.

Calona Artist Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 ($14.99). This is a medium-bodied, easy drinking red with soft tannins and flavours of cherries and red currants, with a touch of chocolate. 88.

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Photo: Peller winemaker Stephanie Leinemann

Peller Private Reserve Dry Riesling 2010 ($15.99). Here is a textbook Riesling, with a touch of petrol on the nose, tangy flavours of lime and grapefruit and a spine of minerals in the texture. The wine has a long, refreshing finish. 90.

Peller Private Reserve Pinot Gris 2009 ($16.99). The wine begins with aromas of spice and apples. On the palate, there are layers of fruit flavours – apples, pears, grapefruit. The finish is crisp. 89.

Peller Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 ($19.99). The wine begins with aromas of sage and red berries. It has flavours of currants and blackberries, with hints of chocolate and tobacco on the finish. The texture is generous. 89.

Sandhill SEV Chardonnay 2010 ($17.99 for a production of 3,244 cases). This wine was half fermented in barrel, half in stainless steel. The result is an excellent Chardonnay where the oak notes are subtle and in the background, with the fruit aromas and flavours – citrus, apples, pears, spice – out in front. The finish is crisp and refreshing. 90.

Sandhill SEV Sauvignon Blanc 2010 ($18.99 for a production of 937 cases). Howard Soon confides that this is the best Sauvignon Blanc he has made. I would not dispute that. The zesty freshness of the wine takes one away to New Zealand, at least in style. The wine has aromas and flavours of lime, grapefruit, with an accent of herbs and minerals. The clean, fresh finish lingers forever. 92.

Sandhill King Family Pinot Gris 2010 ($18.99 for a production of 4,634 cases). This is a lovely glass of fruit – aromas and flavours of pears, apples, melon and peaches. With just a trace of residual sugar to balance the acidity, the wine has an appealing texture and a long finish. 90.

Sandhill Small Lots SEV Single Block Chardonnay 2009 ($30 for a production of 190 cases). This wine is made from grapes grown on a specific block on the Sandhill Estate Vineyard and kept aside because of the special quality of the fruit and the wine. This wine was fermented in barrels and aged for eight months in new French oak. The toasty bacon fat aromas of the new oak add complexity without overshadowing the rich tangerine and butter flavours of the wine. 92.

Sandhill Small Lots Osprey Ridge Vineyard Viognier 2010 ($28 for a production of 615 cases). This full-bodied wine begins with floral and apricot aromas. In the palate, there are intense flavours of melon, apricot and pineapple.92.

Sandhill SEV Rosé 2010 ($17.99). This is an unusual blend of Cabernet Franc, Barbera and Sangiovese. The juice was drawn from the crushed skins after four days of cold soak. That resulted in a lovely dark wine with mouthfilling flavours of strawberry, cherry, watermelon and tea. The finish is dry. 90

Sandhill SEV Merlot 2009 ($19.99 for a production of 3,000 cases). Juicy and delicious, this wine begins with aromas of blueberries, blackberries and plums and delivers all of those flavours to the palate. The tannins are ripe and supple. 90.

Sandhill SEV Cabernet Merlot 2009 ($19.99 for a production of 3,800 cases). This is a blend of 58.2% Cabernet Sauvignon, 39.3% Merlot and 2.5% Cabernet Franc. A full-bodied red, it has aromas of black currants and flavours of black currants and black cherry, with a hint of chocolate and earthiness on the finish. 90. This wine is released to restaurants and other licensees.

Sandhill Vanessa Vineyard Cabernet Merlot 2009 ($19.99 for a production of 5,800 cases). This release, which is currently available in 122 Liquor Distribution Branch stores in B.C., is Sandhill’s first release from a Similkameen vineyard. The wine has sweet berry aromas and flavours, with spicy black cherry flavours on a note of vanilla. 88.

Sandhill Small Lots SEV Sangiovese 2008 ($30 for a production of 430 cases). This is the only Sangiovese VQA wine grown and produced in Canada. What this wine shares with Chianti is the classic aromas of dried fruits and cigar box. On the palate, there are flavours of cherry, pomegranate and spice. The wine is finished to total dryness. 90.

Sandhill Small Lots SEV Single Block Merlot – C8 2008 ($40 for a production of 119 cases). This is a dense, concentrated wine, built to be cellared a few years. It has aromas of black currants, coffee and tobacco with flavours of plums, cherries and spice and a hint of cedar on the finish. 92.

Sandhill Small Lots Phantom Creek Vineyard Petit Verdot 2009 ($30 for a production of 175 cases). This wine, not yet released, begins with the alluring perfumed bouquet of this variety, continuing to flavours of cherry and mocha. The tannins are firm but ripe. 91.

Sandhill Small Lots Phantom Creek Vineyard Syrah 2009 ($40 for a production of 150 cases). This is a big, ripe wine with alcohol of 15.1% but with so much fruit and texture that the alcohol is in balance. There is pepper both in the aromas and on the finish, with gamey, meaty flavours, along with black cherry and fig. 92.

Sandhill Small Lots Phantom Creek Vineyard One 2008 ($35 for a production of 498 cases). This vintage, which is sold out at the winery, is a blend of 68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Petit Verdot, 9% Malbec, 3% Cabernet Franc and 3% Merlot. The Cabernet Sauvignon delivers a core of sweet fruit to a wine with aromas of black berry, black currant and spice and flavours of cassis, cherry, blueberry, with a note of oak on the finish. 94.

Sandhill Small Lots SEV Two 2008 ($35 for a production of 336 cases). This is a blend of 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot and 22% Cabernet Franc. Once again, there is an appealing core of sweet fruit, with aromas and flavours of black currants and spice. There are notes of leather and tobacco on the finish and the structure is firm. 92.

Sandhill Small Lots SEV Three 2008 ($35 for a production of 266 cases). This is Sandhill’s version of a Super Tuscan wine, a blend of 55% Barbera, 36% Sangiovese, 9% Merlot. The Barbera gives this generous red a rustic personality, with flavours of red fruit and mocha and a touch of earthiness in the mid-palate texture. 91.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Plume Winery: Quails' Gate's Napa Valley winery

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Photo: Daniel Zepponi (left) and Tony Stewart

In what is a first for an Okanagan wine producer, Quails’ Gate Estate Winery president Tony Stewart has launched a Napa winery in a joint venture with Daniel Zepponi, a member of a prominent California wine family.

The venture is called Plume Winery, a name meant to evoke the image of “a feather in your cap.” The first wine has just been released: a 2009 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon which is appearing in wine stores for $29.99 a bottle.

That vintage - 1,200 cases are being released – was made in a custom crush winery in the Napa Valley, as was the 2,200-case 2010 vintage (still in barrel) and as will be the 2011 vintage, which will be about 6,000 cases.

However, Stewart and Zepponi are close to buying property in Napa and building a stand-alone winery for Plume.

The Stewart family, which has been involved in Okanagan horticulture since the early 1900s, opened Quails’ Gate in 1989. It was managed originally by Ben Stewart, the older of the two Stewart brothers, who is now a member of the British Columbia legislature.

Tony Stewart was a commodities broker when he agreed to join the winery in 1992, first as a business manager and eventually as the president. Quails’ Gate has arguably been the most successful of the so-called farm gate wineries that opened around 1990. The winery, near West Kelowna, is based on a vineyard where Tony’s father, Richard, began planting grapes in 1963. He planted perhaps the first commercial Pinot Noir vines in Canada in 1975.

Today, Quails’ Gate produces about 50,000 cases year and is a leading Canadian Pinot Noir producer.

Several years ago, Tony Stewart began considering investing in a winery outside Canada, perhaps in Australia. Dan Zepponi persuaded him to invest in California, which is closer and which has a better domestic wine market.

In an interview last year with The Globe & Mail newspaper, Stewart explained the rationale for this investment. “It is strategic because Quails’ Gate has got to a certain size,” he said. “Having a U.S. operation of a similar size means there can be synergies in viticulture; and oenology team members can move back and forth. It provides the opportunity to gain access to the U.S. market. And we’re a partner in a wine distribution agency for Western Canada” which would get California wines for its portfolio.

Stewart and Zepponi knew each other because Zepponi spent two years (2007 to 2009) as president of Mission Hill Family Estate Winery and its holding company, Artisan Wine Company.

Zepponi’s family arrived from Italy to grow grapes in California about the same time that Stewart’s grandfather emigrated from Scotland to the Okanagan. Zepponi’s father partnered with the deLeuze family to open ZD Winery. Ultimately, the Zepponi family sold its interest in the winery but Dan and his siblings have continued in wine careers. Prior to coming to Mission Hill, Dan had been the senior vice-president for production at Beringer Estates.

“In California, I managed twice the Okanagan vineyard area,” he told me in a 2008 interview. “I crushed almost 300,000 tons, which is almost three times as much as they grow in the country of Canada.”

He brings that strong California background, with contacts throughout the industry, to Plume. The two partners only decided on the project about a month before the 2009 vintage. Even on short notice, Zepponi was able to pry choice grapes from his grower contacts throughout Napa for that first vintage. He also lined up a “well-known winemaker” whose name he cannot disclose.

“We want to focus on Cabernet Sauvignon and do it right,” Zepponi said this week. It is a variety that, as he puts it, “has found its terroir in the Napa.” Other varietals may be added in the future after the brand has been established with the Napa’s best-known varietal.

Plume Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 is a blend of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, fleshed out with Petit Verdot, Petite Sirah, Malbec and a dash of Merlot. The wine spent 18 months in barrel (most of them used barrels) and is structured to be accessible now with the ability to age for five or six more years. The aromas and fruit flavours (cherry, red plum) are bright and spicy. The wine shows the classically ripe flavours of Napa Cabernet. 90.

Monday, October 10, 2011

3 Cru Wines debuts with Traveller and Nomad

There is a new British Columbia wine that you can give to friends who are either equestrians or Civil War buffs.

A Merlot-dominated red blend called Traveller, it is one of two wines just released under a new label – 3 Cru Wines. The other is a Gewürztraminer-dominated white called Nomad. Priced at $20 each, they are made by and sold through Kalala Estate Organic Winery in West Kelowna.

3 Cru is the label of Mariposa Vineyard Limited Partnership, a new organic winery project being developed in the Similkameen Valley. A 20-acre vineyard was planted this year by the three partners: Jacques LeCavalier, a Kelowna education consultant; Thomas Kinahan, a Kelowna physician; and Karnail Singh Sidhu, the principal owner of Kalala.

The connection between the red wine and equestrianism is unintended coincidence. It is unlikely that the partners behind the winery knew that they had named a wine for perhaps the most famous horse in American military history.

Traveller was the horse of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. There is an engaging 1988 novel called Traveller by Richard Adams, the author better known for Watership Down, a novel in which rabbits are the protagonists. It is a “first person” novel told, convincingly, in the voice of Traveller.

The horse, originally named Jeff Davis, was born three years before the Civil War began and became a military horse only after one of his owners joined the Confederate Cavalry. It was there that the horse caught the eye of General Lee, who purchased him and renamed him Traveller.

The general rode the horse in numerous battles. After the war, when Lee became president of a college in Virginia, he took the horse with him. By that time Traveller was so well known that souvenir seekers pulled hairs from his tail.

When Lee died in 1870, Traveller was in the funeral procession behind the caisson, his saddle and bridle draped in black crepe. The horse died of tetanus the following year and was buried on the grounds of the college. Bizarrely, the bones were unearthed, bleached and put on display in Rochester, New York, until 1907, when they were returned to the college and displayed in a museum there. Because the students began carving their initials in the skeleton, it was moved to the basement. Finally in 1971 the skeleton was buried near the Lee family crypt, also on the college campus.

It is a fascinating story but, of course, it has nothing to do with the wine. “We also want to take a more serious angle on the travelling theme,” LeCavalier says. “As the business becomes able to start giving back to the community, we'd like to do what we can to support the improvement of conditions for travelling vineyard and farm workers.”

Traveller, which I have not tasted yet, and Nomad, which I have tasted and enjoyed, were released last month at a special Kelowna tasting dedicated to the organic wines made by Kalala.

In the past decade, Karnail Singh Sidhu, who opened Kalala in 2008, has become one of British Columbia’s leading authorities on organic viticulture.

He was consulted for his expertise a few years ago when LeCavalier asked him to look at raw land in the south Similkameen that had come up for purchase. Sidhu advised that it would be an excellent vineyard and then agreed to partner with LeCavalier and Kinahan in developing the project.

The Kelowna tasting also included some of Kalala’s current releases. Here are notes on several of wines.

Kalala Pinot Gris 2009 ($17.95). This is a soft, fruit wine with aromas and flavours of cantaloupe and apples and with an herbal, spicy note on the finish. 87.

Kalala Riesling 2008 ($16.95). This dry Riesling has both the aromas and the flavours that tasters call, for want of a better term, “petrol”. This is a style that appeals to Riesling connoisseurs. 87.

Kalala Gewürztraminer 2009 ($17.95). The delicious dry Gewurz has classic spicy aromas and intense flavours of lychee and grapefruit. 88.

Kalala Rosé 2009 ($17.95). The wine, which has a good dark hue, begins with aromas of plum and cherry. It has flavours of cherry, with an austerely dry finish. The alcohol, at 13.8%, is a hair high for rosé. 86.

Kalala Pinot Noir 2008 ($18.95). Here, the 12.8% alcohol makes for a more charming wine, with lovely sweet aromas of cherries and red berries that carry on to the flavours. The texture shows that velvet finesse of the variety. 88.

Kalala Zweigelt 2008 ($19.95). This is a medium-bodied interpretation of this Austrian variety, with aromas and flavours of blackberry, black currant and spice. 87.

Kalala Merlot 2008 ($28.95). Full and juicy on the palate, this wine has flavours of plums, black currants and black berries, with a long finish. 89.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Promotions and new releases at Tinhorn Creek

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Photo: Sandra Oldfield (credit to Chris Mason Stearns)

Just in time for the fall Okanagan Wine Festival, Tinhorn Creek Vineyards has released its three premium red wines and its regular Merlot.

The regular Cabernet Franc, also reviewed here, was released in August.

These are all first-rate wines and they come in what has been an eventful year at this south Okanagan winery.

Two developments stand out in particular. In June the winery announced quietly (on its website and not with a widely distributed news release) that winemaker Sandra Oldfield had also become the winery’s president and chief executive.

This may actually be a new position at Tinhorn Creek. A corporate profile that the winery published in 2007, for example, showed Kenn Oldfield, Sandra’s husband, as general manager while Calgary partners Bob and Barbara Shaunessy are listed as proprietors and Sandra as winemaker.

In 2008 Shaun Everest, the winery’s former marketing manager, became general manager. Judging from a reference in a winery news release last year, Kenn Oldfield’s new title is chairman.

Since the management at Tinhorn Creek has always been somewhat collegial, perhaps one need not attach that much weight to titles. Even so, Sandra’s title of CEO underlines the leadership she has brought to the British Columbia wine industry.

Born in California but a Canadian citizen since 2002, Sandra became Tinhorn Creek’s winemaker in 1995 while still studying at the University of California in Davis. She finally found time in 2002 to complete the work needed for her master’s degree in enology.

The other development at Tinhorn Creek this year was the opening in April of Miradoro Restaurant at the winery. Operated in partnership with Vancouver restaurateur Manuel Ferreira (owner of La Gavroche), Miradoro has been busy all summer, serving excellent cuisine in a room with a view to die for.

The new restaurant has solidified Tinhorn Creek’s status as a destination winery.

For most consumers, the wines are reason enough to visit this hillside winery. Cleverly, the restaurant is licensed to sell the wines for takeout at tasting room prices when the wineshop is closed.

The winery releases its wines in two tiers, with the reserve tier under the label, Oldfield Series. Here are my notes.

Tinhorn Creek Merlot 2009 ($18.99 for a production of 8,878 cases). This is a big, ripe red with more than enough fruit and richness to absorb the 14.8% alcohol without a trace of hotness. It begins with aromas of currants, blackberries and sage. The palate has layers of fruit flavours – blackberry, black cherry, plums – with a touch of sweet tobacco on the finish. The wine manages to be accessible as well as complex. While it is drinking well now, it will cellar nicely for three or four years. 90.

Tinhorn Creek Cabernet Franc 2009 ($19.99 for a production of 5,172 cases). On occasion, Sandra has remarked that this is her favourite red. The winery’s Cabernet Francs have been consistently tasty (with the exception of the 1999, a really tough vintage for everyone). This is a big ripe 14.8% alcohol red, with brambly aromas and flavours. The winery’s own notes speak of “forest floor” characteristics. I grew up on the Prairies where there were no forests. I find raspberries and red currants and an appealing vibrancy. 89.

Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series 2Bench Red 2008 ($34.99 for a production of 731 cases. The second vintage of Tinhorn Creek’s new Bordeaux red, this is a blend of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc, each of which was fermented separately and blended later. The wine had 18 months in new French oak and was aged in bottle another 18 months before release. This is a rich and concentrated red, with 15% alcohol that, once again, is not obtrusive. It begins with aromas of mint, black currants and black berries and has flavours of plum, cherry and cassis. Prairie people will also recognize a robust hint of chokecherry. 91.

Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series Merlot 2008 ($27.99 for a production of 1,200 cases). This is a blend of 87% Merlot enhanced with 11% Cabernet Franc and 2% Syrah. The wine also had 18 months in French oak (a mix of new and old) and about 15 months in bottle before release. Rich and with 15% alcohol, this is a sturdy wine, as I discovered by chance. I began making notes prior to a bit of travelling and then a head cold. A partial bottle went into the refrigerator. To my delight, it was still delicious week later. The wine begins with a dramatic aroma of herbs, plums and currants and delivers juicy flavours of plum, currants, black cherry, blueberry, chocolate, leather. There is even a hint of pepper on the finish. 92.

Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series Syrah 2008 ($34.99 for a production of 528 cases). The winery has only begun making Syrah in recent years, with very good results. This dark-hued wine (alcohol is 14.1%) begins with the classic aroma of pepper and red fruit. On the palate, there are flavours of black cherry and fig, with leather, black liquorice and pepper on the finish. Think of the elegance and minerality of a Rhone Syrah. 92.