Monday, May 9, 2016

Tinhorn Creek adds an impressive reserve Chardonnay

Photo: Tinhorn Creek winery

The spring releases from Tinhorn Creek Vineyards cover the changing of the guard at this 23-year-old winery in the south Okanagan.

Two of the wines were made by long-time winemaker, and now president, Sandra Oldfield. The other four were made by the new winemaker (in the 2014 vintage), Andrew Windsor. Sandra has left the cellar in a blaze of glory while Andrew has arrived in one. This is as smooth a winemaking transition as any winery could wish.

Established in 1993 by a partnership headed by Alberta oilman Bob Shaunessy, Tinhorn Creek now produces about 40,000 cases a year, compared with 1,200 cases in its first vintage (which was 1994).

During its history, Tinhorn Creek has managed to position itself at the front of a number of parades. In 2004, it was one of the first Okanagan wineries to switch from corks to screwcaps. In 2007, it became a carbon neutral winery. In 2014, Tinhorn Creek was one of the wineries leading the drive to create the Golden Mile Bench viticultural area, the Okanagan’s first designated viticultural area.

Dedicated to environmental issues, the winery in 2014 finished replacing its overhead irrigation system with drip irrigation, a move saving about 70% in water use. After the last two seasons, no one can doubt how important that is.

In its notes on the vintage, the winery describes 2015 as “another hot vintage … a record early harvest. … We had bud burst a month earlier than average and that led to a lot of work in the vineyard in the spring to keep up with the rapid of the vines. The vines were enjoying the heat as we cycled through flowering, berry formation and veraison at record pace.”

The commentary continues: “It was a challenging vintage for whites as the grape sugars were accumulating rapidly. We had to pick many blocks either at the same time or within the same week. Typically, we like to stagger picks to get more complexity. But the wines have impeccable balance and freshness.”

I was, in fact, impressed with the freshness of the 2015 Pinot Gris and the 2015 Rosé. The Gewürztraminer, while still up to Tinhorn Creek’s usual standards, had the plumpness and the roundness I would have expected for that variety in a hot year.

Here are my notes.

Tinhorn Creek Pinot Gris 2015 ($17.49 for 7,535 cases). The wine begins with a fresh, floral aroma mingled with hints of citrus and peach. Flavours of pear, honeydew melon and pink grapefruit around a spine of good minerality coat the palate. The finish is crisp and dry. 91.

Tinhorn Creek Gewürztraminer 2015 Golden Mile Bench ($15.99 for 4,321 cases). The wine begins with a medley of tropical fruit aromas including lychee, mango and peach. The palate is juicy, with a touch of residual sweetness to lift all the tropical fruit flavours. 89.

Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series Chardonnay 2014 Golden Mile Bench ($34.99 for 339 cases). This is the winery's first reserve Chardonnay. This was fermented with indigenous yeast in new French oak barrels. Subsequently, half was aged in oak, half in stainless steel barrels. The wine begins with aromas of lightly toasted oak mingled with buttery citrus. The weight on the palate is generous, with flavours of lemon, orange zest and biscotti. The balance between fruit and oak is close to perfect: the fruit is flattered by the oak, not covered by it. The finish is dry, with a lingering rich flavour of marmalade. 93.

Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series Rosé 2015 ($19.99 for 810 cases). This wine appeals immediately in the glass with its rose petal hue. The wine is 100% Cabernet Franc. The grapes were picked about 4 am, to arrive cool at the winery, and had about 12 hours skin contact before being pressed. This wine begins with aromas of strawberry, orange and mint. On the palate, there are flavours of watermelon and strawberry, lifted by a very tiny hint of residual sweetness. The lingering finish, however, is balanced to dryness. This is a superb rosé, whether with food or consumed on its own on the patio. 92.

Tinhorn Creek Pinot Noir 2013 ($21.49 for 2,541 cases). Deep in colour for a Pinot, this wine begins with aromas of cherries and savoury herbs. Silky on the palate, the wine delivers flavours of cherry and strawberry with a suggestion of black tea on the finish. The wine delivers a lot of complexity for the price. 90.

Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series Pinot Noir 2012 ($31.99 for 1,050 cases). Both of the winery’s Pinot Noirs clearly have benefitted from the Burgundian detail that has gone into making them. This wine is dark in color, with a glorious aroma of cherry and toasty oak. The texture is every so silky; and the wine delivers flavours of cherries and red berries modified by a toasty, savoury spice. The wine benefitted greatly from a year in oak and three years in bottle before release. The finish is long. Bottom line: an elegant wine with good aging potential. 93.

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