Saturday 20 December 2014

Tinhorn Creek Cabernet Franc Vertical

A recent invitation to my Swirl Wine Store colleagues saw us thoroughly enjoying a vertical tasting of Laughing Stock’s Blind Trust Red. Six bottles and plenty of food left us sufficiently sated, and negating any need for a second vertical I had prepared, of Tinhorn Creek’s Cabernet Franc. Not wanting to down the bottles merely for the sake of imbibing, I retained them for a future tasting, which came about in short order just last weekend. A few other local examples and even an Ontario wine joined the tasting, but the focus was on evaluating and enjoying Winemaker Sandra Oldfield’s pride and joy.

Tinhorn Creek Cabernet Franc 2009-2012

Although Tinhorn Creek’s President/CEO Sandra Oldfield actually passed on the winemaking reins to newcomer Andrew Windsor last year, she was fully in charge of producing the particular wines I was presenting. Sampling from a vertical of one wine from one winery, under supervision of the same winemaker each year, is a superb examination of vintage variation and the effects of bottle aging. The four years from 2009-2012 were a tumultuous range of vintages, ranging from the short but hot 2009 season to the second-coolest season on record only two years later. Fortunately 2012 marked the beginning of an exciting three-year trend towards more ideal conditions. With some historical awareness in mind we delved in to our enviable task.

Tinhorn Creek’s Cabernet Franc is consistently produced from the winery’s Diamondback Vineyard on the Black Sage Bench opposite their Golden Mile headquarters south of Oliver. The southwest-facing 100-acre property is planted primarily to red varieties that enjoy the additional 2-3 hours of daylight obtained versus the Golden Mile home vineyard. The Cabernet Franc vines found there are now two decades old, and the wine has been a staple of Tinhorn’s portfolio since the very early days. Each of the four vintages under examination experienced identical winemaking practices, with Sandra having dialled in the style over the years: full malolactic fermentation followed by 12 months aging in 2-3 year-old American and French oak barrels.






Osoyoos GDD






Oct 3-9

Oct 21-27

Oct 29

Oct 10-30







May 2011

Apr 2012

Apr 2013

May 2014







< 2.0 g/L

< 2.0 g/L

< 2.0 g/L

< 2.0 g/L


6.00 g/L

6.00 g/L

5.55 g/L

6.00 g/L











I double decanted each wine back into bottle and we began by tasting the 2009. The cool spring shortened the growing season that year, but the 1,627 Growing Degree Days measured in Osoyoos reveal a very warm summer and fall. The impressive ripeness led to an early harvest, which came in fortunately just before the surprise frost on October 12. High Brix led to high alcohol, as the yeast feasted on the sugar before fermentation to a nearly bone dry level. We immediately detected that boozy character on the nose and palate, whereupon a spicy chocolate character kicked in after leather hints. The flavour profile and long, fruity finish made it a good match for Oyama Chorizo, but overall it was considered a bit too brash.

The 2010 wine proved to be the star of the tasting in retrospect, with a very drinkable, elegant and smooth medium body. The flavour profile was awash in raspberry, black cherry, and hints of prune after two and half years in bottle. The lower alcohol was apparent, although ironically Brix at harvest was still the second-highest of the four wines despite what many consider to be a cool vintage. The October harvest likely took advantage of the late heat-wave that year, eeking out a bit more ripeness after the low temperatures experienced in September. Perhaps not coincidentally, 2010 was also the first vintage released of the new reserve-tier Oldfield Series Cabernet Franc, which took first place in the BC Wine Appreciation Society’s Cabernet Franc Blind Tasting this past February.

Another substantial pivot came about from the 2011 vintage. This very cool year (second only to 1999) resulted in the Tinhorn team delaying harvest until the end of October. Some brutal vineyard practices undoubtedly ensued that year (at least amongst the wise) to thin the crop enough for a useful harvest – a two thirds drop in production from typical levels attests to that fact. Quite telling is that nearly as much (Cabernet Franc) Rose as varietal Cabernet Franc was made at Tinhorn Creek that year! In tasting this third wine it presented more subtly on  both the nose and palate, with some meaty character and smooth cranberry and strawberry flavours. However, comments suggested it was a little too sharp, with the acidity insufficiently balanced by fruit.

Tasting the newly released 2012 gave us plenty of optimism, with fresh, bright fruit apparent immediately. The young wine was already smoothing out, while exhibiting a fuller, more pleasing texture than the previous vintage. Earthy character, spicy flavours, and some milk chocolate hints kept the palate interesting: the group consensus being that another couple of years in bottle should yield a 2010 competitor. The wine has already been awarded a silver medal at WineAlign’s National Wine Awards, and named Judges Choice at the subsequent World Wine Awards of Canada. It stands to reason that a 2012 Oldfield Series Cabernet Franc (expected in the coming year, with no 2011 vintage having been released) should be a further step up in quality, building on the initial success achieved in 2010. I look forward to enjoying many more excellent and intriguing wines from Tinhorn’s talented team!

Sunday 14 December 2014

Celebrating the holidays with BCWAS

The members of the BC Wine Appreciation Society rang in the holiday season recently with a party at The Blackbird, where the upstairs private room has become a favourite location for social events and tastings. My wife and I joined the celebration to catch up with our fellow members and enjoy numerous rarities and well-aged wines from the Society’s cellar. Given the many celebratory holiday periods across cultures that coincide in December, everyone was full of festive cheer and ready to taste the range of exciting wines on offer.

Gray Monk 2010 Odyssey Rose Brut

To provide for an effervescent welcome guests were served Gray Monk’s 2010 Odyssey Rose Brut upon arrival. This local stalwart is a traditional method blend of Gamay, Pinot Meunier, and Pinot Noir, providing a soft fruity mousse and juicy acidity to balance fourteen grams of residual sugar. The well-balanced palate finished slightly off-dry, with a blend of fresh berry and earthy flavours just as expected. An ideal wine to warm up our palates with a bite or two of The Blackbird’s Goat Cheese-Stuffed Artichokes. I would expect this wine – a superb value at only $20 – to find a place on everyone’s holiday favourites list.

We circulated amongst the comfortable couches and creative seating arrangements in the multi-function lounge space, while a stellar selection of warm winter comfort foods were served. At three tasting stations ten wines were served to engaged oenophiles – aged reds from the Society cellar and some newly acquired whites to keep matters in balance. Among those offering a fresh perspective was the 2013 Siegerrebe from Pender Island’s Sea Star Vineyards. While Siegerrebe makes up only 1% of the white grape acreage in BC, the fifty-two acres under vine are spread far and wide (in fact the aforementioned Gray Monk releases over 1,000 cases each year to serve as an off-dry aperitif). Sea Star’s take was true to form for this descendent of Gewurztraminer; intensely perfumed with floral aromatics it yielded a bounty of soft fruit flavours well suited to Coconut-crusted Prawns with Green Curry Sauce. Sold out at the winery – along with the entire portfolio – the wine recently captured a gold medal for Sea Star from the Northwest Wine Summit.

Terravista 2013 Fandango

Other fresh, crisp whites included Terravista’s gold-medal-winning 2013 Fandango, a unique blend of AlbariƱo and Verdejo from the Naramata Bench. Because this blend of two Spanish grapes was unprecedented in Canada it took the winery years to get it approved for VQA status! For many guests it was the first introduction to this rarity, showing a clean and complex nose of stone fruit and melon. On the palate pears and melon mixed with tart peach to provide for a mouth-watering finish alongside Mini Dungeness Crab Cakes with Tomato Remoulade.

The tasting bar also featured a couple more traditional varietals from older vintages. For Riesling lovers there was Mission Hill’s 2010 Martin’s Lane exclusive, a very tasty, classic reflection of the grape grown to great success in West Kelowna. The small lot Martin’s Lane project focuses solely on Riesling and Pinot Noir (with the occasional Viognier), and the 2010 release of 400 cases marked only the second vintage. The sweet and spicy flavours of Vegetarian Spring Rolls undoubtedly worked well with the wine, or perhaps the tangy tomatoes topping Margherita Pizza. Chardonnay aficionados were invited to sample Quinta Ferreira’s 2011, from their Oliver vineyard planted in 1999. Like the Riesling, the Chardonnay provided another relatable expression, with mature toasty popcorn and apple pie characteristics from malolactic barrel fermentation and aging.

Mission Hill 2010 Martin's Lane Riesling

Five reds covering the colour spectrum provided plenty of winter warmth and a peek into the past, including a very special first vintage from Painted Rock! Anyone who snagged a Crustade with Duck Confit & Quince Jam would have appreciated a sip of La Frenz 2010 Reserve Pinot Noir. In 2012 this Naramata Bench wine received a double-gold medal at the All Canadian Wine Championships, ensuring a place in the BCWAS cellar precisely for an opportunity such as this. After a couple years aging, the wine presented as four years young if anything, with cranberries and strawberries on the nose and smooth vanilla cherries and strawberry flavours.

Forest Mushrooms on Grilled Polenta with Fresh Basil was another potential pairing for the Pinot Noir, but Sandhill’s 2008 Small Lots Sangiovese offered an opportunity as well. Herbaceous aromas yielded to a smooth, lighter-bodied palate with toasty, spicy fruit flavours and a juicy finish from Black Sage Bench fruit. Only 475 cases were released back in 2011 by Winemaker Howard Soon, providing us with a valuable look at Canada’s only varietal (VQA) Sangiovese.

See Ya Later Ranch 2008 Rover & La Frenz 2010 Reserve Pinot Noir

For something to drink with a slice of Italian Salami & English Ham Pizza one could have sipped on a glass of See Ya Later Ranch’s 2008 “Rover” a ripe Syrah co-fermented with 3.5% Viognier. Four years removed from the current platinum-medal 2012 vintage, this Rover received a gold medal from the Canadian Wine Awards in 2010. After a few years in the cellar it offered an easy-drinking palate of earthy cherries paired with nicely perfumed aromas, encouraged by the small Viognier component no doubt.

To round out the selection of reds there were a couple of hoped for heavy-hitters on offer, definitely the kind of wines calling out for one of the Mini Yorkshire Puddings in circulation. From the sadly defunct (but in good hands) Herder Winery in Keremeos we were very lucky to sample the 2008 Josephine, a blend of 81% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 6% Cabernet Franc. Cellar time had knit together a savoury profile of olives and dates, with a long juicy finish to provide some closing thoughts.

As good as the Josephine tasted, the star of the evening for many was the delightful 2007 Merlot from Painted Rock – the winery’s first vintage. Approximately 750 cases were released in 2009, being named Best of Varietal at the 2010 Okanagan Spring Wine Festival, and going on to bring home a gold medal at the BC Wine Awards that fall. Painted Rock’s Proprietor John Skinner often remarks that his Merlot behaves as a bit of dark horse, needing generous time in bottle to come about. After five and a half years following 18-months in new French oak at the winery we got the chance to savour a very well-aged BC wine. Even still, a bit of tannin remained noticeable on the bright palate, showing off broad flavours of everything from juicy cranberries to some prune character with a hint of olives. The long, smooth finish certainly kept the wine in my mind, and that of many other guests given the extensive mentions it received.

Painted Rock 2007 Merlot & Herder 2008 Josephine

We finished the tasting with another bonus from the BCWAS Fall Bus Tour: after opening a few whites acquired on the tour during October’s Harvest Party, this festive celebration provided the perfect opportunity to savour Arrowleaf’s Late Harvest Vidal. Although the wine was available to taste from the beginning of the event, I waited patiently to close out the evening with it. By then all the delicious food had been snapped up, but I’m sure a few creative pairings could have been assembled by adventurous guests. With my palate all to itself the Vidal burst with rich honey and tropical fruit; layers of papaya, guava, and pineapple were all nicely balanced by tangy acidity. It was a good thing the Society picked up several bottles during the Bus Tour, because the nicely valued wine ($25) is already sold out, despite 300 cases produced. Hopefully a few lucky folks will find a bottle in their stocking this year!

Arrowleaf 2013 Special Select Late Harvest Vidal

Towards the end of the evening the traditional prize raffle yielded a one-year BCWAS membership, plus bottles of Bartier Brothers “The Cowboy” and Church & State’s delicious but sadly discontinued Pinot Noir. Executive members were also happy to share early details of some of the very exciting 2015 events set to mark the Society’s tenth anniversary, starting with a vertical tasting of Mission Hill Oculus in January. As we parted ways amid well wishes for the holidays and new year it was great to see that everyone had enjoyed the excellent food and wine, and I would hope some even found a few new favourites along the way.