Oliver, in the South Okanagan Valley, produces some of B.C.’s richest, most complex and ripest red wines. The extreme heat in the summer brings the key red varietals to maturity quickly, making for some very fine Bordeaux-style blends and single-varietal reds in most vintages.
Some of the key Oliver wineries include Hester Creek, Inniskillin, Cassini, Road 13 Vineyards, Jackson-Triggs and Burrowing Owl.
And, of course, Tinhorn Creek, located on a hillside overlooking estate vineyards, sagebrush, and the old gold mining creek that is its namesake.
Tinhorn sources fruit exclusively from its own vineyards: 150 acres of prime land on two very distinct benches — the 100-acre Diamondback Vineyard on the Black Sage Bench and the 50-acre Tinhorn Creek Vineyard on the Golden Mile Bench. It makes two tiers of wines, the single vineyard series featuring Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir and Merlot, and winemaker Sandra Oldfield’s signature wines made each year when quality dictates what should be made at the top level.
The fall release (I know, I know … I’m a little late with these reviews) saw Tinhorn release, only for the second time, its top Oldfield Series 2Bench Red, the smallest production wine at the winery.
It also released the Oldfield Series Merlot and Syrah from 2008 and the regular cuvee Merlot and Cabernet Franc from 2009.
The 08-09 vintages with very similar in terms of weather. Both saw a warm summer with very little rainfall which produced fruit with concentrated fruit flavours especially in the red varietals.
Here’s a look at the fall release at Tinhorn Creek along with some (relatively) new releases from two other top Okanagan producers, Joie Farm and Stag’s Hollow.
Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series Merlot 2008 ($28, 89 points) — A nose teeming with blackberry, currants, toasted oak and mocha with just a hint of dark cherry and blueberry extract. This is a highly intense wine on the palate with sweet cassia, licorice, lavish spice notes and chewy, ripe tannins through the finish. I would cellar this gorgeous wine to let it fully integrate.
Production notes: The 2008 vintage blend is 87% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Syrah. The varietals were fermented separately in stainless steel tanks prior to being moved into oak barrels. They then spent 18 months in 100% French oak ranging in age from new to two years old. After barrel aging the wine was blended together prior to bottling. It spent 15 months in bottle before its release.
Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series 2Bench Red 2008 ($35, 90 points) — Such a wonderful nose of cassia, plum, blackberry, cigar-box cedar, vanilla, spice and minty herbs. The black fruits on the palate are persistent with a smoky-gamy note, some minerals, highly structured, a touch rustic (in a funky good way) and all lifted by racy acidity. I would like to try this in five years or more when all the moving parts come together.
Production Notes: The 2008 Oldfield Series 2Bench Red is the second vintage of this wine to be released. It is a blend of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, and 20% Cabernet Franc. The varietals for this wine are kept separate throughout harvest and fermentation. It spends approximately 18 months in new French oak barrels before being bottled and then aged for an additional 18 months in bottle before release.
Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series Syrah 2008 ($35, 91 points) — Definitely my kind of Syrah. A smoky, bacon fat nose with blackberry and rich currant fruits, cracked black pepper, saddle leather, licorice and earth. Few anywhere in Canada make this Rhone-style Syrah as well as winemaker Sandra Oldfield. It gets better in the mouth with earthy dark fruits, peppery accents and meaty-spicy flavours all lifted by firm acidity and toasted vanilla through the long finish. Nice.
Production Notes: The Syrah comes from both our vineyards in Oliver; Tinhorn Creek (Golden Mile Bench) and Diamondback (Black Sage Bench). One third of the 2008 Syrah was fermented in open top fermenters and the remaining two thirds in small stainless steel tanks. It was aged for 19 months in new to 2 year old French oak. It was then blended together before bottling after which it spent approximately 18 months bottle aging.
Tinhorn Creek Merlot 2009 ($19, 87 points) — A lovely nose of wild berries, kirsch, cocoa, savoury spice and delicate oak stylings. It has bite on the palate with chocolate-cherry flavours, black fruits, wonderful spice, licorice and just a hint of mint and herbs on the finish.
Tinhorn Creek Cabernet Franc 2009 ($20, 88 points) — Oldfield simply adores the Cab Franc grape. Check out this video by her, it’s hilarious and gets to heart of why this variety is so important to Oldfield and Tinhorn creek. She coined the phrase #getabackbone on Twitter and is the grape’s No. 1 supporter (well, maybe tied with Vineland Estate winemaker Brian Schmidt) in Canada. Her 09 “Get a backbone” Cab Franc shows rich cherry fruit, mocha, forest floor, vanilla and an array of spice on the nose. In the mouth there’s stewed plums, cherries, raspberry, cassia, mint, firm tannic structure, and a subtle note of cocoa. Gets better with decanting.
Joie Farm, a fantastic Okanagan producer farming on the Naramata Bench, makes a unique portfolio of excellent wines.
The reserve series features the winery’s only red wine, the PTG, which stands for Passetoutgrain, which is a little known wine that combines the elegant Pinots of the Cote d’Or with the rich, spicy Gamay of Beaujolais. I do not know of any other winery in Canada, maybe North America, making this style of wine. The other reserve wine in the Joie portfolio is the Reserve Chardonnay, made from the most prized vineyards sites in Okanagan Falls and Naramata Bench that owners Michael Dinn and Heidi Noble fashion after the finest wines of the Cote de Beaune and the Maconnais.
Both wines were released in the fall.
Joie Farm PTG 2009 ($26, 89 points) — Bright, fresh aromas of Bing cherry, strawberries, violets, savoury spice, and just a hint of toasty oak. It’s peppy and vibrant on the palate with an array of red fruits, licorice, spice and fresh acidity. A really fine food wine and something completely different. It’s a blend of 63% Pinot and the rest Gamay.
Joie Farm Chardonnay Reserve 2009 ($30, 90 points) — This Chardonnay was fermented in new, one-year-old and neutral French oak barrels and puncheons and partially fermented with wild yeasts. The nose shows bright apple and citrus fruit with a nutty-spicy note and just a hint of butterscotch. It’s textured and layered in the mouth with fresh apple, citrus zest, pears and some tropical fruits that are bolstered by oak spice, juicy acidity and bathed in minerality.
And finally, a couple of wines from the exquisite collection made at Stag’s Hollow by the Rhone-inspired winemaker Dwight Sick.
Sick believes the Okanagan Valley’s unique microclimate is the ideal location to grow grapes for making top quality wines. By combining Stag’s Hollow Winery’s vineyard sites, along with sustainable vineyard practices, and by adding careful but minimal winemaking principals, Sick says he can, and will, produce world-class wines that are true to their terroir and that are unmistakably identifiable as being from nowhere else in the world but the Okanagan Valley.
I have not tasted through all of Sick’s wines, but have had the pleasure of trying a few of his Rhone-style blends and have been impressed by the quality made at Stag’s Hollow. Here are a couple I tasted a while back from his very limited premium series.
Stag’s Hollow Cachet No. 2 2009 ($50, 92 points) — It’s a blend of Grenache (50%), Syrah (46%) and the rest Viognier and Marsanne. Only 80 cases of this top wine were produced. What a nose! Sweet raspberry, currants, violets, licorice, tar, campfire smoke, vanilla and tobacco leaf burst from the glass. It’s big, bold and weighty on the palate with anise, red fruits, figs, cracked red peppercorns, fine tannins, and layers of pleasure through the finish. One of my favourite Canadian wines of the year.
Stag’s Hollow GVM 2010 ($28, 89 points) — A white wine, yes, from a field blend of Grenache, Viognier and Marsanne that was destemmed, lightly crushed and pressed into tank where it cold settled for 24 hours. The juice was then transferred into French oak barrels (50% new, 50% second fill) and a spontaneous fermentation was allowed to start. At 1/3 sugar depletion, the ferment was inoculated with a selected yeast culture to complete the alcohol fermentation. The wine was then encouraged to start malolactic conversion and was aged sur-lees in barrel for 8 months before being racked, lightly stabilized and bottled unfiltered.
It has an expressive and exotic nose of lemon tart, melon, nutty stone fruits and light spice notes. In the mouth, ripe peach and lemon-lime flavours dominate but there are hints of roasted almonds, spice and smokiness on the finish. A complex, unique and totally delicious “white” red wine. Drink or hold this wine for a couple of years.