Saturday, January 30, 2010

Tinhorn Creek Vertical

Hot on the heels of the Blue Mountain and Friends event, Boo and I joined up with the BC Wine Appreciation Society and their special Tinhorn Creek tasting. I think this is the first time that BCWAS has hosted such an ambitious vertical tasting. Sandra Oldfield and a few members of her team at Tinhorn Creek came down from their Golden Mile Road winery to walk us through a vertical tasting of every vintage of Cabernet Franc that they've produced since the initial bottling in 1996 - except for the 2008 and 2009 vintages which haven't been bottled yet.

Twelve wines is a fair bit to talk about but Sandra is an engaging speaker and can keep an audience captivated with interesting and witty stories - just ask her how she came to call the 1999 Cab Franc her "Jesus" wine. She's also a font of knowledge on Okanagan wine and what's happening up there.

Although Tinhorn made its early reputation with its Merlot, Sandra has been trying to sell Cab Franc as an exciting varietal - on its own - for BC for years now and she's admitted that she wondered if the wine drinking public would ever reach the same conclusion. She admitted that, throughout the years 1999 to 2005, they had monthly meetings where they battled with the logic of tearing out all their Cab Franc vines and replacing them with more popular varietals. Their persistence seems to have paid off now as the wine is proving to be a favourite at the winery's shop.

Although Cab Franc is one of the varietals that go into Bordeaux or Meritage wines, it is often cast as the poor cousin to the more robust Cab Sauv or approachable Merlot. When the Oldfields arrived in the Okanagan, just after finishing their respective Masters degrees at UC Davis, they bucked the prevailing trend of planting the most marketable vinifera vines and planted Cab Franc instead of Cab Sauv. The former ripens a bit earlier than the Cab Sauv and the Oldfieds were concerned that - even in the Southern Okanagan Valley - it can be touch and go whether the big reds will fully ripen.

There's still no guarantee that the Cab Franc will fully ripen. It is generally the last varietal picked at Tinhorn, but Sandra takes the position that the Franc is often the star in BC Meritage wines.

Sandra told us that this was the first time they'd ever done such an extensive Cab Franc varietal tasting and she was frank enough (pun intended) to say that some of the bottles were past their prime. She also provided us with a chart that compared certain aspects of the wine's production over the years. I found it interesting to see how harvest dates, tonnage per acre and bottles produced varied so much from year to year.

One thing that changed little over those twelve years though was the price. Sandra was proud to point out that - despite some of the perceptible increases in prices for BC wines lately - their Franc originally sold for $16.95 in 1996 and the 2007 vintage still sells for $17.99. An increase of $1.00 over twelve years. Talk about being consumer friendly.

I make no pretence to have a palate sophisticated enough to discern all the nuanced differences from year to year, but I do think that I would have appreciated the wines more than I did if we'd been drinking them along with dinner. I think Cab Franc, as a varietal wine, is more of a food wine than a cocktail sipper. On the whole, I enjoyed the latter vintages and, in the setting at hand, would probably reach first for the 2004. It seem a little more full bodied with discernable fruit.

Two nights of wine in a row where I haven't been able to add a bottle to The List. Can't say that evenings like this will get me to 2001 bottles any time soon; however, I think I can certainly forego a bottle or two for interesting tastings like this Tinhorn Creek and Blue Mountain's though.

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