While I did bring home a set of interesting new (to me) varietals from my trip to Vancouver, I don’t want to leave people with the impression they only grow cold climate German grapes in British Columbia. There are certainly plantings of Ehrenfelser and Kerner, but not at the expense of better known international varieties, including some that are often associated with much warmer climates. Today we have one such example, the Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series South Okanagan Valley Syrah 2007.
This is another wine I enjoyed back in September, and it gives me an opportunity to talk about cool climate Syrah / Shiraz, which is fairly trendy at the moment. I generally think of Syrah as a warm climate grape, though part of that is a South Australian bias. Within France, it typically doesn’t ripen reliably further north than the Northern Rhône, where slopes with ideal aspects and natural sun traps are where the variety does best. Here in Australia, the best known Shiraz is from the Barossa Valley, where the warmth and sunshine can provide an abundance of fruit and alcohol.
However, Syrah is a versatile and climate sensitive grape. It’s not always easy (for me at least) to point out the climatic difference in the grape between Northern and Southern Rhône Syrahs because in the south they’re often part of the blend. However, in Australia there is Shiraz grown in the relatively cool Adelaide Hills, such as from Hahndorf Hill Winery, which can be markedly different from a warmer Barossa example, such as Charles Melton. Cool climate Shiraz tends to be less fruit driven, with more peppery notes instead of sweet spice, blue fruit instead of red, and often some violet or floral notes.
Before I get into this Syrah, first a few words about the producer, Tinhorn Creek. Established in 1993, the company is a collaboration of friends who went into business together. Sandra Oldfield, originally from the USA and a graduate of the UC Davis Enology Department, is at the helm as winemaker and president/CEO. Based in the Golden Mile in South Okanagan, but with an additional vineyard on the eastern side of the valley on Black Sage Bench, they’re probably best known for the flagship Merlot. However, they have a wine range of plantings, including Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and this Syrah in red, as well as Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Semillon and Kerner in white. They produce varietals and blends in red and white, a Cabernet Franc rosé, and ice wine or late harvest Kerner depending on the vintage conditions.
Even though the southern Okanagan Valley is certainly warmer than the northern end, and there’s no shortage of lakes and rivers to help mitigate the weather, it’s still considered a fairly cool climate. I couldn’t find a fact sheet for this vintage, but if it is similar to the 2009 vintage then grapes for this wine were taken from both the Golden Mile and Black Sage Bench sides of the valley from fairly young vines and saw just over a year and a half in French oak. 2007 in Okanagan had a cold start and with light rain in the spring but heavy rain over June. July was hot but also wet. August and early September were drier if cooler, though rain returned at harvest.
In the glass, this wine is clear and bright, with a medium plus ruby colour and lots of quick thick legs. On the nose it’s clean and developing with medium intensity and notes of raspberries, sweet spice, pomegranate,and a fair whack of oak. On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus fine tannins, medium acidity, medium plus alcohol, medium intensity, medium body, and medium length. There are notes of green stalks, black pepper, raspberries, and pencil shavings.
I rate this wine as good but there was something about the green notes on the palate that I didn’t find overly attractive (but which I don’t mind in Cabernet Franc). I don’t know if I’m getting that due to the vines being young, fruit that wasn’t fully ripe (unlikely at 14.6% ABV), or if it’s just down to my personal palate. It’s certainly from a cool climate but without the blueberries that usually tip me off. However, there was no shortage of peppery character and there was a good diversity of fruit and savoury notes. The wine as a whole had a nice balance and I hope to try another vintage to compare and contrast.