Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Famille Perrin; Vinsobres and Rasteau

Many of you know of my recent attempt to achieve something few chefs ever do: the certificate of French Wine Scholar. I unfortunately failed this prestigious program by 1%, and so cannot add the post-nominal FWS... not yet!

And so here we find ourselves, you and I, on this my 200th article! I am not only writing for pleasure tonight, but gearing up (once again) for a renewed and vigerous attack on the FWS program in a few weeks. Wish me luck!

   Famille Perrin is known for a great many accomplishments over their span of 5 generations, but perhaps their greatest achievement would be the Chateau de Beaucastel ( ). I had only just started scribing about wine when first I met this cheeky little rascal, and instantly fell in love.

   Well lucky for me, and my bank account, the Famille Perrin ( ) produce significantly less expensive ventures as well, including a diverse portfolio that runs the length and breadth of the Southern Rhone. Tonight I've chosen two examples; Vinsobres and Rasteau.

   Vinsobres is an AOC situated surrounding the parish by the same name, and is one of the newest AOC in France... receiving it's status in 2006. Previously the region was known by most French more for it's olive trees then it's viticulture. But then, the Perrins have always been forward-thinkers. No, Vinsobres is a steep and rocky place where the Mistral brings it's forceful winds to tormet farmers year-round. Here we find a new breed of winemaker, exploring what Syrah and grenache can do in the most northerly area of the Southern Rhone.
the view in Rasteau

   Rasteau is an AOC with a much older history... the recognition of Rasteau comes at about the same time as it's more famous cousin: ChateauNeuf du Pape in 1934. But the little oddity is that, for the most part, Rasteau was known as much if not more for it's fortified wines as it was for it's still wines. In fact, it was only in 2009 that Rasteau could officially use it's AOC designation for still red wines. Previously they had to be labeled as "Cotes  du Rhone Village Rasteau" which, could be considered by some to be a remark of inferred inferiority. But this area has a very similar soil composition to it's more infamous cousin, and in fact culivates and utilizes all of the same varietals as ChateauNeuf as well. Yes, all 13 red varietals that go into the remarkable Beaucastel can be found right here. For about a quarter the price.

So why then spend $100 Canadian on a new vintage of Beaucastel (minimum) when one can purchase a Rasteau for about $25? Well my friends, just because I said that Rasteau is similar - that doesn't mean that it's the same. But for $25... the value is in the glass!

2009 Famille Perrin Les Cornuds, Vinsobres
$25 CAD    90 Points


60 Hectares, single vineyard
altitude 300 metres+
50% Syrah, 50% grenache
35% aging in French oak, the rest in foudres
  • visual:   clean; fully intense purple/garnet core with the barest whisper of a cherry rim
  • nose:   clean; this is a fully intense and youthful wine, shouting to the rafters about it's home! Layers of brambly blackberry, tangy black currants (cassis), a definite dark floral note and hints of spice behind the fruit
  • palate:   clean; dry, fully intense (red currant) acids, medium+ chewy tannins, medium body, medium+ alcohol (14.5%), fully intense and youthful flavors that mimick well the nose... fruit is still the driving force in this young and vibrant vintage. Very good structure and balance, medium length
  • FOOD PAIRINGS:   a cheeky young wine like this either needs a fat cut of beef to side up to, or else should go back into your winerack for a few years. We'll be savoring the next bottle with Syrah braised boneless Alberta beef shortribs on truffled parsnip and potato mash, steamed Swiss chard on the side
**Further reading for the French speaking audience **
 2009 Perrin et Fils, Rasteau-Cotes du Rhone Villages
$20+ CAD    89-90 points

south facing parcel
mostly Grenache (80%) with a slight amount of Syrah
  • visual:   clear; deep and medium+ intense garnet core with slightest cherry rim
  • nose:   clean; youthful and medium+ intense aromas of warm earth, raisins, red currants, slight savory herbs
  • palate:   clean; dry, medium+ red currant acids, medium grippy tannins, medium body, medium+ to full alcohol (13.5% seems hot), medium+ intense and youthful flavors mimicking the nose with emphasis on fresh young red berries and warm earth, background of savory herbs, dark floral and dark cocoa. Very good structure and balance, medium length
  • FOOD PAIRINGS:   consider using this like a fresh Malbec from Argentina; this wine wants a fresh grilled premium steak, topped with a hint of Kosher sea salt and nothing else! These acids crave a little beef, but the medium tannins require a fairly sophisticated cut of meat
  • conclusion:   much as the above wine, this vintage craves a few more years in a dark and cool corner to cultivate a deeper understanding of itself. Enjoy 2013-2017

    Both of these wines are splendid examples of Southern Rhone valley terroir; that otherworldly mixture of soil, wind, sun and man. Here are value-priced wines that can actually start to educate the consumer on what this part of the valley is capable of. That in and of itself makes the wines an excellent value in the "Under $30" market. But to add the depth and dimension of flavor, the true craftsmanship with which they are made, these wines should be a welcome addition to almost any cellar.

   Anyone can fill their shelves (and their glass) with 90-point wines. Not everyone can do so at prices like this.

As always, I welcome your comments and questions.

CINCIN~!!!     SLAINTE~!!!     CHEERS~!!!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Tinhorn Creek Winery, 2012 releases

Regular followers of my articles know of my pride in BC winemakers and the culture that has sprung up around them over the past few decades. In 1998 in BC there were about 3 dozen wineries, 33 to be precise. In 2012 the count is closer to 240, give or take.

   From 33 to 240 wineries in less then a generation; a growth of 600%.

the vista at Tinhorn Creek
   But it's not just the changes in the amount of wine produced and consumed that has  that really makes me pause; it is the style and calibre of wine that has evolved at the same time that makes me pause for breath. Just ask the crew at Tinhorn Creek!

    These guys have been around for all of this change, and have more often then not been leading the charge! Kenn Oldfield bought this property in the early 1990's, which had already been planted with grape vines in the 1960's. In local terms this means it is ancient. And if I can remember all of this, how ancient would that make me??

   Regardless of your age, whether it's the bloom of youth or the gentleness of maturity, all are watching Tinhorn continue to lead the foray into a deeper, fuller exploration of our BC terroir. I was fortunate enough to do my portfolio tasting this year with Korol Kulko, assistant winemaker, who has been developing her skill-set and knowledge of the region's diversity over 15 years with Tinhorn.

2012 Release

2011 Pinot Gris
91 points
$18 / Tinhorn Crush Club $15.25~!!!
  • 30% put through malo-lactic fermentation (or degradation as some winemakers will call it), then fermented in 100% stainless steel barrels. The barrels are approximately barrique size *225 L) if memory serves and the winery uses this specifically to increase the amount of lees contact. The lees are then stirred weekly to give more dimension both in flavors and texture
  • lees contact is noticed immediately on the nose in beautifully rich toasty-brioche-bread like notes reminiscent of non-vintage sparkling French wine, with soft stonefruit filling out the edges
  • balanced yet vivid acids with a creamy mouth-feel, fruit tones are lively and create a "little-too-easy-to-drink" summer wine
2011 Chardonnay
89 points
$18 / Tinhorn Crush Club $15.25~!!!
  • 100% malo-lactec
  • 15% in New French oak, stirring of lees twice/week for 3 months
  • on the nose; clean minerality and under-ripe pineapple, papaya
  • on the palate; zippy acids well balanced by the big-mouth feel. An easy to understand, direct version of Chardonnay that can still articulate where it came from.

    Korol and I spoke briefly about what 2011 had been like as a growing season; cool, long and drawn-out without much of the blazing heat that the south Okanagan is known for in Summer. Korol remarked "If we knew going into each year that it was going to be like that, we could plan for it and make specific decisions to capitalize on it."

   I responded that many of the winemakers I'ld been speaking to over the past few months had been vocal about facing the same challenges with 2011 and more then a few had voiced: "2011 will separate the professionals from the amateurs". 

   I had already been convinced which group Tinhorn belonged to, and I had many more wines to go~!

2011 2-Bench white   (Chardonnay, Semillion, Muscat, Viognier)
90 points
$23 / $19.50 Crush Club
  •  non malo-lactic, but still the use of some small stainless steel tanks for increased lees contact
  • on the nose; the exotics of pineapple and papaya and softened by a light summer floral touch from the Viognier, and then an exquisite, slightly sweet, ripe stonefruit finish
  • on the palate this wine is all about food; lighter in style with pronounced acidity and true dimension to the mineral/fruit tones this can pair well with poultry, wild fowl, seafood, a whole host of cheeses and cheese dishes. As a chef/wine steward this is paradise in a bottle... many wines claim to pair well with a variety of foods. This wine doesn't claim to, it just does!
  • as a note, the acids on this vintage are pronounced to the point of being slightly aggressive... this wine will age well for several years and will be drinking more smoothly even by Spring 2013

   And while I had tasted several vintages of Tinhorn releases, this was my first year up to stay at the property. My wife and daughter and I walked the vineyard as the sun was going down the night before and had enjoyed the cooling breezes that came down the hillside. Walking through the steep rows of vines, I was taken by the emphasis on growing wild grasses between the rows and the attention to plantings of indigenous herbs and brush nearby. Korol spoke as to how, though there were some practices at the vineyard that could be interpreted as being bio-dynamic in nature, that wasn't a direction that Tinhorn was moving in at the present.

   Their current project of switching to drip-irrigation has been more then enough to keep them occupied! But it does reap a whirlwind of benefits including a dramatic reduction in mold issues, rootstock that digs deeper on a yearly basis, and great cost savings on the water bill (not to mention the environmental kudos!).

 2011 Rose
90+ points
$22, $19.50 crush club
  • 100% Cab Franc
  • on the nose; a rich cacophony of wild floral,
  • on the palate; light salmon color, this wine has striking acidity which makes it a natural for food pairings and hot summer afternoons. Dry, savory, this is the rose for red-wine drinkers!
  • I have to add, what a great way to start a meal... if you imagine a long day of work, and all of the palate-fatigue we face with take-out food, too much coffee, etc, etc... a crisp, full-bodied rose is an excellent way to excite and awaken the palate
2011 Gewurztraminer
89 points
$18, $15.25 crush club!
  • on the nose; typical Gewurztraminer roses, lychee, grapefruit with a strong mineral undercurrant
  • on the palate; atypically crisp, clean, vibrant... almost racy, the acids are balanced but full of vigor. Strong mineral flavors balance the varietals natural tendancy to sweeter fruit flavors
  • definitely a cool-climate wine! on the drier style at only 9 grams/L residual sugar
2011 Kerner Icewine
91 points
$30, $25 crush-club
  • on the nose a fully intense candied apple, caramel, floral background
  • the palate comes in crisp and full of lively acids that balance a stunningly rich and layered concentration of fruit flavors

   Korol then shared a story with me about the wildly delicious Pinot Noir that I  adore.  There is alot of Pinot grown here in BC, and with good reason I believe... some of our winemakers have produced high 90-point wines in recent years and I personally feel that there are more of those numbers to come. We have a staggering amount of talent for such a small wine-producing region, and Tinhorn Creek certainly fits in well with the upper-echelon of the province.

    Tinhorn faced a common issue with wineries; when to sell the wine. Some wineries will  sell their wine as soon as it comes out of the barrel, and try to make a reasonably quick return on investment. The challenge with this is that many wines need some time in bottle to mature before they drink their best... some wines may only need 6 months, and some Barolos arguably need 10 years or longer. But who should pay for the storage? Who should pay for the time?

   Often-times it is only the more established wineries who are on their second or third or thirteenth generation of owners who can afford such "luxury". The winemaking staff felt so strongly about the quality and potential quality of their Pinot Noir that they pitched the idea to the financial team to hold the wine for three years. A tough concept for a relatively new winery which only starting making profit just over a decade ago... but the winemakers were firm and they got their three years.

   The result? You know where to find that...

2009 Pinot Noir
91+ points
$ 20, $18 crush club
  • a sumptously layered chewy red wine just entering the prime of life... this wine has years of development still ahead of it. Great balance and concentration, both Korol and I noted that the south Okanagan wild herbs were present in the bouquet and palate
  • this wine is light enough to enjoy slightly chilled in the heat of summer and yet has enough presence to appreciate in the middle of a Vancouver winter; 4 degrees and pouring rain this would be mighty cozy whilst sitting next to the fireplace
   So it's obvious that I'm biased when it comes to Tinhorn Creek wines; I like them, plain and simple.

indigenous flora at Tinhorn Creek
   But why shouldn't I?? I like great wines, and I LOVE them if I can get them at a reasonable price. Tinhorn Creek delivers that , and, quite frankly overdelivers. If this tasting wasn't proof enough, then feel free to read my previous articles recounting other encounters with this BC gem.


As always, I truly look forward to your comments and questions.

SLAINTE (gaelic)   =   CINCIN (italian)   =   CHEERS~!!!