The first vintage of Black Hills Nota Bene, now a benchmark Okanagan red, was in 1999. It was produced and sold out of a Quonset Hut on Black Sage Road with the first bottle purchased in 2001.
Those lucky enough to get a bottle of that first vintage (1,600 cases were made) had no idea what the Nota Bene would become as the team at Black Hills tweaked and finessed their flagship red with improvements in all aspects of the vineyard, winery and winemaking to arrive at this point in time with the release of the stunning 2014 vintage.
In the past 16 years, Black Hills has been aggressive with what they call their “continual quality evolution” to make Nota Bene a star among reds in B.C. Changes over the years have included:
- Upgrading from the initial Quonset Hut into a custom-built, temperature-controlled winery;
- Improvement to a vineyard irrigation system into an environmentally-friendly dual overhead and drip-line system to improve grape ripening and conserve water;
- Purchasing a state-of-the-art berry sorting line, conveyor and crusher/destemmer to ensure only the best grapes make their way into the wine;
- The development of a 2,000-sq.-foot boutique fermentation room to enable the winemaking team to extract the best flavours possible from smaller batch fermentation;
- The introduction of the Cellar Hand second label, which enabled barrel selections to start taking place so that the winemakers could ensure that only the wine from the best barrels makes it into the Nota Bene;
- The 2014 vintage is the first made with an additional six months of barrel aging. The decision was made to extend aging to soften the tannins and elevate the depth and complexity of the wine while preserving the integrity of its fruit character.
Winemaker Graham Pierce, above, has achieved greatness with this Nota Bene. It is a remarkable wine that will stand the test of time in the cellar and develop gracefully over a decade or more.
We offer reviews of the Nota Bene, plus the Black Hills Syrah 2014, both of which will be released on Sept. 1, plus reviews for other B.C. wineries including: JoieFarm, Tinhorn Creek, Singletree Winery and Blue Grouse Winery.
Black Hills (Okanagan Valley, Black Sage Road)
Black Hills Nota Bene 2014 ($52, winery release Sept. 1, 93 points) — The blend is 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc with oak barrel aging in a 80%-20% French and American split with one-third new, one-third a year old and one-third two-year-old barrels. It was a perfect vintage for red wines in the Okanagan with a long, warm, dry growing season. This is a sleeping beauty, let it breathe to reveal a range of black currants, crunchy raspberry, saddle leather, savoury spice notes and wet earth. It is rich but highly structured on the palate with gorgeous and generous dark berries, raspberries, earth, elegant barrel spices and such a wonderful finish that is smooth and long with plush and integrated tannins. Drink now if you decant, but save a few bottles to drink over the next 10-15 years.
Black Hills Syrah 2014 ($35, winery Sept. 1, 92 points) — Such a pretty Syrah with a wild side. The nose shows boysenberry, ripe plum, currants, subtle gamey notes, a floral accent and rich and savoury spice notes. It is well-balanced on the palate with a full spectrum of dark fruits and sweet barrel spices that all benefits from brilliant acidity. Simply delicious.
JoieFarm (Okangan Valley, Naramata Bench)
JoieFarm Gamay 2014 ($26, 90 points) — Such a lovely nose of plums, cherries, earth and savoury spices. It’s a fruit bomb on the palate with ripe plum, raspberry and cherry with underlying earth, smoke and spice that’s propped up by racy acidity. Suggested pairings: grilled lamb, smoked salmon and game meats.
JoieFarm PTG 2014 ($26, 91 points) — A classic blend from JoieFarm of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Gamay. It’s a unique Canadian wine with a nose of black cherry cane cola, plums, raspberries and a full range of savoury spices. It is juicy on the palate with some tannic structure to go with black cherry, black licorice, pepper and spice. Ripe and delicious.
JoieFarm Pinot Noir 2014 ($26, 90 points) — Like a bowl of fresh-picked black cherries on the nose with well-integrated spice and earthy-savoury bits in behind. Cherry dominates the palate with added raspberry, spice and supple tannins.
JoieFarm En Famille Reserve Pinot Noir 2014 ($40, 93 points) — This is from Joie’s top tier and it lives up to the billing — a highly aromatic nose of rich cherry, incense, toasted barrel spices, caramel and violets. Ripe cherry is the driving force on the palate with silky tannins, integrated spice and plenty of uplifting acidity to keep everything in check. Just a gorgeous, balanced quintessential Okanagan Pinot with its own identity and intrigue.
Tinhorn Creek (Okanagan Valley, Golden Mile Bench)
Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series 2Bench White 2015 ($20, 91 points) — This top-tier white from Tinhorn is a blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Semillon and Muscat from the Diamondback Vineyard. It has generous aromatics of ripe and creamy pear, tropical fruit, apricot, ginger and a range of well integrated spice notes. It has weight and viscosity on the palate with ripe and voluptuous fruit, lovely texture and a creamy-spicy finish.
Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series Syrah 2013 ($32, 92 points) — Young and tight at the moment with a promise of very good things to come. The nose shows savoury dark fruits, barrel spice, lavender, toasted vanilla and white pepper. It displays a range of rich and robust red and dark fruits on the palate, rousing spices notes all delivered on a bed of softening tannins. Age for 5-10 years.
Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series Cabernet Franc 2013 ($32, 91 points) — An attractive nose of brambly raspberry, cherry, herbs, plum and elegant barrel spices. It shows a basket of red fruits on the palate, sweet oak spices and dried herbs all beautifully integrated through the finish.
Tinhorn Creek Merlot 2014 ($20, 88 points) — A nose that’s super-charged with black cherry, cassis, baking spices, plums and cocoa. It is smooth on the palate with soft tannins, bright red fruits, some earth and bramble that is drinking really fine right now.
Blue Grouse Estate Winery, Cowichan Valley
Blue Grouse Estate Pinot Gris 2015 ($20, 90 points) — From some of the oldest Pinot Gris vines on Vancouver Island. The nose is refreshing with lime, melon, citrus and honeysuckle notes. Nice and perky on the palate with juicy citrus notes, melon, peach and minerals in a vibrant, clean style.
Blue Grouse Pinot Noir 2014 ($26, 88 points) — A vivid and defined nose of black cherry, cassis, beetroot, plus and rich, elegant spice notes. The palate shows red and dark fruits, with lovely spice, evident tannins in a meaty, bold style.
Quill Red Wine 2014 ($19, 88 points) — A blend of 54.5% Merlot, 39.5% Cabernet Franc and 6% Marechal Foch, the nose shows dark cherry, raspberry, black currants, mocha and toasted barrel spices. It’s quite bold and rich on the palate with dark fruits, toasted vanilla spice and good tannic structure that’s balanced through the finish.
Singletree Winery, Fraser Valley
Singletree Siegerrebe 2015 ($19, 88 points) — A pale straw colour with highly aromatic grapefruit, tangerine, apple and ocean breezes. It’s made off-dry with notes of grapefruit-citrus, peach and herbs on the palate. Quite delicious and different.
Singletree Homestead 2015 ($17, 88 points) — A white blend of Gruner Veltliner, Chardonnay and Kerner with gorgeous aromatics of lush tropical fruits, peach and pineapple. There is a touch of sweetness on the palate to go with ripe, rich layers of tropical fruits that are zesty and vibrant through the finish.
Singletree Sauvignon Blanc 2015 ($19, 87 points) — A nose of tropical fruit, citrus, melon and herbs with a subtle spice notes. It’s refreshing and dry on the palate with fresh citrus, herbs and apple notes through a refreshing finish.