Monday, December 16, 2013

Black Hills releases in 2013

Photo: Black Hills Wine Experience Centre

When Black Hills opened in 2000, there were only 60 wineries in British Columbia.

Not many of those were yet making great Meritage blends. As a result, Nota Bene, the Cabernet Sauvignon anchored-blend from Black Hills, caused an immediate sensation. For many years, it has been one of the hardest to get of the collector wines from the Okanagan.

Today, there are four times as many wineries in British Columbia, and a lot more good Meritage reds to choose from. Nota Bene no longer sells out in a week. You might actually be able to find a bottle of Nota Bene 2011, the current release, in your local VQA store – still in time to enjoy it for Christmas.

Black Hills has more than doubled the production of Nota Bene since making its first vintage in 1999. The quality of the wine has remained consistently high. The more recent vintages arguably are better because the wines are made with far better winemaking equipment and with grapes from more mature vines.

The wine is just as collectible as ever. That it no longer sells out in a flash has nothing to do with quality; perhaps that has a little to do with its $52.90 price and  everything to do with the vastly greater choice of icon wines that the collector has.

If you are not a collector with a big budget, don’t despair.  A few years ago, Black Hills launched a second label called Cellar Hand. Both the red blend and the white blend under this label are $20 or less and the wines over-deliver in quality.

The winery is based on a 27-acre property on Black Sage Road, much of which was planted in 1996. The founders made the wines for a number of years in rustic Quonset hut before building a new winery in 2007, set amidst the vines. The group of investors which bought Black Hills in 2008 have since expanded the winery and further refined the winemaking equipment.

The new owners also have begun to offer regular tastings in an elegant Wine Experience Centre not far from the winery, whose tasting room always was too small. The Centre, which opened two years ago, is in a superb setting manned by well-trained tasting guides. This has become a priority stop on the wine tasting route every summer.

The wine lounge, which also has flatbread pizza available, added a charging station for electric cars this summer. This is the first winery charging station in the south Okanagan and one of only two in the Okanagan. The other is at Tantalus Vineyards, easily within range if you are tooling around the valley in your Tesla.

Here are notes on the current releases.

Cellar Hand Free Run White 2012 ($15.90). This is a complex, fruit-forward blend of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Viognier, Chardonnay, Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc. It begins with aromas of pear and citrus. On the palate, there are flavours of apple, citrus and ripe pineapple. The finish is crisp and refreshing. 88.

Cellar Hand Punch Down Red 2011 ($19.90). This is a blend of 45% Syrah, 28% Merlot and 27% Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine begins with ripe aromas of black cherry and vanilla, leading to flavours of black cherry, black currant and plum with touch of pepper on the finish. The texture is generous and firm enough to allow aging this in bottle a few more years, if you can stay away from it. 89.

Black Hills Alibi 2012 ($24.90). This is 75% Sauvignon Blanc and 25% Sémillon. The wine begins with aromas of herbs, citrus fruits and orange rind. The flavours are intense, including herbs, orange peel, pink grapefruit and melon. The finish is crisp and refreshing. 90.

Black Hills Chardonnay 2012 ($29.90). This elegant Chardonnay begins with aromas of citrus mingled with buttery notes and very subtle oak. On the palate, there are flavours of grapefruit, tangerine and peach with a bright acidity that gives the wine a fresh and tangy finish. 90.

Black Hills Viognier 2012 ($24.90). The wine is elegant and rich on the palate, beginning with citrus, pineapple and stone fruit aromas. The flavours are a marvellous fruit salad of apricot, nectarine and ripe apple. The wine has a defining spine of minerality and a crisp, dry finish. 91.

Black Hills Syrah 2011 ($34.90). The wine begins with alluring aromas of plum, black cherry and pepper. There is a big dollop of fruit on the palate, including black cherry and black berry, along with spice and pepper. The earthy gamey notes on the long finish are classic for the varietal from the south Okanagan. 91.

Black Hills Nota Bene 2011 ($52.90). This is a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc. Dark in hue, the wine explodes in the glass with aromas of black currant, blackberry, cherry and cedar. On the palate, there are flavours of black currants and dark fruits set on layers of chocolate, coffee and sage. The wine is approachable now but built to cellar through its 10th birthday. 93.

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