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
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
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
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
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.
Hills Alibi 2012
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
Hills Chardonnay 2012
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.
Hills Viognier 2012
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.
Hills Syrah 2011
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.
Hills Nota Bene 2011
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