Photo: Black Hills winemaker Graham Pierce
In blending the 2012 Nota Bene, Black
winemaker Graham Pierce decided to break with the tradition
of anchoring that wine around Cabernet Sauvignon.
For the first time since 1999, Merlot anchors the 2012 Nota Bene. “It’s a better wine,” Graham says. “Let’s just not do something because
we always did it.”
The 2012 vintage, the 14th vintage of Nota Bene,
has just been released and Graham has been doing some trade tastings.
The blend for 2012 is 57% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon and
8% Cabernet Franc. In every previous vintage but the first, the blend contained
around 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, creating a familial consistency in the wine.
The first vintage in 1999, some 1,600 cases, was made by a Washington State
winemaker, Rusty Figgins, with
substantial input from Senka Tennant. One of the former owners of Black Hills
, she was the winemaker through the 2008
vintage, when Graham took over.
I have no notes on why that first vintage was heavy on
Merlot. My informed guess, however, is that the decision was made for the
winery by the weather that season. 1999 was a cool growing season during which
Cabernet Sauvignon would have struggled to ripen more than Merlot.
That was not the situation facing Graham in 2012. That was
“one of the best years we have seen for flavour profiles, balanced ripeness and
quality,” the winery says of that year. The Merlot-dominant blend was, as
Graham says, judged to be the better wine.
Many Okanagan Meritage reds are anchored by Merlot, and not
just because so much of that varietal is in the vineyards. When it is well
grown, Merlot in the Okanagan is not the soft, jammy varietal that was panned
in the movie, Sideways. The variety
has good structure, vibrant fruit flavour and bright acidity; it does not need
to be propped up by a lot of Cabernet Sauvignon.
In his trade tastings, Graham has been showing the 2012 as
part of a vertical tasting that includes the previous five vintages. It is as
if he is putting down a marker, showing that he need not apologize for changing
In one recent trade tasting, the overwhelming favourite was
the 2009 Nota Bene. That wine is a big, rich and concentrated red from one of
the Okanagan’s greatest vintages so far. The blend is 46% Cabernet Sauvignon,
38% Merlot and 16% Cabernet Franc. If you want to taste this delicious wine,
you either need to find a Nota Bene collector or sign up for a vertical tasting
at the winery.
If the 2009 outscored the other vintages, none of the other
wines disappointed. Even with vintage variations, the quality consistently is
high. And Nota Bene always tastes like Nota Bene, with flavours of blackberry,
plum, black currant, chocolate, liquorice and sage nestled in a plump texture.
The Nota Bene 2012
($53 to 3,200 cases) stacks up very well. The familiar sage and herbal notes
are on the aroma and the finish. The fruit flavours include black cherry, plum,
coffee and chocolate. The texture is rich and ripe, with long tannins. The
winery says this was “more masculine” than previous vintages – even after
dialling back the Cabernet, which speaks well of the quality of the Merlot.
This will age as well as any Nota Bene, which is seven to 10 years. 92-94.