Monday, November 9, 2015

Nota Bene is one of BC's most collected reds

Last year Black Hills Estate Winery offered its regular customers a two for one deal.

The winery would give two bottles of a current vintage of Nota Bene for every bottle of an older vintage the customers were prepared to part with.

The response was, as you might image, pretty good. It enabled Black Hills to refresh its stock of library wines.

In turn, that has allowed the winery to offer vertical tastings. The most recent, a six-vintage vertical, was offered recently at the Cornucopia wine festival in Whistler.

Glenn Fawcett, the president of Black Hills, says that the winery’s original owners might have set aside perhaps five cases a year for the library. In 1999, when the first vintage of Nota Bene was made, it is safe to say hardly anyone in the Okanagan gave much thought to cellaring wines for future vertical tastings.

Even today, not enough wineries have been around long enough to host verticals. Hopefully, they are putting wines away for such tastings in the future.

In the last year, I have attended public vertical tastings hosted by Mission Hill (for Oculus), Black Widow (for Hourglass), Laughing Stock (for Portfolio) and Clos du Soleil (for Signature).

I have also been privileged to do a number of private vertical tastings. I am completing a book for next spring on British Columbia wines that, in my opinion, should be collected. I am setting out to make several points through the book:

  • By collecting your same favourite wines every year, you will soon have a vertical of five or more vintages of those wines. By tasting them side by side more than once, you get to understand the wine, how it develops in the bottle, and how the vintages differ.
  • The wine tastes better when you can invite a few friends to experience a vertical tasting. For many consumers, this is still a rare experience. It should not be.

Nota Bene, the Bordeaux blend from Black Hills, is one of the three or four most collected wines from the Okanagan.

The wine became a cult wine almost as soon as the 1999 vintage was released in 2001. I predicted as much in my review when I wrote: “A Noteworthy and Collectible Wine. For collectors of British Columbia wines, the latest must-have wine is the 1999 Nota Bene from Black Hills Estate Winery, a producer near Oliver which has just opened. This has all the marks of becoming a cult red wine capable of appreciating in value."

That first vintage was 1,600 cases. The 2012 vintage was 3,800 cases and the 2013 was 3,200 cases. Nota Bene production was been capped around that figure.

Here is a tip if you can’t get any Nota Bene: the reds that don’t make the cut for Nota Bene in any vintage end up in a second label called Cellar Hand Punch Down Red. It sells for about $25, half the price of Nota Bene, but it punches (pun intended) well above its weight.

If you start collecting wines for verticals, you can safely assume that any collectible B.C. red, if stored properly, will live for at least 10 years and probably longer.

The Nota Bene vertical at Cornucopia had three wines older than that, including the 1999. If you have this wine in you cellar, drink it now. It is fully mature and is sliding.

The surprise is that it is still drinkable. That wine was made with grapes from four-year-old vines. The original winery was an old Quonset hut. Yet Senka Tennant, the Black Hills winemaker, with guidance from Washington State winemaker Rusty Figgins, made a solid wine.

I previously tasted the 1999 two years ago, when I was a guest at a private Nota Bene vertical. The group’s favourite wine was the 1999 (mine that evening was the 2005).  Here is what I wrote:

Nota Bene 1999: The fruit aromas and flavours have matured, developing earthy notes and ephemeral fruit favours that typify a well-aged wine. The complexity reminded one taster of an aged Italian red from Tuscany.

It so happened I still had a bottle of the 1999 in my cellar. In view of the vote – it was not my top pick - I opened it the following day. The fruit in my bottle was more vibrant (one expects bottle variation as wines age), deliciously sweet up front with a spicy berry note on the finish. It has begun to slide from its peak, but with remarkable elegance.

Two years later, the wine’s flavours also reminded me of an old Tuscan red, with notes of forest floor and mushroom on the dusty finish. The wine has made it to 16 years but it has hit the wall.

Here are notes on the five other vintages tasted at Cornucopia.

Nota Bene 2000: The wine has some truffle aromas, with flavours of plum, cassis and cigar box. The texture is polished and elegant. The wine has peaked but is holding well.

Nota Bene 2004: This bottle is better than the one I tasted two years ago. That one began with spicy berry aromas, leading to flavours of black currants, plum and cigar box. This one has developed a lovely core of sweet fruit, including black currants and cherry. It is at a peak that should last a few more years.

Nota Bene 2006: This wine is a milestone for Black Hills, which had replaced its challenging Quonset hut with a new winery, well equipped with all the tools needed for modern winemaking.  The 2006 is full on the palate, with distinctive aromas and flavours of blueberry and cassis. When the wine was released, winemaker Senka Tennant described it as “appealing for its layers of dark fruit with a hint of spice, olives and cedar on the nose; full bodied and balanced with silky velvety tannins and a great lengthy rich finish.”

Nota Bene 2008: This begins with an appealing aroma of red fruit, vanilla and mocha. It is rich and ripe on the palate with flavours of plums, black cherries and vanilla. On the finish, there are hints of chocolate, red berries and spice.

Nota Bene 2013: This is an elegant and harmonious wine, reflecting the winemaking style of Graham Pierce who took over from Senka in 2008 when the ownership of Black Hills changed. This wine is approachable now, with a little decanting, but it has the structure to last at least 10 years. It has aromas and flavours of black cherry, black currant and blueberry with a touch of spice and cigar box on the finish, no doubt from the time the wine spent in barrel.


At November 12, 2015 at 7:45 AM , Blogger whyner said...

Have some great memories of Note Bene since the beginning but found the 99 went through some awkward periods 4 or 5 years after vintage. The wine displayed some serious vegetal character and seem to separate into components rather than stay knitted together. In 2013 I opened 2004, 2005 and 2006 together and was pleasantly surprised at their concentration, balance and overall beauty.
Since retirement in 2008 I have tended to look for really promising wines under $30 and have had many successes.
Great work your doing John - a pleasure to know you

John Cryer


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