Last year Black Hills Estate
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
The response was, as you might image, pretty good. It
enabled Black Hills
to refresh its stock of
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.
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
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:
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.
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
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
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
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
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:
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:
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
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.