Monday, January 15, 2018

Nota Bene and friends at Sun Peaks

Last weekend at the winter wine festival at the Sun Peaks Resort, I was able to lead a seminar of iconic wines of British Columbia.

The seminar was inspired by my 2017 book, Icon: Flagship Wines from British Columbia’s Best Wineries. The book gives detailed comments on more than 100 wineries and their top wines. In December, the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards announced that the book has been judged the best Canadian wine book in 2017.

The ten wines that I presented were, with one exception, from wineries participating in other events as well at the festival.

The exception was Black Hills Estate Winery which generously dipped into its library to provide from Nota Bene 2015. One can hardly talk about iconic Okanagan wines without talking about that wine. When the first vintage of Nota Bene (1999) was released in 2001, it developed a remarkable cult following almost immediately. The reason, at least in my view, was that it stood out from the small handful of red Bordeaux blends then being produced in the Okanagan.

Sixteen vintages later, the wine retains its cult status, even though there are numerous  other premium red wines available. I think the recent vintages of Note Bene also are significantly better than earlier ones (as delicious as they were). That reflects excellent viticulture, a well-equipped winery and a decision in 2012 to increase the barrel aging of the wine from 12 months to 16 months. The extra barrel time has produced a richer wine with a polished texture.

Last summer, Andrew Peller Ltd. paid a reported $30 million to acquire Black Hills. That was certainly generous but in wine, as in sports, you need to pay up to add a super star to the team.

If Nota Bene was a star in last week’s Sun Peaks seminar, the other nine wines easily held the attention of the guests during the two-hour, sold-out tasting. I should note that the seminar was sponsored by Tastefull Excursions, the leading Kamloops wine touring company that also provides transport services for Sun Peaks Resort.

One object of my book was to identify wines that can be laid down in a collector’s wine cellar. Thus, the book includes a number of Pinot Noirs, Rieslings, sparkling wines and Chardonnays as well as red blends, all of them age-worthy. Unfortunately, I overlooked Viognier and white Rhone blends, which age moderately well. I included neither Pinot Gris nor Sauvignon Blanc, usually because the producers had more impressive flagship wines but also these whites typically are best with two years.

Pinot Noir, which is becoming British Columbia’s signature red grape, was represented by two producers. Quails’ Gate Stewart Family Reserve Pinot Noir 2015 ($50) is the reserve Pinot from a winery that has been growing the variety since 1975. Nikki Callaway, the current winemaker, makes the wine with delicacy and restraint.

Privato Woodward Collection Tesoro Pinot Noir 2014 ($34.69) is from a winery in Kamloops operated by John and Debbie Woodward. While they have an estate vineyard, they source premium Pinot Noir grapes in the north Okanagan. This is a full-bodied wine with a lot of power for a Pinot – and a lot of awards.

The other wines all were red blends, almost always with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc; occasionally also with Petit Verdot and Malbec. Black Hills Nota Bene 2015 ($59.90) has already been discussed.

Covert Farms Amicitia 2014 ($29.80), the great bargain of the tasting, comes from the vineyard at Covert Farms north of Oliver. The winery does not label the wine organic but the owners strictly follow organic practices in the vineyard. This particular vintage also includes three per cent of Syrah.  

Culmina Hypothesis 2013 ($46) is the third vintage of this blend from Culmina Family Estate Winery, operated by Donald and Elaine Triggs, and daughter Sara. This is 38% Merlot, 36% Cabernet Franc and 26% Cabernet Sauvignon. Subsequent vintages will include Petit Verdot and Malbec. This wine is showing increasing complexity with increasing vine age in the Culmina vineyard.

Desert Hills Mirage 2012 ($36.90) is now sold out. One of the most mature of the blends offered in the seminar, it showed the benefit of laying these reds in the cellar for a few years. This blend includes five Bordeaux varietals.

Fort Berens Red Gold 2015 ($44.99). This is a new premium red from Fort Berens Estate Winery in Lillooet. The wine won gold at the Intervin competition and scored 94 points from me. It is a blend of 43% Cabernet Franc, 31% Cabernet Sauvignon and 26% Merlot. Its appeal includes bright, brambly flavours.

Hester Creek The Judge 2014 ($45) is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. The winery began making this premium blend in 2007. The wine has always been remarkable for the richness of its fruit and texture. That reflects grapes from an excellent vineyard fermented with cutting edge technology and then aged in barrel for 26 months. Given the quality, I have always considered that the wine underpriced. Don’t tell the winery I said so.

Moon Curser Dead of Night 2014 ($37.30). This wine, from Moon Curser Vineyards in Osoyoos, is a blend of 50% Syrah and 50% Tannat. Moon Curser is the only winery in the Okanagan with Tannat in its vineyard. Jancis Robinson has described this as a “powerful, characterful, often tannic variety at home in south-west France and Uruguay but becoming global.” A few years ago, Moon Curser’s Chris Tolley hit upon this brilliant blend. The Syrah adds flesh to the bones of Tannat that makes the wine drinkable on release. It has the structure to age at least 15 years, however.

Noble Ridge Vineyard and Winery at Okanagan Falls may have stolen the show at the tasting with two its King’s Ransom Meritage wines from arguably the two finest vintages so far in the Okanagan.

Noble Ridge King’s Ransom Meritage 2009 ($65), which is no longer available, is 50% Cabernet Sauvignon and 50% Merlot. Noble Ridge King’s Ransom Meritage 2014 ($69.90) – some of the 130 cases still may be available – is a blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, with small amounts Cabernet France and Malbec.

These wines were shown last in the tasting so that the guests could compare the vintages. Both wines are delicious, full-bodied with rich dark fruit and a hint of toast and vanilla from 24 months barrel aging.

The bottom line? One of the guests said he had not previously been a regular consumer of British Columbia wines. “This has changed my mind,” he said.


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