Apr 21, 2014
The last time I sat down for a retrospective of Nota Bene was in 2010, at the Black Hills Estate on the Black Sage Bench, near Oliver, BC. (right)
It was a well-delivered tasting of the first 10 years of this coveted BC red.
Those of you familiar with Black Hills' premium flagship red, know this was one of British Columbia's first icon wines - a Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc.
In earlier days, Nota Bene (as a label) actually overshadowed the winery name.
The first Black Hills vines were planted in 1996, they were comprised of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Chardonnay. At the time, the winery was owned by Senka Tennant (winemaker) and her husband Bob, who later sold it, in 2007. When the winery was purchased, president Glenn Fawcett brought on winemaker, Graham Pierce, who has been the chief winemaker ever since.
(Right: the author harvesting Merlot at Black Hills in 2010)
The first vintage of Nota Bene was 1999.
Thirteen vintages later, it is the only red blend in BC, which has been made from the same three varieties (from the same vineyard parcel) since day one.
The quantity of Nota Bene has increased since that first vintage (currently 3200 cases are made per year of Black Hills' 10,000 total case production) and the percentages change to reflect the year but the varietals remain status quo.
Over the years, Black Hills added a number of wines, which have become as highly-regarded as Nota Bene, even if they've never achieved the same cult-like status. The Alibi, a consistent blend of Sauvignon Blanc (75%) and Semillon (25%) was first released in 2003. It's freshness and complexity are always present but vintage variation can be expected.
A first of its kind. In 2005 another new wine apeared - one made from 100% Carmenere. It was only three years after a small portion of the estate was planted to this classic French (and now Chilean) variety. Chardonnay followed in 2007, Syrah in 2009 and finally a Viognier.
More recently, Black Hills followed up with a new label called Cellar Hand, under which they make an entry-level red blend ($20) adding to a total of 2000 cases per year.
(Above right: winemaker Graham Pierce; right: president Glenn Fawcett)
Fawcett has a way with marketing. He has been able to take the popularity of Nota Bene and bring more recognition to Black Hills as an estate and a producer of fine wines. Over the years he's built on the estate's reputation and upgraded the irrigation system and winemaking equipment as well as constructing a new, modern winery and a visitor center known as the Wine Experience Center.
Build it and they will come.
Yes, but it's what is in the bottle that counts. Between Pierce's commitment to sustainable viticulture (partnered with viticulturist Steve Carberry) and making seriously great wines and Fawcett's drive to build and invite the world, they have a winning combination.
Last week I tasted through a lineup of Nota Bene from the vintages of 2007 to 2012.
Look for a change-up in the most recently released 2012 vintage.
Nota Bene 2007 (46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 39% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc) The oldest of the lineup offered a expectedly integrated nose. It suggests mint, cocoa, pencil shavings, cedar, leather and mineral with a core of red fruit. Similar high-toned fruit supports the palate with licorice, sweet spices and pipe tobacco. Excellent length and balance - drinking exceptionally well now. (92 points Winescores.ca, June 2009)
Nota Bene 2008 (48% Cabernet Sauvignon, 41% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc) Sweet fruit leads the nose; cassis, plums, vanilla and chocolaty notes with spice, cedar and leather - it borders on brooding. The palate follows suit. Black cherry flavours, roasted coffee, cocoa and spice flavours impress and the finish is wonderfully persistent. (92 points WineScores.ca, Aug 2010)
Nota Bene 2009 (46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Franc) The warm vintage is reflected in the glass and this wine was a crowd favourite. Blackberry, black plum and other wild briary fruit notes lead to dried herbs, some green olive and tobacco. It is still quite powerful has some grippy but ripe tannins and has very good length. Flavours of wild fruits, leather, brown spices and dark mocha. (92 points WineScores.ca, Dec 2011)
Nota Bene 2010 (57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc) A spicy blackberry nose is layered with black currents, roasted bell peppers, dark chocolate, leather and tobacco. It leans toward Bordeaux in character; the acidity is more pronounced than 2009 and the palate finer as well. (92 points Winescores.ca, Nov 2012)
Nota Bene 2011 (50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc) My favourite of the lineup, the cooler 2011 vintage lifts the acidity and gives this wine a more feminine character. The notes are well-integrated, a fragrant muddle of chocolate, violets, sweet spices and berries with a hint of dried wild herbs. The palate offers solid high-toned fruit with sweet spice, licorice, coffee and chocolaty flavours. Fine bned with lovely depth an a spicy cocoa finish.
(91 points Winescores.ca Dec. 2013)
Nota Bene 2012 $53 (57% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Cabernet Franc) A roll reversal of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon make this a first for Nota Bene. It's a more approachable wine upon release and will appeal to the vast majority of consumers. Cassis, ripe plums and red currents, a potpourri of cedar chips and dried flowers with pipe tobacco atop savoury notes. Very good balance and concentration and a lot of power. Expect tealeaf, spice and chocolaty flavours trailing on the finish.
(no score available).
To see all these previous reviews of Nota Bene link here
To see all of Black Hills Estate wine reviews link here
~Daenna Van Mulligen