Black Hills Nota Bene is now available

Why should you care? Because it's the wine that helped kickstart BC's entire wine industry.

September 2, 2016

By Neal McLennan

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I still remember the first time I saw a bottle of Nota Bene. It was years ago in West Vancouver and I had just moved back from 8 years in Alberta and to say that my knowledge of BC wine had waned was an understatement. A restaurant guy named Bruce Fox took me down to his cellar and pulled out a bottle, cradling it as if it were Haut Brion, and when my expression made clear I had no idea what was in his hands he told me the tale of Nota Bene. How it was BC first cult wine, how there was a waiting list to buy each vintage, how it was meant to age—all of which were relatively foreign concepts in the Okanagan at the turn of this century.

Since that time we’ve seen a bunch of wines that are angling for the title of BC’s Cult wine. Mission Hill’s Oculus seems the most obvious but Laughing Stock’s Portfolio and Culmina are all making Bordeaux blends that are impressive,  powerful and age-worthy but for me there’s that little frisson every time I see a bottle of Nota Bene.

All of which amounts to Jack if the wine isn’t good. Thankfully I sat down with winemaker Graham Pierce and president Glenn Fawcett recently to taste through some back vintages that demonstrate that the wine is the real deal. Some standout’s include the 1999, which was the first vintage and was, atypically for Nota Bene,  Merlot dominant (64%) and quite low in alcohol (13%). Time has softened this wine wonderfully – it no loner explodes with fruit but the combo of bottle age and a cool year have created an elegant wine, high in acid with aromas of graphite and forest floor. If I had tasted it blind I would never have pegged this an Okanagan wine, or even New World at all.

On the other end of the spectrum was with 2006, still very rich and muscular. Cabernet Sauvignon is dominant here with waves of vibrant dark fruit still present and the tannins, which I assume were once formidable, have softened to a level of beautiful integration. This is the sort of wine that makes natural wine lovers bow in acknowledgment of the expertise that it takes to craft a balanced but big wine.

The 2004 fell somewhere between this two styles, the 2011 was still in it’s bursting out of the bottle stage with fruit. And then was the 2014—just released on September 1 and already sold out online. It was near black in the glass and the nose was amazingly tight no matter how much I shook and swirled my glass. In the mouth it was all structure—you can taste the tannins that will carry this fruit through the next decade and just the tiniest sniff of sweet smoke at the end. Frankly, I’m not the best at prognosticating wines—you’re guess is as good as mine most of the time—but I’m confident to say that this bottle will still be singing in 2025.

Nota Bene is available at select private wine stores in BC and if you really want to treat yourself the winery will be holding a full 17-year vertical of Nota Bene on October 1. Tickets are available here. You deserve it.

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