Monday, October 25, 2010

10 Years of Nota Bene

Quick pop quiz! Name a top-end BC wine that has been made continuously for 10 years... yep, there are but a handful. Mission Hill's Oculus, Blue Mountain's Pinot Noir and Black Hills' Nota Bene are the only reds that come to mind. Why? For one, the premium wine industry in BC is still very young. Sure, we've been making wine in BC for decades, but premium, cellar-worthy wines have only been produced in the Province since the mid 90's.

Arguably, of those few, no other wine has had more effect on the collectability of BC wines over the past decade than Nota Bene. Thus forever altering why we add BC wines to our cellars. Gone are the days when we added BC wines to our cellars simply to see how they would perform with extra time in the bottle. Now, a growing percentage of the wine-buying population, add these elite, Iconic wines to their cellars for equal parts status and drinking enjoyment. So, how do they fare over time?

I had the opportunity to attend a recent 10-year vertical tasting of Nota Bene at Black Hills Estate Winery - a virtual time-capsule of Okanagan Valley vintages from 1999 to 2008. Except for the first year, the wine has changed the percentage of its components only minimally from vintage to vintage reflecting the medley of varietals planted in the estate vineyard. This "field blend" approach has its challenges, but certainly allows the terroir show through and reflects vintage variation.

The tasting was hosted by winery president Glenn Fawcett who clearly understands the power of the Nota Bene brand and has changed very little around its production since taking over the firm in 2006, except to fund upgrades in winery equipment. These improvements on the winery floor and in the cellar will effect quality more than character and will mean the Nota Bene of tomorrow should out-live the Nota Bene of the past - depending on the vintage conditions.
Black Hills Estate Winery President Glenn Fawcett

The wines were poured from standard 750ml bottles for the vertical tasting. However, a later event afforded the opportunity to taste a few of the vintages in double-magnum format (3L bottles). Notes on the double-magnums when applicable.

1600 cases. 64% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc.
Dark brick colour, with warm, candied-fruit and prune aromas. Very earthy, almost pinot-like in character with forest floor, stewed-fruit flavours. A bit tired and past its prime. Drink now.

Double-Magnum: Much more lively. More prominent red fruits on the nose. Has peaked and is drinking beautifully now. Drink 2010-2012.

1800 cases. 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cabernet Franc, 23% Merlot.
First vintage where Cabernet Sauvignon was king. Medium garnet core, brick rim. Stewed tomato aromas dominate the hint of dark fruit notes left. Mostly lightened, savoury notes remain. A bit tired and past its prime. Drink now.

Double-Magnum: As with the 1999, the large format bottle has allowed the wine to age more slowly and the "old wine" characters are charming rather than a burden. Has peaked and is drinking beautifully now. Drink 2010-2012.

2200 cases. 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 19% Cabernet Franc.
Medium garnet core, watery rim - very clear. Nice smoke, earth and herbaceous characters above the remnants of dark fruits. Savoury on the palate. Balance remains intact. Has peaked and is on the way down so enjoy soon. Drink 2010-2011.

Double-Magnum: Still fresh with more aging potential. More fruit than the 750ml bottling. Drink 2010-2013.

2200 cases. 48% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc.
Dark garnet. Herbs and oak aromas with some prune notes. Fresher and more vibrant on the nose and palate than the older vintages. Candied fruit and licorice flavours. Big and bold - a classic Nota Bene. Peaking now/soon. Drink 2010-2012.

2400 cases. 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc.
Dark garnet core, dark brick rim. Hefty. Super-hot vintage (major forest fire year). Less funky earth notes than the 2001/02. Fruit much more prominent with nice tartness on the palate. Oak and cedar aromas and flavours. Drink 2010-2013.

Double-Magnum: Has yet to peak. Fresh and vibrant. Drink 2012-2015.

2800 cases. 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Franc.
The 2004 was the stand-out for me at the tasting. Pinot Noir in appearance only with a crystal clear, light-garnet colour. Elegant nose of red fruits, licorice, chocolate and minerality. Crisp and vibrant on the palate. Drinking beautifully now and will likely peak in another year. Drink 2011-2014.

2900 cases. 43% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc.
Dark garnet-ruby core. Big, aromatic nose. Dark jammy fruits and mint aromas. Bold vintage. Far from peaking. Drink 2011-2015.

3300 cases. 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Franc.
Dark ruby colour. Fresh plum, mint, sweet dark fruit aromas with some prune notes. Very focussed and sharp - a classic Nota Bene. Far from peaking. Drink 2012-2016.

3900 cases. 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 39% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc.
Balanced vintage with a good growing season and decent ripeness. Dark ruby colour. Dark fruits with fig and some nice spice characters. Very youthful still. Should peak between 2013-2014. Drink 2011-2016.

Double-Magnum: Tasted fresh, juicy and vibrant like it had just been released. Drink 2014+.

4300 cases. 48% Cabernet Sauvignon, 41% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc.
Intense aromas of cassis, dark fruit, licorice, oak spice, French vanilla, forest floor and cigar box. Equally big flavours of cherry cola, blackberry liqueur, blueberries, espresso beans, wet cigar and toasted oak follow suit on the richly-textured and full-bodied palate. Drink 2010-2014.

Double-Magnum: (Tasted at the BC VQA trade show) Tasted like it was right out of the barrel. Fresh and vibrant. Large format bottles of the 2008 will increase the lifespan of this release, however, I would still recommend enjoying this vintage sooner than the 2005-07's. Drink 2013-2016.

3300 cases produced. 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Merlot and 16% Cabernet Franc.
Not yet released and only recently bottled, the 2009 vintage was poured as a barrel sample to preview the upcoming release (est. June 2011). Having tasted many 2009 barrel samples lately I am very excited about this vintage and the Nota Bene is no exception. Production is down due to crop damage in the spring of 2009, but a hot summer and dry Fall has produced big fruit flavours and ripe tannins (ripest in years).
Icon Score

 - Liam Carrier ©copyright 2010

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