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J and I headed down to Oliver last weekend to primarily stick to the Black Sage Bench, with the one exception of Covert Farms Family Estate (I also needed to pick some tomatoes and zucchini for some canning!) We started at Burrowing Owl at the south end of Black Sage. They really do have a great setup there and if you do have time to book in on a tour of the winery it is well worth it – the cellar system is huge compared with what you actually see above ground! The $2 tasting fee in their tasting room gets split between the Burrowing Owl Conservation Society and SORCO (South Okanagan Rehabilitation Centre for Owls). To date, over $400,000 has gone to these organizations from tasting fees! I started with the 2011 Pinot Gris, with flavours of pear, grapefruit and a bit of spice. The 2010 Pinot Noir has cherry, strawberry and orange zest on the nose, all of which carry over to the palate, along with some vanilla. The tannins are light and it has nice acidity. The 2009 Syrah has blueberry, plum and a bit of spice on the nose, with flavours of raspberry, coffee, chocolate and spice. The 2009 Cabernet Franc has fairly high acidity, medium tannins and flavours of raspberry, spice and a hint of violets. The 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon has nice structure, with flavours of cassis and prune plums.

On we go to Desert Hills, just a couple minutes up the road. I am loving the new look to their labels this year – beautiful graphics and these labels really pop from the shelves. The 2011 Chardonnay is unoaked, with flavours of apple and pear, a round mouthfeel and nice acidity. The 2011 Cactus White is a blend of Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer and Viognier. It has apricot and lychee on the nose, is crisp and clean, with flavours of lychee, citrus and orange blossom. The 2011 Viognier has a lovely apricot nose and flavours of apricot and citrus. The 2011 Gewürztraminer has rose petal and lychee on the nose with lychee and citrus on the palate with a round mouthfeel. The 2011 Gamay is a bit lighter than previous vintages but is tasty as usual, with cherry and vanilla on the nose, light body with spice, strawberry and sour cherry on the palate. The 2008 Cabernet Merlot has medium acidity and medium tannins, with black currant on the nose and palate along with some cherry flavour. The 2008 Syrah has a meaty nose along with some dark berries. It has medium-to-high acidity with full tannins and flavours of dark berries, vanilla and spice with a bit of chocolate on the back palate. The 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon has nice structure and lots of cassis on the nose and palate. The 2008 Malbec has flavours of dark berries with coffee on the back palate, along with medium-to-high acidity and medium-to-full tannins.

Platinum Bench Winery is a new one this year along the Black Sage Road, opened by Murray Jones and Fiona Duncan. The 2011 vintage was split in production between their Black Sage location and Okanagan Crush Pad in Summerland. Their reds were produced on Black Sage and their whites were produced at OCP, with Michael Bartier acting as consultant winemaker. I’ve been impressed with this first vintage from Platinum Bench. The 2011 Pinot Gris has apple and pear on the nose with apple and citrus on the palate. It is a well-balanced wine. The 2011 Chardonnay was split into three batches (stainless steel, new French oak and neutral barrels) which were all then blended back together again. The subtle oak flavour is well-integrated. There is citrus, melon and butterscotch on the palate, with a round mouthfeel. The 2010 Benchmark Red really blew me out of the water when I first tasted it a couple of months back. It is a blend of 42% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc and 8% Gamay. It spent 18 months in French oak. It has medium-to-high acidity and medium-to-full tannins. There is a lot of black cherry and red currant on the palate along with some spice and a hint of eucalyptus.

Stoneboat Vineyards is one winery that I always love to visit as I’m never disappointed by the wines; the Martiniuk family always seems to get it right! The 2011 Pinot Gris has grapefruit and stone fruit on the nose and palate, with crisp acidity and a lovely minerality. The 2011 Chorus is an Old Vines blend of aromatic Germanic varietals, with tropical fruit flavours, nice acidity and a hint of sweetness. The 2011 Faux Pas Rosé is one of my favourite rosés this season. It is a blend of Pinot Noir and Pinotage and has a lovely nose of cranberry and citrus, with lush strawberry and citrus on the palate, with a hint of spice. The 2010 Pinot Noir has great earthiness on the nose, along with cherry. This wine is very well-balanced, elegant with a complexity of flavours. The 2009 Duet is a 50/50 blend of Pinot Noir and Pinotage, with flavours of plum, cherry and fig, along with some baking spice and vanilla. It has medium-to-high acidity and medium tannins, although they have softened nicely. The 2010 Pinotage has black currants and spice on the nose, with quite heavy tannins and medium-to-high acidity. The 2010 Solo is the Reserve Pinotage, which was made up of 4 barrels that were deemed to be of a high enough quality that then had some further aging. It has great tannins, with flavours of dark fruits and spice. The 2010 Verglas is an Oraniensteiner Icewine, of which 70% was Botrytis-affected, and picked at 48 Brix. The result is a decadent dessert wine with a honey nose, lovely aromatics and beautiful acidity.

Next we showed up to our reserved booking at the Wine Experience Centre, the new tasting room and wine shop for Black Hills Winery, located a bit further south along Black Sage Road from their winery. We were escorted out onto the covered patio overlooking the lovely turquoise waters of the swimming pool to run through the wine tasting. A series of Riedel glasses were placed in front of each of us, a particular glass for each of the five wines that we would be tasting. The 2010 Alibi is a blend of 75% Sauvignon Blanc, fermented in stainless steel and 25% Semillon which was treated to older French oak. It is clean, with a round mouthfeel, citrus flavours and lovely complexity. The 2010 Viognier was just released last week and has a clean nose of apricot and honey, with a bit of white floral (although I was struggling to name the blossom – frustrating as it was right on the tip of my tongue!) The apricot and citrus carry on to the palate. This Viognier has beautiful flavours and complexity. The 2010 Carmenère has spice on the nose along with a bit of tobacco leaf. It has a medium body and fairly high acidity with lovely red fruit flavours. Black Hills has grafted Carmenère onto existing Chardonnay vines, taking it from ¾ acre previously to 3 ½ acres, since it has been performing so well. The 2010 Syrah is one wine I had very much been looking forward to tasting, ever since I had tried a barrel sample of it last summer and it did not disappoint! It was released just last week, alongside the Viognier, and had been bottled in May. It has a rich nose of blackberry and black pepper, with blackberry, black currant and black pepper on the palate – delicious! The 2010 Nota Bene is a blend of 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot and 11% Cabernet Franc. This is the highest percentage of Cab Sauv used to date in Nota Bene, in part due to some loss in the Merlot crop. It has a very clean nose, with lots of cherry and cassis, with a bit of olive and tobacco. This carries over to the palate, with cassis being the dominant flavour. It has full tannins and well-balanced acidity.

Before heading home we stopped in at Rustico Farm and Cellars to say hi to Bruce, pick up a few bottles of wine and to have a bit of a picnic lunch – Rustico now has a well-stocked fridge and shelves with meats, cheeses, crackers, chips and even some treats from Tickleberry’s! I always enjoy the atmosphere in the “corral” picnic area at Rustico as well as the gorgeous valley views.

Our final stop of the day was up at Covert Farms Family Estate Winery (formerly known as Dunham & Froese). The 2010 Nighthawk White is 100% Pinot Blanc, with 60% of it having spent 3 months in French oak. It has flavours of green apple and vanilla, with a round mouthfeel and nice acidity. The 2011 Pinot Blanc has had no exposure to oak and has a fresh clean nose with flavours of citrus, floral and nectarine. The 2011 Rosé is a blend of 50% Sauvignon Blanc, 30% Viognier, 3% Semillon, 3% Roussanne and 4% Malbec. It is a dry wine but is quite fruity still. It has a nose of cherry and berries, with a round mouthfeel and flavours of cherry, strawberry and citrus.

view of Covert Farm from McIntyre Bluff

The 2010 ‘The Bluff’ is a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Cabernet Franc and 10% Petit Verdot. It has medium-to-high acidity and the tannins were still fairly full, despite having been decanted for an hour and a half. It has lovely flavours of blueberry and cassis and should develop beautifully over the next few years. The 2010 MDC is a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Syrah and 25% Zinfandel. It had also been decanted for an hour and a half and still had fairly heavy tannins and medium-to-high acidity. It is a lovely balanced wine with chocolate, blueberry, violets and liquorice on the nose and flavours of sour cherry, blueberry, blackberry and baking spice. The 2009 Amicitia had not been decanted. It is a full Bordeaux blend with the addition of Syrah. It is 48% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc, 12% Syrah, 9% Petit Verdot, 7% Malbec and 4% Merlot. It has a nose of dried or stewed fruits, with flavours of raisin and cherry. It has medium acidity and medium-to-full tannins.