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Column: Head for the Hills!

Syrah is also known as the magic grape of Black Sage Road
Black Hills wines
The 91 point Black Hills Chardonnay and 92 point Syrah are great food wines to enjoy in September and October.

Head for the Hills? We’re talking Black Hills Winery in Oliver and their two 90+ points 2018 Syrah and 2019 Chardonnay. I asked president and CEO Glenn Fawcett why they label their Syrah ‘Syrah’ whereas other B.C. wineries label theirs ‘Shiraz’; it's the same grape!

“If you ask this to twenty different winemakers, you’ll get twenty different answers,” Glenn replies. “The Aussie Shiraz is bigger, bolder, more extracted, a little more jammy. They tend to use American oak which imparts more tannins into the wine.”

“Syrah, originating from the Rhone area uses French oak and tends to be more nuanced. From a Black Hills point of view, we’re not trying to be Rhone or Aussie; we’re just trying to be New World style. We just felt that the Syrah was a better title for it because we use 80 percent French oak and 20 percent American just to give it a better balance,” he explains.

Fawcett believes many people think that if the Okanagan was going to have a signature grape it would be Syrah. It’s known as the “Magic grape of Black Sage Road” because in the last twelve years the top red wine in Canada has been a Syrah from Black Sage Road eight different times (All Canadian Wine Championships).

The Syrah’s high quality is largely due to the sun, but also the depth of the sand, which goes down to 240 feet. The vineyard manager and winegrower can control the amount of water going to the roots of the vine, which controls the vine’s vigour. As a result, they can control the size, ripeness, and flavour intensity of the grapes.

Fawcett describes his 2018 Syrah: “We think the beauty with our wine is the depth of complexity; you’ll get the different layers. You’d pick up nice blueberry and black cherry aromas. When you taste it, you’ll get the same blueberry black cherry but you’ll pick up hints of black olive and sweet grass.”

As to what food he would like to complement his Syrah, Fawcett says, “ I would get a nice big juicy lamb burger, a good Alberta steak, something that has got nice fattiness to it”.

I was astonished how I could smell the generous aroma as soon as the wine gets poured into the glass. Delicious black and blue fruit and savoury smells of licorice and leather instantly greet your nostrils! The flavour of blueberries and blackberries is multilayered and full with a viscous port-like mouth-feel. The leather, white pepper, and licorice nicely balance the ripe fruit. There are smooth tannins and a long and elegant finish.

The Black Hills 2018 Syrah (“92 points”) is available from the winery ($39.90) and at Everything Wine South Surrey, ($40.99) and North Van.

Switching colours, the Black Hills 2019 Chardonnay ($29.90; “91 points”) is a wild ferment. Rather than adding yeast to the grapes, Black Hill’s Winemaker Ross Wise lets the yeast that grows naturally on the grape skin ferment the grape juice into wine. It allows for a more true expression of how the grape was meant to taste.

Glenn Fawcett describes the Chard, “When you’re smelling it, you get a scent of apple skin and almost lemon. It’s semi-oaked; 50 per cent is exposed to a neutral oak puncheon and 50 per cent is put in a stainless steel fermentation tank,”

Fawcett continues, “Ross believes you need some oak influence as it reduces the angularity of the taste of the chardonnay, because it can be a bit sharp. But it’s not over-oaked. He thinks it's a nice balance and I agree with him. When you taste it it’s just got that warm smooth bit of a granny smith apple that works with a lot of food.”

I enjoyed the aroma of apples and peaches with a gentle waft of toasted oak and a pinch of cinnamon. The flavour was complex with apples, nectarines, lemon peel, caramel butterscotch as well as apple pie spice. There’s a nice balance of fruit and acidity with a long finish of citrus and minerals.

Fawcett concludes, “This is a really good food wine and a really good summer wine because you can keep it at a cooler temperature than the reds. This will work with fish; it will really work with salmon, or burgers off the barbecue. It will go great with a charcuterie plate because it has so many flavour profiles that would pair with the different flavours of the Chardonnay. ”

The Black Hills Estate 2019 Chardonnay is available from their website and at private outlets.