Smart decor, covered patio, Golden Mile vista. Works for me… TP photo

Beyond test driving our Zagat equipped Acura, the main reason for last week’s Okanagan swing was to take in the Vinos and check out Black Hills snappy new tasting room—aka Black Hills Wine Experience Centre.

Black Hills president Glenn Fawcett, Tim Pawsey photo

Black Hills president Glenn Fawcett, the man behind the Vinos wine video awards, Tim Pawsey photo

The Vino’s, founded by Black Hills president Glenn Fawcett, turned out to be a fun evening, with no shortage of tongue in cheek videos, all about the BC wine industry. The third year event saw the most entries yet. (We’d like to see a simultaneous screening in Vancouver…) The judging panel picked strong first and second places for the BC Wine Award, presented by SUN FM radio.

The Real Housewines of British Columbia

Vinos 2012 winner, a great send-up: The Real Housewines of British Columbia

Even if you’re not a Real Housewives fan you’ll still get a kick out of first place winner The Real Housewines of British Columbia, by Larkyn Statten (Vancouver Film School) while we got a good chuckle out of 2nd place Vinos, Boxed Wine and Nudes from Kent Molgat and Curtis Allen (The View Winery) and are still scratching our head over 3rd place ‘I don’t know Jason,’ from artist Jason Gogo. You can check ‘em all out here. And if you want more from The View (last year’s had us rolling on the floor), check their website…

Cellar Hand Free Run White, Tim Pawsey photo

Black Hills also took the occasion to launch their second label, Cellar Hand, which comprises the ‘Free Run’ 2011, easy sipping crowd pleaser, value priced white ‘cocktail’ blend (Pinot Blanc, Viognier, Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauv. Blanc) that sports tropical and citrus notes. Think grilled chicken with Waldorf salad ($15.90) 88 points; and ‘Punch Down’ Red 2010 (Syrah, Merlot, Cab. Sauv.): cherry and spice with firm tannins and some peppery notes: BBQ. $24.90. 87 points.

Meanwhile, back on the wine route …

These are heady days for Okanagan tasting rooms, whether you’re checking into Naramata Bench’s palatial

Poplar Grove: an impressive setting, Tim Pawsey photo

Poplar Grove (where we’re assured, one of these days, Vanilla Pod finally will be allowed to open) or meandering down to Okanagan Falls’ Wild Goose, which is just opening its impressive new building, with east facing views of the home vineyard.

Not to mention, of course, Quails Gate, Gray Monk, and others which enjoy truly dazzling lake views and more. Okay, maybe we’re a little biased, but we’ve done our share of winery touring around the world over the years and we’re still convinced there’s nowhere quite so blessed as the Okanagan for such an abundance of stunning,  natural panoramas.

But what about the actual tasting experience itself? For some time now, several wineries have been charging a few dollars to help cover costs, deducted from the price of a bottle, should you care to buy. And some have been charging quite a few dollars more to partake in a more polished tasting, with superior glasses, often in a private setting.

Without a doubt, Black Hills is taking things to the next level

Here are our first impressions (and notes on current releases) as in this weekend’s North Shore News:

Poolside tasting. Sipping but no dipping, please. TP photo

Where’s the best place to taste in the South Okanagan? Well, there’s no shortage of great spots. And we’re not quite stupid enough to pick only one. But you can be sure that the just unveiled Black Hills Wine Experience is right up there.

Along with sweeping, dramatic views of the Golden Mile, the new tasting room right on Black Sage Road boasts a team of friendly but supremely savvy sommeliers (coyly referred to as ‘wine evangelists’) who will lead you through a flight of current (and sometimes past) releases. Bonus points: each wine is poured in the appropriate Riedel stemware, while you are seated at a table on the covered pool-side patio, or in a private cabana. (More bonus points…)

The right glasses, smart tasting aids and professional advice.

It’s a definite bump-up from visiting the nearby winery, where visitors had to descend a steep driveway. Not so challenging going down but maybe more so on the way up, having tasted. Particularly if your preferred mode of transport is a 35 ft Winnebago.

Black Hills’ solution was to purchase a close-by private home, which has been redeveloped into the impressive steel and glass clad centre. All that remains of the home is the swimming pool. But no post-Nota Bene sipping dips here. It’s there for the effect—a water feature, but one that will be much appreciated on those searing south valley 35 degree days, once they hit.

At the end, the order form, complete with an offer to ship to the province of choice…

All this costs money, of course, and, should you choose to accept the mission, you’ll be asked to pay your share. But $20 for this level of service—and the calibre of wines poured—is not a lot to ask. Our hunch? We think you might even have to take a number. 

We have another hunch, too. Aside from the pool, the other item that remains is a less than elegant corrugated steel equipment shed. It’s slated for demolition—though in time we wouldn’t be surprised to see the site used for something else. 

Like a restaurant.

As for what’s in the glass, here’s what you can look forward too:

2010 Alibi. Every time we taste this Sauv. Blanc-Semillon blend it gets better. Look for up front citrus notes, followed by zesty lemon lime on the quite broad palate, with some mineral hints before a lengthy close. Think scallops in lemon butter sauce. $24.90 / 91 points.

2010 Viognier. Aromas of tropical notes dominated by grapefruit and pineapple, followed by stonefuit on the juicy palate with moderate acidity. $24.90 / 89 points.

2010 Carmenere. Varietally specific nose with leafy and cherry notes on top, approachable tannins with dark cherry-chocolate notes on the palate. Let it breathe in the glass and you’ll be well rewarded. Available from the winery. $49.90 / 90 points

2009 Syrah. The warmer vintage shows through with generous up front red and blue fruit, more meaty, spicy and gamey notes develop on the plush and plummy palate. Drinking well now. August 1 release $40-ish / 91 Points

Nota Bene 2010. This just released blend of 57% Cab, 32% Merlot and 11% Cab Franc,is still youthful but if you can’t wait a few years, let it open in the glass for its red fruit and cassis aromas to develop. Structured palate with dark fruit, earth and spice (80 percent French oak). $52.90 / 91 points.

Coinciding with the opening of the new Wine Experience Centre were this year’s Vinos, the wine-video brainchild of Black Hills president Glenn Fawcett. If you’re a Real Housewives fan you’ll want to check out the hilarious winner, on YouTube.