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A new room with a view

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 and 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).

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-foot 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.

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 to:

- 2010 Alibi. Every time we taste this Sauv. Blanc-Semillon blend it gets better. Look for upfront 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 upfront red and blue fruit, more meaty, spicy and gamey notes develop on the plush and plummy palate. Released Aug. 1; $35/91 Points.

- Nota Bene 2010. This just-released blend of 57 per cent Cab, 32 per cent Merlot and 11 per cent 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 Vino's Awards, 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.


The more things change . . .

Last week's passage through the Commons of MP Dan Albas' private members Bill C 131, to decriminalize inter-provincial wine sales by amending a 1928 act created quite the buzz. If nothing else, it's been a while since a bill passed with such unanimity.

However, despite the change to the federal law, signs are that Canada's provincially controlled liquor regulations are not going to be rolled over that easily.

Even before the ink was barely dry, the B.C. government sent out a release saying that, once the bill received senate approval, its residents would be able to return home with one case of wine, four bottles of spirits and a combined total of six dozen bottles of beer, cider and coolers - thereby deftly ignoring the original intent of the process: to allow visitors to Canada's wine regions to ship home their purchases, or to

participate in winery clubs and receive shipments accordingly.

The move to "Free My Grapes" originated when some B.C. wineries revealed they had received threats from other jurisdictions that if they didn't cease shipping wines, their products might be withdrawn from liquor store shelves.

While many do see a light at the end of the tunnel, it could still be a way off yet. Stay tuned to see just how much the "protect our turf at all costs" provinces plan to water down the effects of this wine legislation.