Black Hills Estate Winery‘s acclaimed Nota Bene red blend put them on the map in our home many years ago. But on our recent trip to their striking tasting room in scenic Oliver, B.C., we were wowed by all of their wines. Further, the top-notch hospitality in their vineyard tasting lounge, the Wine Experience Centre, is incredible. We visited a decade ago, but this time, our host Jess Lilienskold elevated the tasting. In addition, Black Hills relatively new winemaker, Master of Wine Ross Wise, is crafting some exceptional wines. Read on for details.
Black Hills Story
Almost half of the province’s vines are grown in Oliver, where you’ll find more than 40 wineries. The combination of hot days and cool nights in the area produces fruit with the perfect balance of flavors and crisp acidity.
Black Hills is one of the most well-known wineries in the area, thanks to its flagship wine, Nota Bene. The winery is located on the famed Black Sage Bench, north of Osoyoos and south of Oliver. It’s in the middle of Canada’s only official desert, and is one of the hottest, driest and sunniest sites in the country.
Black Hills grows four clones of Cabernet Sauvignon, two clones of Cabernet Franc and four clones of Merlot. Master of Wine Ross Wise and his team crushes, ferments and barrel ages each clone separately, to maintain their unique flavor profiles.
Ross joined the winery three years ago, bringing fresh ideas to making the wines at Black Hills. For example, some critics say the 2020 Nota Bene is the most delicious made since it debuted with the 1999 vintage.
Black Hills is committed to sustainable, environmentally friendly farming and winemaking practices. The B.C. Environmental Farm plan awarded the estate winery Environmental Farm Plan Status.
Black Hills Master of Wine Ross Wise
Head winemaker Ross Wise joined Black Hills in 2019. The following year, he received the prestigious Master of Wine designation. He is the third in B.C. to achieve this status. Moreover, of 415 MW worldwide, only 10 are in Canada. According to media reports, when he was asked how his life changed since the honor, he humorously replied, “I’m answering the phone a bit more than I was two weeks ago.”
Originally from New Zealand, Wise worked with prominent producers there and in Ontario for 16 years before the cool-climate wine industry in B.C. beckoned.
First, Wise became head winemaker and general manager at Phantom Creek Estate. Next, he joined Black Hills, where he applies his combination of science, creativity and expertise to the already-renowned portfolio of Black Hills wines.
He is considered to be fiercely talented, and after tasting his current lineup, we agree.
Black Hills Wine
The heat on the vineyards fully ripens the grapes, followed by cool nights that allow acid retention. As a result, the climate provides ideal growing conditions for intensely flavorful Bordeaux and Rhone varieties grown there. Our friendly, knowledgeable host, Jess poured us seven impressive wines, which showcase the terroir.
Credit for all the wine photos in this article goes to our friend Chuck Kinzer, a professional photographer.
Black Hills Alibi 2021 ($28 CAD)
One of Black Hills favorites, Alibi blends 85% Sauvignon Blanc with 15% Sémillon, and the result is our idea of a perfect summer sipper. This refreshing, yet silky, white wine opens with incredible citrus and pineapple aromas, and a palate of more citrus, tropical fruit and green apples. You can drink this on its own or with charcuterie. And not just during warm weather, either. It will also pair well with turkey on Thanksgiving, or with salmon (with herbs and citrus) all year round. Alibi was the first white wine ever produced at Black Hills, with the initial vintage dating back to 2003. We brought a bottle home.
Black Hills Chardonnay 2020 ($35 CAD)
This is our kind of Chardonnay. The 2020 is 100% Chard, bold, with citrus on the nose and the palate, and a subtle salinity, framed by crisp acidity. A rich, textured mouthfeel emphasizes flavors of more lemons, pears, pastry and spices.This is a wine I want to drink in our hot tub, anytime of year. Or serve it with shellfish, chicken or pasta with a creamy sauce. I wish we had some here during crab season in August.
Carménère 2018 ($73)
Intense aromas of black fruit, black pepper and herbs lead into savory, smoky and meaty flavors with more pepper, cherries, figs and spices. This is a full-bodied, rich and smooth wine that complements smoked ribs, beef dishes, roasted pork, barbecued burgers and hearty stews. Black Hills is the first to plant Carménère in the Okanagan. This is a good example of how Ross Wise added his mark compared to previous vintages. It’s a wine club exclusive that’s big on the nose and soft on the palate. It reminded us of some Syrahs from the Rocks District here – in the sense that people are either going to love it or hate it. We loved it.
Syrah 2019 ($43 CAD)
This is a silky, medium-bodied Syrah – a completely different style than the Washington state Syrahs we typically pour. Its pretty nose of cedar, dark fruit and violets turns into flavors of cherries, plums, cassis, baking spices, and earthy, savory notes. Ross recommends cellaring it up to 10 years, to unlock more spicy, meaty nuances. If you can’t wait, give it a big decant and pair it with spaghetti and meatballs, barbecued ribs, burgers or lamb.
Tempranillo 2019 ($60 CAD)
Tempranillo thrives in the vineyard’s desert heat and withstands the cold winters in the Okanagan Valley. In addition, the hot, arid climate compares to parts of Spain most associated with Tempranillo. This full-bodied 2019 Tempranillo opens with aromas of raspberries, plums, cherries and earth, which echo on the palate. As well, flavors of cedar, cassis, sage and savory notes entice. My notes as we tasted it: “So good but it needs a few years to evolve.” It has great aging potential so cellar it.
Black Hills Per Se 2019 ($50 CAD)
Ross Wise revamped Per Se 2019 to be more of a right bank Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Franc (76%) and Merlot (24%). The Merlot softens the base of Cab Franc. We found aromas of raspberries, cherries and cocoa, and flavors of more red fruit, with hints of star anise, vanilla and savory, herbaceous notes. And our host Jess told us the 2019 is Ross’s favorite wine. We understand why. We loved it so much, we brought a bottle home. Drink 2019 Per Se now with grilled steaks, roast beef or roast leg of lamb. Or cellar between 5-10 years to see its full potential. By the way, this is just the fourth vintage of Per Se since 2013 because Black Hills only produces it when the growing year is exceptional.
Black Hills Nota Bene 2020 ($70 CAD)
The clonal diversity at Black Hills provides depth and complexity to Nota Bene, the hallmark of their flagship wine. We’ve been drinking Nota Bene since its initial vintage in 1999. For the first time in its history, Cabernet Franc is the dominant grape. Specifically, the 2020 vintage is 42% Cabernet Franc, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot and 1% Petit Verdot. This elegant wine is powerful yet silky, balanced with fresh acidity. Aromas of cherries, plums and raspberries lead into flavors of blackberries, mocha, milk chocolate and spices, along with savory notes. If you open it now, be sure to give it a good decant. Better yet, put it away for at least five years, or up to 20 years. This beauty has the structure and aging potential. By the way, 2020 Nota Bene is sold out online but still available at the tasting room.
Summary: Black Hills
In conclusion, Black Hills surprised us as one of the highlights of our BC wine tour. Above all, the winery offers an excellent experience. You’ll find outstanding wine, a beautiful tasting room with panoramic views of the valley, and warm hospitality.
Thank you, Wine BC, for helping us organize our tasting.
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Margot and Dave