Black Hills Limited Edition Mixed Case

Nota Bene Anchors a Golden Mixed Case from Black Hills

By David Lawrason

This feature was commissioned by Black Hills Estate Winery.

The grapes that end up in Nota Bene 2023 will be the 25th batch so destined. That makes Nota Bene one of Canada’s oldest “big” Bordeaux styled reds, helping put B.C. wine on a whole new trajectory in the late 1990s. That a red wine produced at the 49th degree of latitude might be considered in the same breath as Bordeaux and California, was a marvel to most observers at the time, myself included.

Two bottles of the 2020 Nota Bene (the vintage is sold out at the winery) are the foundation of a WineAlign Limited Edition mixed Black Hills 6-bottle case being offered by WineAlign and Black Hills this month. (ORDER HERE). There are also single bottles of 2020 Addendum, 2019 Per Se, a solid 2019 Syrah and the white 2021 Alibi. Three of these were gold medalists at the National Wine Awards of Canada. 

$320.85 + tax and shipping ($398.16 includes tax and shipping.) Limit of 2 sets per order.

Black Hills Estate Winery and its flagship wine Nota Bene are the creation of Bill and Senka Tenant, who made their first wines in a quonset hut on the lip of the Black Sage Bench. Their first bottled vintage of Nota Bene was the 1999 vintage, from a vineyard called Sharp Rock, planted in 1995. It was a revolutionary and just plain gutsy notion at a time when part of the Black Sage Bench was a cattle feedlot.

Today, Black Sage and neighbouring sites in Osoyoos are the epicentre of a thriving “big red” wine culture in the South Okanagan that incudes endless iterations and blends of cab sauv, merlot, cab franc, malbec and petit verdot, with syrah also important. 

The Black Sage Bench is not yet an approved Okanagan sub-appellation, but surely will be. Its aspect tilts westward on a desert slope that receives extra sunlight as the sun sinks behind the opposite hills, during the warmest part of the day. Every bit of ripening warmth is prized at this latitude where the growing season is much shorter.

Ross Wise, MW

I asked Black Hills winemaker Ross Wise for his perspective on this small but mighty appellation.

“The west-facing aspect and the light texture of the Black Sage Bench soils consistently allow excellent levels of ripeness across the later ripening varieties,” he explains. “For me, though, it is purity of fruit that is the signature of this bench. The fruit can be so pristine and fragrant. To capture this in the bottle, our focus in the vineyard is around a balanced canopy and crop level, followed by harvesting at exactly the right moment.”

Ross is one of Canada’s most celebrated and accomplished winemakers. Born and trained in southern New Zealand, he emigrated in 2009, starting his Canadian career in Niagara at Flat Rock Cellars. From 2012 he plied his trade as a consultant in Niagara and Prince Edward County. In 2016 he joined the new Phantom Creek project in B.C., then in 2019 he migrated less the 500 metres to take over at Black Hills, within the Andrew Peller Group. In 2022 he became director of winemaking for Andrew Peller’s B.C. properties.

His latest accomplishment has been to earn his Master of Wine designation in 2020, one of fewer than a dozen Canadians to hold this title.

So, what to expect from the 2020 Nota Bene? First, it was an excellent vintage.

2020 Nota Bene

“At the end of the 2020 harvest I joked that I should retire, because it doesn’t get much better than that,” Wise says. “2020 was an outstanding vintage in the South Okanagan. The growing season was moderate in temperature, but September was warm and dry, allowing excellent fruit concentration and ripeness across all our varieties. Aromatic intensity and purity of fruit are the hallmarks of the vintage, with the silky and ripe tannins of the Black Sage Bench reds being a standout as well.”

In 2020, Nota Bene’s shifting matrix of component grapes landed at 42 percent cabernet franc, 33 percent cabernet sauvignon and 24 percent merlot, plus 1 percent petit verdot. The composition is a flip from the formula of the previous, slightly cooler, vintage where merlot was 48 percent, cabernet sauvignon 34 percent and cab franc was 17 percent. I sense that the quality of the vintage and putting cabernet franc in the pole position has brought more poise to the blend and made this one my highest-scoring Nota Benes to date.

My tasting note follows: “The nose is nicely lifted and quite elegant with finely woven black and red currant, raspberry, fine herbs/sage and well fitted oak. It is full bodied, quite smooth, dense yet approachable. Many will purchase this for cellar collections, but I think it will please from now on.”

Ross Wise’s description of the winemaking process begins to explain this result.

“In the cellar, we use wild yeasts to best express the fruit aromas. This also brings greater complexity and allows savoury notes to shine through. Handling during fermentation is very gentle — carefully and slowly extracting tannins and building structure. We select lightly toasted French oak barrels and puncheons to support what the vineyard and fermentation has given us.”

Other wines in the WineAlign Limited Edition Case include the 2020 Addendum, a merlot lead blend at 85 percent with cabernet franc at 15 percent. It, too, is excellent, scoring an equal 94 points in my books. It is full bodied, fairly dense, juicy and intense with warmth, freshness and structure. (Gold Medal at the 2022 WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada.)

2020 Addendum

The 2019 Per Se, a newer blend from a cooler year, puts cabernet franc in the majority. It too earned an average score of 93 with Michael Godel giving it 94 points. This has both size and some charm. The length is excellent. Quite delicious. 

The 2019 Syrah is a personal favourite. It is a solid, classic syrah driven by pepper, dried herbs, sage, and earthy ambiance. The fruit takes the passenger seat, very ripe cherry and sour plum. It is medium-full bodied, chunky, and chewy with some alcohol warmth (14.2 percent). (Gold Medal at the 2021 WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada.)

2019 Syrah

And the case is rounded off by the new 2021 Alibi a white blend of sauvignon blanc and semillon that is given a slightly tropical twist by the Black Sage Bench. (Gold Medal at the 2022 WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada.)

2021 Alibi

All in all, the case represents a great opportunity for wine lovers across Canada to sample the excitement of the many things — maturing vines, a great vintage and great winemaking talent — that are coming together to make the south Okanagan so important to the Canadian wine scene. ORDER HERE.

A Special Offer for Purchasing the WineAlign Limited Edition Case:

Retain your purchase receipt for a complimentary experience* for you and 1 guest at Black Hills Estate Winery.

($70 value, cannot be combined with any other offer, non transferable & holds no cash value.) 

$320.85 + tax and shipping ($398.16 includes tax and shipping.) Limit of 2 sets per order.

This feature was commissioned by Black Hills Estate Winery. As a regular feature, WineAlign tastes wines submitted by a single winery, agent or region. Our writers independently, as always, taste, review and rate the wines — good, bad and indifferent, and those reviews are posted on WineAlign. We then independently recommend wines to appear in the article. Wineries, wine agents, or regions pay for this service. Ads for some wines may appear at the same time, but the decision on which wines to put forward in our report, and its content, is entirely up to WineAlign.