If you are familiar with the Ontario wine scene, you may recognize the names Ann Sperling and Peter Gamble: Ann as the current Director of Winemaking and Viticulture at Southbrook Vineyards, and Peter as the long-time consulting winemaker for Ravine Vineyards. But you may also know that Ann and Peter work at other projects outside of Ontario, and in recent years they have been more active in bringing their wines “from away” into the Ontario market.
Ann has been representing wines from her family’s Kelowna B.C. property, Sperling Vineyards, and together Ann and Peter have been importing Malbec from their Versado wine project in Mendoza, Argentina. I’ve tasted some of these wines in the past, and in September I had the opportunity to re-taste some of their older vintages, as well as some current and new releases. These are wines of real interest, made by a duo of highly skilled and knowledgeable winemakers. I highly recommend that you look for opportunities to try them when they appear at our LCBO.
Sperling Vineyards is a 45-acre plot situated on the east side of Lake Okanagan, on a hillside above Kelowna. Ann’s family has farmed here since the 19th century, and planted their first vines in the 1920s. Current grape varieties include the hybrid Marechal Foch, dating from the 1960s, Riesling (1978), and later plantings of Pinot Blanc (mid 1980s), Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, and in 2008 Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Four of the five Sperling wines I tasted this September were traditional method sparkling wines, a growing speciality of Ann and the winery, and a long-term area of expertise for Peter, who has consulted with the premium sparkling producer Benjamin Bridge since 2000.
The first two wines were 100% Pinot Blanc, a traditional sparkling grape that is allowed (though seldom used) in Champagne, but is widely used in Italy. I’ve tasted the 2008 Sperling Brut, Pinot Blanc(Vintages #361436 $39.95) several times (reviewed here andhere), and it continues to reward. The wine spent 36 months on its lees (in the bottle after second fermentation), and so was disgorged about two years ago. it is watery white with glints of straw and light green, and presents fine and persistent bubbles. The nose is bright and fresh, suggesting citrus – lemon and lime – and green apple, over hints of toast and brioche. The wine is brut, with very crisp acidity. Tart fruit lingers on the bracing finsih. 91
The 2009 Sperling Brut, Pinot Blanc ($39.95 at the winery), shows many of the same charactersitics but in a slightly broader, gentler framework due to the warmer vintage. The wine is watery white with reflections of pale straw. Bright fruit aromas suggest lemon juice, green apples and delicate white flowers, over some toasty notes. The wine is brut, with elevated acidity, and fruit flavours that reflect the nose, along with more obvious floral notes. The palate is a little more ripe and generous than the 2008, but remains bright and precise. 91
The 2012 Sperling Brut Rosé, 100% Pinot Noir ($42.00 at the winery) spent 12 months on lees after the second fermentation. It is bright pale salmon, with moderately persistent fine bubbles. Suggestions of strawberries, lemons and apple blossoms fill the nose. The wine is brut, has crisp acidity and provides a delicate framework for the fruit that is more prominant on the palate, with floral notes and a hint of toasted hazelnuts. A pleasant lingering finish. 90
The 2010 Sperling Brut Reserve is a blend of 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay ($50.00 at the winery). The wine is a very pale straw, with fine bubbles. The nose is rich and complex, with aromas that are reminiscent of lemon, yellow apples, white flowers, toast and brioche. The wine is brut, with elevated acidity and a medium body. The palate is fairly broad, with flavours of yellow apple and lemon, moving into white peach and peach blossoms, accompanied by toast and nuts. The finish is long. This is an excellent sparkler made in a very classic, traditional style. 93
The 2012 Sperling Pinot Noir ($27.95 at Vintages #382283) the winery) is a lovely expression of cool climate Pinot Noir. The wine is pale ruby-garnet, and the intense nose is filled with pretty red berries — cranberries and raspberries — as well as sour cherries, dried leaves and earth, herbs, stony minerality, and a hint of baking spice that reminded me of cinnamon. The wine is dry with crisp acidity, moderate alcohol and fine tannins. The palate is crisp and juicy, resolving into a focused, drying bitterness on the finish. This is very good, excellent to drink now, but worth cellaring for a year or two as well. 90
Ann and Peter’s Versado project is a seven-acre vineyard situated on an ancient riverbed of the Mendoza river in the Luján de Cuyo subregion of Mendoza, and near the Calle Cobos, the famous Cobos Road that parallels the base of the high Andean foothills. The ungrafted vines were planted in the 1920s, and are almost 100 percent European Malbec, with a few vines of Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon interspersed. The vineyard was purchased in 2008, in some disrepair and following several years of devastating hail damage. While the intention was to slowly nurse the vineyard back to health, by 2009, within the first year of rehabilitation, they were able to make a small amount of Malbec Reserva. The vineyard is being managed according to organic practices, and is on its way to full certification.
The wines reflect both the ideal vineyard situation — limestone-rich sand and loam over a rocky substrata, Argentinian sunshine, high altitude and cool mountain air — and the cool climate sensibilities of Ann and Peter, who will control ripeness and bring balance and finesse to their winemaking.
In Ontario we can find two levels of Versado wine: the first is the estate-level Versado Malbec, and the second is the premium Versado Malbec Reserva. I’ll present my notes on the estate wines first, followed by the reserve wines. Sadly the 2013 wasn’t available at the tasting due to a logistics problem. It is always more interesting to sample in context with and under the same conditions as the older wines, but in this case I purchased the wine at my local store and have included my review with those of the other wines.
Versado Malbec 2013, Luján de Cuyo Mendoza, $25.95 (Vintages #317008). The wine is deep ruby, showing youthful pink on the rim, with more obvious colour extraction than I recall from the 2012 and 2010 estate wines. The nose on my bottle was initially rather closed, and it took several hours of aeration to unfold. What began as dark fruit tangling with resinous wood notes turned into a complex of blackberry and plum, pine needles and cedar, damp earth, red licorice nibs and cinnamon. The wine is dry, with a rich body, elevated acidity, some alcohol heat and medium ripe tannins. Aeration softened the wood notes on the palate as well, which allowed the black fruit, earth and spice to surface. There is excellent potential here, and look forward to revisiting this wine a year or two down the road. 89+
Versado Malbec 2012, Luján de Cuyo Mendoza, $25.95. The wine still shows a youthful and rather deep ruby, with purple highlights on the rim. Expect aromas of raspberries, blueberries and blackberries, with plums and cherries, a floral note, dried herbs, forest floor and a suggestion of vanilla and wood resin. The wine is dry, with lively acidity, more than medium body, elevated but balanced alcohol, with just a touch of heat, and ripe tannins. The fruit fills the palate — it’s fully ripe but still has freshness and verve. Despite the obvious complexity, I still had the sense that the wine has hidden layers that need time to express themselves. So let it have at least another year or two of aging in cellar, as confirmed by the progress of the 2010 tasted below, although it was still a pleasure to taste now. 91
Versado Malbec 2010, Luján de Cuyo Mendoza, $25.95. The wine is a moderately deep ruby, with a glint of garnet on the very edge of the rim. The aromas are intense and complex, suggesting red berries, black cherries, and blackberries, with noticeable pine needle and menthol notes over black olives and a hint of coffee. The wine is dry, with elevated acdity and alcohol, and medium tannins with a slight grip. The palate is rich and full — the wine is really starting to come into its own. 92
The lovely evolution of the 2010 strongly suggests that the estate wines will benefit from bottle aging. I bought several extra bottles of the 2013, and I won’t be trying those again for a few years! The reserve wines are a barrel selection of the estate fruit. All aging is in French oak, with approximately 60% new oak for the reserve and 30% for the estate wine.
Versado Reserva Malbec 2011, Luján de Cuyo Mendoza (the 2010 is the forthcoming release — the 2011 is a sample of the wine that will be released next year). The wine is deep ruby-purple, still showing youthful violet on the rim. The nose bursts with plums, blackberries and lifted black currants, with still noticeable oak resin, toast and vanilla. The wine is dry, with elevated acidity and alcohol, a rich body and tannins that still have a sandy grip. There are still some rough edges, but the fruit and spice, now supplemented by black licorice and a sense of minerality, fill the palate. This is showing immense promise, and It will be interesting to see the wine a year from now. 92
Versado Reserva Malbec 2010, Luján de Cuyo Mendoza, $60.95 (currently being released at Vintages in Ontario, #316984) The wine pours as a fairly deep ruby, with violet reflections. The nose suggests warm, rich blackberry, plum and black currant fruit, violets, coffee and vanilla. Tannins are beginning to integrate, and the slight heat is balanced by noticeable acidity. The palate is rich and just beginning to show the complexity that will come to the fore in the next years. If you want to drink this now, make sure you give it a long aeration. Best to hold for at least three or four years. 93
Versado Reserva Malbec 2009, Luján de Cuyo Mendoza. This is the first wine created under the Versado banner. The wine is deep ruby, with a dark ruby rim. High intensity aromas suggest ripe blackberry and black currant fruit, black olives, tobacco leaf, leather, a hint of menthol and graphite. The wine is dry with a full body, rich, dense and slightly creamy texture, and softening but still coating tannings — powerful but with some elegance too. This has years ahead of it. 93