A wine tasting with Ann Sperling
Ann Sperling surely is the pride of Kelowna’s wine community: a hometown vintner with an international reputation.
Since 2008, she has applied her extensive experience as the winemaker and one of the proprietors of Sterling Vineyards.
Last month, she invited me to a tasting of her current range, mostly wines just being released, or soon to be released. The range is astounding: everything from a Champagne look-alike to Icewine. All the wines are made with fruit for the historic estate vineyard, known to the Sperling family as Pioneer Ranch.
The pioneering began with Ann’s ancestor, Giovanni Casorso, who came from Italy in 1883 to work with Father Charles Pandossy, the pioneering missionary in the Okanagan. The next generation of the Casorso family began planting grapes in 1929.
The property was taken over in 1960 by Bert Sperling, Ann’s father, who had married Velma Casorso. Ann, who was born in 1962, grew up in that vineyard.
Sperling Brut Rosé 2013 ($42). This wine is made with Pinot Noir clone 828 and presents with a lovely pink hue from skin contact. The bubbles give the wine a creamy texture. There are aromas and mouth-filling flavours of raspberry and strawberry. 91.
Sperling Brut Reserve 2011 ($50). This sparkling wine is 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay from vines planted in 2008. Ann’s model is Grande Marques Champagne and she adheres to the winemaking protocols of those wines (moderate alcohol, bright acidity, long lees contact in bottle). This wine has bready aromas from the lees contact. There is also a touch of biscuit mingled with the citrus and green apple flavours. The finish is crisp and dry. Tasted blind, you would take this for classic Champagne. 92.
Sperling Vision Label Chardonnay 2015 ($30). This barrel-fermented wine is made with clone 528 Chardonnay from a high-altitude block in the Sperling vineyard. “I wanted to retain acidity, so we harvested it somewhere around 21 Brix, maybe 21 ½,” Ann explains. “At that point, there still is eight or nine grams of acid. And I am working in 500 litre puncheons.” Think of Chablis with this wine. The oak is subtle on the nose and palate. The citrus and apple flavours are kept bright by the acidity. The finish lingers. 91.
Sperling Vision Label Vin Gris ($30). This is 100% barrel-fermented Pinot Noir but treated much like the Chardonnay, with the retention of good acidity. The wine, which presents with a bronze hue, has aromas and flavours of strawberry and apple. There is a fine backbone of minerality. 90.
Sperling Pinot Noir Rosé ($19). The wine is made with clones 828 and 777. The grapes get overnight skin contact before being pressed, just enough for a moderately pink hue. The wine has aromas and flavours of cherries and strawberries. It is filled out on the palate with good texture to lift the fruit flavours while finishing dry. 91.
Sperling The Market White 2015 ($17). This is a light and refreshing white, with just 11% alcohol. It is a blend of Pinot Blanc, Bacchus and Riesling. The Bacchus contributes herbal and spice notes. Ann limits Bacchus to a maximum of 40% of the blend; more than that, and Bacchus takes over. This wine begins with herbal aromas and subtle notes of lime and grapefruit on the palate. A touch of residual sugar adds to the easy-going style. 90.
Sperling Old Vines Riesling 2013 ($32 for 210 cases). The grapes are from the vineyard’s 1978 planting of clone 21B Riesling. This dry Riesling has good weight and intensity with notes of lemon and lime in the aroma and ripe apples and peaches on the palate. The wine is also beginning to show the classic petrol on the nose and on the palate. Seventeen grams of residual sugar are balanced with about 10 grams of acidity. This is an age-worthy, sophisticated Riesling. 95
Sperling Amber Pinot Gris 2015 ($30). This is Ann’s “natural” wine. The grapes went into the fermenters with 40% whole clusters. The wine was fermented on the skins with no additions of any kind, not even yeast or sulphur. The wine was fermented to total dryness and, after moderate settling, was bottled in April, 2016. Some lees remain in this unfiltered wine by design, to guard against oxidation. The name of the wine describes the colour which was extracted from the Pinot Gris skins. The texture is rich. The wine is complex, with spice, herbs and orange zest on the palate. Natural wines like this are popular with sommeliers because of the ability of the wines to pair with a wide range of foods. 91.
Sperling The Market Red 2015 ($18 for 500 cases). This is a new wine in the Sperling portfolio to partner with The Market White. The wine is 90% Maréchal Foch, with 40% whole clusters in the ferment, adding structure to the wine. The other 10% is Pinot Noir. The wine is a juicy, Beaujolais-style quaffer, with flavours of blackberry and cherry. 88.
Sperling Old Vines Foch 2015 ($32). Sperling Vineyards has one of the oldest blocks of Maréchal Foch in the Okanagan. Ann, who now uses about 30% whole clusters in the ferment, has mastered this venerable, and sometimes derided, French hybrid. This wine begins with intense aromas of black cherry and chocolate. Those are echoed on the meaty, earthy and full-bodied palate. The texture, however, is almost silky. 91.
Sperling Late Harvest Riesling 2015 ($30 for 375 ml bottle). Grapes for this wine were harvested from the vineyard’s old vines block at -6◦C, not far above the legal threshold for Icewine. The object was to concentrate the aromas and flavours. This dessert wine begins with aromas of lemon and lime. It delivers a mouthful of tropical fruit flavours and, with bright acidity, has a clean and refreshing finish. 95.
Sperling Vidal Icewine 2015 ($55 for 375 ml). To qualify for a tasting room license, Sperling Vineyards planted a two-acre block of Vidal in the form of a labyrinth next to the wine shop. For Icewine, the grapes were picked at -10◦C. The wine is a textbook Vidal Icewine – plump, with aromas and flavours of mango, guava and peach. Bright acidity gives this sweet wine a clean palate, encouraging one to drink a second glass. 90.