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Spotlight on Sperling Vineyards, Stonebridge popup and Pinots shine at Vintages

By Rick VanSickle

In this Canadian Wine Report, we look at three top wines from B.C.’s Sperling Vineyards, take in a local bottle shop popup and preview some great Niagara Pinots from the Vintages release Dec. 3.

Also in this report: Wines featured include, Westcott Vineyards (Pinot and Chard), Cloudsley Cellars (Pinot), Henry of Pelham (Pinot), a new sparkling wine from Stonebridge Vineyard, a fabulous top red wine from B.C.’s Mt. Boucherie included in our December Classics Collection preview.

But first …

New from Sperling Vineyards (Okanagan Valley)

Canada wine

While Wines in Niagara has shifted its focus away from the Okanagan Valley this past year, for various reasons outlined here in this post from last March, it’s always a treat to revisit a benchmark winery like Kelowna’s Sperling Vineyards.

Winemaker Ann Sperling, above, along with winemaker and vineyard manager Rickard Branby, craft all the family estate’s wines from organic and biodynamically farmed fruit with minimal intervention. She is a believer in the holistic approach to winemaking, that good things come from an eco-system that isn’t constantly bombarded with unneeded chemicals to control all manner of pest and pestilence.

Sperling Vineyards, established in 1925, has become a vinous reality producing elegant wines of character through the vision and partnership of Ann and Susan Sperling, along with their husbands, Peter Gamble and Paul Richardson.

From Sperling’s winemaking positions in the 1980s, she has pursued hands-on and hands-off skills in areas of whole-farm, vine management, single vineyard bottlings, indigenous fermentations, and non-interventionist winemaking methods. Her talents were applied to a significant string of top-end vineyard and winery projects in B.C. and Ontario. 

Gamble works as lead consultant in key winery start-ups in Ontario (currently Stonebridge and On Seven) and Nova Scotia. Together they run their passion project Versado; a perfect terroir for their 1920 planting of Malbec, high in the Andes in Mendoza, Argentina.

In this report we look at three key new wines in the Sperling portfolio — two from the exciting Vision Series, along with the flagship Old Vines Riesling. The Vision collection is one of the most complete in Canada for the burgeoning experimental styles that consumers just can’t seem to get enough of. These are wines made from younger vines, experimental styles, and small lots with an individual and vintage expression. The added expression is derived from fermentation techniques, cellar influences such as barrels (new wood, different sized barrels, etc.), wild ferments, classic method sparkling, and extended lees contact.

Here’s what I liked:

Sperling Vineyards Vision Series Brut Reserve 2010 ($115, 94 points) — The blend for this fascinating, long-lees aged, traditionally made sparkling wine is 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay and made with zero dosage. Right out of the glass, this thrilling bubble shows the complexity that an extended lees aged wine brings to the party, with autolytic notes right off the top followed by creamy brioche, lemon tart, mulled apples, a gentle, elegant bead, and lovely saline/oyster shell accents in a seductive, multi-dimensional style. Such vim and vigour on the palate for a wine of this age with toasty/bready notes, a creamy, yet vital, texture, a soft, elegant bead, lemon, pear, green apple, subtle savoury berries, flinty/autolytic notes, and mouth-watering acidity keeping this perfectly mature wine vibrant through the finish. What a treat!

Sperling Vineyard Organic Vision Series Pinot Noir Reserve 2020 ($49, 93 points) — The Vision Series Pinot Noir was planted in 2008 on blocks noted for their calcium-limestone rich clay soils. Sperling chose three Dijon clones (114, 777, 828) planted on three different rootstocks (10114, 3309 & Paulson) for the 8.5 acres of hillside vineyard. It was fermented in one- and four-tonne lots, including 40% whole clusters, hand-picked, and sorted fruit is wild fermented to both alcoholic and malolactic dryness, then barrel aged in large format (265, 300 & 500 L) French oak barrels for 18 months (with a tiny percentage of new wood). The intriguing nose begins with notes of forest floor and late autumn leaves and opens to a melange of savoury red berries, beet root, nutmeg and spice notes that are fully integrated. It’s silky smooth on the palate with ripe and savoury black raspberries, cherry tart, anise, sage, earthy notes, spice, and a long finish fuelled by mouth-watering acidity. Beautiful, complex and cellar-worthy Pinot Noir.

Sperling Vineyards Old Vines Riesling 2017 ($35, 94 points) — This is the estate’s jewel, its flagship wine that’s not released until two years in the bottle have passed. The fruit is hand-harvested cool in late fall, then bunch sorted and destemmed with a four-to-six-hour cold soak before gentle pressing. Slightly settled juice is fermented cool with non-aromatic and wild yeast in stainless steel to desired dryness when fermentation is halted. It shows a light golden colour in the glass and a nose of lime peel, emerging sweet petrol, bergamot, bin apples, a subtle note of ginger and wave after wave of river-rock/saline minerality. It’s crisp, vibrant, and joyful on the palate with wild honey sweetness tempered by racy acidity, lime zest, bin apple, ginger, and savoury notes that all together is a deep, complex and minerally-driven Riesling with a fresh, saline finish. Bravo!

Loving the local bottle shop scene

Taking a quick stroll to downtown St. Catharines, where Archives Wine and Spirits is located, has been a revelation for me. It reminds a lot of my time in Calgary where wine shops are run by the private sector and the government stays the hell out of retail and simply collects taxes.

Shopping in a free system allows consumers greater choice and a pleasant experience browsing and shopping from one store to another and competitive pricing. In the space of a week recently, I was at two local bottle shops. The first was the Barbea Wine Shop and Snack Bar on Mary Street in Niagara-on-the-Lake. I had not been back for a while, not since the shop moved next door and expanded greatly to include a vast selection of local and international wines you just can’t buy at the LCBO. I went to pick up the Schrader Double Diamond Napa Cabernet 2019, the current Wine of the Year from the Wine Spectator and stayed for the oysters, a lovely white wine owner Ryan Crawford suggested and a wee dram of aged rum. I was surprised by the reasonable mark up for such a sought-after wine. Check out this cool spot, you won’t be disappointed by the selection, one of the largest (if not THE largest) bottle shop collection in Ontario.

Robbie Raskin (above), the owner of the Archives bottle shop, has a real community vibe thing going on and his unique blend of sourcing interesting local wines that the LCBO doesn’t carry, rotating popups and themed events and is building a great reputation among the downtown crowd and Niagara winemakers.

I was there for the Stonebridge Vineyard popup introducing the new Brut Premier sparkling wine and other treats Lailey/Stonebridge marketing manager Thomas Reid was pouring for interested guests. Stonebridge is the top tier collections of wines from Faik Turkmen, the man who purchased Lailey last year and moved his Stonebridge Vineyard wines there. The wines are made by Peter Gamble and the early releases of several Chardonnays have been stunners. I was curious about the new charmat method sparkling wine and was delighted by what I tasted. Even former Lailey winemaker, Derek Barnett, was in the house to taste it!

Here’s what I liked, including a retasting of the 2019 estate Chardonnay:

Stonebridge Brut Premier 2021 ($42 at Archives Wine and Spirits, 91 points) — This is the first sparkling wine from Stonebridge, a 100% Chardonnay from the estate vineyard made in the charmat method. It’s wild fermented and a small portion of the wine spent four months in French oak to add complexity and texture. It’s a nifty charmat with a vigorous bubble in the glass to go with pear, citrus, lemon curd, bright apple, and subtle toasty notes. The toasty/flinty accents are amplified on the palate and integrate well with the pear/apple fruits, lemon zest and vibrant, bubbly finish. A delightful sparkling wine.

Stonebridge Chardonnay 2019 ($59 at Archives Wine and Spirits, 91 points) — Only 38 barrels of Chardonnay were made from the Stonebridge Vineyard (Four Mile Creek) in 2019 and it was spread between three expressions. All three are barrel fermented and aged in oak from 20-22 months, 25% average of new oak. It has a showy nose with Bosc pear, bergamot, lovely lemon cream, subtle butterscotch, toasted vanilla bean and elegant spice notes. It’s rich and creamy on the palate with poached pear, yellow apple, citrus zest, toasted spices, a silky texture, slight note of ripe sweetness with length and finesse. As part of the Stonebridge pop up at Archives, I couldn’t resist giving this Chard a second look. This is the second time I have tasted this wine and love how it’s developing in the glass. It’s concentrated but balanced by racy acidity. Can drink now or cellar 3+ years.

Niagara wines shine at Dec. 3 Vintages release

Savvy wine buyers are in for a real treat at Vintages stores around the province this Saturday. Three wonderful Pinot Noirs, from Westcott Estate, Cloudsley Cellars and Henry of Pelham all have Pinots going on the shelves Saturday. Westcott also has a robust Chardonnay from 2020 on offer. Here’s what we can recommend from the release:

Westcott Estate Pinot Noir 2018 ($32, 92 points) — This estate Pinot Noir, farmed in the Vinemount Ridge sub-appellation, is 30% whole cluster pressed, wild fermented and aged for 12 months in French oak. It’s released after two years of bottle age. It’s sold out at the winery, so this is your only chance to purchase this delightful wine. It has profound floral perfume on the nose with savoury red berries, anise, red currants, forest floor and spicy notes. It’s nicely integrated on the palate with brambly black raspberries, ripe cherries, earthy/savoury notes, anise, smooth and silky tannins, and a lifted, vibrant finish.

Westcott Estate Chardonnay 2020 ($30, retasted for this report, 92 points) — The fruit was hand-picked and whole bunch pressed with no sulphur added at the time of crushing. It was wild fermented and aged in 100% French oak (10% new) for 10 months. It shows a juicy, ripe nose of generous orchard fruits, lemon cream, toasted spices and stony minerality. It’s rich and creamy on the palate with pear, apple, citrus zest, integrated spice notes and searing acidity keeping it lively through the finish. Since last tasting, it has become even more voluptuous and broad on the palate and I sense it still has room to grow. Try tucking a couple of bottles in the cellar to see how it evolves.

Cloudsley Cellars Twenty Mile Bench Pinot Noir 2018 ($35, 91 points) — This Pinot is a blend of Hanck, Cuesta, Homestead, Glen Elgin, Parke, May and End of the Road vineyards all on the Twenty Mile Bench. It’s wild fermented and aged for 18 months in French oak (29% new). It’s ripe and fragrant on the nose with notes of savoury cherries, brambly raspberries, cranberries, and spice. It’s silky smooth on the palate with ripe red berries, some savoury/earthy notes, lovely floral accents, spice and a vibrant finish.

Henry of Pelham Family Tree The Boxer’s Ghost Pinot Noir 2021 ($20, 89 points) — The nose shows dark cherries, black raspberries, crème de cassis and barrel oak spice notes. It’s a bold and rich Pinot on the palate with ripe dark berries, some tannic structure, fairly overt spice notes, some tannic structure and a finessed finish.

Also released, but not reviewed by Wines in Niagara:

• Featherstone Joy Premium Cuvée Brut Sparkling 2016 ($35)
• Peller Estates Signature Series Classic Ice Cuvée Sparkling ($36)
• Southbrook Triomphe Organic Chardonnay 2018 ($25)
• The Tragically Hip Ahead by a Century Chardonnay 2020 ($22)
• Cave Spring Estate Grown Cabernet Franc 2020 ($20)
• Stratus Red 2019 ($49)

December Classics Collection Dec. 1

A trio of top-tier Henry of Pelham Baco Noirs and  a gem of red wine from B.C.’s Mt. Boucherie are on offer in the December Vintages Classics Collection. Online ordering starts Dec. 1 at 8:30 a.m. here.

Here are our picks from the Canadian wines available:

Henry of Pelham Bin 106 30th Vintage Limited Edition Baco Noir 2018 ($45, 92 points) — It has a powerful nose of smoky dark fruits, plums, dried tobacco, cherry compote, toasty vanilla and spice with an interesting array of integrated herbs. It’s thick in the glass and full-bodied on the palate with smoky/savoury cassis, currants, jammy red fruits, licorice, savoury spices and herbs all kept lively from the retention of bright acidity through a big finish. Cellar 5+ years.

Henry of Pelham Bin 106 Lost Boys Limited Edition Baco Noir 2019 ($40, 90 points) — I’m losing track of the number of Bacos HoP is now making. This is the newest iteration and the most expensive, sourced from the oldest Baco vineyards (35 years) from the estate’s Short Hills Bench and chosen from the best barrels. It’s aged in American oak barrels and finished in European oak for 12 months. It’s a more refined version from the more savoury examples derived from other Bacos in the family with a nose of cassis, plums, kirsch, sandalwood, herbs, sweet tobacco and pronounced spice notes. It shows well on the palate with a full range of dark berries, minty herbs, blue plums, raspberries, bramble, integrated spices and a tangy finish. Can cellars 5+ years.

The Henry of Pelham Bin 106 Lost Boys Limited Edition Baco Noir 2020 ($35) is also available but not reviewed by Wines in Niagara.

Mt. Boucherie Summit 2018, Okanagan ($54, 93 points) — This is “the pinnacle of everything we do at the estate,” says head winemaker Jeff Hundertmark, and, in my opinion, stands among the top big reds made in B.C. It’s a blend of 52% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Franc, 17% Syrah with a couple of drops of Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon that’s aged in 100% French oak (35% new) for 24 months. The fruit is sourced from premium blocks in the estate’s vineyard in the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys. It has a thrilling and generous nose of black cherries, black currants, blueberries, raspberry bush, cigar box cedar and elegant spices and mocha notes. It’s rich and powerful on the palate with a firm bed of ripe tannins to go with cassis, blackberries and blueberries with compoted red berries, smoky cedar, earth and rich spice notes in behind. It all benefits from a lifted and super long finish. This has the stuffing to cellar 10 years and beyond. A beauty.