Pinot Blanc Alert

Alsace’s most reputed wine-producing district is the geographic portion called
the Haut-Rhin (Upper Rhine). Regionally centered on the ‘wine capital’ town of
Colmar, its vineyards line the low foothills of the Vosges Mountains and roll out
onto the adjacent river plain. First conquered by Caesar in the 1st century BCE,
it was a desirable agricultural tract in the Roman province of Prima Germania
for about 600 years before becoming part of a Frankish Duchy in 496. After an
extended period acting as a buffering borderland in the Holy Roman Empire, it
was annexed by French troops in the late 17th century as a territorial spoil of
the 30 Years War. For the next 350 years, the contested strip of land traded
Franco and Germanic occupation before settling as a hybridized people/culture
within modern-day France; so it also is with their traditions of fashioning wine.

The Alsace AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlées) was established in 1962 and
its relatively stringent winemaking guidelines reflect the pride and ambition by
Alsatians to codify their vinicultural expertise. Anchoring the north-east corner
of France, this is the largest of 3 related appellations; representing 75% of the
region’s vintners; sharing geography with a smaller group of select estates that
carry the AOC designation Crémant d’Alsace (sparkling) or Alsace Grand Crus.
Their output of dry varietal whites such as Sylvaner, Riesling, Gewürztraminer,
Pinot Gris, Auxerrois Blanc de Laquenexy, and this week’s DéClassé featured
Pinot Blanc (Klevner) are widely regarded as the benchmarks for more fulsome
versions of the sometimes, too-lightweight counterparts produced elsewhere.
In prudently embracing the challenges of high AOC standards, particularly the
preference for quality over quantity, Alsatian vintners are guarding the regional
character that’s taken centuries to forge. Arguably, they remain in a leadership
role for the cultivation/refinement of these cool climate grapes and wine styles;
just ahead of their burgeoning competition across the German border!

Dating to the early 1700’s, the family estate of Joseph Cattin has long been a
fixture in the Upper Rhine’s west bank vineyards that lie between the villages of
Voegtlinshoffen and Hattstatt. Providing the namesake for the current winery,
Joseph was a 20th-century pioneer in combating Phylloxera, a pest that wrought
widespread devastation in European vineyards for decades. Apart from carrying
on the development and expansion of what was a modest 7-hectare property,
he also studied and developed vine grafting techniques that would become the
viticulture model for many Alsatian growers to finally overcome the blight. Here
now, in an extended period of critical and commercial success, note that this
modestly priced Joseph Cattin Pinot Blanc 2015 is adorned with a Gold Medal
from the prestigious 2016 Paris Concours Général Agricole; underscoring the
consistent level of achievement and value for this vintner’s mid-range wines!


VINTAGES – LCBO Product #224642 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 15.95
12% Alcohol/Vol. that
Sugar Content Descriptor: D

Made in Alsace, France
By: Cattin Frères
Release Date: November 12, 2016

Tasting Note
This lightly fruity white, marked by apple, lemon and pear aromas and flavours
wrapped around a medium body of fresh acidity, is well-suited to a traditional
gastronomic mix of Choucroute à l’Alsacienne (pickled cabbage, potatoes, and
assorted smoked sausages); Pâté de Foie Gras (goose liver paté with truffles,
wrapped in pastry) and Flàmmeküche (flatbread with crème fraîche, onion, and
lardons). It would also add balance to spicy or sweet and sour Asian cuisine with
fresh, stir-fried vegetables. Try the latter pairing first — well chilled!

Villages Nouveau Alert

One of the world’s oldest wine regions, Beaujolais has always produced a share
of unassuming young wines not destined for anyone’s cellar. Of the total output
for its regionally distinctive varietal styles, nearly 30% is exclusively finished and
marketed under the Nouveau designation. They invented the concept; they’re
arguably still the best at making it. Historically, the barely-off-the-vine, bright and
uncomplicated batches of Vin de l’année were intended to be consumed as a
celebration of the current vintage’s harvest. Following on long summer months
spent waiting and praying for the season to be a bountiful one, came arduous
weeks of picking, hauling, destemming, sorting, and a short fermenting period.
For the dedicated labourers, being gifted a few bottles of the freshly made juice
was a small and well-earned reward. The shipping of Beaujolais Nouveau abroad
as a major export, though, is a relatively contemporary concept that only became
widespread in the middle of the 1950’s; hitting its commercial peak around 1980.
This unique timed-release on the 3rd Thursday in November remains celebratory,
but perhaps has become misunderstood or misrepresented over time.

In general, over-production or indiscriminate wine-making by some of the largest
producers have saddled this specialty offering with a mixed reputation; confusing
discerning drinkers with undue levels of aromatic character such as ‘bubblegum’
and ‘twizzler’ (red licorice). No doubt, some of the opportunistic bottling that’s on
offer is fairly reflected by these descriptors, however, many of the small, and a
few large producers are capably fashioning a better balance in the quality of the
fruity and charmingly simple wines that are possible with the Gamay grape: the
pleasingly tart, flagship variety also known regionally as Gamay Noir à Jus Blanc.
Among the leading vintners is Joseph Drouhin, originally hailing from yet another
noteworthy wine region, Chablis. With a move to Burgundy in 1880, he founded
his new Maison in the wine capital city of Beaune. Building on his pioneering work,
four succeeding family generations have continued the refinement; progressively
becoming masters of both the Nouveau and regular Beaujolais wine styles.

In order to produce, bottle, and release the wine within a few weeks of picking,
vintners use carbonic maceration as an alternate method to accelerate the
finishing process. Unlike the traditional practice of crushing the grapes and
exposing the mash to yeast, which converts sugars to alcohol 
and leeches out
colour and tannins; in carbonic maceration, the whole grapes are placed into
closed vats that are flushed with carbon dioxide to purge unwanted oxygen. The
grapes begin a fermentation process inside their skin with the help of naturally
present enzymes that do the work of 
converting sugar to ethanol. Gradually, the
pressure of the fruit’s weight and the released gasses combine to squeeze out
the alcoholized juice that’s then filtered and aged very briefly in stainless steel
tanks — yielding a lightly pigmented and almost tannin-free Nouveau wine.

For this perennial DéClassé feature of Joseph Drouhin Beaujolais Villages
Nouveau 2016
, the Villages designation represents a qualitatively better grade
due to the terroir-specific source of the grapes. Along with some added care in
processing, these factors result in slightly higher pricing than the other generic
fare. Dare to invest a few extra dollars, to rekindle an appreciation for this iconic
wine. As for those that too-generally deride the Nouveau style as representing
immature wine lacking depth and dimension, pay little attention — they’re missing
the playful and delightful point!


VINTAGES – Product #113266 | 750 mL bottle
Price $15.95
12.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content: XD

Made in: Beaujolais, France
By: Joseph Drouhin S.A.
Release Date: November 17, 2016

Tasting Note
This light Garnet-coloured, easy drinking wine, has a zingy bouquet and flavours
of cherry and berries. Try serving very lightly chilled as an apéritif with pâté and
savoury hors d’oeuvre, Gruyère cheese, beef fondue or substantial main dishes
such as roasted chicken, Cornish hen, and herb-stuffed pork loin.

Gran Reserva Alert

Tightly framed between a 4,270km stretch of low coastal mountains along the
Pacific shore, and a parallel spine of Andean foothills and peaks, most of Chile
barely averages 175km in width. Not surprisingly for a long sliver of a country
that crosses over 38 degrees of latitude, this translates into a dynamic mix of
climate and an ever-shifting geography. The bookends range from inhospitable
desiccation in the northern Atacama Desert, to mild Mediterranean conditions
in the fertile Central Valley, to the southern third with a diverse alpine landscape
of rain-drenched lake country, foggy fjords, and windswept glaciers that give way
to tundra. Anchored around the capital of Santiago, the temperate mid-section
has always been the prized agricultural and commercial heartland. Successive
Incan and Spanish incursions were thwarted here until the early 1540’s when
conquistador, Pedro de Valdivia, in having met his match, settled for a partial
subjugation of the indigenous and indomitable Mapuche (‘people of the land’).
In the five centuries or so since the so-called Spanish Conquest, Chile’s potential
has attracted at least three significant waves of immigration that surprisingly
includes Syrians, Jordanians, and Scandinavians! Among the personal effects for
those of East and West-European descent, they also brought along new varieties
of Vitis Vinifera — ‘the vine that bears wine.’

In 1818, after the upheaval of the Napoleonic Wars in Spain and the attendant
weakening of colonial rule, Chilean nationalists united and gained independence.
This birthing of modern Chile also coincided with a major influx of German, Swiss,
Austrian, and Alsatian immigrants whose descendants have become known as
Germano-chilenos. Presumably, Christian Lanz was among the entrepreneurial
group, as was his intrepid bride, Carmen. In 1850 he founded one of Chile’s first
commercial wineries and astutely named it after his wife. After a long business
tradition of winemaking that narrowly aimed to satisfy the volume demands of
local consumption, the 1980’s mark a departure point for Viña Carmen, and
many other long-established wineries, to turn their attention toward the promise
of a burgeoning export market. For Carmen, the upscaling prompted ambitious
expansion of their vineyards into the premier growing regions of the Casablanca,
Leyda, Apalta,  Colchagua, and Maipo valleys. For this week’s feature of Carmen
Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
, the source is the Alto Maipo; a high
altitude terroir of alluvial terraces in the eastern end of the valley. With a long
season of hot daytime followed by a nighttime cooling, the Cabernet Sauvignon,
Petit Verdot, and Carmenere vines develop fully ripe fruit while maintaining a
balance of vibrant acidity – a combination that’s become an exciting hallmark
of contemporary Chilean wine-making.

Apart from Spain, Portugal, and Italy, where the wine aging criteria of Reserva
and Gran Reserva are definitively regulated/standardized, there remain many
other regions where these terms are loosely interpreted. In other words, they
may simply be marketing tools that reveal little about the finishing process of the
wine in advance of its release. In Chile these terms are categorized as ‘quality
mentions,’ so it is left entirely to the vintner’s discretion to justify the description.
Nonetheless, for reputable wineries, there is an adherence to the principle that
a bottling bearing these designations is of a higher quality. Until this becomes
better codified in South and North America, consumers will have to rely on other
indicators; from reliable sources such as ‘Wine Spectator’ assigning this 2012
bottling as 32nd in their ‘Top 100’ listing; ‘Wine & Spirits’ magazine naming Viña
Carmen the ’Top Winery of the Year’ four times, and — ‘DéClassé’ recommends
this as ‘outstanding value for well-crafted wine at a modest $16.95 price-point.’


LCBO Product #358309 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 16.95
14% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Chile
By: Viña Carmen
Release Date: April 15, 2015

Tasting Note
This wine has sufficient depth of garnet-red colouring to match the expectation
of a ‘Reserve’ bottling, e.g. a minimum of 12 months spent in oak and another
year in bottle. What exceeds expectation is that the vintner has also managed
to maintain a brightness to the cherry, raspberry, and plum aroma and flavours
while coaxing spice and chocolate from the soft oak. Certainly, this offering will
pair with the traditional food fare associated to Bordeaux-esq reds, however,
this ‘Gran Reserva’ is ready to be uncorked and enjoyed — on its own; anytime!

Crémant de Loire Alert

Set high on a prominence that overlooks the Loire River and its embankments,
130 hectares of Château Moncontour make for one of the oldest and storied
estates in Touraine — a Loire Valley sub-region where the namesake river meets
two of its main tributaries, the Indre-et-Loire and Loir-et-Cher. Dating to the mid
15th-century, the Renaissance-era château was built by King Charles VII as one
of the many gifts lavished on his courtesan, Agnès Sorel. Euphemistically known
as ‘Dame de Beauté,’ the striking beauty and courtly influence of Agnès was one
bookend in the life and fortunes of the king; the other came disguised as a boy,
but was a young country maiden, Jeanne d’Arc, aka ‘La Pucelle d’Orléans.’ Her
religiously-inspired military campaign to oust the occupying English armies was
a deciding factor in Charles’ quest to resecure his crown and fractured lands.
Among many other tales linked to the Moncontour estate in the ensuing ages is
the partial ravaging by fire during the French revolution, and then becoming an
elusive fascination for the 19th-century author, Honoré de Balzac, who featured
its twin white turrets and bramble-lined riverbanks in his published and personal
writings — perhaps, while giddily inspired by the bottled bounty of its vineyards!

As with most Crémant, this week’s effervescent bottling has been produced by
a double fermentation process generally referred to as méthode Champenoise,
though, in the 1980’s, this term was made proprietary to only wines originating
from within the Champagne AOC appellation in north-eastern France. This was
justified to guard the distinct typicity of the region’s sparkling wines but doesn’t
directly infer a greater level of quality. Moreover, variable pricing for bonafide
Champagnes tends to be among the most arbitrary of all premium wine styles
in France – frequently more informed by what the market is willing to pay rather
than how much effort has been invested by the vintner. This week’s DéClassé
featured bottle of Château Moncontour Tête de Cuvée Brut is made with 100%
Chenin Blanc grapes sourced within the Vouvray AOC boundaries and finished
in an equivalent winemaking manner called méthode traditionnelle.

Moncontour’s current custodial vintners are the Feray Family, who since 1994
have been drawing Chenin Blanc fruit, aka Pineau de la Loire, from numerous
small plots dotted around the village of Vouvray. Influenced by the sedimentary
rock and clay soils that are typical in this zone of the Touraine, this local cultivar
imparts a distinct minerality along with a naturally high level of acidity – making
it an ideal base for the sparkling versions of Vouvray termed as pétillant. Having
spent at least 22 months aging in the bottle before disgorgement, final corking
and release, this is so modestly priced that you will chide yourself endlessly for
not having bought more before having to wait again until next October!

Chateau Moncontour

VINTAGES – LCBO Product #207936 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 17.95
12% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: D

Made in: Loire, France
By: Château Moncontour
Release Date: October 29, 2016

Tasting Note
This wine’s straw-yellow colour, apricot and pear aromas, some nutty and baked
brioche notes, and a lively mousse make for a refreshing counterpoint to the
unseasonably warm weather and the possibility of a few more ‘al fresco’ meals!
Try as an apéritif or with lighter fare such as fresh salads, goat cheese tartlets,
pâté and seasoned crisps or alongside moderately spicy Asian appetizers.

Cab Sauvignon Alert

Long overshadowed by California’s North Coast regions of Sonoma and Napa,
which are arguably America’s most established and prodigious wine zones, the
Pacific Northwest has steadily carved out a unique winemaking reputation that’s
really beginning to shine. With many mature vineyards now in the 40-year range,
the coastal and inland terroirs of Oregon and Washington states are proving to
be capable producers of robust blended reds built with Merlot, Cab Sauvignon,
and Syrah, as well as, cool-climate, varietal white wines such as Sauvignon Blanc,
Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer. Somewhere toward the middle of this unusual
winemaking polarity lies a less-surprising success with Cabernet Franc, Riesling,
and lighter-weight versions of Chardonnay. Though the expansive range of these
varieties and wine styles do somewhat defy the conventional wisdom about what
should be possible within a single growing region, this is apparently what intrepid
Washingtonians do well: side-step generalized preconception while continuing to
build on the economic foundation of forestry and shipping industries established
in the 19th-century, which then diversified into commercially-scaled agriculture in
the 20th-century; becoming the USA’s foremost producer of apples, along with
major crops of cherries, pears, raspberries, wheat, hops, and now – grapevines!

Aka the ‘Evergreen State,’ Washington might soon consider revising its motto
due to a veritable explosion of winemaking that began as a trickle in the 1960’s
and then started a meteoric rise in the 1980’s. At the outset, there were fewer
than 30 commercial wineries; as of 2016, there are over 900 and growing at
a rate of 3 new winemaking enterprises per month! To satisfy the burgeoning
demand, winemakers are drawing fruit from 21,500 hectares of vineyard; both
from their own plots and those tended to by 350 independent growers; located
mainly in the coastal zone of the Willamette Valley and the high-desert hillsides
of the Columbia Valley. Despite the ‘desert’ descriptor, most of the vine stock is
planted on the same 44 th thru 47th latitudes as France’s Bordeaux, Northern
Rhone and Burgundy regions and so Washington’s adapted cultivars of Vitis
vinifera grapes benefit from similar lengths/dynamics in the growing cycles of
their now distant, European ancestors.

As for this week’s featured wine and vintner, Hogue Cabernet Sauvignon 2014,
the defining difference in their various Columbia Valley plots is the prevailing dry
climate. Lying in the rain shadow of the Olympic and Cascade Mountain ranges,
the hot days promote plumping of the grapes and sugar content, alternating
with cool nights that maintain bright acidity levels. As an introductory example
of the fruity and fresh wines that these conditions yield, this deft blend of 78%
Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Merlot, 5% Syrah, small splashes of Petit Verdot and
Malbec, and cooperative weather during 2014 – all make for a pleasing bottling
that defies a $14.95 price tag, and possibly prompting a few of those previously
mentioned California vintners further south to blush with envy!


VINTAGES – LCBO Product #462960 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 14.95
13.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Washington, USA
By: Hogue Cellars
Release Date: October 15, 2016

Tasting Note
This is an uncomplicated, easy-drinking Bordeaux-style red that easily exceeds its
pedigree and expectation at this price-point. An abundance of cherry, raspberry
and plum aromas and flavours are wrapped around the pleasing oak structure,
making it a natural complement to fulsome food fare like roasted pork tenderloin
in a Madeira sauce, marinated flank steak with sautéed mushrooms or braised
short ribs and polenta with crispy onions.

Apulia Alert

Curiously, in spite of having such an ancient and storied culture — and being so
agriculturally prolific in modern times — Apulia (aka Puglia) nonetheless remains
a less-well-known Italian region. It hasn’t always been so. In antiquity, Phoenicians
and Spartan settlers understood the potential of the land, as well as its strategic
importance in straddling the Adriatic and Mediterranean seas. Its geographic
attraction wasn’t lost on the Goths, Lombard’s, and Byzantines either, who ruled
Apulia during the early Middle Ages. In the 13th-century, Holy Roman Emperor
Frederick II of Swabia was so enamoured of its charms that he commissioned a
host of Romanesque cathedrals and palaces. Shortly thereafter, though, a long
period of neglect and decline set in; largely due to being distantly governed by a
succession of Spanish, Austrian, and French Bourbon rulers. In having become
an unprotected land, it was also vulnerable to Saracen raiders who shipped off
the population into slavery. Surprisingly late in the long path of Apulia’s history,
the gradual restoration of stability and prosperity came in 1860 when it was
finally re-embraced as a part of the Italian Kingdom; forerunner to the republic
that we’re familiar with today.

With fertile reddish-brown soils that are a mix of calcareous fossils, iron oxide,
clay and silted loam, Apulia’s plains, valleys and coastal zones are home to wild
roses, berries, and the proverbial herbs, rosemary and thyme; thriving among
stands of maritime pine. As for the mix of agriculture, extensive grain farming
and groves of ulivi secolari (centuries-old olive trees) impressively yield 50% of
Italy’s total pasta and olive oil production. Artichoke, plum tomato, seafood and
fish, sheep herding, and of course grapevines, round out the bountiful output. In
the mid and south sub-regions of the Murge Plateau and the Salento Peninsula,
the sun-baked and dry climate is ideal for cultivating fulsome red wine grapes
such as Negroamaro, Malvasia Nera, Aglianico, and Primitivo – the star variety
in this week’s DéClassé feature, San Marzano Talò Primitivo di Manduria 2013.
With a name derived from several Latin terms loosely translating as ‘the first to
ripen’, Primitivo has traditionally been used to fortify blended reds. More recently,
the variety is increasingly being finished as a varietal wine, prompted in part by
the popularity of Zinfandel; a clonal relative that flourishes in Californian vineyards
and has had great success in North American markets. Local winemaking lore
suggests that the Italian variant (descendent from a Croatian parent grape) was
discovered by a 17th-century monk, Filippo Francesco Indellicati, growing as a wild
vine in his monastery gardens. Over time, the adapted cultivars of Primitivo were
spread throughout Apulia, eventually arriving in Taranto Province 100 years later.

Founded in the early 1960’s by less than two dozen winemaking families rooted
around the regional center of San Marzano, Cantine San Marzano has grown
into a cooperative endeavor with over 1200 members; sharing a commitment
to producing high-quality wines that authentically reflect the region’s indigenous
grapes and related finishing styles. The brand has steadily evolved into one of
southeastern Italy’s premier, exporting producers, and this bottling stands as a
well-made, mid-level example of what is on offer from Apulia’s winemakers in the
21st century. With the slide into cooler Fall weather, now is an apt time to revisit
more robust wine styles such as this Primitivo – ti fa bene (it’s good for you)!


VINTAGES – LCBO Product #455220 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 16.95
14% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: D

Made in: Puglia, Italy
By: Cantina Oleificio Soc San Marzano
Release Date: October 15, 2016

Tasting Note
This deep ruby red wine has a very fruity palate typical of the grape style with
aromas and flavours of raspberries, plums, clove and a restrained touch of
sweetness. Try serving alongside some classic autumnal comfort foods such
as braised beef brisket or short ribs, hearty ragout, veal scaloppini with fresh
pasta or a Neapolitan style pizza.

Chardonnay Alert

The European Union reclassified wine grading in 2011 to streamline the too
wide-ranging, comparative designations. In France, this breaks down as AOP
Appellation d’Origine Protégée, a premier classification with a fairly strict set of requirements; IGP Indication Géographique Protégée, an intermediate category
with more flexible guidelines and a greater diversity of permitted grape varieties,
and lastly, Vin de France, the most generic designation; allowing the practice of
cuvée — the blending of wine batches sourced from different growing regions.

Languedoc-Roussillon is by far the biggest and most prolific IGP zone, whose
2,700 wine producers are tending to approx. 245,000 hectares of vineyard.
It also provides the namesake of d’Oc into the classification, likely derived from
Lange d’Oc, one of two still actively spoken Provençal languages whose historical
and cultural roots lie in the formerly independent kingdom of Aquitaine. Present
day boundaries stretch between the Spanish frontier to the west, the Loire to
the north, the Rhône region of the Gard to the east, and the Mediterranean Sea.

Flourishing in a diverse set of global regions, Chardonnay can be finished in a
broad range of styles. In Languedoc-Roussillon, apart from generally being a hot
and dry zone that yields fully mature grapes, the easy-drinking Chardonnay style
being produced is decidedly on the lighter and fresh side of the sliding scale. 45
years on from the comprehensive overhaul that was begun in the early 1970’s
that saw the replacing of unremarkable vine stock with Noble Grape varieties
such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, and Viognier, there has also
been a steady commitment to quality development while maintaining prices at
competitive and attractive levels. Though surprisingly edging toward the upper
tier of price point for white wines in this humble corner of southern France, and
relative to what one might expect for comparable quality wine in not-so-distant
Burgundy — at $17.95, this bottling of Lafage Novellum Chardonnay 2014 is
nonetheless fairly priced; an outstanding value, and most importantly — delicious!

A 70% majority of this wine is aged in stainless steel, while the remainder sees
the mild influence of wood; imparted during two months spent in second-use Oak
barrels. What’s particularly novel in the multi-step finishing of ‘Novellum’ is that
it also spends three months resting on the ‘lees’ (expired yeast) of a previously
fermented batch of Viognier wine, which was filtered out and then transferred to
the Chardonnay. It’s another one of the details that set this dynamic vinicultural
partnership of Jean-Marc and Eliane Lafage apart from the more conservative,
less-innovative, more-expensive or generic wine-making crowd. Dictionaries say
that Novellum is a latin adjective meaning: new, young, fresh, etc. I’ll offer that it
could also mean: will thrill your guests’ palettes alongside Thanksgiving food fare!


VINTAGES – LCBO Product #390781 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 17.95
13% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: D

Made in Midi, France
By: Lafage
Release Date: October 1, 2016

Tasting Note
This medium-bodied white is marked by tropical/stone fruit aromas and flavours
wrapped around some refreshing acidity and mineral notes. Try serving this with
roasted goose and a squash risotto, herb-crusted turkey with rosemary/thyme,
spiced apple/sausage filled chicken or Cornish hen and stove top sage stuffing.