Nero d’Avola Alert

Shaped like an inverted triangle, the island of Sicily occupies a strategic position
in the maritime laneways of the Mediterranean Sea, and so was targeted for
conquest by many empires throughout the ages: Greek, Byzantine, and Norman.
During the 2nd and 3rd centuries BCE, it was a buffer, then launch point in the epic
struggle between Rome’s navies and those of its arch-adversary across the sea
to the south, Carthage. Though firmly a part of the modern Italian patchwork, its
dynamic history and a diversity of influences have fostered a distinct culture; still
thriving in a breezy and dry climate overtop a sun-drenched land that grapevines
also love. As a result, Sicilians have always produced far more wine than could
be consumed locally, prompting them to become expert in the export trade; first
in clay Amphorae, then in large Fiascos (Straw-wrapped glass vessels), and to
this day – in ships laden with caseloads of bottles!

Blessed with a wide range of indigenous, high-yielding grape varieties, generating
large volumes of wine has never been a struggle; the objective of fashioning high
quality grades has seen a lot of vacillation. In Sicily’s newest age of wine-making,
the current generation has astutely settled on refining native grape stock and
related finishing styles; rightfully offering their regionally distinctive, world-class
wines at attractive and accessible price points. In the accomplished mid-range,
you’ll find this week’s DéClassé feature, Feudo Arancio Nero d’Avola 2014. The
varietal wines namesake, Nero d’Avola (‘Avola’s black grape’) has its roots in the
southeastern village of Avola where it was developed as a highly localized cultivar.
Gradually it spread across the island and found its way into the western corner
and the Sambuca di Sicilia DOC vineyards. In the 20th century, the reputation of
Nero d’Avola was summed up by French vintners (who used it as an inexpensive
bulk import) as ‘le vin médecine’ — having the desirable characteristics to bolster
the colour/body of lightweight partners in blended wine, while still being neutral
enough not to overshadow them. In the 21st century, again astutely, it’s rich and
fruity charms are being celebrated and allowed to shine on their own.

Beyond the complex achievement of bringing into the winery a mature harvest of
the best grapes that the climate, the land, and its local stewards are capable of,
other critical determinants between outputting so-called ‘bulk wine’ vs. ones of a
more premium quality — is the amount of time, attention to detail, and additional
steps that the winemaker is willing to exercise in the production process. One of
those added steps is Malolactic Fermentation. Whereby primary fermentation is
the action of yeasts converting sugar into alcohol, Malolactic fermentation sees
the introduction of select bacteria that convert the tart Malic Acid in grape juice
into softer Lactic Acid. Depending on the innate nature of the source grapes and
the age of the vines, this often-finicky production step can have a pronounced
impact on the wine’s balance; translating into a more rounded mouth-feel and
expanding the sensory perception of the wine’s complexity. In white wine, it also
yields buttery aromas/flavours; in overly fruity red wines, it makes them less so.
In the case of this bottling, I’ll speculate that the compensation is necessary due
to the fruit being drawn from somewhat younger vines. Regardless of the exact
motivation, this Nero d’Avola has reaped the benefits: it’s nicely rounded; it’s soft
while still having an identifiable character; it’s surprisingly layered; it’s $14.95!

feudo-arancio

FEUDO ARANCIO NERO D’AVOLA 2014
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #412668 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 14.95
13% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: D

Made in Sicily, Italy
By: Cantine Mezzacorona
Release Date: September 17, 2016

Tasting Note
This is a medium-bodied, concentrated wine with pomegranate, strawberry and
currant aromas and flavours, accented by some nutty notes. As apéritif, it pairs
well with smoked cheeses, Prosciutto and Bruschetta or with mains of grilled
lamb and fresh pea Risotto, eggplant with capers and olives or veal rolls stuffed
with pine nuts and raisins.

Gewürztraminer Alert

In the context of the wine world’s long-established regions, 30 years or so spent
labouring on their vineyard tracts barely registers/qualifies as tradition. At the
most, it represents one family generations worth of aspiration, and one cycle of
patiently coaxing fledgling vine stock from the nursery through to full maturity in
the vineyard — before a definitive evaluation of its success, or not, can be made.
Selecting suitable base varieties and developing localized cultivars for any given
terroir is further complicated in our times due to a shifting climate. For diligent
winemakers, there are few effective shortcuts in this multi-faceted process; it’s
a tough, all-consuming vocation where, sometimes, an unwitting miscalculation
by one generation falls onto the shoulders of the next — to redress/revision over
the next 30 years. So perhaps it is with the history of the Pennachetti’s, a very
hard-working and inspired immigrant family whose earliest patriarch, Giuseppe,
emigrated from Fermo in central Italy to Canada’s Niagara region in the 1920’s.
Having broken ground while contributing to the building of the Welland Canal in
his working life, he would also go on to establish the family’s first modestly-sized
vineyard; as a passionate hobby in his ‘retirement’. Arguably, the misstep was
to cultivate Labrusca grapes. Commonly known as Concord, this hearty variety
does produce good table grapes and sweet juice but doesn’t have the capacity
to yield premium wine. However, what was gained in the experiment, was the
training of his grandson, Leonard Pennachetti, in the rudiments of viniculture!

What is true of one family’s challenges and hard-won experience in developing
their winemaking business, is generally true for the larger region; particularly, if
it’s an emergent one. What’s far more established, rising upward just inland of
the Lake Ontario shore, is a 450 million-year-old geography called the Niagara
Escarpment. With an overall length of 750km, the section closest to Niagara is
a fossil-filled prominence whose eroded Limestone hillsides and lake-tempered
climate combine as highly desirable conditions for grapevines. If you’re a variety
called Gewürztraminer, and if you’re lucky enough to be grown in the Beamsville
Bench area, then you’ve found your paradise. Moreover, if you end up in a bottle
labelled Cave Spring Estate Bottled Gewürztraminer 2013, then you’ve become
a compelling benchmark for all that’s right about your new home and those who
are responsible for steadfastly having made it so – the Pennachetti’s.

Anointed as the ‘King of aromatic grapes’, Gewürztraminer (‘spicy Traminer’) is
a hybrid variety that evolved from a more neutral parent, Traminer, in France’s
Alsace and Germany’s Pfalz regions. Along with highly distinctive aromas and
flavours, this white wine’s deep yellow colour and golden highlights result from
the surprising red skin of the fruit. Early-ripening, it does well in cooler climate
terroirs, though does develop more robust flavours in slightly warmer regions.
As evidenced in this bottling, the Niagara zone lies somewhere in the middle.
I’m thrilled to feature a local wine that satisfies the strict DéClassé criteria of
being ‘noteworthy and overachieving in the $15 – $18 price-point range’. Here,
this is undeniably the case, thanks to the long-term commitment by the …………!

cave-spring

CAVE SPRING ESTATE BOTTLED GEWURZTRAMINER 2013
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #302059 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 17.95
13% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: MD

Made in Ontario, Canada
By: Cave Spring Cellars Inc.
Release Date: September 3, 2016

Tasting Note
This ‘new world Gewurtz’ is pleasingly restrained and balanced. The winemaker
has settled on a medium-bodied version that has most of the tell-tale traits such
as rose, lychee and orange zest aromas, stone fruit flavours accented by citrus
and spice, and just enough of the viscosity that one expects in this varietal wine
style. Serve well-chilled as a compliment to a variety of Asian cuisine including
grilled cilantro chicken, Pad Thai with shrimp, hot and sour soup or with Italian
fare such as pasta carbonara, and brie, speck, and porcini pizza.

Corbières Alert

Prominently displaying the dramatic Visigoth symbol dating to the 7th century,
later referred to as the Languedoc Cross or Cross of the Cathars, this vintner’s
apt bottle emblem also incorporates 2 white doves drinking from a single cup;
representing the traditions of sharing and spiritual communion. Begun by father
Georges Bertrand, a winemaking pioneer in Languedoc who worked diligently to
foster a spirit of cooperation between local growers in the 1970’s, this family
has consistently been at the forefront of quality development for a wide range of
well-suited grape varieties, yielding a host of regionally distinctive wine styles. As
of 1992, the inherited philosophies/vision have continued to evolve under the
dynamic stewardship of the founder’s son, Gérard Bertrand, who also provides
the highly recognizable namesake for a burgeoning portfolio of vineyard estates
and their related sub-brands. As an avowed champion of L’Art de Vivre, which
celebrates the local foods, wine, and Mediterranean culture of southern France,
the Bertrand winery has based their production facilities in the regional center
of Narbonne and are impressively now exporting to 70 countries, worldwide!

As a whole, the South of France is playfully described as a European wine lake,
containing 40% of the country’s vineyards. The process of replacing traditional
high-yielding grapes with lower yielding varieties, to produce smaller quantities
of premium wine, continues. What also carries forward, is that the wine being
offered by Languedoc-Roussillon vintners remains comparatively inexpensive
and a benchmark of outstanding value. Taking a pride-of-place among recent
examples, this week’s DéClassé feature of Gérard Bertrand Terroir Corbières
certainly delivers on the expected rich, fruit-forward character that’s typical of
the source region, while also being marketed at a delightfully discounted rate of
$16.95 – down several dollars from the last recommended vintage in 2014.

This bottle’s blending of Grenache Noir, Syrah and Mourvèdre marks some of
the traditional output from a rugged landscape created by tectonic upheaval,
where no other commercial crops thrive except for grapevine. Having achieved
an AOP classification in 1985, the terroirs that collectively define the Corbières
sub-region are framed between the foothills of the Pyrenees to the southwest
and Montagne Noire (Black Mountain) further north. In a variable mix of geology
and microclimates, stressed by wind, heat and poor organic soil, the surprising
conduciveness of this land for grapes is demonstrated, near harvest time, as a
rippling sea of lush green vine leaves crowning the plump clusters of fruit. White
Limestone outcrops, spiky Garrigue (wild herb-like bushes), lines of Cypress tree
windbreaks and sunbaked Terra Cotta tile-capped stone houses complete the
characterful portrait of Corbières.

As with the free-spirited land, wine producing regulations are less stringent than
in the neighbouring Burgundy or Bordeaux regions, allowing for a broader range of cultivation practices, permissible grape varieties, and blending proportions. The best Corbières wines can now claim a unique standing in among other long-established French appellations, and though you’ll find many bottlings from this prolific winery on
the regular LCBO shelves, this time-limited release is only in the Vintages section — emblazoned with a remarkably modest sticker price!

Corbieres

GÉRARD BERTRAND TERROIR CORBIERES 2013
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #394288 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 16.95
13.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Roussillon, France
By: Gérard Bertrand
Release Date: August 20, 2016

Tasting Note
As a blend of 3 fulsome grape varieties that have evidently reached full maturity
prior to harvest, this is a herb-tinged, fruity wine style that’s best with heartier food
fare such as stuffed peppers, meatballs in a spicy tomato and olive sauce, grilled
meats, or if slightly chilled, as an apéritif alongside ripe cheeses.

Côtes Catalanes Alert

Here in the sunniest corner of southwestern France, after an earlier period of
working for other wineries abroad, Jean-Marc Lafage and partner Eliane have
followed his father’s wine-making footsteps; the sixth generation to steward a
collection of historic vineyards in various pockets of Roussillon. Their property
in the Côtes Catalanes IGP (Indication Géographique Protégée) is by definition
a mid-tier classification, lying between the coveted AOP and the generic Vin de
France designations of the French grading system. However, in the case of this
vintner’s inspired practices and passion, the less-stringent guidelines and fewer
entrenched traditions for fashioning blended white wine (in a region still better
known for its reds and rosés) allows for a more flexible year-to-year recipe for
selecting the proportions of the 23 authorized grape varieties. For this week’s
DéClassé featured Domaine Lafage Cadireta Blanc 2014, the somewhat novel
blend is 95% Chardonnay and 5% Viognier, with a third of the batch having been
fermented in new Burgundy barrels and left to rest on its lees (expired yeast).

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 region’s comprehensive overhaul that was begun in the early
1970’s, which saw the replacing of unremarkable vine stock with Noble Grape
varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, and Viognier, there’s
also been a steady commitment to advancing quality while keeping price points
competitive/attractive. At $16.95, this bottle exemplifies these facts, gloriously!

Roussillon’s Mediterranean coastal areas are among the windiest stretches in
south France, which can be both a blessing or curse depending on other factors
and climate cycles in any given year. The five converging winds of the Scirocco,
Cers, Autan, Marin, and Le Vent Tramontane that blows from the north-west,
can provide a respite from the sometimes intense heat of the summer months;
guard the vine stock against the proliferation of pests and disease, or as was
the case in 2014, be the bearer of calamitous hail and heavy rain storms that
stunted harvests in large areas of the region. Fortunately for Domaine Lafage,
their 20-year-old vine stock was largely spared the devastation. Fortunately for
lovers of un-doctored, mid-weight Chardonnay, the September harvest of that
year produced a noteworthy vintage of approx. 5,000 precious cases.

If you’re an informed LCBO Vintage’s customer, then you already know that the
few cases which made it here will sell-out quickly. If you’ve waited until hearing a recommendation, then it might well be too late to find some. Nonetheless, be encouraged; the 2015 vintage may prove to be even better – next August!

Lafage

DOMAINE LAFAGE CADIRETA BLANC 2014
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #448472 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 16.95
13% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Midi, France
By: Domaine Lafage
Release Date: August 6, 2016

Tasting Note
Featuring some delightful flavours and aroma notes of banana and tropical fruit,
this also has the tell-tale vanilla accent of classic French Chardonnay. Try serving
as a well-chilled aperitif with mixed charcuterie/cheeses, smoked ham, salmon
crostini, moules-frites or with mains of roast veal, lamb tagine, and mild curries.

Cariñena Blend Alert

At some point toward the end of the Iron Age, Celtic-speaking peoples from Gaul
began to migrate south across the snow-capped Pyrenees mountains and their
permanent glaciers, settling into the rich pasture lands and forested valleys of
northern Iberia. Along with providing the basis for a new language, Celtiberian,
they’re also reputed to have brought with them a peculiar and potent recipe for
fermenting wine blended with honey; likely resulting in exceptionally high levels of
alcohol content. As historical conjecture, this might be seen as a premonition
for the vacillating reputation of Spanish wines during most of the 20th century.
Nonetheless, throughout all its ages of experience and experimentation, Spain’s
vintners have always produced some exceptional red and white wines; fashioned
from a host of characterful, largely indigenous grape varieties. What has more
uniquely evolved in the course of the last quarter century, is the commitment by
a cadre of younger winemakers to increase, markedly, the proportion of quality
wine vs. the bulk volume that was common practice in the past. Gracias España!

Blessed with various soil types; a continental climate, whose extremes of day to
night temperature shifts are tempered by the Cierzo wind; abundantly irrigated
by the Ebro River and its tributaries, this dynamic landscape is agriculturally well
suited to livestock grazing, grain production, fruit orchards, and grapevines. The
rich potential attracted Roman and Moorish conquest before consolidating and
prospering in the Middle Ages as the Kingdom of Aragón. Modern-day Aragón
has remained an autonomous territory within Spain’s federated patchwork, and
centered in its three provinces; Zaragoza is the prolific heartland of its winemaking.
For this week’s DéClassé recommended Monasterio de las Viñas, Gran Reserva
2007, the source lies 50km south of the provincial capital in Cariñena. Among
many distinctions, the Cariñena DO was the very first Spanish sub-region to earn
and be granted official status in the 1930’s. In turn, the Cooperativa Viticola San
Jose De Aguarón is one of the oldest of five grower’s cooperatives who produce
and market their wines under the innovative umbrella group, Grandes Vinos.

This featured bottling is a robust blend of 60% Garnacha Tinta, 10% Cariñena,
and 30% Tempranillo, with fruit harvested from mature 40-year-old vine stock.
The clay soils of the Aguarón vineyards provide critical water retention and lend
character to the wine; the rocky overburden provides the distinguishing moniker
of Vino de las Piedras (‘wine of Stones’). To qualify as Gran Reserva , this blend
spent 24 months in a mix of French and American Oak barrels, then another 36
in bottle before being eligible for release. In Cariñena, 2007 is on record as a noteworthy vintage, whereas forecasts for the pending arrival of the 2008 bottling
are far less favourable/assured. So, despite having been added to the LCBO’s
‘Vintages – Essentials’ listing that’s available year-round, you might want to stock
up on enough of this amply charming version to side-step the next one!

Monasterio

MONASTERIO DE LA VINAS GRAN RESERVA 2007
VINTAGES (‘Essentials’) – LCBO Product #82024 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 17.95
13% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Cariñena, Spain
By: San José de Aguarón
Release Date: July 23, 2016

Tasting Note
Medium-bodied and smooth, this mature red still has a lively edge to its mix of
dark berry aromas and flavours, accented by the expected Eucalyptus notes. In
having achieved a balance of acidity and tannins, this bottling could transition
seamlessly between a hearty aperitif to dinner wine offering. Try serving with a
spicy sausage Paella, braised lamb or roasted vegetable Ratatouille.

Bierzo Mencia Alert

Tucked away in the autonomous province of León, the Bierzo DO region is at the
forefront of emerging, Spanish winemaking frontiers; having quickly evolved into
a reliable source of some of its most distinctive and qualitative wine. What’s far
more longstanding are the Roman-era gold mines, the Templar Castles, and a
host of medieval monasteries who are markers for the famed pilgrimage path,
Camino de Santiago. Collectively, the various small valleys of El Bierzo make up
the upper basin of the Sil River system that’s framed by the Montes de León
and Cordillera Cantábrica mountain ranges. Acting as a Geographic funnel into
the verdant northwest corner of the Iberian peninsula, it’s become aptly known
as the ‘gateway to Galicia’, which in turn is characterized as the ‘green Spain.’
Though a relatively small and lesser-known Spanish region in the international
wine market, Bierzo’s reputation is doubly rising due to its unique, microclimate
mix of Atlantic and Mediterranean influences; serving to moderate each other’s
extremes; making the conditions equally conducive to cultivating both red and
white wine grapes. Capitalizing on this natural blessing, the 55 Bierzo bodegas
are impressively outputting 11 million liters of wine annually, and with a current
trend of rehabilitating older, under producing plots, their expansion continues.

Though taking an inspiration for its name from the adjacent abbey, Monasterio
de Santa María de Carracedo, which dates to the 10th century, the Bodega del
Abad (‘the Abbot’s Cellar’) only became active as an independent producer in
2003. Initially developed under the guidance of a local, legendary wine master,
José Luís Santín-Vázquez, the bodega already boasts a loyal following that was
struck by a surprising release of a 2001 Crianza-grade cache of their earliest
vintage that had been hiding somewhere in the back corners of their cellars.
This week’s DéClassé feature of a 2008 bottling is also a surprising re-release
that’s being offered for a 3rd consecutive year. Evidently, the current supervising
vintner, Miguel Tienda, has exercised discretion in evaluating the character of
this particular vintage that’s been settling for eight years now. Unsurprisingly,
it’s become decidedly mature, so is soft and rounded, but surprisingly again, it
also possesses fruitful vigour, some mineral streaks, and an enlivening acidity.

These balanced attributes point to a wine-making accomplishment; due in part to
modern production techniques, but also revealing the innate potential of Mencia.
Indigenous to Bierzo, and with a significant increase in plantings, the variety has
joined the list of the four most important Spanish red wine grapes: Tempranillo,
Garnacha, and Monastrell. Producing compact grape clusters of medium-sized,
violet-blue berries, its renaissance of popularity is bolstered by an ability to yield
age-worthy wine at relatively modest price points. 35 hectares of this bodega’s
vineyards are located up on steep terrain made up of slate and quartzite laden
soils where the mix of old vines, with some approaching 70 years-of-age, are still
yielding characterful fruit. When meticulously handpicked and sorted, as they are
at Del Abad, the harvests are creating wines that are characteristically velvety.

This bottling is ready to go now, and as the vintner has done the expert work of
aging it under ideal storage conditions, it just might hold for several more years
in your cellar. It will likely fly off the shelves quickly as word of this resurgent gem
spreads, so if you’re not an optimist when it comes to storing wine, then just buy
enough to get you through the summer and deep into Fall (maybe winter too)!

Abad Dom Bueno

ABAD DOM BUENO MENCIA 2008
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #291989 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 15.95
Alcohol/Vol. 13.5%
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Bierzo, Spain
By: Bodega Del Abad
Release Date: July 23, 2016

Tasting Note
Though gracefully aged, this still offers juicy red cherry and currant flavours with
a vanilla accent. A refreshing acidity enhances the core of soft tannins, so could
stand to be slightly chilled before decanting. Try serving with rich poultry dishes,
a roasted leg of herbed lamb, marinated steak or with spicy beef empanadas.

Loire Sauvignon Alert

The Loire River Valley in west-central France has a long history of acting as both
a geographical and political demarcation line. In the 1st century, Imperial Rome
used it to sub-divide their occupation of Gaul into two large areas: Aquitania to
the south, and Celtica to the north. With the demise of the empire, Val de Loire
continued to act as a borderland, separating the southern territories controlled
by the ‘barbarian’ Visigoths, and the Gallo-Romans who renamed their northern
realm as Syagrius. During the Middle Ages, and perhaps most famously, English
Plantagenet King, Henry 2nd ruled the north while his erstwhile wife, Eleanor, held
sway in Aquitaine. Spanning these diverse historical periods is a steady, unifying
development of viniculture; eventually taking pride-of-place in the landscape and
providing the modern-day Loire with an appropriate moniker, ‘garden of France.’
Winemaking legend suggests that a 4th-century monk, Saint-Martin, was first to
introduce suitable vines for the terroir, and to promote an early form of pruning
practice by having his donkey graze in the monastery vineyard; to strip the vines
of their lower leaves and buds. It’s a critical cultivation step, where the limiting of
harvest yields results in far more concentrated grapes and flavour. Nonetheless,
the Loire’s vintners still manage to produce about 400 million bottles annually,
with varietal Sauvignon Blanc output accounting for a large share of the total.

Centered on the city of Tours, the sub-region of Touraine is located where the
valley’s namesake river meets two of its numerous tributaries; Cher and Indre.
In turn, these two fertile river junctions, the Indre-et-Loire and Loire-et-Cher,
encompass 146 communes and an expansive list of winemaking châteaux that
qualify for the Touraine AOP designation. Among them is this week’s DéClassé
featured, Domaine de la Chaise and their Touraine Sauvignon 2014. Drawing
fruit from vineyards that lie a few kilometers from the postcard-famed, white
Château de Chenonceau, pedigree, and high standards are not in short supply!

Likely to have originated next door in Bordeaux, the Sauvignon Blanc variety is
widely planted throughout the world and highly adaptable to a range of climates
such as Chile, North America, and New Zealand. In the maritime conditions of
the Loire, its characteristics of budding late, then ripening early, makes for a
benchmark style of Sauvignon white wine that’s delicate, nuanced and balanced.
At Domaine de la Chaise, they’re offering a refined example at an astonishingly
modest price. If you’re not a fan of overpriced, over-ripe and grassy Sauvignon,
I suggest buying 3 bottles; to dispel your negative predisposition permanently!

Domaine de La Chaise

DOMAINE DE LA CHAISE TOURAINE SAUVIGNON 2014
VINTAGES – LCBO Product # 452540 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 14.95
12.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Loire, France
By: Christophe Davault
Release Date: July 9, 2016

Tasting Note
Refreshing, fruity and pleasingly tart, this is a classic Loire Sauvignon Blanc with
citrus and subtle honeysuckle aromas. Grapefruit and pineapple flavours mark a
medium-bodied wine with some restrained, herbaceous notes left to the finish. Try
serving alongside a fresh pea risotto, arugula salad with a lemon vinaigrette or with
cold shrimp, lobster, and crab cakes.