Bordeaux Primer

Though Latin descriptions by poet, Decimus Ausonius, about winemaking in the Roman dominion of Gaul are traceable to the 4th-century, it wasn’t until the early middle ages that wine export from Bordeaux began in earnest. With the fabled marriage in 1152 of Eleanor of Aquitaine to Henry Plantagenet (future king of England), they not only bore a near-mythical son, Richard the Lion-heart but also fostered a monopoly of wine trade between Bordeaux and England. The discerning customers on England’s side of the Channel would eventually nickname the region’s wine as Claret. With endless warring between the English and French disrupting trade for centuries, it was a long wait to the 1600’s when Bordeaux’s near-neighbours in the Netherlands began increasing their imports and consumption significantly. The Dutch applied a host of innovations such as sterilizing the Oak storage barrels, which made longer-term conserving of the wine possible and a proportional expansion of travel distances to new markets. Finally, they also gifted the wine world one of its premier terroirs by draining the estuary marshes and creating arable land for vineyards in Bordeaux’s sub-region of Médoc!

Bordeaux’s complex patchwork of 38 sub-regions encompassing 65 AOC appellations, also divided into a lengthy list of individual, legendary plots, is somewhat more decipherable with the understanding that most take their names from a select set of towns and villages. Moreover, they’re further distinguished by being grouped around the Gironde Estuary at the region’s Atlantic end, or inland along the converging Garonne and Dordogne rivers. Lastly, the paths of those three waterways, as a diagonal line through Bordeaux, provide demarcation for which of the vineyards and wines are of so-called Right or Left Bank origin. North of the Dordogne is Right, south of the Gironde and Garonne is Left. An added anomaly is the sizeable zone between called Entre-Deux-Mers (‘Between 2 Seas’). It all adds up as a delightfully bewildering patchwork of sub-regions that are home to a vast collection of 7,375+ wine-producing Châteaux!


As for price-point, the loose designation of Petit Château encompasses thousands of producers who don’t qualify as Cru Classés: the five top-tier, Bordeaux classifications. In some cases, petit château vineyards are next door to those of highly touted brands. In rarer instances, there are microclimate and soil composition factors that result in markedly differing wine character from adjacent plots. However, cost and desirability tend to reflect the reputation of a particular vintage, vine age, and how much production investment there’s been by the estate. Despite a perception that Bordeaux’s offerings tend toward premium pricing, a majority of Bordelais and Bordelaises vintners sell their approx. 630 million bottles of red and white wines, reasonably, at between $15 – $25.

For this week’s feature of a Merlot-driven, Château Sainte Marie Alios 2014, the blend recipe by winemaker, Stéphane Dupuch, adds a dose of 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Petit Verdot to lend a touch more boldness and body that’s expected of a baseline, Bordeaux red. With three years of ageing, from a harvest year that’s widely reputed to have produced balanced wine throughout the region, this is ready for consumption now — especially if you prefer brighter levels of acidity to counterbalance the tannins of bigger reds. It will hold for 3 – 5 years, should you somehow misplace several bottles in a dark corner of your basement?

CHATEAU SAINTE – MARIE ALIOS 2014
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #526848 | 750 mL bottle
Price $15.95
13.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Bordeaux, France
By: Les Hauts De Sainte-Marie
Release Date: February 3, 2018

Tasting Note
An introductory-level, Bordeaux Merlot that over-delivers at this price-point with dark berry flavours, ample oak character, and earthy accent of spices. Classic appetizer pairings such as Pâté, charcuterie, spicy vegetable pastries, or dinner mains such as lamb curry, tuna steak, Ratatouille with rustic sourdough bread, duck breast with fig chutney – would all be complementary for this medium to full-bodied wine.

Loire Tête de Cuvée Brut

Overlooking the stepped embankments of the Loire River, 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 appearance 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 challenge 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 destruction 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 brambled riverbanks in his published, 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 the term was made proprietary to only wines originating from the Champagne AOC 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, the highly- 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 feature of Château Moncontour Tête de Cuvée Brut is fashioned 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 has 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 of the Touraine, this local cultivar imparts a distinct minerality along with a high level of acidity – making it an ideal base for the pétillant (sparkling) versions of Vouvray. Having spent at least 12 months ageing 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 January!

Chateau Moncontour

CHÂTEAU MONCONTOUR TÊTE DE CUVÉE BRUT VOUVRAY
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: January 6, 2018

Tasting Note
This wine’s straw-yellow colour, apricot and pear aromas, some nutty and baked brioche notes, and a very lively mousse make for a refreshing counterpoint to the winter blues! Try as an informal apéritif or with lighter fare such as goat cheese tartlets, pâté and seasoned bread crisps or alongside a selection of moderately spicy, Asian appetizers.

Puglia Primitivo

In a period that Roman historians term as Magna Graecia, expansionist Greeks crossed the westward seas to establish a ring of thriving colonies around the perimeter of this distinctive land spit; in the modern age, it became whimsically known as either stiletto or heel of the boot. Jutting downwards from mainland Italy, the southern peninsula of Puglia acts as a geographic divide between the sheltered Gulf of Taranto and the Otranto Strait of the Adriatic Sea. Throughout thousands of years in antiquity through to the middle ages, this was a strategic crossroad of trade and target of conquest for many Mediterranean civilizations. As a cumulative result, 800km of coast and the parallel line of inland mountains serve to frame a hybrid culture that’s unique within the broad diversity of regional Italian identities. Though early colonizers seem to have been warlike Spartans, by the 5th century BCE it was philosophy that had become the preoccupation in Greco-Italian centres of learning such as the city of Elea (now Velia). Notably, this was home to visionary thinker and mentor Parmenides who’s credited with laying an influential foundation for Aristotle, Plato and young Socrates. Unsurprisingly, the wealth of clay Amphorae unearthed from archaeological excavation also reveals that the making of wines and their sea-borne export were well underway!

Curiously, in spite of being so prolific, Puglia remains one of the less-well-known Italian regions. In its middle and southern provinces, the hot and dry climate is perfect for cultivating fulsome grapes such as Negroamaro, Malvasia Nera and Primitivo. With a name derived from several Latin terms loosely translating as ‘the first to ripen’, Primitivo has traditionally been a reliable blending component. More recently, the variety has gained increased profile as a stand-alone varietal wine, due in part to the burgeoning popularity of Zinfandel; a clonal relative that flourishes in Californian vineyards and North American marketplaces. Local lore suggests that this Italian variant of a Croatian parent grape was discovered by a 17th-century Benedictine monk, Francesco Primicerius, as a wild vine growing in his monastery gardens. Gradually, cultivars of Primitivo were then proliferated throughout Puglia, finally rooting in Taranto Province 100 years later.

Home to this week’s DéClassé featured bottle from the Montanaro winemaking family, the town of Crispiano and surrounding vineyards are proudly becoming an agrotourism destination in their own right. So much so that these vintners engaged a landscape architect, Fernando Caruncho, to oversee development of the property as a garden-vineyard where the undulating waves of vines are interspersed with 24 islands of 800-year-old olive trees. Compelling aesthetics aside, their Amastuola Organic Primitivo 2014 is a semi-plush, pleasingly rounded example of how expert that Taranto’s vintners have become in fashioning their local wine. Budget allowing, half a case would be hard to hold in your cellar for very long!

AMASTUOLA ORGANIC PRIMITIVO 2014
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #300004 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 16.95
13% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: D

Made in Puglia, Italy
By: Amastuola Societa’S Agricola S.S.
Release Date: December 9, 2017

Tasting Note
A very fruity palate typical of the grape style with aromas of mixed berries, plum, spice and vanilla. Try with some classic, cool-weather comfort foods like braised beef brisket, veal scaloppini, pasta Bolognese, eggplant Parmigiano or alongside a zesty, mixed pepper lasagna and an arugula/radicchio salad topped with slivered Pecorino Romano.

Douro Touriga Nacional Blend

As it winds its way for over 900km down through the western side of the Iberian Peninsula, the majestic Douro River acts both as a border with its Spanish neighbours, while also providing the region on the Portuguese side with its iconic namesake. The earliest traces of grapevine cultivation date back as far as the late Bronze Age, with a significant proliferation happening during the Roman-influenced period in the 1st century AD. Visigoths displaced the Romans and took to the practice until the arrival of the Moors, who in turn, yielded to the forbearers of the modern-day Portuguese and their founding of the first Kingdom of Portugal in 1143. The most noteworthy wine-producing zone lies framed between the towns of Barca d’Alva and Régua. Here the river valleys point westward for a time; creating growing conditions that are conducive to red wine grape varieties such as Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca, and Tinta Barroca, as well as, for white wine grape stock such as Malvasia Fina, Moscatel, Gouveio, and Viosinho. The net result of all this prolific production is that wine has been flowing along the Douro for a very long time – shipped downstream to Porto in barrels that were loaded onto the regionally distinctive, Rabelo boats.

Many of the Douro’s red wines are vinified in so-called Lagares. These are large, open stone containers made of Granite and Schist that the sorted and destemmed grapes are poured into, then methodically crushed underfoot in a centuries-old, winemaking tradition. Natural fermentation begins when the wild yeasts that coat the grape skin come into contact with the sugar in the juice. Surprisingly, it frequently only requires 24hrs. to complete this step, after which the young wine is strained into stainless steel holding tanks to undergo a second, bacteria-induced ‘malolactic’ fermentation. This desirable form of intervention helps to convert the tart Malic acid in the fruit into Lactic acid, which markedly softens the mouthfeel of the wine.

Portuguese vintners are fiercely proud of their long-standing winemaking methods but are also embracing modern, international standards. Arguably, their output remains underpriced relative to the quality of what’s now on offer, which means that it’s still a great time to stock up before everyone else catches on to the remarkable value. In the case of this week’s feature of Cais da Ribeira Riserva 2014, the home of the Barão de Vilar winery is in an emerging region known as Douro Superiore: the most inland of the Douro’s three zones. Predominantly built on a blend of the classic grape varieties listed above, this bottling benefits from being decanted for several hours before serving or put some away for a year or two and be rewarded with an even suppler version of the vintage. At $13.95 this is a well-made, introductory level offering that should dispel most disbelief about whether dry, Douro DOC, red table wines can compete with those of their nominally related, Tempranillo and Monastrell-making, Spanish neighbours!

CAIS DA RIBEIRA RESERVA 2014
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #523639 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 13.95
13.1% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Douro, Portugal
By: Vinihold
Release Date: November 11, 2017

Tasting Note
Following on the dark, brooding fruit aromas, this mid-weight red wine has a surprising combination of a supple body accented with lively streaks of acidity and tannins. Pick a juicy red or black berry that comes to mind, and you’ll likely be able to tag it in the flavours of this bottling. Best alongside heartier and meaty food fare – try serving this with savoury stews, a herbed beef or lamb rib roast, and duck breast glazed with stewed prunes or apricots.

Loire Sauvignon Blanc

The Loire River Valley in west-central France has a long history of being 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.

domaine-de-la-chaise-touraine

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 fertile river junctions, the Indre-et-Loire and Loire-et-Cher encompass 146 communes and an expansive list of winemaking châteaux that qualify for Touraine AOP designation. Among them is this DéClassé featured, Domaine de la Chaise and their Touraine Sauvignon 2016. Drawing fruit from vineyards that lie near 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 Loire’s maritime conditions, its characteristics of budding late, then ripening early, makes for a benchmark Sauvignon white wine that’s delicate, nuanced and balanced. At Domaine de la Chaise, they’re offering a refined example at a modest price. If you’re not a fan of overpriced, over-ripe and grassy Sauvignon, I suggest buying 3; to dispel your negative predisposition permanently!

DOMAINE DE LA CHAISE TOURAINE SAUVIGNON 2016
VINTAGES – LCBO Product # 452540 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 16.95
12.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Loire, France
By: Christophe Davault
Release Date: November 25, 2017

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.

Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau

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 styles, nearly 30% is exclusively finished and marketed under the Nouveau designation. They invented the concept; they’re arguably still best at making it. Historically, the barely-off-the-vine, bright and uncomplicated Vin de l’année was intended to be consumed as a celebration of the current vintage’s harvest. Following on the 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 significant export, though, is a relatively contemporary concept that only became widespread in the middle of the 1950’s; hitting its commercial peak in 1980. This unique timed-release on the 3rd Thursday in November remains celebratory but has, in some cases, become misunderstood or misrepresented over time.

In general, over-production or indiscriminate wine-making by a handful of the largest producers has saddled this specialty offering with a very 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 smaller, and a few large producers are fashioning a better balance in 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, 4 succeeding family generations have continued the refinement; progressively becoming masters of both the Nouveau and regular Beaujolais wine styles.

beaujolais

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 2017, 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 might too-generally deride the Nouveau style as representing immature wine lacking dimension and depth, pay little attention — they’re missing the playful point!

JOSEPH DROUHIN BEAUJOLAIS VILLAGES NOUVEAU 2017
VINTAGES – Product #113266 | 750 mL bottle
Price $16.95
12.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content: XD

Made in: Beaujolais, France
By: Joseph Drouhin S.A.
Release Date: November 16, 2017

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 roast chicken, Cornish hen, and herb-stuffed pork loin.

Côtes-du-Roussillon Villages

In terms of cultural history, Les Roussillonnais of southwest France arguably have as much in common with their Catalan neighbours in Spain as they do with their Occitan-speaking cousins in the adjacent territory known as Pays de Langue d’oc (Languedoc). Through most of the medieval period, Roussillon vacillated as a border region between these two peoples, though was mostly ruled by the Counts of Barcelona as a part of Catalonia. In the modern age it has deferred to its French heritage and become bound up in Languedoc-Roussillon. More than just a political marriage, it’s a hybrid of Mediterranean shorelands and craggy inland geography; framed by the Rhône River Valley eastward, and the Pyrenees that divide Spain and France to the west. The wine world, however, still references these twinned regions as separate sets of distinct winemaking terroirs, and so we should!

Originally founded at the turn of the 19th century, the Maison M. Chapoutier has progressively built up and expanded its broad portfolio of mature vineyards next door in the Southern Rhône. In recent decades, it continues to forge ahead with developing new properties and partnerships in various parts of Roussillon while also applying organic growing practices. For this bottling, the fruit comes from younger plots in the Côtes-du-Roussillon Villages AOP. Part of the hilly, northern reaches of Roussillon, the appellation encompasses 32 towns in one of the sunniest areas of France — where cool winters, hot summers, moderate levels of rainfall, and the drying Mistral breezes combine to create peak growing conditions for the dark-skinned grape varieties now thriving here.

Clinging to slopes of the high Agly Valley, terraced vineyards are the source for this weeks’ DéClassé feature of Vignes de Bila-Haut 2016. Poetically described by vintner, Michel Chapoutier, as ‘an old plot of land, rough, almost hostile,’ his references illustrate an ancient geology made up of crushed Gneiss and Schist: mineral-rich types of sedimentary rock laden with limestone and chalk deposits. It’s taken a while for Roussillon’s winemakers to build an understanding that this landscape of heaved prominences and scrubland outcrops is highly conducive to cultivating the sorts of grapevines that will yield fulsome yet still bright and lively red wines.

Using only hand-harvested grapes, this assembled blend incorporates three of the AOP mandated varieties: Syrah, providing spice and aromas imparted from the wild Garrigue of fragrant, flowering shrubs; Black Grenache to add firmness and body, and the region’s signature grape, Carignan, offering some crisp tannic notes. Aiming to create a fresher style of red, his recipe never sees an influence of wood barrels, rather it’s briefly aged in vats; producing a wine that’s intended to be enjoyed young over the next several years. It’s time to reaffirm what so many prudent LCBO Vintage’s customers already know: if you want to warmly invigorate dinners in the cold winter months to come, inexpensively – then dare to buy a whole case!

LES VIGNES DE BILA-HAUT CÔTES DU ROUSSILLON-VILLAGES 2016
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #168716 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 15.95
14.0% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in: Midi, France
By: Maison M. Chapoutier
Release Date: July 9, 2016

Tasting Note
Deep garnet red with dark berry flavours, accented by vanilla and spice notes, this is a pleasingly uncomplicated, rustic wine. Try with grilled lamb chops, lentils with spicy sausage or a Ratatouille made with fire-roasted vegetables.