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.

Rioja Alert

The wine trade in Spain’s La Rioja has both ancient roots and is in evolutionary
transition. Despite a wealth of archaeological evidence pointing to Phoenician,
Celtiberian, and Roman winemaking in antiquity, a millennium will pass before a
written reference to viniculture appears in Spanish; the 11th-century document
Carta de población de Longares (Letter to the settlers of Longares). 150 years
later in 1102, King Sancho 1st of Navarra and Aragon bestows legal recognition
on the region’s winemakers, which births the signature of Rioja Wine . In terms
of the relative quality and practices in modern times, local wine merchants and
bodegas have a tradition of marketing wines fashioned from intermixed grapes;
supplied by approx. 20,000 growers; drawing from harvests throughout all of
Rioja’s 3 designated sub-regions: Rioja Alta, Rioja Baja, and Rioja Alavesa. More
recently, to better typify their individual output, bodegas are becoming selective
in sourcing their grapes from single zones only. The underlying point is that the
unique terroirs of these sub-regions do produce discernibly different versions
of so-called Rioja wine; it’s not a uniform style, but is a testament to innovation!

Here in North-central Spain, hilltop monasteries, and other stone fortifications
built up over centuries provide ample evidence of a storied land that shares a
border with the medieval, Franco/Spanish Kingdom of Navarre. On its side of
the modern boundary, Rioja’s cultural identity remains distinct and grounded in
a 120km-long geography that straddles both banks of the famed Ebro River.
As for the roots of its name, ‘Rio’ (river) was combined with ‘Oja’ (a tributary of
the Ebro) to create the highly recognizable moniker that has achieved a global
renown. For this week’s DéClassé feature of the Bodegas LAN Crianza 2012,
the bodega’s name, LAN, is an acronym reference to the 3 provinces that make
up the larger Rioja DOCa (Denominación de Origen Calificada) – Logroño (now
called La Rioja), Álava, and Navarra.

This winery’s flagship vineyard, Viña Lanciano, is a spectacular 72-Hectare plot
that’s framed by a horseshoe-shaped bend of the meandering Ebro River. At a
higher elevation, Rioja Alta has a reputation for producing lighter, fruit-forward
wines that result from a shorter growing season coupled with the character of
its limestone, sandstone, and alluvial soils. For this entry-level bottling, that’s a
fair description of a blend which combines 95% Tempranillo (Rioja’s indigenous
grape) with 5% Mazuelo (Carignan Noir) to boost its tannin, acidity, and colour.
The Crianza designation attests to the wine being aged for 14 months in a novel
construction of hybrid wooden casks that are made of American Oak staves with
French Oak tops. This current offering has also undergone 3 yrs. of cellaring in
bottle, which is well beyond the 1yr. mandated requirement for a Crianza grade.

Unlike the perennial DéClassé recommendations of the 2006 – 2009 vintages,
the immensely popular 2010 thru 2012 releases were ordered by the LCBO in
sufficient amounts to qualify for its ‘Vintages Essentials’ listing; translating into
yearlong availability. 2012 was a very good growing year in the Rioja DOCa, and
though this example is not the most complex that you might have the chance to
savour, it’s very well made, balanced and more-than-worth the sale price sticker!


VINTAGES – LCBO Product #166538 | 750 mL bottle
Sale Price $ 13.95
(until Oct. 9, 2016)
13.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Rioja, Spain
By: Bodegas Lan, S.A.
Release Date: April 1, 2016

Tasting Note
With layered aromas of red fruit, vanilla and spice, this medium-bodied and lively
red has a smooth balance of light tannins and alcohol. As an apéritif, try pairing it
with semi-ripe cheeses and spicy tapas. With main courses, serve alongside an
Arugula salad topped with grilled chicken/lemon pepper dressing, brochettes
of lamb with roasted beets or herb-crust pork tenderloin wrapped in prosciutto.

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 wine’s 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!


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 …………!


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!


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!


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.