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.

Maipo Cabernet Sauvignon

Having begun with the planting of European Vitis Vinifera vines by 16th-century Spanish conquistadors and missionaries, Chile’s 500-year history of fashioning wine coupled with the recent development of new growing regions continues to amaze and impress. For a long period as of the mid-1800’s, the aim was to simply produce inexpensive bulk wine; serving local markets and consumption. Up until the mid-20th century, this is equally true of most so-called old world regions in Europe during the same timeframe. Since then, though, Chile has accomplished far more than keep pace with the evolution of highly competitive, premium wine production and export, rather, its diligent vintners have forged a global leadership role. They’ve truly become world-class winemakers!

Revealingly expressed in the often difficult history of the indigenous Mapuche (‘Earth People’), is a reputation for personal courage, strong communal identity and a fierce and unconquerable spirit. The essence of these attributes carries forward, as modern Chilean vintners innovatively exploit challenging geography for agricultural cultivation while demonstrating studied concern and care for its sustainability. Framed between an endless, snaking Pacific coastline to the west and the folded slopes of Andean peaks to the east, the new regional designation, Entre Cordilleras (‘between mountains’) is a group of inland valleys that includes the well-known Colchagua and the long-established Maipo, lying south of the capital Santiago. Excelling at Malbec, Carménère, and Syrah, the larger region has also had success with classic French reds, Cab Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon wines — justifying the reference, ‘South America’s Bordeaux’.

This week’s DéClassé feature of Montgras Antu Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 is one of the Viña MontGras sub-brands for wines that head winemaker Santiago Margozzini describes as ‘exploratory’. Both light-hearted and serious, the term signals that Chilean vintners continue to play with and refine local cultivars of grapes that were imported at various points in the 19th century. Well-suited to the terroirs of their new home, and guided by local expertise, these should now be thought of as uniquely Chilean — and so it is. This bottling is ready to be uncorked, though you might challenge yourself to put more aside for another year or so – after having tried one to gauge its current measure.

boc ANTU 2014en bot

MONTGRAS ANTU CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2015
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #444703 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 17.95
14.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: D

Made in Maipo Valley, Chile
By: Viña Montgras
Release Date: September 30, 2017

Tasting Note
Offering up loads of dark berry and cherry aromas and flavour, this deep Ruby red wine also has some pleasing pepper and toasty oak notes well-integrated into a soft and creamy texture. Try as a compliment to grilled food fare of all sorts: vegetable and meats, with a generous helping of Chilean cilantro salsa on the side.

Roussillon Grenache Blanc/Gris Cuvée

Here in the sunniest corner of southwestern France, after an earlier period of working abroad for other wineries, Jean-Marc Lafage and partner Eliane have followed in his father’s wine-making footsteps – establishing the sixth successful generation to take ownership for farming these historic vineyards in the Côtes du Roussillon. Arguably, the least selective AOC in the larger Roussillon region, it’s still best known for its abundant output of red wine and rosé. However, in the case of this vintner’s practices, somewhat less stringent official guidelines, and fewer entrenched traditions for fashioning their white wine allow for a more flexible, year to year recipe, particularly in the blending proportions of the allowable grape varieties.

The composition of 80% Grenache Blanc and Grenache Gris (somewhat novel) is blended with 20% Roussanne and aged in both stainless steel tanks (70%), as well as, in new French oak barrels (30%). Their Grenache vines, averaging 90 yrs. of age, thrive in the ancient Quaternary soil (stony, gravelled) that lie within view of the Mediterranean seashore. Presumably, the significant maturity of the vine stock provides the namesake for this bottling called ‘Centenaire’ (Centennial).

The generally favourable terroir here is helped by the Tramontana winds that blow from the North-West, providing both a cooling and drying effect in the vineyards. In 2016, this vintner’s plots in Roussillon were mercifully spared the hail and frost that were otherwise widespread in France, making it a difficult harvest for many winemakers. Though Roussillon had less than desirable rainfall during the main growing season, the delayed harvest of smaller grape clusters allowed for enhanced acidity and a rich aromatic character. Despite having produced lower yields, 2016 is highly regarded as a banner year for quality.

Relatively new to the international market, this week’s DéClassé recommended offering, Domaine Lafage Cuvée Centenaire 2016, couldn’t be more attractively priced as a premium white wine. If you’re able to snap up a bunch, as you should if you’re a fan of fuller-bodied whites – then know that it will cellar well for at least 2 years or more.

Domaine Lafage

DOMAINE LAFAGE CUVÉE CENTENAIRE 2016
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #343491 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 17.95
14.0% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Midi, France
By: Domaine Lafage
Release Date: September 16, 2017

Tasting Note
With aromatic hints of vanilla and white fruit, this rich white wine has subtle citrus flavours with a flint-edged minerality derived from maritime soils. Try serving with food fare such as pasta carbonara, mild curries, ratatouille or fish dishes and mussels.

Plan de Dieu GSM

Bookended to the top and bottom by its equally renowned neighbours, Burgundy and Provence, the Côtes du Rhône region straddles the namesake river’s banks for approximately 200kms from Vienne in the north to just below Avignon in the south. Part of Narbonese Gaul, Romans founded terraced vineyards here late in the 2nd century BC, though some significant development in wine-making history corresponds with the arrival of Popes in the 14th century. Displaced from their traditional seat in Rome due to the so-called western-schism, a splitting of the Catholic Church, and hemmed in by the upheaval of France and England’s 100 Years’ War, the temporary papal retreat to Avignon would be prolonged for 9 successions. Competitively inclined, the Popes and Cardinals established farm estates on tracts of Côtes du Rhône lands that had been ceded to the church. Gradually expanding the vineyard plantings secured a local wine source and provided revenue in the exporting of surplus production. 500 years onward, long after the Popes had left to reoccupy the Vatican, Avignon was again anointed in 1966 – this time with the secular designation of ‘Capital City’ of all Rhône wines.

Vintners along the somewhat cooler stretch of the valley north of Montelimar make varietal wines exclusively with Syrah grapes, whereas wineries in southern zones produce the classic GSM blends built with GrenacheSyrahMourvèdre – or GSMC in which Carignan rounds out the recipe. This DéClassé recommended, Château Le Grand Retour – Plan de Dieu is a robust 60/30/10% GSM blend extracted from 45-year-old vine stock. Rooted in stony limestone or red clay soils typical of the Plan de Dieu sub-region, this geographic ‘God’s Plain’ has a localized, hot and dry climate, making the terroir ideal for the full maturation of its signature grape varieties. Lying at the base of the Dentelles de Montmirail foothills, the plain encompasses vineyards that surround the towns of Camaret-sur-Aigues, Violes, Jonquieres, as well as, the source of this week’s feature bottle from Travaillan. Despite being a relatively new appellation created in 2005, the Plan de Dieu AOP classification with the ‘Villages’ qualifier, indicates a more distinctive quality of wine than that of the generic Côtes du Rhône AOP. The unique bottle style also features Plan de Dieu as an embossed coat-of-arms: a cluster of grapes framed by a halo!

Château Le Grand Retour is one of a trio of winemaking estates that the three Aubert brothers have overseen since the 1980’s, carrying forward and further developing the foundation and traditions begun by their father. 150 hectares of this property was originally established by Algerian immigrants, who again left France for a time. On returning, they found the now mature plantings ready to bear fruit–providing the inspiration for the Domaine’s name, ‘the major return.’

The same sentiment can also be applied here to this bottling since it’s become a yearly Vintages release that always seems to exceed the generalized pedigree as an entry-level, southern Rhône wine. In my pocketbook, this Plan de Dieu trumps lower end offerings of Châteauneuf-du-Pape – and for the same price, I can buy 3!

CHATEAU LE GRAND RETOUR PLAN DE DIEU 2015
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #224592 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 14.95
14.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in: Rhône, France
By: Sarl Aubert
Release Date: September 16, 2017

Tasting Note
Dark, silky-smooth with juicy fruit and savory notes, the complexity of aromas and flavours in this bottling exceeds its general pedigree of an ‘entry level,’ southern Rhône wine. Try serving with roasted poultry, duck, lamb, stuffed eggplant, bean stew with sage or sharp flavoured, hard cheeses.