Languedoc Viognier

1202 marks one of several noteworthy junctures in the lively history of the Cazal Viel estate and the nearby market town of Cessenon-sur-Orb in southern France. In that medieval year, the titled landowner, Hugues de Cessenon, gave charge over portions of his Languedoc property to a Norbertine order of monks. In turn, the gifting of the land tracts also ushered the construction of their Abbey de Fontcaude — becoming a guiding landmark for religious pilgrims en route to Spain and the famed walk along the Camino de Santiago. Over the ensuing six centuries, the winemaking monks experimented with cultivars and diligently expanded plots that are dotted with the 2,000-year-old ruins of a previous Roman settlement. Unsurprisingly, the estate’s name is derived from a Latin origin, Cazevieille (‘old house’). The moniker remains a succinct and apt description for the unbroken chain of 8 generations of the Famille Miquel who’ve also made worthy contributions to this ever-more-productive enterprise. In the case of their lineage, they’ve been at it since the tumultuous days of the French Revolution in 1791!

What’s far more contemporary is the decision by the Miquel family to plant Viognier vines in the early 1990’s. This grape and its varietal wine style are one of the wine world’s great stories for the recovery of a Vitis Vinifera (European wine grape) that was threatened with near-extinction. In the early 1960’s, a mere 30 or so hectares of these vines were still actively being tended, worldwide — all in a tightly clustered area of the Northern Rhône Valley. 30 years onward from the starting point of cultivation by the Miquel’s, their vineyards now contribute to the thousands of hectares that are being harvested throughout France and from the burgeoning plantings in South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, and South America.

Viognier is a challenging grape to grow with consistency; yielding highly variable harvests from season to season. Since its berries are thick-skinned, the clusters require a great deal of sun exposure to coax them through to full maturity – though, not too much, as the wilting heat can provoke excessive sugar levels, potentially leading to an overly ‘hot’ content of alcohol during fermentation. This week’s DéClassé recommended, Laurent Miquel Nord Sud Viognier 2015, strikes a well-crafted balance. The final blend offers a bright and refreshing fruit character that reflects its time spent in stainless steel tanks, while the wine’s rounded body and flavour profile benefit from some smaller batches having been barrel-matured in French Oak.

Arguably, in spite of Viognier’s newfound popularity as a varietal bottling, as well as, its ongoing use in blends with varieties such as Marsanne and Grenache Blanc, it remains a niche choice by underexposed, North American consumers. This characterful offering, available at a very modest price-point, is not such an enormous gamble for the delightful rewards that will come from broadening your palette with this mid-weight white wine.

LAURENT MIQUEL NORD SUD VIOGNIER 2015
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #673236 | 750 mL bottle
Price $14.95
13.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Languedoc, France
By: Laurent Miquel
Release Date: April 14, 2018

Tasting Note
Along with Viognier’s characteristic floral and stone fruit aromas, the sweet citrus character of this version adds a zippy brightness to the expected peach and apricot flavours. Enjoy this somewhat more fulsome white as an apéritif offering with soft cheeses, herbed bread crisps, vegetable pasties or along with poached freshwater fish, white-sauced pasta, roasted poultry, lamb tagine or mild curries.

Rioja Baja Garnacha Tinta/Tempranillo

The wine trade in Spain’s La Rioja has both ancient roots and is in an evolutionary transition. Despite a wealth of archaeological evidence for Phoenician, Celtiberian, and Roman winemaking in antiquity, a millennium will pass before a written reference to viniculture appears in Spanish: the 11th-century 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, which births the signature, Rioja Wine.

Regarding 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 Rioja’s three designated sub-regions: Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa, and Rioja Baja. More recently, to better typify their individual output, many bodegas are becoming selective in sourcing their grapes from single zones only. The underlying point is that the varied terroirs of these sub-regions produce discernibly different versions of so-called Rioja wine — so it’s not a uniform styling or grading, but it is a demonstration of progressive-minded innovation.

In the extremely hot, wine-growing countryside around the small town of Alfaro, the deft pairing of innovation with deeply rooted tradition is a desirable combination. The modern production style of minimal handling and filtering helps to preserve the brightness of the wine. The old school facets are to blend some  Garnacha Tinta (Grenache) into the Tempranillo base and incorporate small batches of finished wine from a previous vintage (max. 15%). Both have become widely practiced winemaking strategies in Rioja Baja —the most prolific of the 3 La Rioja sub-regions, and the home terroir of this week’s DéClassé featured producer, Bodegas Palacios Remondo.

Winemaker and visionary figure, Alvaro Palacios, has for some time now been making news in the wine world with his influential strategies of promoting the development of quality over quantity. In 2015 he was the news, having been declared Decanter Man of the Year by the well-regarded journal. It’s a crowning juncture in a critical transition period for this cutting-edge winery that purposefully dared to cut output from 200,000 cases of unremarkable bulk wine down to 50,000 of more refined grades – a business risk that’s continuing to pay off.

La Vendimia (‘the harvest’) is an expressive version of the Spanish Joven designation; a decidedly young wine that has been barrel-aged for less than six months. On the arid and rocky slopes of Monte Yerga, the Bodega draws fruit from 40 hectares of vines that are grown organically without irrigation — at some of Rioja Baja’s highest altitudes (+550m). By design it’s meant to be enjoyed young and year-on-year it continues to be offered at a fair price-point. That’s still very much the case!

PALACIOS REMONDO LA VENDIMIA 2016
VINTAGES – Product #674564 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 17.95
14.0% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content: XD

Made in Rioja, Spain
By: Bodegas Palacios Remondo
Release Date: March 31, 2018

Tasting Note
Consistently well made, this cherry-coloured, fruit-driven wine reveals aromas of blackberry and raspberry, and a hint of Garrigue (fragrant, wild Mediterranean shrubs).
As a versatile, medium-body wine, enjoy this with hearty fare, such as Jamón ibérico (cured ham), semi-cured Mahón cheese, grilled Herreño cheese drizzled with honey,  Ratatouille, lamb ragout, or most roasted meat dishes.

Padthaway Shiraz

The rugged and aptly named, Limestone Coast, lies about halfway between Melbourne and Adelaide in Southern Australia. For a long stretch in the 19th and early 20th century, its reputation as a treacherous combination of fractured escarpments and hidden reefs and shoals was borne out by the long chronicle of wrecked ships that had misjudged their sailing or steaming courses. Just inland, however, its far more placid agricultural regions have been diligent in productively diversifying their traditional farming of cereals, pasture seed, vegetables, and livestock grazing. As of the 1960’s, they’ve also embraced the stepped challenges and rewards of grape growing and winemaking — so much so that they now produce 20% of South Australia’s total output.

Padthaway is an emerging, less-renowned member of the six sub-regions lying within the Limestone Coast boundary; directly competing with the international profile of neighbouring Coonawarra: rightfully and highly regarded for the qualities of its benchmark bottlings of Shiraz. The Potawurutj Aborigines coined Padthaway’s name (‘good water’), referencing the underground aquifer system and the abundant surface supply. When the forbearers of the Bryson’s and other Europeans arrived in Padthaway during the 1850’s, the bio-diverse landscape of an ancient seabed was still extensively covered by shallow reservoirs of freshwater and so became known as ‘Mosquito Plains.’

Among many desirable attributes in this terroir, including sun-drenched exposures in daytime offset by the cooling coastal breezes at night, are the prized Terra Rosa soils. Often associated with the Mediterranean basin generally, and Italy in particular, this composition of ancient weathered limestone results from the residual clay and non-soluble rock becoming oxidized; yielding the characteristic reddish colour; imbuing the soil with essential minerals and proper drainage for the vine’s root system. Punctuating 190 hectares on the Bryson Estate are outcrops and clusters of unusual, bulbous granite rock formations; providing an evocative namesake and brand graphic for their baseline range of wines: the Jip Jip Rocks.

Spanning 5 family generations, over a 165-year history, the Bryson farming clan has made a significant contribution to Padthaway winemaking, having invested the last 50 yrs. in refining the cultivation of premium-grade, red and white wine varieties on their own Phylloxera-free rootstock. Clearly, all the vineyard management details matter to the dedicated trio of Bryson brothers — they’re also at ease with the sentiment that what ends up in the bottle is ‘serious fun’!

After spending a year in a combination of new and 2nd use, American and French oak barrels, this week’s DéClassé featured varietal bottling of Shiraz was finished by blending batches from the 2016 vintage. With another year spent in the bottle, it’s ready to go now, though will develop even more balance if left on your rack for several more years. If you like your dry reds on the somewhat wilder and heftier side, with some youthful fruitiness and acidic vibrancy still at the forefront, then you should rush to the LCBO’s Vintages section to get ahead of the anticipated crowd of in-the-know fans!

JIP JIP ROCKS SHIRAZ 2016
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #673897 | 750 mL bottle
Price $16.95
14.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in South Australia, Australia
By: Morambro Creek
Release Date: March 17, 2018

Tasting Note
Along with the dominant Currant, earthy Cherry, and Mulberry flavours, this fairly fulsome red also incorporates subtle mocha and clove notes.  The spiced aromas and toasted influence of oak are pronounced, though deftly integrated into the wine’s supple and layered body. Try serving with marinated flank steak, smoked ham hock and braised cabbage, hearty stews or mature cheeses.

Valle de Leyda

White Burgundy still ranks among the wine world’s most famous grape varieties and the benchmark styles from its namesake terroir remain a gold standard. We’re of course referencing Chardonnay. It has also done very well in California, where climate and drinking taste converged in the 20th century, providing a significant cornerstone upon which a young wine industry was initially built-up, then broadly diversified. The widespread popularity of particular wine styles is subject to cycles. A rapid rise for Chardonnay as a staple table wine in North America was followed by a degree of consumer fatigue — clearly expressed in a somewhat derisive and unfortunate acronym: ABC (‘anything but Chardonnay’). Within the broad range of finishing styles that includes both sparkling and still wines, the world’s most planted white wine grape is enduring and defying the fickle nature of fashion.

Finished Chardonnay is a definitive winemaker’s wine in that the characteristics commonly associated with it: highly aromatic, a buttery mouthfeel, tropical or stone fruit flavours, notes of vanilla, etc. — are all methodically coaxed results from a relatively neutral grape. From time to time, the experimentation has translated into an individual characteristic overshadowing others. As Chardonnay is one rare example of a white wine being suitable for barrel ageing, overly-oaked versions of less-select grape harvests contributed to the decline in reputation and desirability for ever-more discerning drinkers. With the development of the grape in other cooler climate vineyards, fresh and vibrant expressions of Chardonnay are more common again, and arguably, truer to the balance in the originating style from Burgundy. This week’s recommended bottle is a balanced reinterpretation of classic French Chardonnay, though hailing from vineyards in Chile – and highly deserving of a revisiting and re-appreciation.

One of the relatively younger Chilean wine regions is the San Antonio Valley, which in turn, is made up of a collection of branch valleys: Rosario, Malvilla, Cartagena, Lleoleo, Lo Abarca, and the second home of this week’s DéClassé featured vintner in Leyda. This valley’s floor sits on top of a dry, ancient riverbed that accumulated its desirable loam soil over millions of years: a silt mixture of sand, clay, and crushed granite. Somewhat ironically, given that it lies just 10km inland from the ocean, this is generally arid terrain. However, since 2001 the inventive Leyda wineries have been constructing pipelines to access water from the Maipo River and using the precious resource to feed their sustainable drip irrigation systems. With a climate influenced by the valley’s 100-meter altitude and the Humboldt current of the Pacific, the daily cycle of fog-bound mornings giving way to sunny afternoons combines with the mineral-rich soil base to create an ideal terroir for cultivating Chardonnay.

Early in the 20th-century, Pedro Pavone-Voglino emigrated from the well-known Piedmont region in Italy to begin an intrepid adventure that circuitously led him to the fertile valleys of Chile. Decades of subsequent practice in grape-growing would eventually culminate in the founding of a fully-fledged winery in 1956. Flash forward 70 years and you arrive at the expert capability of fashioning Santa Ema Gran Reserva Chardonnay, 2016. With the investment of 8 months in French and American Oak Barrels, during which 40% of the blend rested on its Lees (expired yeast), this very well crafted wine credibly substantiates the numerous, aptly framed accolades for Viña Santa Ema: ‘Wine Spectator’s Top 20 World’s Finest Value Brands’ and ‘Value Winery of the Year by Wine & Spirits magazine.’ Who am I to argue with those credentials; nor should you – so, buy at least two (or three?).

SANTA EMA GRAN RESERVA CHARDONNAY 2016
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #542365 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 16.95
13.5 % Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Leyda Valley, Chile
By: Vinos Santa Ema S.A
Release Date: February 17, 2018

Tasting Note
This bright golden-yellow, full-bodied, barrel-aged wine with a significant alcohol content, playfully combines aromas of lemon balm with ripe tropical fruit flavours of passion fruit and banana along with subtle toast and vanilla accents. If serving as an apéritif, try with smoked salmon and Gruyère cheese. As a main course complement, herb-roasted chicken and Parmesan polenta, grilled Trout, oysters and mussels, seared sea scallops, crab cakes or pasta in light cream sauces – are all good choices.

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.