Côtes Catalanes Alert

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

Flourishing in a diverse set of global regions, Chardonnay can be finished in a
broad range of styles. In Languedoc-Roussillon, apart from generally being a hot
and dry zone that yields fully mature grapes, the easy-drinking Chardonnay style
being produced is decidedly on the lighter and fresh side of the sliding scale. 45
years on from the region’s comprehensive overhaul that was begun in the early
1970’s, which saw the replacing of unremarkable vine stock with Noble Grape
varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, and Viognier, there’s
also been a steady commitment to advancing quality while keeping price points
competitive/attractive. At $16.95, this bottle exemplifies these facts, gloriously!

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

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

Lafage

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

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

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

Cariñena Blend Alert

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

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

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

Monasterio

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

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

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

Bierzo Mencia Alert

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

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

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

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

Abad Dom Bueno

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

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

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

Loire Sauvignon Alert

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

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

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

Domaine de La Chaise

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

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

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

Roussillon Alert

In terms of cultural history, Les Roussillonnais of south-west 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 shore lands 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 that anchor some
of the sunniest areas of France — where cool winters, hot summers, moderate
levels of rainfall, and the drying breezes of the Mistral 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 2014. 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 also taken a long while for Roussillon’s winemakers to discover and build up
an understanding that this landscape, heaved into 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 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 invigorate patio
dinners in the months to come, inexpensively, then dare to buy a whole case!

Bila-Haut

 

LES VIGNES BILA-HAUT CÔTES DU ROUSSILLON-VILLAGES 2014
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #168716 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 14.95
14.0% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: D

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

Tasting Note
Deep garnet red with dark berry flavours, hints of vanilla and spice notes,
this is a pleasingly uncomplicated, rustic wine that could stand to be chilled
slightly when served during the summer heat. Try with grilled lamb chops,
lentils with spicy sausage or a Ratatouille made with fire-roasted vegetables.

Gavi di Gavi Alert

In the evocative parlance of northwestern Italy, a spasso tra i vigneti (‘walking in
the vineyards’) can further translate as wading among undulating green waves
of Nebbiolo grapes; mostly destined to become world-renowned Barbaresco and
Barolo red wines. In the misty hills surrounding the town of Gavi, though, there’s
a modest white delight also vying for increased attention. Considered a minor
grape due to its very limited planting of approximately 1,500 hectares, the early
ripening Cortese is nonetheless a long-established, indigenous variety that has
been cultivated in select pockets throughout Provincia di Alessandria since the
early 17th century. While being well-suited to the micro-climate and soils of these
northern Italian terroirs, consistently extracting flavourful wine from the relatively
neutral, plump, yellow-skinned grape clusters remains an intriguing challenge for
the otherwise skilled vintners of Piemonte. When they get it right, which is now
often the case, the result is satisfyingly lithe, elegant and surprisingly complex.

Businessman Giuseppe Bersano initially founded his azienda vinicola at the turn
of the 20th century by purchasing a languishing, 12-hectare aristocratic estate
belonging to the Count Cremosina. Over the next 50 years of family succession,
and with the gradual acquisition of other nearby properties it became one of the
Piemonte region’s leading wineries; now prolifically drawing from 230 hectares
of vineyard on ten diverse and desirable estates. After a brief period of decline
while under corporate ownership in the 1970’s, the various Bersano lands and
cellars were acquired by the Massimelli and Soave winemaking families in 1985.
Astutely, the current managing generation of these storied Piemontese clans
have entrusted a passionate and highly regarded vintner, Roberto Morosinotto,
with moving the brand’s traditions forward into the 2nd century of development.

This week’s DéClassé featured Bersano Gavi di Gavi 2014 is an accomplished
example of what’s possible in fashioning modern, mid-weight Italian white wine.
Finished in stainless steel tanks, the technique yields delicate layers of tropical
fruit and green apple, floral aromatics, chalky minerality and citrus-tinged acidity.
Overshadowed for a time by other Italian star white wines such as Verdicchio,
Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, and Soave, this is a time-limited opportunity to compare
your palette with what savvy Italians are currently drinking at home – while they
export much of their Pinots abroad. If you have an appreciation for wine that
emphasizes finesse, then this premium offering will be a seductive addition to
your go-to list. To paraphrase Bersanos’s playful motto ‘if you want to drink well,
get yourself a vineyard’, I would say: ‘if you want to drink well this summer, get
at least three bottles of the Gavi di Gavi 2014’ – and enjoy while it’s still young.

Bersano

BERSANO GAVI DI GAVI 2014
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #999979 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 16.95
12% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Piemonte, Italy
By: Bersano Vini S.P.A.
Release Date: July 25, 2016

Tasting Note
This bright straw-yellow coloured wine with its flinty citrus character accented
by light almond notes, is an ideal compliment to summer hors d’oeuvres and a
broad range of seafood such as scallops, calamari, and oysters, or with pesto
dressed pasta, cheese filled ravioli and herbed poultry.

Chardonnay Alert

Long before the rising of reputation as one of Argentina’s premier winemaking
sub-regions, Luján de Cuyo already had an established history of being a garden
for the indigenous Incan and Huarpe Peoples. In the centuries ahead of Spanish
and Italian immigration, the clever and resourceful native populations were able
to harvest a bounty of squash, corn, beans, and quinoa by developing irrigation
dams and canals fed by the Mendoza River system; gradually transforming the
landscape they called Araucanian cuyum puulli (‘sandy land’ or ’desert country‘).
Eventually, as of the 17th and 18th centuries, the mineral rich soils and long dry
days blessed with a plethora of sun and a respite of cool nights would combine
as some of the most desirable conditions for cultivating grapevine, anywhere.
In the modern age, in large part due to a prolific output of the greater Mendoza
region, Argentina has evolved into the wine world’s 5th largest producer!

Other evolutionary development has also occurred among Argentina’s vintners
as they continually incorporate outside expertise (particularly French and Italian)
with their own, significant cadre of home-grown talent. Since becoming the first
Argentinean female to earn an Oenology degree in the early still-male-dominated
1980’s, Susana Balbo honed her wine craft at the renowned Catena and Zapata
Bodegas before the 1999 launch of her own; made up of a wide-ranging portfolio
that now includes BenMarco, Susana Balbo, Nosotros, and Crios. With a 35-year
focus on developing varietal whites her continuing accomplishments include the
informal anointment as the Queen of Torrontés, a third term as the President of
‘Wines of Argentina’, and summarily maturing into one of the most influential,
new-age winemaking ambassadors both at home and globally – felicitación.

As evidenced in this week’s DéClassé featured bottle of Crios Chardonnay 2014,
self-described as a youthful ‘everyday’ wine, the emphasis is on freshness and a
palatable finesse in the finishing; in the ‘Susana Balbo way’. With an over-oaked
Chardonnay style now a vestige of past winemaking practice elsewhere, here in
this recipe only 30% of the vintage sees a brief aging in barrel before blending
with the majority that’s been stored in Stainless Steel tanks. The result is a crisp
and balanced style that still features the acidic brightness, herbal accents and
tropical fruit notes of the Chardonnay grapes; more so than the creamy vanilla
tones that typically develop in fully oaked versions. At this modest price-point, it’s
hard to imagine a better buy to help make your summer ‘everydays’ special!

Crios

CRIOS CHARDONNAY 2014
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #243196 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 13.95
14% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Mendoza, Argentina
By: Susana Balbo
Release Date: June 11, 2016

Tasting Note
This pale golden/yellow and medium-bodied white has an abundance of tropical
fruit aromas and flavours. Serve with canapés of goat cheese/roasted pistachio,
lightly curried vegetable pasties and pickled yellow cherry peppers, or with mains
of apple/sausage stuffed chicken breast and lemon buttered asparagus.