Minervois Syrah/Carignan

Distinctively marking the labels of this terroir-specific wine line is a dramatic four-armed Visigoth symbol dating to the 7th century. Later known as the Languedoc Cross or Cross of the Cathars, the four elements and twelve points of the zodiac represent the perpetual rhythms of time and nature. The vintner’s apt emblem also includes two doves drinking from a single cup–expressing both sharing and communion. Begun by Georges Bertrand, a winemaking pioneer in the Languedoc region who diligently built a spirit of cooperation among the local growers of south-western France in the 1970’s, the Bertrand winery has consistently been at the forefront of quality development for an impressive range of regional wine styles. The multi-generational philosophy is being carried forward by the founder’s son, Gérard Bertrand, with an expanding portfolio of ten estates, 550 hectares of vineyard and production facilities based in Narbonne–the onetime capital of a prosperous Roman coastal province called Gallia Narbonensis.

languedoc-wine-region-1852

One of the world’s most extensive wine growing regions, Languedoc is a Mediterranean landscape of windswept scrubland with the geology of greyish-white, calcium-rich limestone. The eroded soils of this ancient seabed make for a rich base where wild lavender, thyme, and undulating rows of gnarled Carignan, Cinsault, Grenache Noir, Syrah and Mourvèdre grapevine thrive. As with the land’s nature, the AOC wine regulations of this free-spirited region are somewhat less stringent than in the neighbouring Burgundy or Bordeaux appellations to the north; allowing for the cultivation of a broader range of vine varieties and blending proportions.

The Minervois sub-region in Languedoc benefits from a relatively hot climate that’s bordered by the clay and schist soils around the Canal du Midi to the south and the stony limestone slopes of Montagne Noire to the north. These factors in the terroir infuse a distinctive flinty character into the finished wines. That’s very much the case for this DéClassé recommended Gérard Bertrand Minervois Syrah/Carignan 2015. To soften the steely edges, the Syrah and Carignan grapes had undergone a malolactic fermentation before the blended batch was aged in 225-litre Bordeaux oak barrels for eight months and then rested in bottle for another year.

Though you will find many offerings from this prolific vintner on the regular shelves of the LCBO, note that this particular release is only stocked in the Vintages section, in a limited volume that historically sells out quickly. During the warm months ahead, dare to try this ripe and fruit-forward red slightly chilled!

GÉRARD BERTRAND MINERVOIS SYRAH/CARIGNAN 2015
VINTAGES/LCBO – Product #952804 | 750 mL bottle
Price $16.95
14% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Midi, France
By: Gérard Bertrand
Release Date: August 4, 2018

Tasting Note
This somewhat earthy red wine, with its dark fruit flavours accented by olive and coffee notes, also has a robust body and structured tannins. Best with foods such as a marinated grilled brisket, basted ribs, veal meatballs in a piquant tomato and olive sauce, fire roasted vegetables or with stronger cheeses, Spanish Jamón Serrano and sausage appetizers.

Mendoza Tinto

Historically inspiring this bottling’s brand name, La Posta del Viñotero is a typical sort of wine tavern in Mendoza where the local growers congregate to sample the results of their harvest labours–while passionately exchanging opinions and insights into their working of soils, vine stock and wine styles. La Posta is also the Italian name for Post Office. Unsurprisingly, these became vital gathering places for many of the millions of Italians who immigrated to Argentina in the 19th and 20th century.

Fruit for this week’s DéClassé recommended offering is drawn from a collection of 3,000 foot, high-altitude vineyards in La Consulta, Rivadavia, Vista Flores and Altamira. The narrow band of alluvial soils in this renowned and prolific wine-producing province are ideally suited for the cultivation of Argentina’s signature Malbec grape. The growing conditions are an apparent agricultural contradiction whereby some of the most characterful wines are being extracted from mature, 30-year-old vine stock thriving in near-inhospitable geography. Just to the east is barren desert; to the west is the so-called ‘rain shadow’ created by the nearby chain of majestic Andean peaks.

Malbec is a thick-skinned grape variety that was first introduced to South America in the 1850’s by Frenchman Miguel Pouget, and has evolved through several cycles of being in and out of commercial favour. The spiced and fresh fruit elements that his variety lent to traditional Bordeaux blends have become calling cards for Argentinean Malbec–now often shining alone, on its own merits in varietal bottling form.

This opaque, purple-red blend is made up of 60% Malbec with 25% parts of Bonarda and 15% Syrah. It’s an inexpensive, well-made, fun, easy drinking wine intended to be enjoyed young. Barrel-aged for 10 months in second-use oak, it has sufficient depth for those who prefer more weight and mouthfeel in their reds. For palettes that lean toward bright, brambly fruit flavours, it has much to offer as well. Try this ‘summer red’ on the slightly cooler side of serving temperature.

LA POSTA TINTO 2016
VINTAGES/LCBO – Product #555789 | 750 mL bottle
Price $14.95
13.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Mendoza, Argentina
By: Puerto Ancona S.A.
Release Date: August 4, 2018

Tasting Note
La Posta has many of the typical Malbec aromas and flavour profiles of raspberry and cassis with some hints of cocoa and mocha, albeit on the slightly-muted side of the scale. An ample dose of fresh acidity lends balance to this fruit-driven blend. Try it as every day, apéritif wine or with herbed roast chicken, lamb, beef and grilled vegetables.

Vouvray Crémant

Set high on a prominence that overlooks the Loire River and its embankments, 130 hectares of Château Moncontour make for one of the oldest and famous 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 courtly influence of Agnès was one bookend in the life and fortunes of the king; the other came disguised as a boy but was actually a 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 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 and personal writings–perhaps, while giddily inspired by the bottled bounty of its vineyards!

moncontour

As with most Crémant, this week’s effervescent bottling has been produced by a double fermentation process generally referred to as méthode Champenoise, though, the term was made proprietary in the 1980’s to only wines originating from the Champagne AOC appellation in north-eastern France. This was justified to guard the distinct typicity of that region’s sparkling wines but doesn’t directly infer a higher 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 feature of Château Moncontour Cuvée Prédilection Brut Vouvray 2015is made with 100% Chenin Blanc grapes sourced within the Vouvray AOC boundaries and finished in an equivalent crémant-making technique 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 surrounding region of 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. In having spent 24 months ageing in the bottle before disgorgement, final corking, and release, this is reasonably priced just above the standard DéClassé threshold. Nonetheless, you will chide yourself endlessly for not having bought more of this limited release before the long wait until next summer!

CHÂTEAU MONCONTOUR CUVÉE PRÉDILECTION BRUT VOUVRAY 2015
VINTAGES/LCBO – Product #168963 | 750 mL bottle
Price $19.95
12% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: D

Made in: Loire, France
By: Château Moncontour
Release Date: July 21, 2018

Tasting Note
This straw-yellow sparkler has aromas of stone fruit, followed by peach, apple and lime-tinged flavours–accented by some nutty and baked brioche notes that are expected from its production method. The lively mousse is a refreshing counterpoint to warm weather and a complement for the many more ‘al fresco’ meals to come! Try as an apéritif or with lighter fare such as fresh salads, goat cheese tartlets, pâté and seasoned bread crisps or alongside moderately spicy Asian appetizers.

Alicante Monastrell

Toward the southeast corner of the Iberian Peninsula, about halfway between the fabled centers of orange-growing València and the Carthaginian-established port of Cartagena, a sub-region called Alicante has been producing wine for an eternity. Also striking is that it’s a rocky and arid zone in a province that otherwise enjoys a mild continental climate, fertile soil and the beguiling benefits of being close to the Mediterranean seashore. Blessed with these factors since the time of Argaric, Bronze-age settlement, it also attracted the wine-interested Phoenicians who passed on their agricultural knowledge and secrets to thirsty Romans. It was undoubtedly part of the appeal for Moors as they expanded north from Morroco, establishing Arab taifas (fiefdoms) in the 8th century. The bounty of these lands meant that they prospered for over 700 years, all-the-while cultivating grapevines simply to delight in its fresh fruit. They did so right until the 15th century when the fiercely competing kingdoms of Castille and Aragon managed to put aside their ambitions long enough to supplant the Moorish occupation. The celebrating Christians immediately began fermenting wine again!

 Monastrell is a resurgent star in Alicante, despite taxing the grower’s patience with its slow arc of reaching full maturity. Typically harvested in mid-October, the prolonged growing period of the thick-skinned grape pays off by providing a broad profile of flavour and structure for fashioning single grape, full-bodied varietal wine. Spanish Monastrell also requires less help from other varieties to round out the balance when used in blended versions. Perhaps better-known in French as Mourvèdre, it’s long been a partner to Grenache and Syrah in the classic GSM recipes of the Rhône region. Given the often overly-warm growing conditions in this southern Spanish terroir, the low-lying vines are trained as bushes so that the leaf canopy helps to shield the grape clusters, as well as, provide shade for the vine’s surround of heat-reflecting, rocky soils.

Throughout the first half of the 20th-century, and not uncommon in the wine world of the age, Alicante’s vintners were mainly producing bulk wine with high alcohol content. Despite many examples of their reds still hitting close to the 15% mark, the quality of wine finishing has markedly evolved–part of Spain’s overall quality revolution in the 21st-century. One of many adjustments in their winemaking range is to produce youthful versions (Jovan) that have spent little time in oak barrels. Retaining more of the vibrant spiciness that’s directly referenced in the source region’s name, Alicante, this week’s feature of Tarima Monastrell 2015 is a delightful example of the style.

Prompted by this short introduction, I suggest you immediately check the LCBO’s online search (see link in the left margin) for the availability of this limited release, then sprint to the location and buy as much as you can afford. It’s ready now. Decant for an hour and serve at room temperature for a fuller-bodied experience, or dare to serve slightly chilled on the patio this summer. The 2015 bottling will cellar for another year or so, though you’ll find it hard to hold onto!

TARIMA MONASTRELL 2015
VINTAGES/LCBO – Product #310151 | 750 mL bottle
Price $14.95
14.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Alicante, Spain
By: Bodegas Volver
Release Date: July 7, 2018

Tasting Note
This Cherry-coloured bottling ripe with dark berry flavours also has subtle herb, licorice and chocolate notes. It’s best served alongside richer food fare such as braised duck or 
beef short ribs, steak au poivre or spicy pork sausages with a wild rice blend and grilled portobello mushrooms.

Alsace Pinot Gris

Firmly part of territorial France in the 21st century, Alsace has been enriched by its dual Frankish and Germanic cultural history while experiencing some geopolitical upheaval due to the competing aspirations of its two parent nations. Colonized by 1st century BC. Romans; allied with the Medieval Holy Roman Empire a millennium or so later; occupied by ambitious 16th century French Kings; annexed by Germans in the late 19th century during the Franco-Prussian War; ceded back to France in the terms of armistice following the First World War, and finally, after many areas were entirely destroyed in the second world war bombing campaign by Allied forces–reaffirmed as French again. Throughout all of this tumult, steadfast Alsatians have rebuilt and found imaginative ways to keep producing fine grapes and a highly distinctive quality of wines.

Pinot Gris is a white wine grape that originated in the neighbouring vineyards of France’s Burgundy, then was proliferated throughout Europe–notably, popularized in Italy in the latter part of the 20th century where it’s known as Pinot Grigio. Derived from the larger Pinot family of grapes, this pink-skinned version with low acidity and relatively high sugar levels does well in cooler growing conditions such as Alsace and across the border around Baden, Germany.

Dating to the early 1700’s, the family winemaking estate of Joseph Cattin has been based in the heart of the Alsatian vineyards south of Colmar, between the villages of Voegtlinshoffen and Hattstatt. This storied region on the west bank of the Upper Rhine near the German border has excelled at cool-weather grape styles since the Middle Ages. The namesake of the current estate, Joseph, was an early 20th-century pioneer in combating the Phylloxera pest which did so much damage in Europe and beyond. Apart from continuing the development and expansion of what was then a modest 7-hectare property, he also studied and subsequently developed vine grafting techniques that became the viticultural model for many Alsatian growers to overcome the blight.

Later Cattin generations expanded the estate to over 50 hectares, as well as, engaged numerous local growers to cultivate according to the family’s exacting standard. With most of the combined vineyards sheltered in among the south-east facing foothills of the Vosges mountains, these terroirs of the Pinot Gris AOC d’Alsace with their highly variable soils and moderate climate help the vines yield a broad range of early ripening fruit with a well-rounded character.

This 2016 offering won Gold at the 2017 Concours Général Agricole de Paris
– as a follow-on to a long lineage of medal accolades for previous vintages.

JOSEPH CATTIN PINOT GRIS 2016
VINTAGES/LCBO – Product #196956 | 750 mL bottle
Price $16.95
13% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: D

Made in Alsace, France
By: Cattin Freres
Release Date: July 7, 2018

Tasting Note
As is typical with this wine style in an Alsatian version, it’s more fulsome than its Italian Pinot Grigio cousins with aroma and flavour notes of stone fruit, accented by hints of
almond and honey. Try serving this with a broad range of vegetable-based dishes, pasta and cream sauces, or as an apéritif with foie-gras.

Côtes du Roussillon GSC

In terms of cultural history, Les Roussillonnais of southwest France 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 to the east, 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 new properties and partnerships in various parts of Roussillon, while also applying organic growing practices throughout both regions. For this bottling, the fruit comes from younger plots in the Côtes-du-Roussillon Villages AOP. Part of the hilly, northern reaches of Roussillon, this 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 there.

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 ancient geology made up of crushed gneiss and schist: mineral-rich types of sedimentary rock laden with limestone and chalk deposits. It’s taken some time for Roussillon’s winemakers to evolve an understanding that these scrubland outcrops are highly conducive to grapevines that yield fulsome, yet still bright and lively red wines.

Evidently, the winemaking team at M. Chapoutier has figured it out. Using only hand-harvested grapes, this blend incorporates three of the AOP mandated varieties: Syrah, providing spice and aromas reminiscent of the local garrigue (fragrant wild 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, the Chapoutier recipe never sees an influence of wood barrels; instead, it’s briefly aged in vats to produce 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 inexpensively invigorate both patio and indoor dinners in the many months to come, 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: D

Made in Midi, France
By: Maison M. Chapoutier
Release Date: June 23, 2018

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.

Colchagua Syrah

In having started with the modest, 16th-century planting of vineyards by Spanish conquistadors, Chile’s surprising 500-year-long history of making wine continues to impress and amaze. As of the mid-1800’s, its output was of a middling grade, aiming to produce reasonably well-made bulk wine for local markets and consumption. This fact is equally true of many so-called old world regions in Europe during the same time period–through to the middle of the 20th century. Chile,  though, has not merely kept pace with the rise of highly competitive, premium wine production and export, instead, it’s become a leader on this globalized scene. They’re excellent winemakers!

Revealingly expressed in the often painful history of the indigenous Mapuche (earth people), is a reputation for personal courage, strong communal identity, and a fiercely unconquerable spirit. An essence of this carries forward, as modern Chilean vintners continue to innovatively exploit challenging geography for agricultural cultivation while demonstrating great concern for sustainability. Framed between an endless Pacific coastline to the west and Andean peaks to the east, the regional designation called Entre Cordilleras (between mountains) is a collection of verdant, inland valleys including Colchagua: home to some of the wine world’s most progressive vineyards that excel in fashioning Malbec, Carménère, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah wines.

For this week’s DéClassé recommended bottling of a ripe Syrah, the source is Ninquén, meaning ‘Plateau on a Mountain,’ and so it is. The 30-year-old Antu estate is a visionary addition to the holdings of Viña MontGras, whose philosophy is based on the highly selective integration of agriculture into the rugged, natural landscape. There’s very little that’s rough in this offering from winemaker, Santiago Margozzini, having spent 16 months settling in a combination of new and used, French Oak barrels. It’s ready to be uncorked, though you might challenge yourself to put several aside for another year – after having tried one now–outdoors at an upscale BBQ.

ANTU SYRAH 2016
VINTAGES/LCBO – Product #675371 | 750 mL bottle
Price $17.95
14.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Colchagua Valley, Chile
By: Viña MontGras
Release Date: June 23, 2018

Tasting Note
A robust red wine made of dark, ripe plum and red currant fruit. Soft tannins blend easily with balanced touches of sweetness and spice. Try serving this slightly chilled alongside rich braised meats or barbecued vegetable kabobs and marinated Portobello mushroom caps.