Pinot Blanc Alert

With a thousand years of cultural and regional history, the sometimes turbulent
story of the Palatinate began in the Holy Roman Empire’s early medieval period.
This fertile strip of land, barely 15km wide by 85 long, would eventually become
a coveted set-piece in the positioning between far-off Papal Emperors and the
emerging Protestants. In a middle ground, the successive line of secular princes
anointed as Counts of Palatine pursued a separate agenda of regional ambition.
Centuries of struggle eventually culminated in the 17th century during a so-called
War of the Grand Alliance, when French troops were dispatched northward by
Louis XIV, driving out much of the local population. Emigrating as a group, they
would become known as the Pennsylvania Dutch, though were mostly German.
Specifically, the lands they left behind are Rheinland-Pfalz: a modern state within
the German Federation whose bountiful grape-growing zones are bounded by
the west bank of the Rhine River and the densely forested Haardt Mountains.

The sheltered, relatively warm and dry microclimate in southwest Germany, has
helped Pfalz to earn an affectionate title: the Tuscany of Germany. Several steps
along in the region’s viticultural practice and shifting climate, they’re now able to
cultivate white asparagus, fig, almond, kiwifruit and lemons! The comparisons do
diverge though when it comes to the differing grape varieties that flourish in the
respective regions. In Pfalz, apart from the success in cultivating Dornfelder and
Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir), it’s mainly about finessing their varietal white wines: Gewürztraminer, Riesling in various styles, Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris), Sylvaner,
Muscat, and more recently for this vintner – Weißburgunder (Pinot Blanc).

One of the visionary projects in the diverse portfolio of winemaker Ernst Loosen,
Weingut JL Wolf, now rebranded as Villa Wolf, is building on traditions begun in
the mid-18th century. The task of reinvigorating this particular estate just outside
of Wachenheim, is very much in keeping with the progressive mindset that has
methodically blossomed in the surrounding vineyards of the other 130 regional
villages; linked by the famed Deutsche Weinstraße (the German Wine Road).

Whereas Pinot Blanc has been derisively referred to as Pinot Bland elsewhere,
in this week’s DéClassé featuring of Villa Wolf Pinot Blanc 2014–this couldn’t
be further from the case. Certainly it’s a lighter wine style, but one that uniquely
benefits from the Pfalz’s sandstone soils and climate; better ensuring a harvest
of fully ripe grapes. The minimal processing and fermentation with natural yeast
yields a crisp, fruit-driven wine with a delightful purity. Stock up your wine-larder
now, knowing that 2 or 3 bottles – makes an excellent pairing for Thanksgiving!

Villa Wolf

VINTAGES – LCBO Product #374959 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 14.95
13% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: D

Made in Pfalz, Germany
By: Ernst Loosen
Release Date: September 19, 2015

Tasting Note
Pleasingly tart and refreshing, the apple aromas and apricot flavours finish with
a light dusting of sweet herbs. Well paired with roast chicken or veal, fresh pea
risotto or smoked ham and cucumber salad as lunch fare.

Ripasso Alert

Often thought of as a singular, blended wine style, the prodigious vintners and
their vineyards in the Valpolicella DOC actually produce a spectrum of grape
varieties and blending recipes; finished in a range of grades and styles including
Classico, Superiore, Ripasso, Amarone and Recioto. Alternately referred to as
the Pearl of Verona or Verona’s Garden, the two adjacent valleys and plain that
comprise Valpolicella are nestled among the hills of Monti Lessini with the Adige
River acting as a boundary to the south and west. Apart from the storied city’s
anointment as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, its surrounding agricultural zone
is also recognized for the fashioning of youthful wines that unabashedly display a
vibrant and fruity character; intended for early consumption within 3-5 years. In
this week’s DéClassé feature of Storia Antica Ripasso Valpolicella 2013, many
of these attributes shine and are amply demonstrated in the bottle.

The typical vine stock planted here is Corvinone, Rondinella, Molinara and the
region’s signature variety: Corvina Veronese. One of the many local methods of processing wine is called Ripasso (to go over again). This is an ancient vinification
technique that 
likely was adopted from the Greeks; further developed by Romans
to make sweet Recioto della Valpolicella, then later refined for making the region’s fulsome wine star: Amarone. What all these styles have in common is the grape
drying process called appassimento, whereby optimally ripe grape bunches are
picked long after the main harvest and laid out to dry on Arele (bamboo racks).
Having reaching the desired concentrations of sugar and glycerin content, the
withered grapes are slowly pressed to yield the fermenting nectar that will over
five long years become Amarone; the residual pomace is re-purposed by being
added to a partially aged Valpolicella base wine, prompting a second fermentation
that elevates the alcohol content by 2% while adding tannin, colour and richness.
Add a year spent in barrels – it becomes Ripasso della Valpolicella Superiore.

The style has again become popular with red wine lovers longing for somewhat
bolder versions of the easy drinking, regional blend though still nimbler than the heavyweight and significantly more expensive Amarone version. Given the effort
that’s been invested in this bottling; paying a few extra dollars above the average
price-point for standard Valpolicella is more than justified. It’s ready. Decant.

Storia Antica

VINTAGES – LCBO Product #273672 | 750 mL bottle
Price: $ 15.95
Wine, Red Wine
13.0% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: D

Made in: Veneto, Italy
By: Le Ville Di Antane S.R.L.
Release Date: Sept. 19, 2015

Tasting Note
A nicely extracted Ripasso with delicious aromas of blackcurrant, chocolate 
peppery spice. Medium-bodied, dry and flavourful with a pleasing, zippy freshness.
An excellent choice for barbecued beef, mushroom risotto and aged cheeses.

Chardonnay Alert

In 2011, the European Union reclassified wine in an effort to streamline the too
wide-ranging, comparative designations. In France, this now breaks down as AOP Appellation d’Origine Protégée: the premier classification with a fairly strict set of requirements; IGP Indication Géographique Protégée: an intermediate category
with more 
flexible regulations and a greater diversity of permitted grape varieties,
and lastly, Vin de France: a more generic designation that allows cuvée (blending)
of wines sourced from different French regions.

Languedoc-Roussillon is by far the biggest and most prolific IGP region, whose
2,800 wine producers are drawing on approx. 200,000 hectares of vineyard.
It also provides the namesake of d’Oc into the classification, likely derived from
Lange d’Oc: one of two still actively spoken Provençal languages, whose historic
and cultural roots lie in the formerly independent kingdom of Aquitaine. Present
day boundaries stretch between the Spanish frontier to the west, the Loire to
the north, the Rhône region of the Gard to the east, and the Mediterranean Sea.

Slightly over 90% of all Pays d’Oc IGP bottling is varietal wine though the grape
varieties employed in the modern age bear little resemblance to those planted by
Greek traders in the 5th century. Nonetheless, these are widely acknowledged as France’s oldest vineyards, producing many of the country’s best value wines. As
for Chardonnay, the latter descriptor is certainly the case now, 45 years on from
the comprehensive overhaul that was undertaken in the early 1970’s, replacing
large areas of unremarkable vine stock with noble grape varieties such as Cab Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Viognier. Despite some rising and falling of commercial success, there’s been a steady commitment to quality-advancement
while maintaining competitive and attractive price-points.

Flourishing in a diverse set of global regions, Chardonnay can be finished in a
broad range of styles; influenced equally by climate and the variable traditions at
work in its source terroir. In Languedoc-Roussillon, apart from being a generally
hot and dry zone that yields fully mature grapes, the easy-drinking Chardonnay
style being produced here is decidedly on the lighter side of the sliding scale. As
for this week’s DéClassé featured wine: Villa Blanche Chardonnay from vintner
Calmel & Joseph – this is a delightful virtue. Their fruit is harvested in staggered
batches to maintain a balance of brightness and body, and since only about 30%
of the vintage is barrel-aged for three months, the oak presence is integrated.

This will unlikely be the richest or complex Chardonnay you’ve tasted, but it will
be an enjoyable, easy-going and satisfying partner for brunch or lighter, dinner
food-fare. Note that this perennial, regular listing favourite might be tucked into
the LCBO’s somewhat more exclusive Vintages section. That says a great deal
about this overachieving offering. Buy one, then if you’re inclined – half a case!

Villa Blanche

LCBO Product #375071 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 13.95
13.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in: Roussillon, France
By: Calmel & Joseph
Release Date: September 5, 2015

Tasting Note
As expected from the region, this medium-bodied, light green-yellow wine has
pear and grapefruit aromas along with some delicate touches of vanilla and
butter flavour. A natural complement to oysters and mussels, you might also
try with Cassoulet: the signature dish of beans, sausage and confit of duck.

Swartland Blend Alert

Over the 67-year span since 1948, development of the Swartland Winery just
outside of charming and historic Malmsbury has kept a steadfast pace with the
maturing of its vine stock. Sprouting up from the undulating scrubland that these
vineyards occupy, un-trellised, gnarly bush vines personify the determined spirit
at work in the land’s nature and its prolific farmers; both are deeply rooted and
at home on the sprawling ranges of greater Swartland.

Thought of as the breadbasket of South Africa, this diverse agricultural zone in
the country’s Western Cape Province is conducive to crops of wheat, canola,
fruit orchards of all sorts and somewhat surprisingly: olive groves. For cultivation
of grapevines in the unirrigated, dry land conditions that exist at the periphery of
more arable parcels, there’s an unavoidable requirement for the wine makers to
perform a balancing act: Stressed vines inherently produce low yields of grapes;
sometimes too marginal a yield can result in small producers failing to achieve
commercially viable volumes of wine output. On the other hand, as a trade-off,
the very same factors in this arid terroir, desirably encourage the development
of far more interesting fruit; enriching the base – for the building of quality wines.

As evidenced by this week’s DéClassé recommended winery and their bottling of
a Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend from 2013, this vintner has found
ways to imaginatively exploit the trade-off, as a strength in a challenging landscape
and business model. While taking into account that this is their entry-level wine,
it is nonetheless remarkable that it’s being made available at this price-point!

Cellarmaster Christo Koch evidently stands as a good example of the leadership
steering South Africa’s continuing renaissance of profile and competitiveness in
the global marketplace. Wisely, this current generation is dedicated to refining
the regional distinctiveness of character; reflecting terroir more directly in an
unfettered manner; largely eschewing production practices that might serve to
homogenize their wines. The latter trend is a difficult one to side-step, as a result
of commercial pressures and the employing of distinctive grape varieties which
originate from other regions. In short summary, the prevailing philosophy here
in Swartland’s estates seems to be: create appealingly rustic, honest wine that’s
reflective of soil and climate, with minimal processing interference. Bravo!

The blending of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot is discernibly a near-Bordeaux
recipe that’s been adopted and skillfully adjusted to better suit how these grape
varieties ripen in South Africa. If you are a fan of the medium-bodied, red table
wines from the benchmark French region, then this will be very satisfying. If you
are not yet hooked, then this offering should build both affection and a deeper
appreciation for how well they’re able to craft it in Swartland. Enjoy now-2017.


VINTAGES – LCBO Product # 419648 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 12.95
14% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in: Swartland, South Africa
By: Swartland Wine Cellars
Release Date: September 5, 2015

Tasting Note
This Ruby hued, medium-weight red has the expected red berry fruit flavours
and aroma typical of these grape varieties, accented with spice and Vanilla.
Preferably served with foods to balance its 14% alc. – try with grilled zucchini
and sweet peppers, pork or beef tenderloin medallions topped in a Madagascar,
green peppercorn sauce.