Irpinia Coda di Volpe

Several hundred years after the disintegration of the Western Roman Empire, a 6th-century Germanic tribe known as Longobards (‘long beards’) pushed south from their territorial occupation of northern Italy. The campaign objective for this ‘barbarian horde’ was to expand their realm into the Campania region: lying two-thirds of the way down the west Italian shoreline of the dazzlingly blue Tyrrhenian Sea. Circa 570 CE, dominion over the lands around Naples; the island of Capri; Salento and Pompei, was being challenged by numerous peoples including the sea-borne Byzantines who also weren’t native Italians. Having prevailed along the coast, the Longobards turned their ambition to the central farming provinces, attracted by their fertile valleys and temperate continental climate. History records the incursion as ‘Conquest of Benevento’ after which its bearded tribal victors became better known as the Lombards. Over the next 200 years, and far from validating the dark spectre of plunder and pillage, the relatively benevolent rulers of this Duchy of Benevento fortified the hilltop towns as security for local populations; they promoted agriculture and even experimented with the cultivation of Italian/German hybrid grapes!

In among the Montevergine and Chiusano mountains, the Irpinia sub-region is home to both a pastoral culture and a rugged rolling landscape of Juniper, Oak and Chestnut forest, sharing space with olive grove, vineyard and fruit orchard. Perched on a ridge dividing the Saturday and Calore rivers is the Lombard-era village of Montefalcione: host to this week’s DéClassé recommended Tenuta and their sophisticated and beguiling, Donnachiara Irpina Coda di Volpe 2013. Within a long list of regional synonyms such as Pallagrello Bianco, Guarnaccia or the playful Coda di Pecora (‘tail of the sheep’), the golden, trailing and tail-like clusters of Coda di Volpe (‘tail of the fox’) distinctively mark this less-heralded grape variety. Out of favour for a time, the resurgent vine likely had its roots on the volcanic slopes of nearby Vesuvius before comfortably taking a second home in the vineyards of the Irpina DOC.

Some white wine styles, particularly ones which have been partially oaked, reveal their qualities boldly, if somewhat short-lived. Others, as with this feature, seem light and lean initially, then surprisingly blossom with structured layers of flavour and body–when combined with appropriate food fare. In large part, this is the dynamic potential of the source fruit, though it also reveals the depth of expertise built up over successive generations of vintners, refining unique vine varieties. Here, the result is a fresh varietal wine that’s spent six months in Stainless Steel tanks only, so its youthful verve and vibrancy has been delightfully preserved.

Alongside a resilient foundation of a regional culture steeped in wine, food and art, the adopting of sustainable practices and employing modern finishing techniques are revitalizing Campagnia’s winemaking traditions. As an example, this rewarding offering from Montefalcione demonstrates just how accomplished they’ve become in crafting terroir-specific wines while proudly championing indigenous vine stock and its characterful grapes. Bellissima!


VINTAGES – LCBO Product #434241 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 16.95
13% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Campania, Italy
By: Az. Ag. Donnachiara
Release Date: January 9, 2016

Tasting Note
This straw-coloured white wine incorporates citrus flavours, light tropical fruit, and some subtle herb notes with a pleasing bitter accent on the long finish. Try serving with roasted poultry, spicy polenta with parmesan, poached freshwater fish with capers, grilled vegetables or sun-dried tomato pasta in a cream sauce.

Côtes du Rhône 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 nine 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 created a local wine source and provided revenue by exporting the 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 GrenacheSyrah, and Mourvèdre. 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 1980s, 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!

Plan de Dieu

VINTAGES/LCBO – Product #224592 | 750 mL bottle
Price $14.95
14.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: D

Made in Rhône, France
By: Earl Aubert
Release Date: Jan. 9, 2016

Tasting Note
Dark Ruby coloured with a supple mouthfeel, this un-oaked and pleasingly rustic red combines rich fruit and savoury notes. The aroma and flavour complexity of berry, chocolate and herbs make it a good match with strong cheeses, roast duck and lamb, stuffed eggplant or a mixed bean stew with sage.