Irpinia Coda di Volpe

Several hundred years after the disintegration of the Western Roman Empire,
a 6th-century Germanic tribe then 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 Mediterranean
into 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 inland 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 revitalising 
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!

Donnachiara

DONNACHIARA IRPINA CODA DI VOLPE 2013
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 winemaking 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 9
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 secured a local wine source and
provided revenue in the exporting of 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 now classic GSM blends of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, or
GSMC in which Carignan rounds out the recipe. This DéClassé recommended,
Domaine Le Grand Retour – Plan de Dieu is a robust 70/20/10% 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!

Domaine Le Grand Retour is one of a trio of winemaking estates that the three
Aubert brothers have overseen since the 1980’s, carrying forward and further
developing the foundation and traditions begun by their father. 150 hectares of
this property were 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, having become a
yearly Vintages release that always seems to exceed its generalized pedigree as
an entry-level, southern Rhône wine. In my pocketbook, this Plan de Dieu trumps
lower end offerings of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, as for the same price I can buy 3!

Plan de Dieu

DOMAINE LE GRAND RETOUR / PLAN DE DIEU
COTES DU RHONE – VILLAGES 2013
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 savory 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.