Puglia Primitivo

In an age that’s termed Magna Graecia, enterprising Greeks crossed the western seas and established a ring of thriving colonies around the perimeter of this distinctive land spit; in modern times it would whimsically become known as Stiletto (‘heel of the boot’). Jutting down from mainland Italy, the peninsula portion of Puglia (aka Apulia: ‘those who live on the other side of the Adriatic‘) divides the Gulf of Taranto and the Otranto Strait. For thousands of years in antiquity through to the middle ages, this strategic maritime crossroad was a target for conquest by successive civilizations. As a cumulative result, 800km of coast and the parallel line of inland mountains frame a hybrid culture; unique in the broad diversity of regional Italian identities. Though the early colonizers seem to have been warlike Spartans, by the 5th century BCE it was philosophy that was the focus in Greco-Italian centers such as the city of Elea (now Velia). This was home to the visionary thinker and mentor, Parmenides, credited with laying an influential foundation for Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates. Unsurprisingly, the long-hidden wealth of clay Amphorae unearthed from recent archeological excavations also reveals that grape cultivation, winemaking, and its significant seaborne export were all well underway!

With fertile, reddish-brown soils, Puglia’s flat plains and valleys host an abundance of wild roses, berries, and proverbial rosemary and thyme; thriving among stands of maritime pine. As for the mix of agriculture in the landscape, widespread grain farming, and groves of ulivi secolari (centuries-old olive trees) yields an impressive 50% of Italy’s total pasta and olive oil production. Artichoke plum tomato, sheep herding, fish and seafood, and of course grapevines, round out the bountiful output from the region.

boaretti-vineyards

Curiously, in spite of being so prolific, Puglia remains one of the less-well-known Italian regions. In its middle and southern provinces, the hot and dry climate is perfect for cultivating fulsome grapes such as Negroamaro, Malvasia Nera and Primitivo. With a name derived from several Latin terms loosely translating as ‘the first to ripen,’ Primitivo has traditionally been a reliable blending component. More recently, the variety has gained increased profile as a stand-alone varietal wine, due in part to the burgeoning popularity of Zinfandel; a clonal relative that flourishes in Californian vineyards and North American marketplaces. Local lore suggests that this Italian variant of a Croatian parent grape was discovered by a 17th-century monk, Filippo Francesco Indellicati, as a wild vine growing in his monastery gardens. Over time, the adapted cultivars of Primitivo were spread throughout Puglia; including its southernmost province of Lecce.

Home to this week’s DéClassé feature, the village vineyards of Ugento lie on the Murge Plateau, whose outskirts end abruptly as cliffs overhanging the Ionian Sea. The 10 hectares of Masserie Pisari were initially dedicated to bulk wine production; exclusively for local sale. In 2005 the winery was restructured with a focus on producing a higher quality of wines that would be more attractive to the international market, and so it is. If this pleasing, plush and rounded bottling of Masserie Pisari Primitivo 2013 is a representative offering, then in moving forward, the future looks even brighter in this sun-drenched corner of Italy. At a very modest price-point, you should be delighted with its structure and layered complexity. It’s ready now or over the next 3 – 4 years; buy half a case as it will be hard to hold onto in your cellar for very long!

Masserie Pisari

MASSERIE PISARI PRIMITIVO 2013
VINTAGES – LCBO Product # 270306 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 13.95
14.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: D

Made in Puglia, Italy
By: F.lli Boaretti
Release Date: May 28, 2016

Tasting Note
Rich and ripe, this dark Ruby coloured red has brambly berry and plum flavours and spicy accents typical of Primitivo. Try serving with summer antipasti plates of cheese, cured meat, and sun-dried tomato, or alongside a zesty mixed pepper lasagna and an arugula/radicchio salad topped with slivered Pecorino Romano.

Languedoc Syrah/Grenache

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. This 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 local growers in the 1970’s, this benchmark 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 10 estates, 550 hectares of vineyard and primary production facilities based in the city of Narbonne, the onetime capital of a prosperous Roman coastal province called Gallia Narbonensis.

languedoc-wine-region-1852

One of the world’s largest wine growing regions, Languedoc is a Mediterranean landscape of windswept scrubland with a geology of greyish-white, calcium-rich limestone. The eroded soils of this ancient seabed make for a fertile base where wild lavender, thyme, and undulating rows of gnarled Syrah and Grenache grapevine now thrive. As with the land’s nature, the AOC wine-producing regulations of this free-spirited region are somewhat less stringent than the neighbouring Burgundy or Bordeaux appellations to the north; allowing for the cultivation of a broad range of vine varieties and blending proportions; with these two starring grapes providing the backbone. In the hot climate of southern France, Syrah tends to ripen ahead of its blend partner so gets vatted in whole bunches first, while harvesting of the Grenache catches up later on. Once combined, they’re transferred to large 225-litre Bordeaux oak barrels to age for at least ten months. For this DéClassé recommended, Languedoc Syrah/Grenache 2013, it’s also rested in bottle for over a 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. With warmer days ahead, dare to try this ripe, fulsome, fruit-forward red slightly chilled!

Gerard Bertrand

GÉRARD BERTRAND LANGUEDOC SYRAH/GRENACHE 2013
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #413237 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 16.95
14.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: D

Made in: Midi, France
By: Gérard Bertrand
Release Date: May 14, 2016

Tasting Note
This fairly spicy wine, with its zippy ginger and liquorice notes, also has a fruity body and mellow tannins. Best with foods such as a marinated grilled brisket, veal meatballs in a piquant tomato and olive sauce, fire roasted vegetables or with stronger cheeses, Spanish Jamón Serrano, and sausage appetizers.

Limarí Syrah Especial

Distinctively known to climatologists as the driest, non-polar geography on Earth, the Atacama Desert is desolate and desiccated to such extremes that it’s biologically sterile, with some zones having never recorded any measurable rainfall–ever. Here in the northern third of Chile, to an unpractised outside eye, the cultivating of fruit at the outer fringe of an expanding desertification seems a futile exercise? Undaunted, the innovative and resourceful Chileans are reapplying their ancient knowledge while employing modern and sustainable techniques such as drip irrigation–to excel in the face of these challenges. Also blessed with a relatively pest-free environment, they’re naturally using organic and biodynamic farming practices. Healthier and economical in terms of production costs, the sum of this viticultural intelligence is discernibly imparting a fresh character into their premium wines. It also demonstrates Chile’s largely
unrivaled and fruitful export of new-age-winemaking expertise!

Just southwest of this hostile territory, the Limarí Valley stretches east to west from the Andean foothills across to the Pacific shore. Open at the seaward end, the valley acts as a funnel for the low-lying, billowing coastal fog named Garúa or Camanchaca by the indigenous Aymara and Atacama Indians. In having passed on the long understood benefits of this climate dynamic, modern descendants continue to explore and exploit its magical properties both as air-borne irrigation and air conditioning. Softly blanketing the vine stock with precious moisture each morning, the fog then gives way to an equally significant cooling breeze later in the day; providing some critical respite in an otherwise hot, semi-arid landscape.

vina-tabali-vineyard

The growing of vines is not new to Limarí agriculture as some of these vineyards were established in the mid-16th century; roughly corresponding with the arrival of Spanish Conquistadors. In more recent ages, the majority of plantings here are destined to produce table grapes or lesser grades of wine grape suitable for the distilling of Chile’s trademark brandy, Pisco, also generically referred to as Aguardiente (firewater). A quarter century or so on from the introduction in the 1990’s of Noble varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah, this maturing vine stock coupled with the savvy of winemakers like the heralded Felipe Müller is now yielding world-class, varietal wine in a range of accessible price points.

For this DéClassé recommended, limited-edition, Viña Tabalí Reserva Especial Syrah 2012, the fruit is sourced from an alluvial terrace (former seabed) of clay, chalk and limestone lying adjacent to the Limarí River; also acting as a conduit for mineral-rich meltwater that flows downslope from the Andes Mountains. This substantial wine has an appealing balance of tannin structure and intriguing softness; helped by a year maturing in a combination of new and second-use, French oak barrels (and now, an added year in bottle). This will continue to cellar for some time, but if you prefer your red wine with a touch of acidic brightness still present in the fruit—then start drinking!

Tabali

TABALI RESERVA ESPECIAL SYRAH 2012
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #213538 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 17.95
14.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Limari Valley, Chile
By: Viña Tabalí
Release Date: April 30, 2016

Tasting Note
This fairly rounded Syrah gives off dark fruit aromas, juicy cherry and black plum flavours with the expected peppery spice and bitter chocolate notes that define the grape. Try with roasted lamb, braised short rib and leeks, grilled steak with Chilean salsa or bacon-wrapped chicken tornadoes and peppercorn sauce.

Provençal Rosé

Two and a half millennia’s worth of experiment and refinement in viniculture, give or take a few centuries, surely demonstrates a commitment to getting it right. In these ancient vineyards, dotted among the tumbling limestone bluffs and some still-wild scrubland, a colourful panoply of migrant tribes, religious monk orders, dukedoms, kingdoms, and empires have introduced new varieties of grapevine; adapting them as regional cultivars and a diversity of styles. In antiquity, Greek settlers farmed the maritime landscape for 500 years before Caesar strode ashore triumphantly at Marseilles in 49BC. The subsequent occupation would endure for four centuries and provide Provence its modern name; derived from its long-held Latin title Provincia Romana. With the sudden demise of the Western Roman Empire, a succession of Ostrogoths, Visigoths, and Germanic Burgondes took turns making their preferred wines before being absorbed into the Kingdom of the Franks in the 8th century. Invasion by North African Berbers, then the rising of Charlemagne’s Carolingian Empire, was followed by a litany of other feudal Frankish or Italianate kingdoms, and so it continued throughout the Crusades and Medieval Periods–up until 1481 when Louis XI firmly embraced Provence as a unique territory in the France we know today. Somewhere along the historical way, Provençal winemakers finally settled on the challenges and rewards of becoming the global gold standard for the fashioning of Rosé.

chateau-gassier-vineyard

When cultivating grapes, especially Grenache, Syrah, and Cinsault, it’s a blessing in the Côtes de Provence AOP to see 300 days of yearly sunshine; ensuring that the fruit will have reached peak maturity by harvest time. If you’re a local vintner working to fashion crisp and refreshing wines from these relatively robust varieties, then it’s also beneficial for the vines to experience a significant cooling-off in the evening as a respite from the stressful, daytime heat. If you’re a painter, then the vista of the Arc Valley, framed by mountains and low-lying hills on 3 sides might be as inspiring as it was to Cezanne in his landscape composition, Mont Sainte-Victoire and the Viaduct of the Arc River Valley.

Call it ‘Provence’s sun-drenched bounty’ and know that it’s plentifully expressed in this week’s DéClassé recommended bottling of Gassier Sables d’Azur Rosé. It’s a classic blend of the grapes listed above, with the Cinsaut adding softness and bouquet to the salmon-pink formulation. As an excellent example of why this charming wine style continues to enjoy a renaissance of appreciation worldwide, it’s attractively bottled in the slender and curvy glass vessel known regionally as a flûte à corset: a playful association to the garment, and shapely effect. What’s not reined-in here is an abundance of delicately layered flavour. Buy 3 (at least)!

Sables D'Azur

GASSIER SABLES D’AZUR ROSÉ 2015
VINTAGES – Product #33621 | 750 mL bottle
Price: $ 15.95
Wine, Rosé Wine
12.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content: D

Made in Provence, France
By: Advini
Release Date: April 30, 2016

Tasting Note
Fresh red berry, melon, and sweet citrus zest dominate the aroma and flavours of this dry and vibrant wine. Perfect as an aperitif served alongside Sushi, salads, Prosciutto Crostini and goats’ cheeses or with mains of stuffed Mediterranean peppers, herb-roasted poultry and sweet potato gratin.