Bierzo Mencia

Tucked away in the autonomous province of León, the Bierzo DO region is at the forefront of emerging, Spanish winemaking frontiers; having quickly evolved into a reliable source of some of its most distinctive and qualitative wine. What’s far more longstanding are the Roman-era gold mines, the Templar Castles, and a host of medieval monasteries who are markers for the famed pilgrimage path, Camino de Santiago. Collectively, the various small valleys of El Bierzo make up the upper basin of the Sil River system that’s framed by the Montes de León and Cordillera Cantábrica mountain ranges. Acting as a Geographic funnel into the verdant northwest corner of the Iberian peninsula, it’s become aptly known as the ‘gateway to Galicia’, which in turn is characterized as the ‘green Spain.’ Though a relatively small and lesser-known Spanish region in the international wine market, Bierzo’s reputation is doubly rising due to its unique, microclimate mix of Atlantic and Mediterranean influences; serving to moderate each other’s extremes; making the conditions equally conducive to cultivating both red and white wine grapes. Capitalizing on this natural blessing, the 55 Bierzo bodegas are impressively outputting 11 million liters of wine annually, and with a current trend of rehabilitating older, under producing plots, their expansion continues.

Though taking an inspiration for its name from the adjacent abbey, Monasterio de Santa María de Carracedo that dates to the 10th century, the Bodega del Abad (‘the Abbot’s Cellar’) only became active as an independent producer in 2003. Initially developed under the guidance of a local, legendary wine master, José Luís Santín-Vázquez, the bodega already boasts a loyal following that was struck by a surprising release of a 2001 Crianza-grade cache of their earliest vintage that had been hiding somewhere in the back corners of their cellars. This week’s DéClassé feature of a 2008 bottling is also a surprising re-release that’s being offered for a 3rd consecutive year. Evidently, the current vintner, Miguel Tienda, has exercised discretion in evaluating the character of this particular vintage that’s been settling for eight years now. Unsurprisingly, it’s now decidedly mature, so is soft and rounded, but surprisingly again, it also possesses fruitful vigour, some mineral streaks, and an enlivening acidity.

bodega-del-abad

These attributes point to a wine-making accomplishment; due in part to modern production techniques, but also revealing the innate potential of Mencia. Indigenous to Bierzo, and with a significant increase in plantings, the variety has joined the list of the four most important Spanish red wine grapes: Tempranillo, Garnacha, and Monastrell. Producing compact grape clusters of medium-sized, violet-blue berries, its renaissance of popularity is bolstered by an ability to yield age-worthy wine at relatively modest price points. 35 hectares of this bodega’s vineyards are located up on steep terrain made up of slate and quartzite laden soils where the mix of old vines, with some approaching 70 years-of-age, are still yielding characterful fruit. When meticulously handpicked and sorted, as they are at Del Abad, the harvests are creating characterful, velvety wines.

This bottling is ready to go now, and as the vintner has done the expert work of aging it under ideal storage conditions, it just might hold for several more years in your cellar. It will likely fly off the shelves quickly as word of this resurgent gem spreads, so if you’re not an optimist when it comes to storing wine, then just buy enough to get you through the summer and deep into Fall (maybe winter too)!

Abad Dom Bueno

ABAD DOM BUENO MENCIA 2008
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #291989 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 15.95
Alcohol/Vol. 13.5%
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Bierzo, Spain
By: Bodega Del Abad
Release Date: July 23, 2016

Tasting Note
Though gracefully aged, this still offers juicy red cherry and currant flavours with a vanilla accent. A refreshing acidity enhances the core of soft tannins, so could stand to be slightly chilled before decanting. Try serving with rich poultry dishes, a roasted leg of herbed lamb, marinated steak or with spicy beef empanadas.

Loire Sauvignon Blanc

The Loire River Valley in west-central France has a long history of being a geographical and political demarcation line. In the 1st century, Imperial Rome used it to sub-divide their occupation of Gaul into two large areas: Aquitania to the south, and Celtica to the north. With the demise of the empire, Val de Loire continued to act as a borderland, separating the southern territories controlled by the ‘barbarian’ Visigoths, and the Gallo-Romans who renamed their northern realm as Syagrius. During the Middle Ages, and perhaps most famously, English Plantagenet King, Henry 2nd ruled the north while his erstwhile wife, Eleanor, held sway in Aquitaine. Spanning these diverse historical periods is a steady, unifying development of viniculture; eventually taking pride-of-place in the landscape and providing the modern-day Loire with an appropriate moniker, ‘garden of France.’ Winemaking legend suggests that a 4th-century monk, Saint-Martin, was first to introduce suitable vines for the terroir, and to promote an early form of pruning practice by having his donkey graze in the monastery vineyard; to strip the vines of their lower leaves and buds. It’s a critical cultivation step, where the limiting of harvest yields results in far more concentrated grapes and flavour. Nonetheless, the Loire’s vintners still manage to produce about 400 million bottles annually, with varietal Sauvignon Blanc output accounting for a large share of the total.

domaine-de-la-chaise-touraine

Centered on the city of Tours, the sub-region of Touraine is located where the valley’s namesake river meets two of its numerous tributaries; Cher and Indre. In turn, these fertile river junctions, the Indre-et-Loire and Loire-et-Cher, encompass 146 communes and an expansive list of winemaking châteaux that qualify for Touraine AOP designation. Among them is this DéClassé featured, Domaine de la Chaise and their Touraine Sauvignon 2014. Drawing fruit from vineyards that lie near the postcard-famed, white Château de Chenonceau, pedigree, and high standards are not in short supply!

Likely to have originated next door in Bordeaux, the Sauvignon Blanc variety is widely planted throughout the world and highly adaptable to a range of climates such as Chile, North America, and New Zealand. In the Loire’s maritime conditions, its characteristics of budding late, then ripening early, makes for a benchmark Sauvignon white wine that’s delicate, nuanced and balanced. At Domaine de la Chaise, they’re offering a refined example at a modest price. If you’re not a fan of overpriced, over-ripe and grassy Sauvignon, I suggest buying 3; to dispel your negative predisposition permanently!

Domaine de La Chaise

DOMAINE DE LA CHAISE TOURAINE SAUVIGNON 2014
VINTAGES – LCBO Product # 452540 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 14.95
12.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Loire, France
By: Christophe Davault
Release Date: July 9, 2016

Tasting Note
Refreshing, fruity and pleasingly tart, this is a classic Loire Sauvignon Blanc with citrus and subtle honeysuckle aromas. Grapefruit and pineapple flavours mark a medium-bodied wine with some restrained, herbaceous notes left to the finish. Try serving alongside a fresh pea risotto, arugula salad with a lemon vinaigrette or with cold shrimp, lobster, and crab cakes.

Côtes-du-Roussillon Villages Syrah

In terms of cultural history, Les Roussillonnais of southwest France arguably 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 shore lands and craggy inland geography; framed by the Rhône River Valley eastward, 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 developing new properties and partnerships in various parts of Roussillon while also applying organic growing practices. For this bottling, the fruit comes from younger plots in the Côtes-du-Roussillon Villages AOP. Part of the hilly, northern reaches of Roussillon, the 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 here.

maison-chapoutier

Clinging to slopes of the high Agly Valley, terraced vineyards are the source for this weeks’ DéClassé feature of Vignes de Bila-Haut 2014. Poetically described by vintner, Michel Chapoutier, as ‘an old plot of land, rough, almost hostile,’ his references illustrate an ancient geology made up of crushed Gneiss and Schist: mineral-rich types of sedimentary rock laden with limestone and chalk deposits. It’s also taken a while for Roussillon’s winemakers to discover and build an understanding that this landscape heaved into prominences and scrubland outcrops, is highly conducive to cultivating the sorts of grapevines that will yield fulsome yet still bright and lively red wines.

Using only hand-harvested grapes, this assembled blend incorporates three of the AOP mandated varieties: Syrah, providing spice and aromas imparted from the wild Garrigue of fragrant, flowering 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, his recipe never sees an influence of wood barrels, rather it’s briefly aged in vats; producing 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 invigorate patio dinners in the months to come, inexpensively, then dare to buy a whole case!

Bila-Haut

LES VIGNES BILA-HAUT CÔTES DU ROUSSILLON-VILLAGES 2014
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #168716 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 14.95
14.0% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: D

Made in: Midi, France
By: Maison M. Chapoutier
Release Date: July 9, 2016

Tasting Note
Deep garnet red with dark berry flavours, hints of vanilla and spice notes, this is a pleasingly uncomplicated, rustic wine that could stand to be chilled slightly when served during the summer heat. Try with grilled lamb chops, lentils with spicy sausage or a Ratatouille made with fire-roasted vegetables.