Alsace Pinot Blanc

Alsace’s most reputable wine district is the geographic portion called the Haut-Rhin (Upper Rhine). Regionally centered on the ‘wine capital’ town of Colmar, its vineyards line the low foothills of the Vosges Mountains and roll out onto the adjacent river plain. First conquered by Caesar in the 1st century BCE, it was a desirable agricultural tract in the Roman province of Prima Germania for 600 years before becoming part of a Frankish Duchy in 496. After a long period of acting as a buffering borderland in the Holy Roman Empire, it was annexed by French troops in the late 17th century as a territorial spoil of
the 30 Years War. For the next 350 years, the contested strip traded Germanic and Franco occupation before settling as a hybridized people/culture within modern-day France; so it also is with their traditions of fashioning wine.

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The Alsace AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlées) was established in 1962 and its relatively stringent winemaking guidelines reflect the pride and ambition by Alsatians to codify their vinicultural expertise. Anchoring the north-east corner of France, this is the largest of 3 related appellations; representing 75% of the region’s vintners; sharing geography with a smaller group of select estates that carry the designations Crémant d’Alsace (sparkling) or Alsace Grand Crus. Their output of dry varietal whites such as Sylvaner, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Auxerrois Blanc de Laquenexy, and this week’s DéClassé featured Pinot Blanc (Klevner) are widely regarded as benchmarks for more fulsome versions of the sometimes, too-lightweight counterparts produced elsewhere. In prudently embracing the challenges of high AOC standards, particularly the preference for quality over quantity, Alsatian vintners are guarding the regional
character that’s taken centuries to forge. Arguably, they remain in a leadership role for the cultivation/refinement of these cool climate grapes and wine styles; just ahead of their burgeoning competition across the German border!

Dating to the early 1700’s, the family estate of Joseph Cattin has long been a fixture in the Upper Rhine’s west bank vineyards that lie between the villages of Voegtlinshoffen and Hattstatt. Providing the namesake for the winery, Joseph was a 20th-century pioneer in combating Phylloxera, a pest that wrought such widespread devastation in European vineyards for decades. Apart from carrying on with the development and expansion of a modest 7-hectare property, he also studied and developed vine grafting techniques that would become the viticulture model for many Alsatian growers to finally subdue the blight. Here now, in a prolonged period of critical and commercial success, note that this modestly priced Joseph Cattin Pinot Blanc 2015 is adorned with a Gold Medal from the prestigious 2016 Paris Concours Général Agricole; underscoring the
consistent level of achievement and value for this vintner’s mid-range wines!

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JOSEPH CATTIN PINOT BLANC 2015
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #224642 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 15.95
12% Alcohol/Vol. that
Sugar Content Descriptor: D

Made in Alsace, France
By: Cattin Frères
Release Date: November 12, 2016

Tasting Note
This lightly fruity white, marked by apple, lemon and pear aromas and flavours wrapped around a medium body of fresh acidity, is well-suited to a traditional gastronomic mix of Choucroute à l’Alsacienne (pickled cabbage, potatoes, and assorted smoked sausages); Pâté de Foie Gras (goose liver paté with truffles, wrapped in pastry) and Flàmmeküche (flatbread with crème fraîche, onion, and lardons). It would also add balance to spicy or sweet and sour Asian cuisine with stir-fried vegetables. Try the latter first — well chilled!

Beaujolais Nouveau

One of the world’s oldest wine regions, Beaujolais has always produced a share of unassuming young wines not destined for anyone’s cellar. Of the total output for its regionally distinctive styles, nearly 30% is exclusively finished and marketed under the Nouveau designation. They invented the concept; they’re arguably still best at making it. Historically, the barely-off-the-vine, bright and uncomplicatedVin de l’année was intended to be consumed as a celebration of the current vintage’s harvest. Following on the long summer months spent waiting and praying for the season to be a bountiful one, came arduous weeks of picking, hauling, destemming, sorting, and a short fermenting period.
For the dedicated labourers, being gifted a few bottles of the freshly made juice was a small and well-earned reward. The shipping of Beaujolais Nouveau abroad as a major export, though, is a relatively contemporary concept that only became widespread in the middle of the 1950’s; hitting its commercial peak in 1980. This unique, timed-release on the 3rd Thursday in November remains celebratory but has, in some cases, become misunderstood or misrepresented over time.

In general, over-production or indiscriminate wine-making by a handful of the largest producers has saddled this specialty offering with a very mixed reputation; confusing
discerning drinkers with undue levels of aromatic character such as ‘bubblegum’ and ‘twizzler’ (red licorice). No doubt, some of the opportunistic bottling that’s on offer is fairly reflected by these descriptors, however, many of the smaller, and a few large producers are capably fashioning a better balance in the quality of the fruity and charmingly simple wines that are possible with the Gamay grape: the pleasingly tart, flagship variety also known regionally as Gamay Noir à Jus Blanc. Among the leading vintners is Joseph Drouhin, originally hailing from yet another noteworthy wine region, Chablis. With a move to Burgundy in 1880, he founded his new Maison in the wine capital city of Beaune. Building on his pioneering work, 4 succeeding family generations have continued the refinement; progressively becoming masters of both the Nouveau and regular Beaujolais wine styles.

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In order to produce, bottle, and release the wine within a few weeks of picking, vintners use carbonic maceration as an alternate method to accelerate the finishing process. Unlike the traditional practice of crushing the grapes and exposing the mash to yeast, which converts sugars to alcohol and leeches out colour and tannins; in carbonic maceration, the whole grapes are placed into closed vats that are flushed with carbon dioxide to purge unwanted oxygen. The grapes begin a fermentation process inside their skin with the help of naturally present enzymes that do the work of converting sugar to ethanol. Gradually, the pressure of the fruit’s weight and the released gasses combine to squeeze out the alcoholized juice that’s then filtered and aged very briefly in stainless steel tanks — yielding a lightly pigmented and almost tannin-free Nouveau wine.

For this perennial DéClassé feature of Joseph Drouhin Beaujolais Villages Nouveau 2016, the Villages designation represents a qualitatively better grade due to the terroir-specific source of the grapes. Along with some added care in processing, these factors result in slightly higher pricing than the other generic fare. Dare to invest a few extra dollars, to rekindle an appreciation for this iconic wine. As for those that might too generally deride the Nouveau style as representing immature wine lacking dimension and depth, pay little attention — they’re missing the playful and delightful point!

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JOSEPH DROUHIN BEAUJOLAIS VILLAGES NOUVEAU
VINTAGES – Product #113266 | 750 mL bottle
Price $15.95
12.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content: XD

Made in: Beaujolais, France
By: Joseph Drouhin S.A.
Release Date: November 17, 2016

Tasting Note
This light Garnet-coloured, easy drinking wine, has a zingy bouquet and flavours of cherry and berries. Try serving very lightly chilled as an apéritif with pâté and savoury hors d’oeuvre, Gruyère cheese, beef fondue or substantial main dishes such as roast chicken, Cornish hen, and herb-stuffed pork loin.

Maipo Gran Reserva

Tightly framed between a 4,270km stretch of low coastal mountains along the Pacific shore, and a parallel spine of Andean foothills and peaks, most of Chile barely averages 175km in width. Not surprisingly for a long sliver of a country that crosses 38 degrees of latitude, this translates into a dynamic mix of climate and an ever-shifting geography. The bookends range from inhospitable desiccation in the northern Atacama Desert to mild Mediterranean conditions in the fertile Central Valley, to the southern third with a diverse, alpine landscape of rain-drenched lake country, foggy fjords, and windswept glaciers — giving way to tundra. Anchored around the capital of Santiago, the temperate midsection has always been a prized, agricultural and commercial heartland. Successive
Incan and Spanish incursions were thwarted until the early 1540’s when conquistador, Pedro de Valdivia, in having met more than his match, settled for a partial subjugation of the indigenous and indomitable Mapuche (‘people of the land’). In the five centuries since the so-called Spanish Conquest, Chile’s potential has attracted at least three significant waves of immigration, surprisingly including Syrians, Jordanians, and Scandinavians! Among the personal effects for those of East and West-European descent, they also brought along new varieties of Vitis Vinifera — ‘the vine that bears wine.’

In 1818, after the upheaval of the Napoleonic Wars in Spain and weakening of colonial rule, Chilean nationalists united and gained their independence. This birthing of modern Chile also coincided with an influx of German, Swiss, Austrian, and Alsatian immigrants whose descendants have become known as Germano-chilenos. Presumably, Christian Lanz was among the entrepreneurial group, as was his intrepid bride, Carmen. In 1850 he founded one of Chile’s first commercial wineries and astutely named it after his wife. After a long business tradition of winemaking that narrowly aimed to satisfy the volume demands of local consumption, the 1980’s mark a departure for Viña Carmen, and
many other long-established wineries, to turn their attention toward the promise of a burgeoning export market. For Carmen, the upscaling prompted an ambitious expansion of their vineyards into the premier growing regions of the Casablanca, Leyda, Colchagua, Apalta, and Maipo valleys. For this week’s feature of Carmen Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, the source is the Alto Maipo; a high altitude terroir of alluvial terraces in the eastern end of the valley. With a long season of hot daytime followed by nighttime cooling, the Cabernet SauvignonPetit Verdot, and Carmenere vines develop fully ripe fruit while maintaining a balance of vibrant acidity – a combination that has become an exciting hallmark of contemporary Chilean wine-making.

Apart from Spain, Portugal, and Italy, where the wine aging criteria of Reserva and Gran Reserva are definitively regulated and standardized, there remain many regions where these terms are loosely interpreted. In other words, they may simply be marketing tools that reveal little about the finishing process of the wine in advance of its release. In Chile these terms are categorized as ‘quality mentions,’ so it is left entirely to the vintner’s discretion to justify the description. Nonetheless, for the reputable wineries, there is an adherence to the principle that a bottle bearing these designations is of a higher quality. Until this becomes better codified in South and North America, consumers will have to rely on other indicators; from reliable sources such as ‘Wine Spectator’ assigning this 2012 bottling as 32nd in their ‘Top 100’ listing; ‘Wine & Spirits’ magazine naming Viña
Carmen the ’Top Winery of the Year’ four times, and — ‘DéClassé’ recommends this as ‘outstanding value for well-crafted wine at a modest $16.95 price-point.’

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CARMEN GRAN RESERVA CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2012
LCBO Product #358309 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 16.95
14% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Chile
By: Viña Carmen
Release Date: April 15, 2015

Tasting Note
This wine has sufficient depth of garnet-red colouring to match the expectation of a ‘Reserve’ bottling, e.g. a minimum of 12 months spent in oak and another year in bottle. What exceeds expectation is that the vintner has managed to maintain bright cherry, raspberry, and plum aroma and flavours while coaxing spice and chocolate from the soft oak. Certainly, this offering will pair with the traditional fare associated to Bordeaux-esq reds, however, Carmen’s ‘Gran Reserva’ is ready to be uncorked and enjoyed on its own!