Languedoc Viognier

1202 marks one of several noteworthy junctures in the lively history of the Cazal Viel estate and the nearby market town of Cessenon-sur-Orb in southern France. In that medieval year, the titled landowner, Hugues de Cessenon, gave charge over portions of his Languedoc property to a Norbertine order of monks. In turn, the gifting of the land tracts also ushered the construction of their Abbey de Fontcaude — becoming a guiding landmark for religious pilgrims en route to Spain and the famed walk along the Camino de Santiago. Over the ensuing six centuries, the winemaking monks experimented with cultivars and diligently expanded plots that are dotted with the 2,000-year-old ruins of a previous Roman settlement. Unsurprisingly, the estate’s name is derived from a Latin origin, Cazevieille (‘old house’). The moniker remains a succinct and apt description for the unbroken chain of 8 generations of the Famille Miquel who’ve also made worthy contributions to this ever-more-productive enterprise. In the case of their lineage, they’ve been at it since the tumultuous days of the French Revolution in 1791!

What’s far more contemporary is the decision by the Miquel family to plant Viognier vines in the early 1990’s. This grape and its varietal wine style are one of the wine world’s great stories for the recovery of a Vitis Vinifera (European wine grape) that was threatened with near-extinction. In the early 1960’s, a mere 30 or so hectares of these vines were still actively being tended, worldwide — all in a tightly clustered area of the Northern Rhône Valley. 30 years onward from the starting point of cultivation by the Miquel’s, their vineyards now contribute to the thousands of hectares that are being harvested throughout France and from the burgeoning plantings in South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, and South America.

Viognier is a challenging grape to grow with consistency; yielding highly variable harvests from season to season. Since its berries are thick-skinned, the clusters require a great deal of sun exposure to coax them through to full maturity – though, not too much, as the wilting heat can provoke excessive sugar levels, potentially leading to an overly ‘hot’ content of alcohol during fermentation. This week’s DéClassé recommended, Laurent Miquel Nord Sud Viognier 2015, strikes a well-crafted balance. The final blend offers a bright and refreshing fruit character that reflects its time spent in stainless steel tanks, while the wine’s rounded body and flavour profile benefit from some smaller batches having been barrel-matured in French Oak.

Arguably, in spite of Viognier’s newfound popularity as a varietal bottling, as well as, its ongoing use in blends with varieties such as Marsanne and Grenache Blanc, it remains a niche choice by underexposed, North American consumers. This characterful offering, available at a very modest price-point, is not such an enormous gamble for the delightful rewards that will come from broadening your palette with this mid-weight white wine.

LAURENT MIQUEL NORD SUD VIOGNIER 2015
VINTAGES/LCBO — Product #673236 | 750 mL bottle
Price $14.95
13.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Languedoc, France
By: Laurent Miquel
Release Date: April 14, 2018

Tasting Note
Along with Viognier’s characteristic floral and stone fruit aromas, the sweet citrus character of this version adds a zippy brightness to the expected peach and apricot flavours. Enjoy this somewhat more fulsome white as an apéritif offering with soft cheeses, herbed bread crisps, vegetable pasties or along with poached freshwater fish, white-sauced pasta, roasted poultry, lamb tagine or mild curries.

Rioja Baja Garnacha Tinta/Tempranillo

The wine trade in Spain’s La Rioja has both ancient roots and is in an evolutionary transition. Despite a wealth of archaeological evidence for Phoenician, Celtiberian, and Roman winemaking in antiquity, a millennium will pass before a written reference to viniculture appears in Spanish: the 11th-century Carta de población de Longares (Letter to the settlers of Longares). 150 years later in 1102, King Sancho 1st of Navarra and Aragon bestows legal recognition on the region, which births the signature, Rioja Wine.

Regarding the relative quality and practices in modern times, local wine merchants and bodegas have a tradition of marketing wines fashioned from intermixed grapes; supplied by approx. 20,000 growers; drawing from harvests throughout Rioja’s three designated sub-regions: Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa, and Rioja Baja. More recently, to better typify their individual output, many bodegas are becoming selective in sourcing their grapes from single zones only. The underlying point is that the varied terroirs of these sub-regions produce discernibly different versions of so-called Rioja wine — so it’s not a uniform styling or grading, but it is a demonstration of progressive-minded innovation.

In the extremely hot, wine-growing countryside around the small town of Alfaro, the deft pairing of innovation with deeply rooted tradition is a desirable combination. The modern production style of minimal handling and filtering helps to preserve the brightness of the wine. The old school facets are to blend some  Garnacha Tinta (Grenache) into the Tempranillo base and incorporate small batches of finished wine from a previous vintage (max. 15%). Both have become widely practiced winemaking strategies in Rioja Baja —the most prolific of the 3 La Rioja sub-regions, and the home terroir of this week’s DéClassé featured producer, Bodegas Palacios Remondo.

Winemaker and visionary figure, Alvaro Palacios, has for some time now been making news in the wine world with his influential strategies of promoting the development of quality over quantity. In 2015 he was the news, having been declared Decanter Man of the Year by the well-regarded journal. It’s a crowning juncture in a critical transition period for this cutting-edge winery that purposefully dared to cut output from 200,000 cases of unremarkable bulk wine down to 50,000 of more refined grades – a business risk that’s continuing to pay off.

La Vendimia (‘the harvest’) is an expressive version of the Spanish Joven designation; a decidedly young wine that has been barrel-aged for less than six months. On the arid and rocky slopes of Monte Yerga, the Bodega draws fruit from 40 hectares of vines that are grown organically without irrigation — at some of Rioja Baja’s highest altitudes (+550m). By design it’s meant to be enjoyed young and year-on-year it continues to be offered at a fair price-point. That’s still very much the case!

PALACIOS REMONDO LA VENDIMIA 2016
VINTAGES/LCBO — Product #674564 | 750 mL bottle
Price $17.95
14.0% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content: XD

Made in Rioja, Spain
By: Bodegas Palacios Remondo
Release Date: March 31, 2018

Tasting Note
Consistently well made, this cherry-coloured, fruit-driven wine reveals aromas of blackberry and raspberry, and a hint of Garrigue (fragrant, wild Mediterranean shrubs).
As a versatile, medium-body wine, enjoy this with hearty fare, such as Jamón ibérico (cured ham), semi-cured Mahón cheese, grilled Herreño cheese drizzled with honey,  Ratatouille, lamb ragout, or most roasted meat dishes.