Alicante Monastrell

Toward the southeast corner of the Iberian Peninsula, about halfway between the fabled centers of orange-growing València and the Carthaginian-established port of Cartagena, a sub-region called Alicante has been producing wine for an eternity. Also striking is that it’s a rocky and arid zone in a province that otherwise enjoys a mild continental climate, fertile soil and the beguiling benefits of being close to the Mediterranean seashore. Blessed with these factors since the time of Argaric, Bronze-age settlement, it also attracted the wine-interested Phoenicians who passed on their agricultural knowledge and secrets to thirsty Romans. It was undoubtedly part of the appeal for Moors as they expanded north from Morroco, establishing Arab taifas (fiefdoms) in the 8th century. The bounty of these lands meant that they prospered for over 700 years, all-the-while cultivating grapevines simply to delight in its fresh fruit. They did so right until the 15th century when the fiercely competing kingdoms of Castille and Aragon managed to put aside their ambitions long enough to supplant the Moorish occupation. The celebrating Christians immediately began fermenting wine again!

 Monastrell is a resurgent star in Alicante, despite taxing the grower’s patience with its slow arc of reaching full maturity. Typically harvested in mid-October, the prolonged growing period of the thick-skinned grape pays off by providing a broad profile of flavour and structure for fashioning single grape, full-bodied varietal wine. Spanish Monastrell also requires less help from other varieties to round out the balance when used in blended versions. Perhaps better-known in French as Mourvèdre, it’s long been a partner to Grenache and Syrah in the classic GSM recipes of the Rhône region. Given the often overly-warm growing conditions in this southern Spanish terroir, the low-lying vines are trained as bushes so that the leaf canopy helps to shield the grape clusters, as well as, provide shade for the vine’s surround of heat-reflecting, rocky soils.

Throughout the first half of the 20th-century, and not uncommon in the wine world of the age, Alicante’s vintners were mainly producing bulk wine with high alcohol content. Despite many examples of their reds still hitting close to the 15% mark, the quality of wine finishing has markedly evolved–part of Spain’s overall quality revolution in the 21st-century. One of many adjustments in their winemaking range is to produce youthful versions (Jovan) that have spent little time in oak barrels. Retaining more of the vibrant spiciness that’s directly referenced in the source region’s name, Alicante, this week’s feature of Tarima Monastrell 2015 is a delightful example of the style.

Prompted by this short introduction, I suggest you immediately check the LCBO’s online search (see link in the left margin) for the availability of this limited release, then sprint to the location and buy as much as you can afford. It’s ready now. Decant for an hour and serve at room temperature for a fuller-bodied experience, or dare to serve slightly chilled on the patio this summer. The 2015 bottling will cellar for another year or so, though you’ll find it hard to hold onto!

TARIMA MONASTRELL 2015
VINTAGES/LCBO – Product #310151 | 750 mL bottle
Price $14.95
14.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Alicante, Spain
By: Bodegas Volver
Release Date: July 7, 2018

Tasting Note
This Cherry-coloured bottling ripe with dark berry flavours also has subtle herb, licorice and chocolate notes. It’s best served alongside richer food fare such as braised duck or 
beef short ribs, steak au poivre or spicy pork sausages with a wild rice blend and grilled portobello mushrooms.

Alsace Pinot Gris

Firmly part of territorial France in the 21st century, Alsace has been enriched by its dual Frankish and Germanic cultural history while experiencing some geopolitical upheaval due to the competing aspirations of its two parent nations. Colonized by 1st century BC. Romans; allied with the Medieval Holy Roman Empire a millennium or so later; occupied by ambitious 16th century French Kings; annexed by Germans in the late 19th century during the Franco-Prussian War; ceded back to France in the terms of armistice following the First World War, and finally, after many areas were entirely destroyed in the second world war bombing campaign by Allied forces–reaffirmed as French again. Throughout all of this tumult, steadfast Alsatians have rebuilt and found imaginative ways to keep producing fine grapes and a highly distinctive quality of wines.

Pinot Gris is a white wine grape that originated in the neighbouring vineyards of France’s Burgundy, then was proliferated throughout Europe–notably, popularized in Italy in the latter part of the 20th century where it’s known as Pinot Grigio. Derived from the larger Pinot family of grapes, this pink-skinned version with low acidity and relatively high sugar levels does well in cooler growing conditions such as Alsace and across the border around Baden, Germany.

Dating to the early 1700’s, the family winemaking estate of Joseph Cattin has been based in the heart of the Alsatian vineyards south of Colmar, between the villages of Voegtlinshoffen and Hattstatt. This storied region on the west bank of the Upper Rhine near the German border has excelled at cool-weather grape styles since the Middle Ages. The namesake of the current estate, Joseph, was an early 20th-century pioneer in combating the Phylloxera pest which did so much damage in Europe and beyond. Apart from continuing the development and expansion of what was then a modest 7-hectare property, he also studied and subsequently developed vine grafting techniques that became the viticultural model for many Alsatian growers to overcome the blight.

Later Cattin generations expanded the estate to over 50 hectares, as well as, engaged numerous local growers to cultivate according to the family’s exacting standard. With most of the combined vineyards sheltered in among the south-east facing foothills of the Vosges mountains, these terroirs of the Pinot Gris AOC d’Alsace with their highly variable soils and moderate climate help the vines yield a broad range of early ripening fruit with a well-rounded character.

This 2016 offering won Gold at the 2017 Concours Général Agricole de Paris
– as a follow-on to a long lineage of medal accolades for previous vintages.

JOSEPH CATTIN PINOT GRIS 2016
VINTAGES/LCBO – Product #196956 | 750 mL bottle
Price $16.95
13% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: D

Made in Alsace, France
By: Cattin Freres
Release Date: July 7, 2018

Tasting Note
As is typical with this wine style in an Alsatian version, it’s more fulsome than its Italian Pinot Grigio cousins with aroma and flavour notes of stone fruit, accented by hints of
almond and honey. Try serving this with a broad range of vegetable-based dishes, pasta and cream sauces, or as an apéritif with foie-gras.