Rioja Alavesa Crianza

Hilltop monasteries and other tumbled stone fortifications built-up over the centuries lie littered about and imbued into these richly historic lands of North Central Spain. Sharing a border with the former Franco-Spanish, medieval kingdom of Navarre, the regional identity of Rioja is equally distinct on its side of the modern boundary. Apart from holding a unique place in the diverse, Spanish cultural patchwork, Rioja’s bodegas and vintners are visible leaders of internationally competitive and progressive winemaking in Iberia.

The larger designated wine denomination of Rioja comprises three sub-regions: Rioja Baja, Rioja Alta, and the source of this week’s DéClassé focus: Rioja Alavesa–which in turn, is considered a part of so-called Basque country. In this zone, the Sierra Cantabria ridge of mountains provide sheltering geography for 350 hectares of vines either owned or managed by Bodegas Luis Cañas. The vineyards are distributed over +800 small, individual plots, so drawing fruit evermore discerningly has been both a challenge and the critical strategy pursued by this vintner toward producing an expanding range of premium wine.

Once focused only on less-remarkable, bulk winemaking, the steady process of upscaling quality by employing advanced production techniques has also been influenced by the agricultural reality of prolonged drought. In the current climatic period, this stress on the vines is condensing yields, but it’s also bolstering the layered character of the smaller grape clusters. Nonetheless, this impressive Bodega remains capable of producing 167,000 cases of fruit, yearly, in near desert conditions!

Luis Cañas Crianza 2015 blends 95% Tempranillo grapes with a splash of Garnacha (Grenache) to top up its fruitiness. Making up 75% of all rootstock planted in this storied region’s vineyards, Tempranillo’s name is derived from the Spanish, Temprano, meaning ‘early’–which it reliably does. The designation, Crianza, attests that it’s spent a full year in oak casks and another in the bottle before release. Mellowing in 3-year-old French and American oak barrels, coupled with the grape’s naturally soft tannins, translates into a pleasing mouthfeel. Albeit still youthful, this lively medium-bodied red is ready-to-go and may become somewhat more velvety as it settles. Though not destined for long-term storage, you can undoubtedly dare to hold this well-crafted example from the 2015 vintage for at least several more years.

VINTAGES/LCBO – Product #336719 | 750 mL bottle
Price $18.95
14.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Rioja, Spain
By: Araex Rioja Alavesa S.L.
Release Date: October 13, 2018

Tasting Note
With a complex mix of dark, red fruit aromas and flavours that features cherry, raspberries and fig, try serving this to keep up with most anything prepared on a charcoal grill, including beef tenderloin brochettes and Chorizo sausages or as an apéritif with Spanish Mahón and Manchego cheese and spicy tapas.

Western Cape Sparkling Rosé

At 1,000 meters, the rock faces of Saronsberg (aka. Saron Peak Mountain) begin a green cascade of rumpled ridges and gullies down into the valley at its base. Since time immemorial, the mountain’s form has been carved by the buffeting rains and twisting currents of the South-easterlies: the fierce polar winds that blow across the Cape in Spring through early Summer. In 1488, the intrepid Portuguese explorer, Bartolomeu Dias, fought his way through the churning seas that frame Africa’s southern tip. He depicted this harrowing sail by christening it Cabo das Tormentas (‘Cape of Storms’). The winds have continued their bluster over the centuries, but with the benefits of accumulated maritime experience and sturdier ships, sailors have embraced the more optimistic: Cabo da Boa Esperanza (‘Cape of Good Hope’). The retitling is also credited to Bartolemeu, to whose astonishment on a returning voyage, realized that he’d discovered the elusive sea route to India. What was less apparent then, was that he was blindly sailing past the rich potential of one of the world’s best wine regions–now home to some of its most accomplished wine makers!

In the 15th century, indigenous herders known as the Khoi occupied the coastal ranges of the Western Cape. They were decidedly unwelcoming to the first wave of European intruders, predictably cutting them down as soon as they stepped ashore. It would take another two centuries of cajoling before the French Protestant Huguenot and Dutch immigrants were allowed to share in the land’s potential for settlement. 300-years on from the earliest cultivation of wine grapes, development of South Africa’s Vinelands continues, with new zones being added or expanded in each succeeding generation.

This week’s DéClassé featured Twee Jonge Gezellen (‘two young companions’) is an estate established in 1710–and a dynamic example of the agricultural vision that’s been inherited. Despite cyclical ups and downs, the infusion of new investment is bearing more fruit than ever. Their property lies in the Tulbagh Valley 125 km northeast of Cape Town and is the next outlying wine region beyond better known Stellenbosch, Frankshoek and Paarl. With sloped vineyards in the sheltering shadow of Saronsberg mountain, the so-called ‘rainmaker’ also provides an ample supply of irrigation. Elsewhere, without appropriate drainage and a counterbalance of heat, the abundant rainfall levels might be problematic. Here, there’s a balance of conditions in the 30-hectare terroir, which the Krone family anticipated in the 1950’s when they began planting noble varieties such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Méthode Cap Classique (MCC) is the South African term for a bottle-fermented production method that yields sparkling wines. As the young wine is also left to rest on its lees (expired yeast), imparting the tell-tale toasted notes, this style emulates the classic French méthode Champenois. What’s more regionally innovative is cool night-harvesting, and a follow-on of cold temperature fermentation; both critical adaptations to the hot growing climate that can otherwise dull the brightness and acidity in white wine grapes. In this well-crafted sparkler, Krone Cuvée  Brut Rosé 2017, it’s the 85% Pinot Noir that’s left in contact with the skins during first fermentation that imbues a light pink hue into the final blend, along with a 15% splash of Chardonnay.

Remarkably, this modest $18.95 bottling carries its vintage year, which is relatively unusual across all price-points for premium sparkling wine. More typically, the vintner will hold batches of previously finished wine–to be judiciously added into the current vintage; maintaining year-to-year consistency. Here, as in so many facets of modern SA winemaking wisdom, the vintner elects to let each harvest reveal its unique character, with less intervention. Evidently, 2017 was a splendid year. Buy two; serve well-chilled to add a delightful splash of pink mousse to your Thanksgiving meal!

VINTAGES – LCBO Product #130047 | 750 mL bottle
Price $18.95
12.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: D

Made in Tulare, South Africa
By: Vinimark Trading
Release Date: September 29, 2018

Tasting Note
This refreshing sparkler with a refined mousse offers flavours and aromas of pomegranate, red berries and citrus accents. As expected from the fermentation method, it also finishes with some subtle baking notes. Try serving as apéritif with herbed cheese crostini, a roast Goose stuffed with apple or baked smoked ham.