About Stephan Droege

With a focus on noteworthy and overachieving wine in a $15 - $18 price-point range, DéClassé aims to broaden the reader's tastes and curiosity about wine styles while exploring the winemakers' diversity in a cultural and historical context. Thank you for visiting the site!

Padthaway Shiraz

The rugged and aptly named, Limestone Coast, lies about halfway between Melbourne and Adelaide in Southern Australia. For a long stretch in the 19th and early 20th century, its reputation as a treacherous combination of fractured escarpments and hidden reefs and shoals was borne out by the long chronicle of wrecked ships that had misjudged their sailing or steaming courses. Just inland, however, its far more placid agricultural regions have been diligent in productively diversifying their traditional farming of cereals, pasture seed, vegetables, and livestock grazing. As of the 1960’s, they’ve also embraced the stepped challenges and rewards of grape growing and winemaking — so much so that they now produce 20% of South Australia’s total output.

Padthaway is an emerging, less-renowned member of the six sub-regions lying within the Limestone Coast boundary; directly competing with the international profile of neighbouring Coonawarra: rightfully and highly regarded for the qualities of its benchmark bottlings of Shiraz. The Potawurutj Aborigines coined Padthaway’s name (‘good water’), referencing the underground aquifer system and the abundant surface supply. When the forbearers of the Bryson’s and other Europeans arrived in Padthaway during the 1850’s, the bio-diverse landscape of an ancient seabed was still extensively covered by shallow reservoirs of freshwater and so became known as ‘Mosquito Plains.’

Among many desirable attributes in this terroir, including sun-drenched exposures in daytime offset by the cooling coastal breezes at night, are the prized Terra Rosa soils. Often associated with the Mediterranean basin generally, and Italy in particular, this composition of ancient weathered limestone results from the residual clay and non-soluble rock becoming oxidized; yielding the characteristic reddish colour; imbuing the soil with essential minerals and proper drainage for the vine’s root system. Punctuating 190 hectares on the Bryson Estate are outcrops and clusters of unusual, bulbous granite rock formations; providing an evocative namesake and brand graphic for their baseline range of wines: the Jip Jip Rocks.

Spanning 5 family generations, over a 165-year history, the Bryson farming clan has made a significant contribution to Padthaway winemaking, having invested the last 50 yrs. in refining the cultivation of premium-grade, red and white wine varieties on their own Phylloxera-free rootstock. Clearly, all the vineyard management details matter to the dedicated trio of Bryson brothers — they’re also at ease with the sentiment that what ends up in the bottle is ‘serious fun’!

After spending a year in a combination of new and 2nd use, American and French oak barrels, this week’s DéClassé featured varietal bottling of Shiraz was finished by blending batches from the 2016 vintage. With another year spent in the bottle, it’s ready to go now, though will develop even more balance if left on your rack for several more years. If you like your dry reds on the somewhat wilder and heftier side, with some youthful fruitiness and acidic vibrancy still at the forefront, then you should rush to the LCBO’s Vintages section to get ahead of the anticipated crowd of in-the-know fans!

VINTAGES – LCBO Product #673897 | 750 mL bottle
Price $16.95
14.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in South Australia, Australia
By: Morambro Creek
Release Date: March 17, 2018

Tasting Note
Along with the dominant Currant, earthy Cherry, and Mulberry flavours, this fairly fulsome red also incorporates subtle mocha and clove notes.  The spiced aromas and toasted influence of oak are pronounced, though deftly integrated into the wine’s supple and layered body. Try serving with marinated flank steak, smoked ham hock and braised cabbage, hearty stews or mature cheeses.

Valle de Leyda

White Burgundy still ranks among the wine world’s most famous grape varieties and the benchmark styles from its namesake terroir remain a gold standard. We’re of course referencing Chardonnay. It has also done very well in California, where climate and drinking taste converged in the 20th century, providing a significant cornerstone upon which a young wine industry was initially built-up, then broadly diversified. The widespread popularity of particular wine styles is subject to cycles. A rapid rise for Chardonnay as a staple table wine in North America was followed by a degree of consumer fatigue — clearly expressed in a somewhat derisive and unfortunate acronym: ABC (‘anything but Chardonnay’). Within the broad range of finishing styles that includes both sparkling and still wines, the world’s most planted white wine grape is enduring and defying the fickle nature of fashion.

Finished Chardonnay is a definitive winemaker’s wine in that the characteristics commonly associated with it: highly aromatic, a buttery mouthfeel, tropical or stone fruit flavours, notes of vanilla, etc. — are all methodically coaxed results from a relatively neutral grape. From time to time, the experimentation has translated into an individual characteristic overshadowing others. As Chardonnay is one rare example of a white wine being suitable for barrel ageing, overly-oaked versions of less-select grape harvests contributed to the decline in reputation and desirability for ever-more discerning drinkers. With the development of the grape in other cooler climate vineyards, fresh and vibrant expressions of Chardonnay are more common again, and arguably, truer to the balance in the originating style from Burgundy. This week’s recommended bottle is a balanced reinterpretation of classic French Chardonnay, though hailing from vineyards in Chile – and highly deserving of a revisiting and re-appreciation.

One of the relatively younger Chilean wine regions is the San Antonio Valley, which in turn, is made up of a collection of branch valleys: Rosario, Malvilla, Cartagena, Lleoleo, Lo Abarca, and the second home of this week’s DéClassé featured vintner in Leyda. This valley’s floor sits on top of a dry, ancient riverbed that accumulated its desirable loam soil over millions of years: a silt mixture of sand, clay, and crushed granite. Somewhat ironically, given that it lies just 10km inland from the ocean, this is generally arid terrain. However, since 2001 the inventive Leyda wineries have been constructing pipelines to access water from the Maipo River and using the precious resource to feed their sustainable drip irrigation systems. With a climate influenced by the valley’s 100-meter altitude and the Humboldt current of the Pacific, the daily cycle of fog-bound mornings giving way to sunny afternoons combines with the mineral-rich soil base to create an ideal terroir for cultivating Chardonnay.

Early in the 20th-century, Pedro Pavone-Voglino emigrated from the well-known Piedmont region in Italy to begin an intrepid adventure that circuitously led him to the fertile valleys of Chile. Decades of subsequent practice in grape-growing would eventually culminate in the founding of a fully-fledged winery in 1956. Flash forward 70 years and you arrive at the expert capability of fashioning Santa Ema Gran Reserva Chardonnay, 2016. With the investment of 8 months in French and American Oak Barrels, during which 40% of the blend rested on its Lees (expired yeast), this very well crafted wine credibly substantiates the numerous, aptly framed accolades for Viña Santa Ema: ‘Wine Spectator’s Top 20 World’s Finest Value Brands’ and ‘Value Winery of the Year by Wine & Spirits magazine.’ Who am I to argue with those credentials; nor should you – so, buy at least two (or three?).

VINTAGES – LCBO Product #542365 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 16.95
13.5 % Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Leyda Valley, Chile
By: Vinos Santa Ema S.A
Release Date: February 17, 2018

Tasting Note
This bright golden-yellow, full-bodied, barrel-aged wine with a significant alcohol content, playfully combines aromas of lemon balm with ripe tropical fruit flavours of passion fruit and banana along with subtle toast and vanilla accents. If serving as an apéritif, try with smoked salmon and Gruyère cheese. As a main course complement, herb-roasted chicken and Parmesan polenta, grilled Trout, oysters and mussels, seared sea scallops, crab cakes or pasta in light cream sauces – are all good choices.

Bordeaux Primer

Though Latin descriptions by poet, Decimus Ausonius, about winemaking in the Roman dominion of Gaul are traceable to the 4th-century, it wasn’t until the early middle ages that wine export from Bordeaux began in earnest. With the fabled marriage in 1152 of Eleanor of Aquitaine to Henry Plantagenet (future king of England), they not only bore a near-mythical son, Richard the Lion-heart but also fostered a monopoly of wine trade between Bordeaux and England. The discerning customers on England’s side of the Channel would eventually nickname the region’s wine as Claret. With endless warring between the English and French disrupting trade for centuries, it was a long wait to the 1600’s when Bordeaux’s near-neighbours in the Netherlands began increasing their imports and consumption significantly. The Dutch applied a host of innovations such as sterilizing the Oak storage barrels, which made longer-term conserving of the wine possible and a proportional expansion of travel distances to new markets. Finally, they also gifted the wine world one of its premier terroirs by draining the estuary marshes and creating arable land for vineyards in Bordeaux’s sub-region of Médoc!

Bordeaux’s complex patchwork of 38 sub-regions encompassing 65 AOC appellations, also divided into a lengthy list of individual, legendary plots, is somewhat more decipherable with the understanding that most take their names from a select set of towns and villages. Moreover, they’re further distinguished by being grouped around the Gironde Estuary at the region’s Atlantic end, or inland along the converging Garonne and Dordogne rivers. Lastly, the paths of those three waterways, as a diagonal line through Bordeaux, provide demarcation for which of the vineyards and wines are of so-called Right or Left Bank origin. North of the Dordogne is Right, south of the Gironde and Garonne is Left. An added anomaly is the sizeable zone between called Entre-Deux-Mers (‘Between 2 Seas’). It all adds up as a delightfully bewildering patchwork of sub-regions that are home to a vast collection of 7,375+ wine-producing Châteaux!

As for price-point, the loose designation of Petit Château encompasses thousands of producers who don’t qualify as Cru Classés: the five top-tier, Bordeaux classifications. In some cases, petit château vineyards are next door to those of highly touted brands. In rarer instances, there are microclimate and soil composition factors that result in markedly differing wine character from adjacent plots. However, cost and desirability tend to reflect the reputation of a particular vintage, vine age, and how much production investment there’s been by the estate. Despite a perception that Bordeaux’s offerings tend toward premium pricing, a majority of Bordelais and Bordelaises vintners sell their approx. 630 million bottles of red and white wines, reasonably, at between $15 – $25.

For this week’s feature of a Merlot-driven, Château Sainte Marie Alios 2014, the blend recipe by winemaker, Stéphane Dupuch, adds a dose of 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Petit Verdot to lend a touch more boldness and body that’s expected of a baseline, Bordeaux red. With three years of ageing, from a harvest year that’s widely reputed to have produced balanced wine throughout the region, this is ready for consumption now — especially if you prefer brighter levels of acidity to counterbalance the tannins of bigger reds. It will hold for 3 – 5 years, should you somehow misplace several bottles in a dark corner of your basement?

VINTAGES – LCBO Product #526848 | 750 mL bottle
Price $15.95
13.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Bordeaux, France
By: Les Hauts De Sainte-Marie
Release Date: February 3, 2018

Tasting Note
An introductory-level, Bordeaux Merlot that over-delivers at this price-point with dark berry flavours, ample oak character, and earthy accent of spices. Classic appetizer pairings such as Pâté, charcuterie, spicy vegetable pastries, or dinner mains such as lamb curry, tuna steak, Ratatouille with rustic sourdough bread, duck breast with fig chutney – would all be complementary for this medium to full-bodied wine.

Loire Tête de Cuvée Brut

Overlooking the stepped embankments of the Loire River, 130 hectares of Château Moncontour make for one of the oldest and storied estates in Touraine — a Loire Valley sub-region where the namesake river meets two of its main tributaries: the Indre-et-Loire and Loir-et-Cher. Dating to the mid 15th-century, the Renaissance-era château was built by King Charles VII as one of the many gifts lavished on his courtesan, Agnès Sorel. Euphemistically known as ‘Dame de Beauté,’ the striking appearance and courtly influence of Agnès was one bookend in the life and fortunes of the king; the other came disguised as a boy, but was a young country maiden, Jeanne d’Arc — aka ‘La Pucelle d’Orléans.’ Her religiously-inspired military campaign to challenge the occupying English armies was a deciding factor in Charles’ quest to resecure his crown and fractured lands. Among many other tales linked to the Moncontour estate in the ensuing ages is the partial destruction by fire during the French revolution, and then becoming an elusive fascination for the 19th-century author, Honoré de Balzac, who featured its twin white turrets and brambled riverbanks in his published, personal writings — perhaps, while giddily inspired by the bottled bounty of its vineyards!

As with most Crémant, this week’s effervescent bottling has been produced by a double fermentation process generally referred to as méthode Champenoise, though, in the 1980’s the term was made proprietary to only wines originating from the Champagne AOC in north-eastern France. This was justified to guard the distinct typicity of the region’s sparkling wines but doesn’t directly infer a greater level of quality. Moreover, the highly- variable pricing for bonafide Champagnes tends to be among the most arbitrary of all premium wine styles in France – frequently more informed by what the market is willing to pay rather than how much effort has been invested by the vintner. This week’s DéClassé feature of Château Moncontour Tête de Cuvée Brut is fashioned with 100% Chenin Blanc grapes sourced within the Vouvray AOC boundaries and finished in an equivalent winemaking manner called méthode traditionnelle.

Moncontour’s current custodial vintners are the Feray Family, who since 1994 has been drawing Chenin Blanc fruit, aka Pineau de la Loire, from numerous small plots dotted around the village of Vouvray. Influenced by the sedimentary rock and clay soils that are typical of the Touraine, this local cultivar imparts a distinct minerality along with a high level of acidity – making it an ideal base for the pétillant (sparkling) versions of Vouvray. Having spent at least 12 months ageing in the bottle before disgorgement, final corking, and release, this is so modestly priced that you will chide yourself endlessly for not having bought more before having to wait again until next January!

Chateau Moncontour

VINTAGES – LCBO Product #207936 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 17.95
12% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: D

Made in Loire, France
By: Château Moncontour
Release Date: January 6, 2018

Tasting Note
This wine’s straw-yellow colour, apricot and pear aromas, some nutty and baked brioche notes, and a very lively mousse make for a refreshing counterpoint to the winter blues! Try as an informal apéritif or with lighter fare such as goat cheese tartlets, pâté and seasoned bread crisps or alongside a selection of moderately spicy, Asian appetizers.

Puglia Primitivo

In a period that Roman historians term as Magna Graecia, expansionist Greeks crossed the westward seas to establish a ring of thriving colonies around the perimeter of this distinctive land spit; in the modern age, it became whimsically known as either stiletto or heel of the boot. Jutting downwards from mainland Italy, the southern peninsula of Puglia acts as a geographic divide between the sheltered Gulf of Taranto and the Otranto Strait of the Adriatic Sea. Throughout thousands of years in antiquity through to the middle ages, this was a strategic crossroad of trade and target of conquest for many Mediterranean civilizations. As a cumulative result, 800km of coast and the parallel line of inland mountains serve to frame a hybrid culture that’s unique within the broad diversity of regional Italian identities. Though early colonizers seem to have been warlike Spartans, by the 5th century BCE it was philosophy that had become the preoccupation in Greco-Italian centres of learning such as the city of Elea (now Velia). Notably, this was home to visionary thinker and mentor Parmenides who’s credited with laying an influential foundation for Aristotle, Plato and young Socrates. Unsurprisingly, the wealth of clay Amphorae unearthed from archaeological excavation also reveals that the making of wines and their sea-borne export were well underway!

Curiously, in spite of being so prolific, Puglia remains one of the less-well-known Italian regions. In its middle and southern provinces, the hot and dry climate is perfect for cultivating fulsome grapes such as Negroamaro, Malvasia Nera and Primitivo. With a name derived from several Latin terms loosely translating as ‘the first to ripen’, Primitivo has traditionally been a reliable blending component. More recently, the variety has gained increased profile as a stand-alone varietal wine, due in part to the burgeoning popularity of Zinfandel; a clonal relative that flourishes in Californian vineyards and North American marketplaces. Local lore suggests that this Italian variant of a Croatian parent grape was discovered by a 17th-century Benedictine monk, Francesco Primicerius, as a wild vine growing in his monastery gardens. Gradually, cultivars of Primitivo were then proliferated throughout Puglia, finally rooting in Taranto Province 100 years later.

Home to this week’s DéClassé featured bottle from the Montanaro winemaking family, the town of Crispiano and surrounding vineyards are proudly becoming an agrotourism destination in their own right. So much so that these vintners engaged a landscape architect, Fernando Caruncho, to oversee development of the property as a garden-vineyard where the undulating waves of vines are interspersed with 24 islands of 800-year-old olive trees. Compelling aesthetics aside, their Amastuola Organic Primitivo 2014 is a semi-plush, pleasingly rounded example of how expert that Taranto’s vintners have become in fashioning their local wine. Budget allowing, half a case would be hard to hold in your cellar for very long!

VINTAGES – LCBO Product #300004 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 16.95
13% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: D

Made in Puglia, Italy
By: Amastuola Societa’S Agricola S.S.
Release Date: December 9, 2017

Tasting Note
A very fruity palate typical of the grape style with aromas of mixed berries, plum, spice and vanilla. Try with some classic, cool-weather comfort foods like braised beef brisket, veal scaloppini, pasta Bolognese, eggplant Parmigiano or alongside a zesty, mixed pepper lasagna and an arugula/radicchio salad topped with slivered Pecorino Romano.

Douro Touriga Nacional Blend

As it winds its way for over 900km down through the western side of the Iberian Peninsula, the majestic Douro River acts both as a border with its Spanish neighbours, while also providing the region on the Portuguese side with its iconic namesake. The earliest traces of grapevine cultivation date back as far as the late Bronze Age, with a significant proliferation happening during the Roman-influenced period in the 1st century AD. Visigoths displaced the Romans and took to the practice until the arrival of the Moors, who in turn, yielded to the forbearers of the modern-day Portuguese and their founding of the first Kingdom of Portugal in 1143. The most noteworthy wine-producing zone lies framed between the towns of Barca d’Alva and Régua. Here the river valleys point westward for a time; creating growing conditions that are conducive to red wine grape varieties such as Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca, and Tinta Barroca, as well as, for white wine grape stock such as Malvasia Fina, Moscatel, Gouveio, and Viosinho. The net result of all this prolific production is that wine has been flowing along the Douro for a very long time – shipped downstream to Porto in barrels that were loaded onto the regionally distinctive, Rabelo boats.

Many of the Douro’s red wines are vinified in so-called Lagares. These are large, open stone containers made of Granite and Schist that the sorted and destemmed grapes are poured into, then methodically crushed underfoot in a centuries-old, winemaking tradition. Natural fermentation begins when the wild yeasts that coat the grape skin come into contact with the sugar in the juice. Surprisingly, it frequently only requires 24hrs. to complete this step, after which the young wine is strained into stainless steel holding tanks to undergo a second, bacteria-induced ‘malolactic’ fermentation. This desirable form of intervention helps to convert the tart Malic acid in the fruit into Lactic acid, which markedly softens the mouthfeel of the wine.

Portuguese vintners are fiercely proud of their long-standing winemaking methods but are also embracing modern, international standards. Arguably, their output remains underpriced relative to the quality of what’s now on offer, which means that it’s still a great time to stock up before everyone else catches on to the remarkable value. In the case of this week’s feature of Cais da Ribeira Riserva 2014, the home of the Barão de Vilar winery is in an emerging region known as Douro Superiore: the most inland of the Douro’s three zones. Predominantly built on a blend of the classic grape varieties listed above, this bottling benefits from being decanted for several hours before serving or put some away for a year or two and be rewarded with an even suppler version of the vintage. At $13.95 this is a well-made, introductory level offering that should dispel most disbelief about whether dry, Douro DOC, red table wines can compete with those of their nominally related, Tempranillo and Monastrell-making, Spanish neighbours!

VINTAGES – LCBO Product #523639 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 13.95
13.1% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Douro, Portugal
By: Vinihold
Release Date: November 11, 2017

Tasting Note
Following on the dark, brooding fruit aromas, this mid-weight red wine has a surprising combination of a supple body accented with lively streaks of acidity and tannins. Pick a juicy red or black berry that comes to mind, and you’ll likely be able to tag it in the flavours of this bottling. Best alongside heartier and meaty food fare – try serving this with savoury stews, a herbed beef or lamb rib roast, and duck breast glazed with stewed prunes or apricots.

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.


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 2016. 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!

VINTAGES – LCBO Product # 452540 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 16.95
12.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Loire, France
By: Christophe Davault
Release Date: November 25, 2017

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.