About Stephan Droege

With a specific focus on characterful and overachieving wine in the $15 to $18 price-point range, DéClassé aims to expand the readers' taste and curiosity about a diversity of wine styles--while exploring the winemakers in a cultural and historical context. Thank you for visiting the site!

Maipú Malbec

First introduced to South America by French Agronomist Miguel Pouget in the 1850’s, Argentina’s signature Malbec grape has gone through numerous cycles of being in and out of commercial favour. For most of the 20th-century, Argentinean winemakers were focused on outputting vast volumes of bulk wine for local consumption, and Malbec was often just used to bolster the colour and body of these low-grade blends. Following from generations of experience, the adapted cultivars of the Malbec grape gradually revealed their potential for yielding premium grades of varietal wine that was suitable for a highly competitive international marketplace. From it transplanted roots in the French Cahors region to thriving in now famed Mendoza, the hearty, thick-skinned variety has endured–becoming a go-to favourite for lovers of big-bodied, highly characterful red wine.

Centred in the city of Maipú at the foot of the iconic Andean mountains, Bodega Trapiche is no Argentinean upstart as it received its first international award in Paris in 1889. From its modest beginnings in 1883 as a small plot called El Trapiche, the winery has consistently been an innovative force in developing Argentina’s wine industry. It even built a railway link to the capital, Buenos Aires, to better ensure the timely delivery of wine to market. Building on these successes, Trapiche now oversees 1,255 hectares of vineyards and works collaboratively with 300 other local growers. It’s also managed to become a leading South American influence on applying biodynamic farming practices that aim to preserve the natural balance of both the fruit crops and their surrounding ecosystems. In gradually eliminating the use of chemicals, herbicides and fungicides, the strategy is desirable for both ecological sustainability and the payoff of producing wines that are more representative of the regional terroir. And, so it does!

For this week’s DéClassé recommended bottling of Trapiche Medalla Malbec 2014, the grapes are selectively sourced from vineyards in the higher elevations of the Uco Valley–a sub-region that’s particularly conducive to cultivating fulsome yet still fresh versions of this wine style. If you are already a Malbec fan, then you’re unlikely to find a more over-achieving bottle at this modest price-point. If it’s time to top up your longer-term cellar stock on a budget, then this addition will become even more rounded over the coming 2–5yrs. If you’re incapable of waiting, then fully decant an hour or so in advance of enjoying. I doubt you’ll be refilling much of it back into the bottle.

TRAPICHE MEDALLA MALBEC 2014
Vintages/LCBO – Product #547869 | 750 mL bottle
Price $17.00
14.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Mendoza, Argentina
By: Grupo Penaflor Sa
Release Date: September 1, 2018

Tasting Note
Along with its deep ruby colour, this wine has heady aromas and flavours of plum and blackberry fruits. Also, expect many of the classic Malbec spice and vanilla notes and a hint of smoky toast in among reasonably smooth tannins. Try serving with grilled meats, hearty stews, maple-roasted squash, spicy empanadas or mushroom risotto.

Treviso Prosecco

Historical references to lightly sparkling wines in the Veneto region date to the 1100’s, though these were much sweeter in the 12th century compared to the popular versions being fashioned today. With the burgeoning international profile and interest in this delightful wine style, progressive Italian producers have had to take pro-active steps toward guarding the unique, regional nature of their Spumante. The traditional grape family used for the bubbliest of all Italian white wines was known as Prosecco for a very long time; likely, originating from around the namesake town that lies close by to the Slovenian border. The official reclassifying of the name to Glera in 2009 now means that these grapevines can be cultivated and marketed in other wine-producing regions in the world, but only those wines which specifically originate from Prosecco DOCG and its various sub-regions may be labelled as bona fide Prosecco.

Though sparkling wines from Italy’s north-eastern corner are distinctive,  the vintners have employed and innovated the French production method called Charmat to achieve their form. After initial fermentation, the second infusion of yeast continues the converting of sugars and provokes the carbonation that provides the wine with its bubbly character. This essential finishing step is done in large, pressurized stainless steel tanks rather than in the bottle, and so, results in fresh and crisp fruit flavours with less of the toasted character that’s typical in its distant, French Crémant cousins.

This week’s feature of Mionetto Prestige Prosecco Treviso Brut comes from the hillside vineyards of the Treviso sub-region. Founded initially by Francesco Mionetto in 1887, the modern-day Tenuta (winery) is now part of the German Henkell consortium that has a credible reputation for fashioning and marketing well-made bulk wines in the sparkling category–at approachable price-points. Just north of the namesake town of  Treviso, grapes are harvested mostly in the second half of September, so now is an opportune time to sample last year’s results.

Serve well-chilled, and keep the remaining bottle cooled while enjoying it in a wide-mouthed goblet rather than in slender stemware. Your brunch guests will appreciate you having a second bottle standing by–brimming with steely fruit–to top them up. At $17.00 each, that won’t break your budget or disappoint!

MIONETTO  PRESTIGE PROSECCO TREVISO BRUT
LCBO – Product #483339 | 750 mL bottle
Price $17.00
11% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: D

Made in Veneto, Italy
By: Henkell & Sohnlein Sektkellereien
Release Date: May 1, 2018

Tasting Note
This informal, straw-yellow sparkler has an abundance of fresh apple, white peach, and apricot aromas and flavours, with some nut and honey notes wrapped up in a frothy body. Try serving with Brunch food fare or as a spritzy apéritif with smoked salmon canapes, savoury pastry appetizers or skewers of grilled fish.

Tuscan Chianti Classico

Sangiovese Grosso, Sangiovese Piccolo, Sangioveto…is to name just a few of the aliases for this grape and its closely related cultivars; providing the core body for most Tuscan red wine recipes, and still reigning as the most consumed Italian wine at home and abroad. Dark blue-skinned Sangiovese takes its name from the Latin term, Sanguis Jovis (‘blood of Jove’), which is an exalted reference to both the elixir’s colour and its place in Europe’s pantheon of great grape species: Vitis Vinifera. It’s also the most widely cultivated variety in central Italy, with prolific vineyards in Lazio, Umbria, Marche and Tuscany combining for 95% of the world’s plantings–a largely unrivalled dominance by a major grape sourced from a single country. Over several hundred years, growers have steadily built up their expertise with ‘San-joh-vay-say.’ In particular, the stewarding of these slow-ripening fruit clusters through to a balanced maturity is an agricultural art that Tuscans have diligently become very, very good at!

fiascoes

In the vinicultural history of many old world regions, the development of a distinctive wine style that becomes immensely popular, aided by large yields of grapes that are well-suited to the terroir, adds up to a mixed record of glory times and a fair share of winemaking folly. The sometimes too-voluminous output of Tuscany’s Chianti is no exception. Happily, the mid-20th-century decades during which large commercial producers let loose far too much unremarkable bulk wine dressed up in attractively rotund flasks swaddled with woven straw called fiascos, are long gone. In the 21st century, a re-invigoration of a different sort has taken hold in the baseline winemaking practices of these lands and culture that were the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance. This time, Tuscan vintners are focused on advancing the competitive quality across all grades of their wine; from everyday offerings such as charmingly simple Chianti through to premium production of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello. At the core of this shift is the general reduction of harvest yields by the growers–who themselves were instrumental in redefining the guidelines of Italy’s highest classification of quality: DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita). Too sad about the demise of the traditional straw wrapping, though, it was so rustically emblematic of Italian table wine for such a long time!

The 120 associated growers allied with the  Castelli del Grevepeas brand are focused on value-driven wines fashioned from the region’s indigenous grapes. This DéClassé feature of Castelgreve Chianti Classico 2016 is a delightful example of medium-bodied Chianti with an integrated character of vibrant fruit in among the savoury earth notes. Exercising restraint in the finishing process of wine demonstrates modern winemaking wisdom. In the case of this bottling, the straightforward recipe of 95% Sangiovese and 5% Merlot that’s fermented in Inox tanks before spending the 12 months in Slavonian oak casks, results in an unfettered and refreshing offering true to its pedigree. Add a $17.00 price-point, and you have a winner that will sell swiftly. I would buy as many as are required to fill the empty slots in your loose-straw-lined storage boxes!

CASTELGREVE CHIANTI CLASSICO 2016
VINTAGES/LCBO – Product #573485 | 750 mL bottle
Price $17.00
13.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Tuscany, Italy
By: Castelli Del Grevepesa
Release Date: September 1, 2018

Tasting Note
This medium-bodied Chianti demonstrates the expected combination of plum and cherry flavours and aromas blending with a restrained earthiness and the spice notes gained from its ageing in oak. Try serving as an apéritif with salty charcuterie and cheeses such as Pecorino or with heartier fare such as roast lamb with rosemary, rib eye steak with asparagus and mushroom risotto or Tuscan-style sausages and baked Fava beans.

Niagara Chardonnay

White Burgundy still ranks high among the wine world’s famed grape varieties, and the benchmark styles from its namesake terroir remain a gold standard. We’re of course referencing Chardonnay. It’s also done very well in California, where climate and drinking taste converged in the 20th century, providing a cornerstone for a young wine industry to develop. 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—expressed in a somewhat derisive and unfortunate acronym: ABC (‘anything but Chardonnay’). Within the broad range of finishing styles that includes sparkling and still wines, the world’s most planted white wine grape is enduring and defying fickle 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 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, more faithful to the originating style from Burgundy. The DéClassé recommended G. Marquis The Silver Line Chardonnay 2016, is a balanced reinterpretation—from the skilled winemakers in Canada’s Niagara Escarpment region.

Exclusively providing the fruit for this week’s selection, the Stone Road Vineyard is a 25-acre parcel that’s bordered by the climate tempering influence of Lake Ontario—one of the world’s largest freshwater bodies. Inland of the shoreline, deposits of loose sandy-loam soil promote vigorous growth of Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay grapes, while the microclimate conditions allow these varieties a sufficiently long growing season. G. Marquis is the premium brand line offered by the Magnotta Winery, and it’s now available in greater stock levels at the LCBO in the Vintages section. The personal care of hand-picking, sorting and six months of ageing in French-American hybrid oak casks is self-evident, so if you’re uncertain of where Niagara wines are in their quality evolution at this price-point, this noteworthy example speaks volumes!

G. MARQUIS THE SILVER LINE CHARDONNAY 2016
VINTAGES/LCBO – Product #258681 | 750 mL bottle
Price $17.95
12.5 % Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Niagara, Canada
By: Magnotta Winery
Release Date: April 3, 2018

Tasting Note
This soft, dry white wine falls into the mid-weight category of barrel-fermented Chardonnay with spice and herb-accented flavours of baked apple, melon, and ripe pear. Try serving alongside roasted or grilled pork loin, chicken, salmon steaks or pasta dishes and cream sauces.

Minervois Syrah/Carignan

Distinctively marking the labels of this terroir-specific wine line is a dramatic four-armed Visigoth symbol dating to the 7th century. Later known as the Languedoc Cross or Cross of the Cathars, the four elements and twelve points of the zodiac represent the perpetual rhythms of time and nature. The vintner’s apt emblem also includes two doves drinking from a single cup–expressing both sharing and communion. Begun by Georges Bertrand, a winemaking pioneer in the Languedoc region who diligently built a spirit of cooperation among the local growers of south-western France in the 1970’s, the Bertrand winery has consistently been at the forefront of quality development for an impressive range of regional wine styles. The multi-generational philosophy is being carried forward by the founder’s son, Gérard Bertrand, with an expanding portfolio of ten estates, 550 hectares of vineyard and production facilities based in Narbonne–the onetime capital of a prosperous Roman coastal province called Gallia Narbonensis.

languedoc-wine-region-1852

One of the world’s most extensive wine growing regions, Languedoc is a Mediterranean landscape of windswept scrubland with the geology of greyish-white, calcium-rich limestone. The eroded soils of this ancient seabed make for a rich base where wild lavender, thyme, and undulating rows of gnarled Carignan, Cinsault, Grenache Noir, Syrah and Mourvèdre grapevine thrive. As with the land’s nature, the AOC wine regulations of this free-spirited region are somewhat less stringent than in the neighbouring Burgundy or Bordeaux appellations to the north; allowing for the cultivation of a broader range of vine varieties and blending proportions.

The Minervois sub-region in Languedoc benefits from a relatively hot climate that’s bordered by the clay and schist soils around the Canal du Midi to the south and the stony limestone slopes of Montagne Noire to the north. These factors in the terroir infuse a distinctive flinty character into the finished wines. That’s very much the case for this DéClassé recommended Gérard Bertrand Minervois Syrah/Carignan 2015. To soften the steely edges, the Syrah and Carignan grapes had undergone a malolactic fermentation before the blended batch was aged in 225-litre Bordeaux oak barrels for eight months and then rested in bottle for another year.

Though you will find many offerings from this prolific vintner on the regular shelves of the LCBO, note that this particular release is only stocked in the Vintages section, in a limited volume that historically sells out quickly. During the warm months ahead, dare to try this ripe and fruit-forward red slightly chilled!

GÉRARD BERTRAND MINERVOIS SYRAH/CARIGNAN 2015
VINTAGES/LCBO – Product #952804 | 750 mL bottle
Price $16.95
14% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Midi, France
By: Gérard Bertrand
Release Date: August 4, 2018

Tasting Note
This somewhat earthy red wine, with its dark fruit flavours accented by olive and coffee notes, also has a robust body and structured tannins. Best with foods such as a marinated grilled brisket, basted ribs, veal meatballs in a piquant tomato and olive sauce, fire roasted vegetables or with stronger cheeses, Spanish Jamón Serrano and sausage appetizers.

Mendoza Tinto

Historically inspiring this bottling’s brand name, La Posta del Viñotero is a typical sort of wine tavern in Mendoza where the local growers congregate to sample the results of their harvest labours–while passionately exchanging opinions and insights into their working of soils, vine stock and wine styles. La Posta is also the Italian name for Post Office. Unsurprisingly, these became vital gathering places for many of the millions of Italians who immigrated to Argentina in the 19th and 20th century.

Fruit for this week’s DéClassé recommended offering is drawn from a collection of 3,000 foot, high-altitude vineyards in La Consulta, Rivadavia, Vista Flores and Altamira. The narrow band of alluvial soils in this renowned and prolific wine-producing province are ideally suited for the cultivation of Argentina’s signature Malbec grape. The growing conditions are an apparent agricultural contradiction whereby some of the most characterful wines are being extracted from mature, 30-year-old vine stock thriving in near-inhospitable geography. Just to the east is barren desert; to the west is the so-called ‘rain shadow’ created by the nearby chain of majestic Andean peaks.

Malbec is a thick-skinned grape variety that was first introduced to South America in the 1850’s by Frenchman Miguel Pouget, and has evolved through several cycles of being in and out of commercial favour. The spiced and fresh fruit elements that his variety lent to traditional Bordeaux blends have become calling cards for Argentinean Malbec–now often shining alone, on its own merits in varietal bottling form.

This opaque, purple-red blend is made up of 60% Malbec with 25% parts of Bonarda and 15% Syrah. It’s an inexpensive, well-made, fun, easy drinking wine intended to be enjoyed young. Barrel-aged for 10 months in second-use oak, it has sufficient depth for those who prefer more weight and mouthfeel in their reds. For palettes that lean toward bright, brambly fruit flavours, it has much to offer as well. Try this ‘summer red’ on the slightly cooler side of serving temperature.

LA POSTA TINTO 2016
VINTAGES/LCBO – Product #555789 | 750 mL bottle
Price $14.95
13.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Mendoza, Argentina
By: Puerto Ancona S.A.
Release Date: August 4, 2018

Tasting Note
La Posta has many of the typical Malbec aromas and flavour profiles of raspberry and cassis with some hints of cocoa and mocha, albeit on the slightly-muted side of the scale. An ample dose of fresh acidity lends balance to this fruit-driven blend. Try it as every day, apéritif wine or with herbed roast chicken, lamb, beef and grilled vegetables.

Vouvray Crémant

Set high on a prominence that overlooks the Loire River and its embankments, 130 hectares of Château Moncontour make for one of the oldest and famous 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 courtly influence of Agnès was one bookend in the life and fortunes of the king; the other came disguised as a boy but was actually a 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 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 and personal writings–perhaps, while giddily inspired by the bottled bounty of its vineyards!

moncontour

As with most Crémant, this week’s effervescent bottling has been produced by a double fermentation process generally referred to as méthode Champenoise, though, the term was made proprietary in the 1980’s to only wines originating from the Champagne AOC appellation in north-eastern France. This was justified to guard the distinct typicity of that region’s sparkling wines but doesn’t directly infer a higher 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 feature of Château Moncontour Cuvée Prédilection Brut Vouvray 2015is made with 100% Chenin Blanc grapes sourced within the Vouvray AOC boundaries and finished in an equivalent crémant-making technique 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 surrounding region of 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. In having spent 24 months ageing in the bottle before disgorgement, final corking, and release, this is reasonably priced just above the standard DéClassé threshold. Nonetheless, you will chide yourself endlessly for not having bought more of this limited release before the long wait until next summer!

CHÂTEAU MONCONTOUR CUVÉE PRÉDILECTION BRUT VOUVRAY 2015
VINTAGES/LCBO – Product #168963 | 750 mL bottle
Price $19.95
12% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: D

Made in: Loire, France
By: Château Moncontour
Release Date: July 21, 2018

Tasting Note
This straw-yellow sparkler has aromas of stone fruit, followed by peach, apple and lime-tinged flavours–accented by some nutty and baked brioche notes that are expected from its production method. The lively mousse is a refreshing counterpoint to warm weather and a complement for the many more ‘al fresco’ meals to come! Try as an apéritif or with lighter fare such as fresh salads, goat cheese tartlets, pâté and seasoned bread crisps or alongside moderately spicy Asian appetizers.