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!

Maipo Cabernet Sauvignon

Having begun with the planting of European Vitis Vinifera vines by 16th-century Spanish conquistadors and missionaries, Chile’s 500-year history of fashioning wine coupled with the recent development of new growing regions continues to amaze and impress. For a long period as of the mid-1800’s, the aim was to simply produce inexpensive bulk wine; serving local markets and consumption. Up until the mid-20th century, this is equally true of most so-called old world regions in Europe during the same timeframe. Since then, though, Chile has accomplished far more than keep pace with the evolution of highly competitive, premium wine production and export, rather, its diligent vintners have forged a global leadership role. They’ve truly become world-class winemakers!

Revealingly expressed in the often difficult history of the indigenous Mapuche (‘Earth People’), is a reputation for personal courage, strong communal identity and a fierce and unconquerable spirit. The essence of these attributes carries forward, as modern Chilean vintners innovatively exploit challenging geography for agricultural cultivation while demonstrating studied concern and care for its sustainability. Framed between an endless, snaking Pacific coastline to the west and the folded slopes of Andean peaks to the east, the new regional designation, Entre Cordilleras (‘between mountains’) is a group of inland valleys that includes the well-known Colchagua and the long-established Maipo, lying south of the capital Santiago. Excelling at Malbec, Carménère, and Syrah, the larger region has also had success with classic French reds, Cab Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon wines — justifying the reference, ‘South America’s Bordeaux’.

This week’s DéClassé feature of Montgras Antu Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 is one of the Viña MontGras sub-brands for wines that head winemaker Santiago Margozzini describes as ‘exploratory’. Both light-hearted and serious, the term signals that Chilean vintners continue to play with and refine local cultivars of grapes that were imported at various points in the 19th century. Well-suited to the terroirs of their new home, and guided by local expertise, these should now be thought of as uniquely Chilean — and so it is. This bottling is ready to be uncorked, though you might challenge yourself to put more aside for another year or so – after having tried one to gauge its current measure.

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MONTGRAS ANTU CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2015
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #444703 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 17.95
14.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: D

Made in Maipo Valley, Chile
By: Viña Montgras
Release Date: September 30, 2017

Tasting Note
Offering up loads of dark berry and cherry aromas and flavour, this deep Ruby red wine also has some pleasing pepper and toasty oak notes well-integrated into a soft and creamy texture. Try as a compliment to grilled food fare of all sorts: vegetable and meats, with a generous helping of Chilean cilantro salsa on the side.

Roussillon Grenache Blanc/Gris Cuvée

Here in the sunniest corner of southwestern France, after an earlier period of working abroad for other wineries, Jean-Marc Lafage and partner Eliane have followed in his father’s wine-making footsteps – establishing the sixth successful generation to take ownership for farming these historic vineyards in the Côtes du Roussillon. Arguably, the least selective AOC in the larger Roussillon region, it’s still best known for its abundant output of red wine and rosé. However, in the case of this vintner’s practices, somewhat less stringent official guidelines, and fewer entrenched traditions for fashioning their white wine allow for a more flexible, year to year recipe, particularly in the blending proportions of the allowable grape varieties.

The composition of 80% Grenache Blanc and Grenache Gris (somewhat novel) is blended with 20% Roussanne and aged in both stainless steel tanks (70%), as well as, in new French oak barrels (30%). Their Grenache vines, averaging 90 yrs. of age, thrive in the ancient Quaternary soil (stony, gravelled) that lie within view of the Mediterranean seashore. Presumably, the significant maturity of the vine stock provides the namesake for this bottling called ‘Centenaire’ (Centennial).

The generally favourable terroir here is helped by the Tramontana winds that blow from the North-West, providing both a cooling and drying effect in the vineyards. In 2016, this vintner’s plots in Roussillon were mercifully spared the hail and frost that were otherwise widespread in France, making it a difficult harvest for many winemakers. Though Roussillon had less than desirable rainfall during the main growing season, the delayed harvest of smaller grape clusters allowed for enhanced acidity and a rich aromatic character. Despite having produced lower yields, 2016 is highly regarded as a banner year for quality.

Relatively new to the international market, this week’s DéClassé recommended offering, Domaine Lafage Cuvée Centenaire 2016, couldn’t be more attractively priced as a premium white wine. If you’re able to snap up a bunch, as you should if you’re a fan of fuller-bodied whites – then know that it will cellar well for at least 2 years or more.

Domaine Lafage

DOMAINE LAFAGE CUVÉE CENTENAIRE 2016
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #343491 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 17.95
14.0% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Midi, France
By: Domaine Lafage
Release Date: September 16, 2017

Tasting Note
With aromatic hints of vanilla and white fruit, this rich white wine has subtle citrus flavours with a flint-edged minerality derived from maritime soils. Try serving with food fare such as pasta carbonara, mild curries, ratatouille or fish dishes and mussels.

Plan de Dieu GSM

Bookended to the top and bottom by its equally renowned neighbours, Burgundy and Provence, the Côtes du Rhône region straddles the namesake river’s banks for approximately 200kms from Vienne in the north to just below Avignon in the south. Part of Narbonese Gaul, Romans founded terraced vineyards here late in the 2nd century BC, though some significant development in wine-making history corresponds with the arrival of Popes in the 14th century. Displaced from their traditional seat in Rome due to the so-called western-schism, a splitting of the Catholic Church, and hemmed in by the upheaval of France and England’s 100 Years’ War, the temporary papal retreat to Avignon would be prolonged for 9 successions. Competitively inclined, the Popes and Cardinals established farm estates on tracts of Côtes du Rhône lands that had been ceded to the church. Gradually expanding the vineyard plantings secured a local wine source and provided revenue in the exporting of surplus production. 500 years onward, long after the Popes had left to reoccupy the Vatican, Avignon was again anointed in 1966 – this time with the secular designation of ‘Capital City’ of all Rhône wines.

Vintners along the somewhat cooler stretch of the valley north of Montelimar make varietal wines exclusively with Syrah grapes, whereas wineries in southern zones produce the classic GSM blends built with GrenacheSyrahMourvèdre – or GSMC in which Carignan rounds out the recipe. This DéClassé recommended, Château Le Grand Retour – Plan de Dieu is a robust 60/30/10% GSM blend extracted from 45-year-old vine stock. Rooted in stony limestone or red clay soils typical of the Plan de Dieu sub-region, this geographic ‘God’s Plain’ has a localized, hot and dry climate, making the terroir ideal for the full maturation of its signature grape varieties. Lying at the base of the Dentelles de Montmirail foothills, the plain encompasses vineyards that surround the towns of Camaret-sur-Aigues, Violes, Jonquieres, as well as, the source of this week’s feature bottle from Travaillan. Despite being a relatively new appellation created in 2005, the Plan de Dieu AOP classification with the ‘Villages’ qualifier, indicates a more distinctive quality of wine than that of the generic Côtes du Rhône AOP. The unique bottle style also features Plan de Dieu as an embossed coat-of-arms: a cluster of grapes framed by a halo!

Château Le Grand Retour is one of a trio of winemaking estates that the three Aubert brothers have overseen since the 1980’s, carrying forward and further developing the foundation and traditions begun by their father. 150 hectares of this property was originally established by Algerian immigrants, who again left France for a time. On returning, they found the now mature plantings ready to bear fruit–providing the inspiration for the Domaine’s name, ‘the major return.’

The same sentiment can also be applied here to this bottling since it’s become a yearly Vintages release that always seems to exceed the generalized pedigree as an entry-level, southern Rhône wine. In my pocketbook, this Plan de Dieu trumps lower end offerings of Châteauneuf-du-Pape – and for the same price, I can buy 3!

CHATEAU LE GRAND RETOUR PLAN DE DIEU 2015
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #224592 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 14.95
14.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in: Rhône, France
By: Sarl Aubert
Release Date: September 16, 2017

Tasting Note
Dark, silky-smooth with juicy fruit and savory notes, the complexity of aromas and flavours in this bottling exceeds its general pedigree of an ‘entry level,’ southern Rhône wine. Try serving with roasted poultry, duck, lamb, stuffed eggplant, bean stew with sage or sharp flavoured, hard cheeses.

Western Cape Rosé

Both a designated coastal wine region and historical centre, the dynamic town of Stellenbosch lies 50km inland of Cape Town in South Africa’s Western Cape province. Three centuries on in time and toil from the first planting of grapevine by Dutch and Huguenot settlers in 1690  — an under-developed plot of land that local farmers had dismissed as vuilplasie (‘dirty little farm’) was gradually converted into a vineyard. Launched with a fledgeling white wine vintage in 1992, the ever-evolving Mulderbosch winery has seen a number of development phases, both in its properties and its wine crafting talent. Star vintner Mike Dubrovnic led the enterprise through a period of expanded profile, and now under Adam Mason’s creative winemaking guidance, it continues to contribute to South Africa’s revival as a reliable source of very affordable, accomplished and terroir-distinctive wines.

This week’s DéClassé featured varietal Rosé is made from the so-called Don of red wine grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon. With distinctively compact blackberries and a thick-skin, Mulderbosch harvests these somewhat earlier than if it were destined to be finished as a full red wine. This particular practice of fashioning Rosé yields naturally higher levels of acidity, minerality, and brightness to the bottled aromas of the fruit. Exploiting a local geographic advantage, their vines are planted in well-drained, valley terrain below the Cape Fold mountain range. The surrounding hills also act as a funnel, directing cooling breezes into the vineyard rows; a critical benefit that counteracts the grape-wilting heat of South African summers.

This impressive 78-hectare farm has come a long way in a quarter century. Along with attaining critical and commercial success, the eco-friendly farming strategies that they’re employing qualify it as Certified Sustainable. Moreover, sections of the property have been dedicated to a conservancy that includes the rehabilitation of wetlands; better ensuring that the biodiversity of indigenous vegetation and wildlife will continue to thrive.

Local rumour has it that, once upon a time, only Mozart was played in the cellar during the cool fermentation processing of the grapes; perhaps imparting some layered finesse and playful sophistication into the developing wine? True or not, a great deal of investment by the vintner has been directed into this attractively priced, and unique bottling – that should translate into you picking up at least 3!

MULDERBOSCH CABERNET SAUVIGNON ROSÉ 2016
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #999821 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 12.95
13.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: D

Made in Coastal Region, South Africa
By: Mulderbosch
Release Date: July 22, 2017

Tasting Note
This is a dry, medium-bodied Rosé that’s full of delightful lip-smacking acidity. With cherry, ripe strawberry and pomegranate flavours, serve this well-chilled to preserve its crispness. Substantial on its own as an apéritif or along with summer citrus-laced salads, Thai spring rolls, sushi or an asparagus quiche.

Niederösterreich Grüner Veltliner

20 centuries ago in one of the newly conquered lands bounded by the Danube River, the legendary Roman military commander, Tiberius, recognized the untapped agricultural potential of its fertile valleys and plains. After having subdued the Celtic and Ligurian tribes who were loosely allied in the kingdom of Noricum, he set about establishing a legionary encampment that would grow into a large and prosperous regional capital, Carnuntum. Apart from mining the ore-rich mountains, which provided high-grade steel weaponry to the empire, the settlements other success was in developing farming estates in nearby territories that eventually included Kamptal (Kamp River Valley). To fulfil a social philosophy that deemed wine to be a daily necessity for all classes of its society, from slave through noble, these ‘provincial Romans’ introduced terraced vineyards as an agricultural innovation. The technology allowed growers to exploit the underused portions of the sloped terrain; expanding the cultivation of indigenous grapes such as the one they termed Veltin; resulting in a significant boost of harvest yields and the local wine supply. In the modern age, this corner of central Europe has become known as Niederösterreich (Lower Austria), and one of the distinctive wines that Austrian vintners have become uniquely expert at is called Grüner Veltliner!

Primarily grown in Austria, Grüner Veltliner (Grew-ner Velt-leen-er) is a flagship white wine variety making up nearly a third of all plantings, with spillover into the neighbouring Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia. As a hardy and prolific vine, its suitability to these terroirs is tied to the rich löss (wind-blown soils) that have built up in the geography of ancient volcanic calderas; settling over top of crushed stone beds that provide drainage for mildew-free growing conditions. As of 2009, Austria’s wine laws have evolved to include DAC designations for both Veltliner and Riesling wines in order to clearly distinguish between the regional sources of the grapes and to promote higher quality levels. Additionally, the bottling is graded and priced according to either a ‘Classic’ finishing style of 12.5% abv (with no wood influence) or ‘Reserve’ at 13.5%abv (with some integrated wood allowable). As with this week’s DéClassé recommended Rabl Grüner Veltliner Langenlois 2015, the ‘Classic’ version is somewhat lighter-bodied, unoaked and largely intended to be enjoyed as a fresh, zingy young wine that blooms with food pairing – and it does!

rudolf-rabl

70km north-west of the capital, Vienna, the designated Kamptal DAC wine zone is centred around the Baroque-esq town of Langenlois. Surrounded by forested mountains and ringed by vineyards, this idyllic setting has been home to Weingut Rudolph Rabl for 265 years and counting. In the mid-18th century, 20 hectares of the estate’s land tracts began as a traditional farm with mixed crops and livestock. After adding grapevines, the business remained confined to selling bulk wine in barrel to local innkeepers – up until the early 20th century. In 1986, Rudolf Rabl Junior was enlisted into the family business and progressively entrusted with his father’s passion; ultimately allowing the winery to expand to 80 hectares and bloom into one of the largest estates in the valley. The distinctive icon of a green Raven depicted on Rabl (‘little Raven’) labels marks their line of well-crafted, entry-level wines; consistently offered at an exceptionally modest price-point.

All in all, it’s taken some time for North American markets to embrace white wine styles other than the enduring stars such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio and Soave. So, in the spirit of more deeply exploring the horizon of your established tastes, add this varietal wine to your DéClassé recommended list of alternate, characterful dry whites: Sylvaner, Picpoul de Pinet, Tsinandali, Gavi, Pecorino, and Vinho Verde. Consider buying half a case while being reminded that Grüner Veltliner offers the promise of longevity in the bottle; making it a worthy candidate for some short-term cellaring, over the next 2 – 5 years.

RABL GRÜNER VELTLINER 2015
VINTAGES – LCBO Product # | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 14.95
12.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Kamptal, Austria
By: Weingut Rudolph Rabl
Release Date: July 22, 2017

Tasting Note
This is a bright and elegant wine with flavour notes of apple, lemon balm and lime, delicate pepper spice, loads of ripe acidity and an intriguing minerality through the remarkably long finish. As apéritif, serve with Prosciutto crostini, smoked fish, or with mains of veal schnitzel, grilled asparagus and white-sauced artichoke.

Veneto Prosecco Superiore

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 profile and interest in this delightful wine style, internationally, progressive Italian producers have had to take pro-active steps toward guarding the unique, regional nature of their Spumante. The traditional grape family for the bubbliest of all Italian white wine styles was colloquially known as Prosecco for a very long time; likely to have originated around the namesake town that lies close by to the Slovenian border. The official rebranding 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 with the new designation, but only those wines which specifically originate from DOCG Prosecco and its various sub-regions may be labelled as bonafide Prosecco.



Though the 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 an initial fermentation, the second infusion of yeast continues the converting of sugars and provokes the carbonation that provides the wine with its bubbled froth. This key finishing step is done in large, pressurised Stainless Steel tanks rather than the bottle, and so results in a fresh, crisp fruit flavour with less of the toasted character that’s more typical in its distant, French Crémant cousins.

This week’s feature of Prevedello Asolo Superiore Extra Dry Prosecco 2016 comes from a hillside vineyard around Asolo – the picturesque walled town that lies 40km inland from Venice in Italy’s Veneto-Friuli region. This family-run winery is yet another successful endeavour by Toronto-area restaurateur, France Prevedello, who has diligently been at the forefront of developing several dozen notable eateries since the 1970’s. You can now confidently add Prosecco wine-making to the list of his culinary accomplishment.

Serve well-chilled and keep at a cool temperature while enjoying it in a wider mouthed
goblet rather than in slender stemware. Your brunch guests will appreciate you
having another bottle standing by, brimming with steely fruit – to top them up!

PREVEDELLO ASOLO SUPERIORE EXTRA DRY PROSECCO 2016
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #262881 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 16.95
11% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: D

Made in Veneto, Italy
By: Prevedello
Release Date: June 24, 2017

Tasting Note
This informal sparkler has an abundance of fresh apple, pear, and white peach, with a mildly nutty finish, wrapped up in a creamy body. Try serving with Brunch food fare or as a spritzy complement to smoked salmon canapes and savoury pastry appetizers.

Loire Sèvre et Maine

Aptly referred to as the ‘Garden of France’, the 630km run of the Loire Valley and its namesake river represents a broad diversity of agricultural zones that produce food crops, flora, orchard fruit, and of course grapevine. With a 2,000-year history that spans early Gaulish, Roman, and then medieval French legacies, the vineyard-lined waterway is punctuated by an array of astonishing Chateaux and was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2002. Anchored by the city of Nantes, the western portion that’s closest to the Atlantic is the heartland of Muscadet wine making; marketed under the designation of Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine AOC. Here, a concentration of 23 towns and villages in the watershed lands of the Sèvre River and its Petit Maine tributary output about two-thirds of France’s total for this distinctive, varietal wine style. A combination of volcanic and alluvial soil imparts vital minerals that promote optimal vine growth, and the underlying beds of chalky limestone and gravel provide the required drainage in an often, damp maritime climate. Unsurprisingly, the flinty white wines that are produced under these conditions is a natural compliment to both the river’s abundance of freshwater fish and seafood of the nearby Ocean!

This week’s DéClassé recommendation of Réserve du Chiron Muscadet Sèvre et Maine 2015 is fashioned from 100% Melon de Bourgogne grapes, which is the sole variety used to produce Muscadet. Initially imported by Dutch traders in the 17th century, the plantings around Nantes were primarily used for making ‘brandewijn’ – a distilled wine with added Brandy Spirits. After suffering a particularly hard freeze called the ‘Black Frost’ that killed off most of the region’s vineyards in 1709, King Louis the XIV is reputed to have ordered widespread replanting with a hardier variety then known as ‘Muscadent Blanc’. As a parent grape of the present day ‘Melon de Bourgogne’ cultivar, it has endured many stages of being in and out of commercial favour due to its relatively neutral nature. Somewhat more modern production techniques such as leaving the unfiltered wine stored in tanks on its lees (expired yeasts) over the winter months, the ‘Sur-Lie’ ageing process helps develop additional complexities of flavour, aroma and a creamier texture in the wine.

La Cave du Coudray is demonstrably one of the region’s masters for this inherently lean wine style – evidenced by winning multiple Gold Medals at the Concours des Vins du Val de Loire and the Concours Général Agricole de Paris in 2016. If you’re a seasonal fan of refreshing white wine Spritzers during the warmer weather, then try uncorking a well-chilled Muscadet – and leave out the ice cubes and soda water!

DU CHIRON MUSCADET SÈVRE & MAINE SUR LIE 2015
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #413757 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 13.95
12.0% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Loire, France
By: La Cave Du Coudray
Release Date: June 10, 2017

Tasting Note
This pale golden-hued wine is delicately scented with stone fruit and citrus aromas, making for a zippy, mineral-edged wine style built around generous levels of acidity. Try serving with poached sole, stuffed trout, oysters, scallops or a cool crab salad – it’s also pleasing as a chilled apéritif with a lemon slice!