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!

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.

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.

Côtes du Roussillon GSC

In terms of cultural history, Les Roussillonnais of southwest France have as much in common with their Catalan neighbours in Spain as they do with their Occitan-speaking cousins in the adjacent territory known as Pays de Langue d’oc (Languedoc). Through most of the medieval period, Roussillon vacillated as a border region between these two peoples, though was mostly ruled by the Counts of Barcelona as a part of Catalonia. In the modern age, it has deferred to its French heritage and become bound up in Languedoc-Roussillon. More than just a political marriage, it’s a hybrid of Mediterranean shorelands and craggy inland geography; framed by the Rhône River Valley to the east, and the Pyrenees that divide Spain and France to the west. The wine world, however, still references these twinned regions as separate sets of distinct winemaking terroirs, and so we should!

Originally founded at the turn of the 19th century, the Maison M. Chapoutier has progressively built up and expanded its broad portfolio of mature vineyards next door in the Southern Rhône. In recent decades, it continues to forge ahead with new properties and partnerships in various parts of Roussillon, while also applying organic growing practices throughout both regions. For this bottling, the fruit comes from younger plots in the Côtes-du-Roussillon Villages AOP. Part of the hilly, northern reaches of Roussillon, this appellation encompasses 32 towns in one of the sunniest areas of France–where cool winters, hot summers, moderate levels of rainfall, and the drying Mistral breezes combine to create peak growing conditions for the dark-skinned grape varieties now thriving there.

Clinging to slopes of the high Agly Valley, terraced vineyards are the source for this weeks’ DéClassé feature of Vignes de Bila-Haut 2016. Poetically described by vintner, Michel Chapoutier, as “an old plot of land, rough, almost hostile,” his references illustrate ancient geology made up of crushed gneiss and schist: mineral-rich types of sedimentary rock laden with limestone and chalk deposits. It’s taken some time for Roussillon’s winemakers to evolve an understanding that these scrubland outcrops are highly conducive to grapevines that yield fulsome, yet still bright and lively red wines.

Evidently, the winemaking team at M. Chapoutier has figured it out. Using only hand-harvested grapes, this blend incorporates three of the AOP mandated varieties: Syrah, providing spice and aromas reminiscent of the local garrigue (fragrant wild shrubs); Black Grenache to add firmness and body, and the region’s signature grape, Carignan, offering some crisp tannic notes. Aiming to create a fresher style of red, the Chapoutier recipe never sees an influence of wood barrels; instead, it’s briefly aged in vats to produce wine that’s intended to be enjoyed young over the next several years. It’s time to reaffirm what so many prudent LCBO Vintage’s customers already know: if you want to inexpensively invigorate both patio and indoor dinners in the many months to come, then dare to buy a whole case!

LES VIGNES DE BILA-HAUT CÔTES DU ROUSSILLON-VILLAGES 2016
VINTAGES/LCBO – Product #168716 | 750 mL bottle
Price $15.95
14.0% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: D

Made in Midi, France
By: Maison M. Chapoutier
Release Date: June 23, 2018

Tasting Note
Deep garnet red with dark berry flavours, accented by vanilla and spice notes, this is a pleasingly uncomplicated, rustic wine. Try with grilled lamb chops, lentils with spicy sausage or a Ratatouille made with fire-roasted vegetables.

Colchagua Syrah

In having started with the modest, 16th-century planting of vineyards by Spanish conquistadors, Chile’s surprising 500-year-long history of making wine continues to impress and amaze. As of the mid-1800’s, its output was of a middling grade, aiming to produce reasonably well-made bulk wine for local markets and consumption. This fact is equally true of many so-called old world regions in Europe during the same time period–through to the middle of the 20th century. Chile,  though, has not merely kept pace with the rise of highly competitive, premium wine production and export, instead, it’s become a leader on this globalized scene. They’re excellent winemakers!

Revealingly expressed in the often painful history of the indigenous Mapuche (earth people), is a reputation for personal courage, strong communal identity, and a fiercely unconquerable spirit. An essence of this carries forward, as modern Chilean vintners continue to innovatively exploit challenging geography for agricultural cultivation while demonstrating great concern for sustainability. Framed between an endless Pacific coastline to the west and Andean peaks to the east, the regional designation called Entre Cordilleras (between mountains) is a collection of verdant, inland valleys including Colchagua: home to some of the wine world’s most progressive vineyards that excel in fashioning Malbec, Carménère, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah wines.

For this week’s DéClassé recommended bottling of a ripe Syrah, the source is Ninquén, meaning ‘Plateau on a Mountain,’ and so it is. The 30-year-old Antu estate is a visionary addition to the holdings of Viña MontGras, whose philosophy is based on the highly selective integration of agriculture into the rugged, natural landscape. There’s very little that’s rough in this offering from winemaker, Santiago Margozzini, having spent 16 months settling in a combination of new and used, French Oak barrels. It’s ready to be uncorked, though you might challenge yourself to put several aside for another year – after having tried one now–outdoors at an upscale BBQ.

ANTU SYRAH 2016
VINTAGES/LCBO – Product #675371 | 750 mL bottle
Price $17.95
14.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Colchagua Valley, Chile
By: Viña MontGras
Release Date: June 23, 2018

Tasting Note
A robust red wine made of dark, ripe plum and red currant fruit. Soft tannins blend easily with balanced touches of sweetness and spice. Try serving this slightly chilled alongside rich braised meats or barbecued vegetable kabobs and marinated Portobello mushroom caps.

Western Cape Rosé

Both a designated coastal wine region and historical centre, the vibrant town of Stellenbosch lies 50km inland of Cape Town in South Africa’s Western Cape. 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 to a vineyard. Launching with a fledgling vintage of white wine in 1992, the ever-evolving Mulderbosch winery has seen a number of development phases, both in its properties and wine crafting talent. Now under Adam Mason’s winemaking guidance, it continues to contribute to South Africa’s revival as a reliable source of very affordable, terroir-distinctive wine.

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 fully finished as 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, where the surrounding hills funnel cooling breezes into the vineyard; helping attenuate 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 conservancy; including rehabilitation of wetlands; better ensuring that the biodiversity of indigenous vegetation and wildlife will continue to thrive.

A great deal of investment by the vintner has been directed into this attractively priced and unique bottling–and that should translate into you picking up at least 3 (or 4)!

MULDERBOSCH CABERNET SAUVIGNON ROSÉ 2017
VINTAGES/LCBO — Product #999821 | 750 mL bottle
Price $12.95
13.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Coastal Region, South Africa
By: Mulderbosch
Release Date: May 26, 2018

Tasting Note
This is a dry, medium-bodied Rosé that’s full of refreshing 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 asparagus Quiche.

Alsatian Sylvaner

First conquered by Julius Caesar in the 1st-century BCE, Alsace was a prized tract for agriculture in the Roman province of Prima Germania for 600 years—before becoming part of a Frankish Duchy in 496 CE. After an extended period as a buffering borderland in the Holy Roman Empire, it was annexed by French troops in the late 17th-century as a territorial spoil of the 30 Years War. For the next 350 years, the strip traded Germanic and Franco occupation before settling as a hybridized people and culture within modern-day France–and so it also is with their fashioning of wine.

The Alsace AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlées) was established in 1962, and its relatively stringent winemaking guidelines reflect the pride and ambition by Alsatians to codify their vinicultural expertise. Anchoring the northeast corner of France, this is the largest of 3 related appellations; representing 75% of the region’s vintners. Their output of varietal whites such as Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, and this week’s DéClassé featured Sylvaner, are widely regarded as more fulsome versions of the sometimes, too-lightweight counterparts produced elsewhere. In prudently embracing high AOC standards, particularly the preference for quality over quantity, Alsatian vintners are guarding the regional character that’s taken centuries to forge. Arguably, they remain in a leadership role for the cultivation and refinement of cool climate wines; just ahead of the burgeoning competition, across the border in Germany!

10 generations into their dual inheritance of winemaking traditions, the Allimant and Laugner families have long-lived roots around the village of Orschwiller—set against the picturesque foothills of the Vosges mountains. Since the early 18th-century, the combined estate of 20 hectares has been producing many of the varietal wines listed above. Sylvaner, though, largely remains a mystery to many North American consumers due to its limited production volumes and export—making for an unusual opportunity to get acquainted with the subtle and beguiling charm of Domaine Allimant-Laugner Sylvaner, 2015. If your white wine tastes fall somewhere in the midst of Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Soave and Pecorino, then this offering will assume a satisfying place as an alternate choice.

DOMAINE ALLIMANT-LAUGNER SYLVANER 2015
VINTAGES/LCBO — Product #538413 | 750 mL bottle
Price $17.95
12.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: D

Made in Alsace, France
By: Domaine Allimant-Laugner
Release Date: May 12, 2018

Tasting Note
Though offering little in the way of aromas, the citrus, pear and delicately herbed character of its flavours more than make up for the deficit. Dry, crisp and cooling, this ranks highly as an easy-drinking, warm-weather wine that will add sophistication to patio fare such as arugula salad with grilled chicken, vegetable pastries, poached trout, shellfish, and Pasta Primavera.

Pfalz Pinot Noir

With nearly a millennia of colourful and sometimes tumultuous history, the story arc of the Palatinate is rooted in the medieval period of the Holy Roman Empire. This fertile strip of land, barely 15km wide by 85 long, would eventually be a coveted set piece in the territorial positioning between far-off Papal Emperors and the emerging Protestants. In a middle ground, the line of secular princes anointed as Counts of Palatine pursued a separate agenda of regional ambition. Centuries of struggle eventually culminated in the 17th century during a so-called War of the Grand Alliance when French troops were dispatched northward by Louis XIV, driving out much of the local population. Emigrating as a group, they would become known in America as the Pennsylvania Dutch, though were mostly German. The lands they left are Rheinland-Pfalz: a modern state within the German Federation whose bountiful grape-growing zones are bounded by the west bank of the Rhine River and the densely forested Haardt Mountains.

The sheltered, relatively warm and dry microclimate in southwest Germany has helped Pfalz to earn an affectionate nickname as the ‘Tuscany of Germany.’ Several steps along in the region’s agricultural practice and shifting climate, they’re able to cultivate white asparagus, fig, almond, kiwifruit and lemons! The comparison with Italy diverges, though, when it comes to the differing grape varieties that flourish in these respective regions. In Pfalz, along with the success of classic white wines such as Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris), Sylvaner, Gewürztraminer, Riesling, and Weißburgunder (Pinot Blanc), Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) has attained an equal stature in being the most widely consumed, locally produced red wine.

Spätburgunder’s name references both its late ripening nature (Spät) and a 14th-century origin in France’s Burgundy region. Curiously, in the context of such a lengthy period of widespread cultivation in Germanic vineyards, it remains surprising to many North American fans of the wine style that Germany is the wine world’s third largest producer of Pinot Noir by volume. In large part, the relative lack of international exposure is due to many of the small Weinhäuser (wine houses) having neither the individual marketing resources or inclination to develop an export outlet for their offerings – given the already robust, domestic market demand.

Nonetheless, small as they may be, you will find many of these family-run wineries linked by the famed Deutsche Weinstraße (German wine road). A visit to this scenic route begins at the French border in the southern district of Schweigen-Rechtenbach and ends 85km later at Bockenheim in the north. While underway, you should include a stop at Weinhaus Eugen Altschuh. For the less-fortunate wine lovers who won’t be in the Pfalz region anytime soon, the alternative is a trip to the Vintages section of the LCBO where you might cart off at least 3 bottles of Eugen Altschuh Pinot Noir 2015 at the modest price-point of $15.95 — and host a mini German wine festival!

EUGEN ALTSCHUH PINOT NOIR 2015
VINTAGES/LCBO — Product #550350 | 750 mL bottle
Price $15.95
14.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Pfalz, Germany
By: Weinhaus Eugen Altschuh Gmbh
Release Date: April 28, 2018

Tasting Note
As a lighter-weight expression of the German Pinot Noir style, this entry-level bottling features the still-fresh, brambly fruit aromas and flavours of blackberries, strawberry and plum. With bright streaks of acidity, this is an appropriate choice as warm-weather red wine and so could be served very slightly chilled. Try with patio lunch fare such as cold smoked ham or roast beef with a warm, dilled potato salad. As a complement to traditional German dinner fare, serve with a roasted Goose or a herbed Capon with bread dumplings and wine-braised red cabbage tinged with nutmeg.

Languedoc Viognier

1202 marks one of several noteworthy junctures in the lively history of the Cazal Viel estate and the nearby market town of Cessenon-sur-Orb in southern France. In that medieval year, the titled landowner, Hugues de Cessenon, gave charge over portions of his Languedoc property to a Norbertine order of monks. In turn, the gifting of the land tracts also ushered the construction of their Abbey de Fontcaude — becoming a guiding landmark for religious pilgrims en route to Spain and the famed walk along the Camino de Santiago. Over the ensuing six centuries, the winemaking monks experimented with cultivars and diligently expanded plots that are dotted with the 2,000-year-old ruins of a previous Roman settlement. Unsurprisingly, the estate’s name is derived from a Latin origin, Cazevieille (‘old house’). The moniker remains a succinct and apt description for the unbroken chain of 8 generations of the Famille Miquel who’ve also made worthy contributions to this ever-more-productive enterprise. In the case of their lineage, they’ve been at it since the tumultuous days of the French Revolution in 1791!

What’s far more contemporary is the decision by the Miquel family to plant Viognier vines in the early 1990’s. This grape and its varietal wine style are one of the wine world’s great stories for the recovery of a Vitis Vinifera (European wine grape) that was threatened with near-extinction. In the early 1960’s, a mere 30 or so hectares of these vines were still actively being tended, worldwide — all in a tightly clustered area of the Northern Rhône Valley. 30 years onward from the starting point of cultivation by the Miquel’s, their vineyards now contribute to the thousands of hectares that are being harvested throughout France and from the burgeoning plantings in South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, and South America.

Viognier is a challenging grape to grow with consistency; yielding highly variable harvests from season to season. Since its berries are thick-skinned, the clusters require a great deal of sun exposure to coax them through to full maturity – though, not too much, as the wilting heat can provoke excessive sugar levels, potentially leading to an overly ‘hot’ content of alcohol during fermentation. This week’s DéClassé recommended, Laurent Miquel Nord Sud Viognier 2015, strikes a well-crafted balance. The final blend offers a bright and refreshing fruit character that reflects its time spent in stainless steel tanks, while the wine’s rounded body and flavour profile benefit from some smaller batches having been barrel-matured in French Oak.

Arguably, in spite of Viognier’s newfound popularity as a varietal bottling, as well as, its ongoing use in blends with varieties such as Marsanne and Grenache Blanc, it remains a niche choice by underexposed, North American consumers. This characterful offering, available at a very modest price-point, is not such an enormous gamble for the delightful rewards that will come from broadening your palette with this mid-weight white wine.

LAURENT MIQUEL NORD SUD VIOGNIER 2015
VINTAGES/LCBO — Product #673236 | 750 mL bottle
Price $14.95
13.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Languedoc, France
By: Laurent Miquel
Release Date: April 14, 2018

Tasting Note
Along with Viognier’s characteristic floral and stone fruit aromas, the sweet citrus character of this version adds a zippy brightness to the expected peach and apricot flavours. Enjoy this somewhat more fulsome white as an apéritif offering with soft cheeses, herbed bread crisps, vegetable pasties or along with poached freshwater fish, white-sauced pasta, roasted poultry, lamb tagine or mild curries.

Rioja Baja Garnacha Tinta/Tempranillo

The wine trade in Spain’s La Rioja has both ancient roots and is in an evolutionary transition. Despite a wealth of archaeological evidence for Phoenician, Celtiberian, and Roman winemaking in antiquity, a millennium will pass before a written reference to viniculture appears in Spanish: the 11th-century Carta de población de Longares (Letter to the settlers of Longares). 150 years later in 1102, King Sancho 1st of Navarra and Aragon bestows legal recognition on the region, which births the signature, Rioja Wine.

Regarding the relative quality and practices in modern times, local wine merchants and bodegas have a tradition of marketing wines fashioned from intermixed grapes; supplied by approx. 20,000 growers; drawing from harvests throughout Rioja’s three designated sub-regions: Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa, and Rioja Baja. More recently, to better typify their individual output, many bodegas are becoming selective in sourcing their grapes from single zones only. The underlying point is that the varied terroirs of these sub-regions produce discernibly different versions of so-called Rioja wine — so it’s not a uniform styling or grading, but it is a demonstration of progressive-minded innovation.

In the extremely hot, wine-growing countryside around the small town of Alfaro, the deft pairing of innovation with deeply rooted tradition is a desirable combination. The modern production style of minimal handling and filtering helps to preserve the brightness of the wine. The old school facets are to blend some  Garnacha Tinta (Grenache) into the Tempranillo base and incorporate small batches of finished wine from a previous vintage (max. 15%). Both have become widely practiced winemaking strategies in Rioja Baja —the most prolific of the 3 La Rioja sub-regions, and the home terroir of this week’s DéClassé featured producer, Bodegas Palacios Remondo.

Winemaker and visionary figure, Alvaro Palacios, has for some time now been making news in the wine world with his influential strategies of promoting the development of quality over quantity. In 2015 he was the news, having been declared Decanter Man of the Year by the well-regarded journal. It’s a crowning juncture in a critical transition period for this cutting-edge winery that purposefully dared to cut output from 200,000 cases of unremarkable bulk wine down to 50,000 of more refined grades – a business risk that’s continuing to pay off.

La Vendimia (‘the harvest’) is an expressive version of the Spanish Joven designation; a decidedly young wine that has been barrel-aged for less than six months. On the arid and rocky slopes of Monte Yerga, the Bodega draws fruit from 40 hectares of vines that are grown organically without irrigation — at some of Rioja Baja’s highest altitudes (+550m). By design it’s meant to be enjoyed young and year-on-year it continues to be offered at a fair price-point. That’s still very much the case!

PALACIOS REMONDO LA VENDIMIA 2016
VINTAGES/LCBO — Product #674564 | 750 mL bottle
Price $17.95
14.0% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content: XD

Made in Rioja, Spain
By: Bodegas Palacios Remondo
Release Date: March 31, 2018

Tasting Note
Consistently well made, this cherry-coloured, fruit-driven wine reveals aromas of blackberry and raspberry, and a hint of Garrigue (fragrant, wild Mediterranean shrubs).
As a versatile, medium-body wine, enjoy this with hearty fare, such as Jamón ibérico (cured ham), semi-cured Mahón cheese, grilled Herreño cheese drizzled with honey,  Ratatouille, lamb ragout, or most roasted meat dishes.