Rioja Alavesa Crianza

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

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

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

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

LUIS CANAS CRIANZA 2015
VINTAGES/LCBO – Product #336719 | 750 mL bottle
Price $18.95
14.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.