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.

boc ANTU 2014en bot

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.

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.

Rioja Garnacha Tinto/Tempranillo

As a signature example of both Spanish modern and old school winemaking methods, this fresh-fruited red represents the vanguard for well-made table wines in Spain’s blossoming, quality revolution. Here in the extremely hot wine country around Alfaro, it’s a desirable combination; deftly pairing innovation with deeply rooted tradition. It is modern in that the updated production style of minimal handling and filtering helps to preserve the brightness of the wine, balanced with a soft and integrated presence of Oak. The old school facets are a blending proportion of 40% Garnacha Tinta (Grenache) into the 60% Tempranillo base, as well as, incorporating small batches of finished wine from the previous vintage (max. 15%). Both are typical in Rioja Baja, the most prolific of the 3 La Rioja sub-regions – home to this week’s DéClassé featured wine from the renowned vintner, 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 key 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 refined grades – a business risk that’s now paying off.

La Vendimia (‘the harvest’) is a solid version of a Spanish Joven designation; a decidedly young wine that has been barrel-aged for less than six months. Here on the arid, rocky slopes of Monte Yerga, the Bodega draws fruit from 40 hectares of 10 – 40-year-old vines; grown organically without irrigation, at some of Rioja Baja’s highest altitudes (+550m). Along with the varietal bottling of 100% Tempranillo, famously fashioned in the other two La Rioja sub-regions of Alta and Alavasa, this is as close to a perfect, informal sipping wine that Spain currently produces. 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!

La Vendimia

PALACIOS REMONDO LA VENDIMIA 2015
VINTAGES – Product #674564 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 16.95
14.0% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content: XD

Made in: Rioja, Spain
By: Bodegas Palacios Remondo
Release Date: May 13, 2017

Tasting Note
Consistently well made, this cherry-coloured, fruit-driven wine reveals aromas of blackberry jam, raspberry and a hint of Garrigue (fragrant, wild Mediterranean shrubs). Enjoy this on its own or with hearty fare such as Ratatouille, lamb ragout, or pretty much most BBQ-roasted dishes.

Rioja Alavesa Crianza

Ancient hilltop monasteries and other now-tumbled, stone fortifications that were built over the centuries, lie littered about these richly historic lands of north central Spain. Sharing a border with the former, French influenced, medieval kingdom of Navarre, the regional identity of Rioja is equally distinct on its side of the modern day boundary that’s framed by the Pyrénées Mountains. Apart from holding a unique and dynamic place in a very diverse, Spanish cultural patchwork, this region’s vintners are continuing to build on their leadership role as some of Iberia’s most competitive, progressive, and resourceful wineries – while outputting 280 million litres of wine, annually!

The designated wine denomination of Rioja is comprised of three sub-regions: Rioja Baja, Rioja Alta and the source of this week’s DéClassé focus, Rioja Alavesa. Considered a part of Basque country, this geography is sheltered by the Sierra Cantabria ridge of mountains and is home to 400 hectares of vines either owned or managed by Bodegas Luis Cañas. Their vineyards are widely distributed over 900 small individual plots, so drawing fruit evermore discerningly has been both the challenge and the key strategy pursued by the 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 period of the last 5 growing seasons or so, this stress is condensing yields but is also bolstering the layered character of the smaller grape clusters. Nonetheless, impressively, this irrepressible Bodega remains capable of producing more than167, 000 cases of fruit yearly – in a virtual desert!

As an example of a modern Rioja style, Luis Cañas Crianza 2014 blends 95% Tempranillo grapes with a small splash of Garnacha (Grenache) to top up its fruitiness. Making up ¾ of all rootstock planted in Riojan vineyards, Tempranillo’s name is derived from Temprano meaning ‘early’ – and it does reliably ripen quite early. The Crianza designation ensures that it has spent at least one year in oak casks and another in the bottle before being released. The use of mellowed 3-year-old French barrels coupled with the starring grape’s naturally soft tannins translates into a supple and pleasing mouthfeel. Albeit still youthful, this lively and 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 certainly dare to hold this well-crafted example of the 2014 vintage for at least several more years. For those with less will, be encouraged in knowing that Rioja’s 2015 harvest, also anticipated as very good, is almost on its way – to replace the empty slots on your rack.

LUIS CANAS CRIANZA 2014
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #336719 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 17.00
14.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in: Rioja, Spain
By: Araex Rioja Alavesa S.L.
Release Date: April 29, 2017

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

Ripasso Della Valpolicella

Often thought of as a singular wine style, the prodigious vineyards of the Valpolicella DOC, a Veneto sub-region in north-eastern Italy, now produce a broad range of grapes and blends. Rightfully known for light and fruity wines intended for early consumption, the bulk of the vines planted here include Rondinella, Molinara, and Corvina Veronese. Up until the early medieval age, these hillside tracts of fertile soil that are dependably fed by a lattice of brooks in the Adige River watershed were individually named valleys: Vallis Provinianensis, rolling out northwest of famed Verona, and Vallis Veriacus to the east. In time, the reference to these and an adjacent plain were combined, becoming Vallis Pulicella. Modern day Italians, along with the rest of an appreciative wine world, now succinctly call the region Valpolicella. Circa the 12th-century onwards, stewardship of the ‘valley of many cellars’ was first overseen by the Veronese nobility and then the prosperous mercantile class who followed in their footsteps. As regional contributors to the glory age known as the Serenissima Republia (‘Serene Republic of Venice’), this partnership of multi-generational families coupled with local agricultural expertise has been a winning formula for distinctive winemaking and export know-how. Viva Verona!

Ripasso (to ‘go over again’) is a relatively ancient vinification technique which has again become popular with red wine lovers looking for bolder versions of standard Valpolicella; lighter than the complex, heavyweight, and significantly more expensive Amarone, another specialty in the region. For this week’s DéClassé selection of Storia Antica Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso 2014, the ‘Ripasso’ designation refers to a multi-step process beginning with selective, hand picking and sorting of grapes that include a predominate blend of Corvina Veronese and Corvinone Nero, as well as, a splash of Rondinella. The fruit macerates in contact with the skins for approximately 10 days before filtering, after which it settles and matures while stored in Inox (stainless steel tanks) for several months. In January/February of the following year, the second fermentation stage that characterizes Ripasso wines is achieved by reusing the pumice of dried grapes discarded after a complicated production process in making Amarone. Blending this mash, which still holds a concentration of unconverted sugars, with the young Valpolicella prompts the re-fermentation. The wine is filtered again, then left to age for 12 months in large oak barrels and 6 months in the bottle. If executed with care, these steps create a richer wine with noticeably more tannin, pigment, and an alcohol content boosted from 11% to at least 13%.

A great deal of time and effort has been invested in this production style, so paying a few dollars above the baseline price-point for generic Valpolicella is more than justified. As this bottling is from the 2014 vintage, it’s ready to drink now – it may also be enjoyed over the next 3-5 years if for some reason you misplace your corkscrew!

STORIA ANTICA RIPASSO VALPOLICELLA 2014
VINTAGES – Product #273672 | 750 mL bottle
Price: $ 17.95
13.0% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content: D

Made in: Veneto, Italy
By: Le Ville Di Antane S.R.L.
Release Date: March 18, 2017

Tasting Note
With its dominant flavours of dark fruit, some chocolate and savoury notes, and the signature yet subtle raisinated quality, this ruby coloured wine is a signature Ripasso Della Valpolicella. Dry, flavourful and smooth, the bottling’s balance of oak and fruit combine in a refinement that’s not always achieved in the sometimes, heavy-handed Appassimento styles. An excellent wine choice for barbecued steaks and ribs, lamb tagine, roasted butternut squash, or Ratatouille with crispy herbed croutons.

Tuscan Chianti

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 style at home and abroad. Dark blue-skinned Sangiovese takes its name from the Latin term, Sanguis Jovis (‘blood of Jove’); 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 worldwide plantings, which is a largely unrivaled dominance by a major grape, sourced from a single country. Over several hundred years, generations of growers have steadily built up their expertise with ‘San-joh-vay-say.’ Stewarding 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 prodigious 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 to the latter. Happily, the decades in the mid-20th century during which large commercial producers let loose far too much unremarkable bulk wine dressed up in attractively rotund flasks swaddled with woven straw called Fiascoes, 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 mandated guidelines of Italy’s highest classification of quality: DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita). Now favouring the cultivation of higher quality grapes over the indiscriminate volumes of fruit they were once encouraged to output by the region’s factory-style bottlers, the visionary initiatives have resulted in both commercial and reputational success. Too bad about the demise of the traditional straw wrapping, though, it was so rustically emblematic of Italian table wine for such a long time!

Drawing on over 400 hectares of vineyards throughout the provinces of Grosseto, Florence, and Sienna, the cooperative growers allied with Cantina Viticoltori Senesi Aretini are focused on value-driven wines fashioned from the region’s indigenous grapes. This DéClassé feature of Castelsina Chianti Riserva is a non-estate, well-crafted everyday wine that’s a limited release from the banner 2010 vintage. Despite its fictitious branding (unlike Castellina there is no such place as ‘Castelsina’), this is nonetheless a delightful, medium-bodied Chianti, displaying an integrated character of vibrant fruit blended in among the savoury earth notes. Exercising restraint in the finishing process of wine demonstrates some modern winemaking wisdom. In the case of this bottling, the straightforward recipe of 80% Sangiovese fermented in Inox tanks before spending the 12 months in oak, results in an unfettered and refreshing offering that’s true to its pedigree. Add a $14.95 price-point, and you have a winner that will sell swiftly. I would buy many, to fill the empty slots in your loose-straw-lined storage boxes. The success of this offering will probably prompt a price increase for the next vintage!

castelsina

CASTELSINA CHIANTI RISERVA 2010
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #481184 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 14.95
13% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: D

Made in Tuscany, Italy
By: Cantina Viticoltori Senesi Aretini
Release Date:

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 aging 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 a mushroom risotto or Tuscan-style sausages and Fava beans.

El Bierzo Mencia

Despite having been quietly tucked away in the autonomous province of Castilla y León for centuries, the Bierzo DO region is re-emerging at the forefront of modern Spanish winemaking frontiers — as a reliable source of regionally distinctive, high-quality wines. What’s far more longstanding than this newly minted status are the region’s Roman-era gold mines, Templar Castles, and a host of medieval monasteries serving as way stations on the famed pilgrimage path, Camino de Santiago. Geographically acting as a funnel into the verdant northwest corner of the Iberian peninsula, the various valleys of El Bierzo make up the upper basin of the Sil River system whose waters are fed by runoff from the Montes de León and the Cordillera Cantábrica mountain ranges. Aptly referred to as the ‘gateway to Galicia,’ which in turn is characterized as ‘green Spain,’ the fertile and rumpled territory of Bierzo marks the bountiful transition zone. Though still a relatively small and less-well-known Spanish region in the international wine market, Bierzo’s rising reputation for winemaking is fueled by a unique climate of Atlantic and Mediterranean influences that moderate each other’s extremes; making for conditions where both red and white wine grapes thrive. Capitalizing on this natural blessing, the 55 major Bodegas of Bierzo are impressively outputting 11 million liters of wine annually, and with the optimistic trend by local vintners of rehabilitating their older, under-producing plots, the vineyard expansion continues at a healthy/sustainable pace.

santa-maria-de-carracedo

Though taking the inspiration for its name from the inactive, neighbouring abbey of Monasterio de Santa María de Carracedo that dates to the 10th century, Bodega del Abad (‘the Abbot’s Cellar’) only became active as an independent producer in 2003. Initially developed under the guidance of a legendary winemaking master, José Luís Santín-Vázquez, the Bodega already boasts a loyal following that was engendered by a surprising release of a 2001 Crianza-grade cache of their earliest vintage; one which had been hiding somewhere in the dark back corners of their cellars. This week’s DéClassé feature of Abad Dom Bueno Crianza 2006 is also a surprising re-release that’s being offered for a 4th consecutive year. Evidently, the current vintner, Miguel Tienda Baena, has exercised discretion in evaluating the character of this particular vintage; one that’s been settling for eleven years now. Unsurprisingly, it’s evolved into a soft and rounded bottling, but surprisingly, still possesses some fruitful vigour, mineral streaks, and a reasonable level of enlivening acidity.

These balanced attributes point to many factors of winemaking accomplishment while bringing to bear modern production techniques, but also revealing the innate potential of Mencia. Indigenous to Bierzo, and with a significant increase in plantings since the 1990’s, the rising star variety has joined the list of the four most important Spanish red wine grapes: Tempranillo, Garnacha, and Monastrell. Producing compact grape clusters of medium-sized, violet-blue berries, its renaissance of popularity has been bolstered by an ability to yield age-worthy wine at relatively modest price points. 35 hectares of this bodega’s vineyards are located up on steep terrain made up of slate and quartzite-laden soils where the mix of old vines, with some approaching 70 years-of-age, continue to yield characterful fruit. When meticulously handpicked and sorted as they are at Bodega Del Abad, the harvests are creating wines that are characteristically fleshy, velvety, and bursting with red berry flavours.

This bottling is certainly ready to please now, and as it’s a yearly favourite for LCBO Vintages customers, it will evaporate from the shelves quickly as the word of this gem’s reappearance spreads. If you’re not an optimist when it comes to storing wine, then just buy enough to get you through the upcoming spring, summer, and Fall!

Abad Dom Bueno Crianza

ABAD DOM BUENO CRIANZA 2006
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #244699 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 15.95
13.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Bierzo, Spain
By: Bodega Del Abad
Release Date: February 18, 2017

Tasting Note
Though gracefully aged, this still offers juicy red cherry and currant flavours with subtle herb, vanilla and chocolate accents. A refreshing acidity enhances the core of soft tannins, so it could stand to be slightly chilled before decanting. Try serving with rich poultry dishes such as blackened Cajun chicken, a roasted leg of herbed lamb, Balsamic and ginger marinated steak or with spicy beef empanadas.