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.

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.

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.

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.

Padthaway Shiraz

The rugged and aptly named, Limestone Coast, lies about halfway between Melbourne and Adelaide in Southern Australia. For a long stretch in the 19th and early 20th century, its reputation as a treacherous combination of fractured escarpments and hidden reefs and shoals was borne out by the long chronicle of wrecked ships that had misjudged their sailing or steaming courses. Just inland, however, its far more placid agricultural regions have been diligent in productively diversifying their traditional farming of cereals, pasture seed, vegetables, and livestock grazing. As of the 1960’s, they’ve also embraced the stepped challenges and rewards of grape growing and winemaking — so much so that they now produce 20% of South Australia’s total output.

Padthaway is an emerging, less-renowned member of the six sub-regions lying within the Limestone Coast boundary; directly competing with the international profile of neighbouring Coonawarra: rightfully and highly regarded for the qualities of its benchmark bottlings of Shiraz. The Potawurutj Aborigines coined Padthaway’s name (‘good water’), referencing the underground aquifer system and the abundant surface supply. When the forbearers of the Bryson’s and other Europeans arrived in Padthaway during the 1850’s, the bio-diverse landscape of an ancient seabed was still extensively covered by shallow reservoirs of freshwater and so became known as ‘Mosquito Plains.’

Among many desirable attributes in this terroir, including sun-drenched exposures in daytime offset by the cooling coastal breezes at night, are the prized Terra Rosa soils. Often associated with the Mediterranean basin generally, and Italy in particular, this composition of ancient weathered limestone results from the residual clay and non-soluble rock becoming oxidized; yielding the characteristic reddish colour; imbuing the soil with essential minerals and proper drainage for the vine’s root system. Punctuating 190 hectares on the Bryson Estate are outcrops and clusters of unusual, bulbous granite rock formations; providing an evocative namesake and brand graphic for their baseline range of wines: the Jip Jip Rocks.

Spanning 5 family generations, over a 165-year history, the Bryson farming clan has made a significant contribution to Padthaway winemaking, having invested the last 50 yrs. in refining the cultivation of premium-grade, red and white wine varieties on their own Phylloxera-free rootstock. Clearly, all the vineyard management details matter to the dedicated trio of Bryson brothers — they’re also at ease with the sentiment that what ends up in the bottle is ‘serious fun’!

After spending a year in a combination of new and 2nd use, American and French oak barrels, this week’s DéClassé featured varietal bottling of Shiraz was finished by blending batches from the 2016 vintage. With another year spent in the bottle, it’s ready to go now, though will develop even more balance if left on your rack for several more years. If you like your dry reds on the somewhat wilder and heftier side, with some youthful fruitiness and acidic vibrancy still at the forefront, then you should rush to the LCBO’s Vintages section to get ahead of the anticipated crowd of in-the-know fans!

JIP JIP ROCKS SHIRAZ 2016
VINTAGES/LCBO — Product #673897 | 750 mL bottle
Price $16.95
14.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in South Australia, Australia
By: Morambro Creek
Release Date: March 17, 2018

Tasting Note
Along with the dominant Currant, earthy Cherry, and Mulberry flavours, this fairly fulsome red also incorporates subtle mocha and clove notes.  The spiced aromas and toasted influence of oak are pronounced, though deftly integrated into the wine’s supple and layered body. Try serving with marinated flank steak, smoked ham hock and braised cabbage, hearty stews or mature cheeses.

Bordeaux Primer

Though Latin descriptions by poet, Decimus Ausonius, about winemaking in the Roman dominion of Gaul are traceable to the 4th-century, it wasn’t until the early middle ages that wine export from Bordeaux began in earnest. With the fabled marriage in 1152 of Eleanor of Aquitaine to Henry Plantagenet (future king of England), they not only bore a near-mythical son, Richard the Lion-heart but also fostered a monopoly of wine trade between Bordeaux and England. The discerning customers on England’s side of the Channel would eventually nickname the region’s wine as Claret. With endless warring between the English and French disrupting trade for centuries, it was a long wait to the 1600’s when Bordeaux’s near-neighbours in the Netherlands began increasing their imports and consumption significantly. The Dutch applied a host of innovations such as sterilizing the Oak storage barrels, which made longer-term conserving of the wine possible and a proportional expansion of travel distances to new markets. Finally, they also gifted the wine world one of its premier terroirs by draining the estuary marshes and creating arable land for vineyards in Bordeaux’s sub-region of Médoc!

Bordeaux’s complex patchwork of 38 sub-regions encompassing 65 AOC appellations, also divided into a lengthy list of individual, legendary plots, is somewhat more decipherable with the understanding that most take their names from a select set of towns and villages. Moreover, they’re further distinguished by being grouped around the Gironde Estuary at the region’s Atlantic end, or inland along the converging Garonne and Dordogne rivers. Lastly, the paths of those three waterways, as a diagonal line through Bordeaux, provide demarcation for which of the vineyards and wines are of so-called Right or Left Bank origin. North of the Dordogne is Right, south of the Gironde and Garonne is Left. An added anomaly is the sizeable zone between called Entre-Deux-Mers (‘Between 2 Seas’). It all adds up as a delightfully bewildering patchwork of sub-regions that are home to a vast collection of 7,375+ wine-producing Châteaux!


As for price-point, the loose designation of Petit Château encompasses thousands of producers who don’t qualify as Cru Classés: the five top-tier, Bordeaux classifications. In some cases, petit château vineyards are next door to those of highly touted brands. In rarer instances, there are microclimate and soil composition factors that result in markedly differing wine character from adjacent plots. However, cost and desirability tend to reflect the reputation of a particular vintage, vine age, and how much production investment there’s been by the estate. Despite a perception that Bordeaux’s offerings tend toward premium pricing, a majority of Bordelais and Bordelaises vintners sell their approx. 630 million bottles of red and white wines, reasonably, at between $15 – $25.

For this week’s feature of a Merlot-driven, Château Sainte Marie Alios 2014, the blend recipe by winemaker, Stéphane Dupuch, adds a dose of 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Petit Verdot to lend a touch more boldness and body that’s expected of a baseline, Bordeaux red. With three years of ageing, from a harvest year that’s widely reputed to have produced balanced wine throughout the region, this is ready for consumption now — especially if you prefer brighter levels of acidity to counterbalance the tannins of bigger reds. It will hold for 3 – 5 years, should you somehow misplace several bottles in a dark corner of your basement?

CHATEAU SAINTE – MARIE ALIOS 2014
VINTAGES/LCBO — Product #526848 | 750 mL bottle
Price $15.95
13.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Bordeaux, France
By: Les Hauts De Sainte-Marie
Release Date: February 3, 2018

Tasting Note
An introductory-level, Bordeaux Merlot that over-delivers at this price-point with dark berry flavours, ample oak character, and earthy accent of spices. Classic appetizer pairings such as Pâté, charcuterie, spicy vegetable pastries, or dinner mains such as lamb curry, tuna steak, Ratatouille with rustic sourdough bread, duck breast with fig chutney – would all be complementary for this medium to full-bodied wine.