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.

Puglia Primitivo

In a period that Roman historians term as Magna Graecia, expansionist Greeks crossed the westward seas to establish a ring of thriving colonies around the perimeter of this distinctive land spit; in the modern age, it became whimsically known as either stiletto or heel of the boot. Jutting downwards from mainland Italy, the southern peninsula of Puglia acts as a geographic divide between the sheltered Gulf of Taranto and the Otranto Strait of the Adriatic Sea. Throughout thousands of years in antiquity through to the middle ages, this was a strategic crossroad of trade and target of conquest for many Mediterranean civilizations. As a cumulative result, 800km of coast and the parallel line of inland mountains serve to frame a hybrid culture that’s unique within the broad diversity of regional Italian identities. Though early colonizers seem to have been warlike Spartans, by the 5th century BCE it was philosophy that had become the preoccupation in Greco-Italian centres of learning such as the city of Elea (now Velia). Notably, this was home to visionary thinker and mentor Parmenides who’s credited with laying an influential foundation for Aristotle, Plato and young Socrates. Unsurprisingly, the wealth of clay Amphorae unearthed from archaeological excavation also reveals that the making of wines and their sea-borne export were well underway!

Curiously, in spite of being so prolific, Puglia remains one of the less-well-known Italian regions. In its middle and southern provinces, the hot and dry climate is perfect for cultivating fulsome grapes such as Negroamaro, Malvasia Nera and Primitivo. With a name derived from several Latin terms loosely translating as ‘the first to ripen’, Primitivo has traditionally been a reliable blending component. More recently, the variety has gained increased profile as a stand-alone varietal wine, due in part to the burgeoning popularity of Zinfandel; a clonal relative that flourishes in Californian vineyards and North American marketplaces. Local lore suggests that this Italian variant of a Croatian parent grape was discovered by a 17th-century Benedictine monk, Francesco Primicerius, as a wild vine growing in his monastery gardens. Gradually, cultivars of Primitivo were then proliferated throughout Puglia, finally rooting in Taranto Province 100 years later.

Home to this week’s DéClassé featured bottle from the Montanaro winemaking family, the town of Crispiano and surrounding vineyards are proudly becoming an agrotourism destination in their own right. So much so that these vintners engaged a landscape architect, Fernando Caruncho, to oversee development of the property as a garden-vineyard where the undulating waves of vines are interspersed with 24 islands of 800-year-old olive trees. Compelling aesthetics aside, their Amastuola Organic Primitivo 2014 is a semi-plush, pleasingly rounded example of how expert that Taranto’s vintners have become in fashioning their local wine. Budget allowing, half a case would be hard to hold in your cellar for very long!

AMASTUOLA ORGANIC PRIMITIVO 2014
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #300004 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 16.95
13% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: D

Made in Puglia, Italy
By: Amastuola Societa’S Agricola S.S.
Release Date: December 9, 2017

Tasting Note
A very fruity palate typical of the grape style with aromas of mixed berries, plum, spice and vanilla. Try with some classic, cool-weather comfort foods like braised beef brisket, veal scaloppini, pasta Bolognese, eggplant Parmigiano or alongside a zesty, mixed pepper lasagna and an arugula/radicchio salad topped with slivered Pecorino Romano.

Douro Touriga Nacional Blend

As it winds its way for over 900km down through the western side of the Iberian Peninsula, the majestic Douro River acts both as a border with its Spanish neighbours, while also providing the region on the Portuguese side with its iconic namesake. The earliest traces of grapevine cultivation date back as far as the late Bronze Age, with a significant proliferation happening during the Roman-influenced period in the 1st century AD. Visigoths displaced the Romans and took to the practice until the arrival of the Moors, who in turn, yielded to the forbearers of the modern-day Portuguese and their founding of the first Kingdom of Portugal in 1143. The most noteworthy wine-producing zone lies framed between the towns of Barca d’Alva and Régua. Here the river valleys point westward for a time; creating growing conditions that are conducive to red wine grape varieties such as Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca, and Tinta Barroca, as well as, for white wine grape stock such as Malvasia Fina, Moscatel, Gouveio, and Viosinho. The net result of all this prolific production is that wine has been flowing along the Douro for a very long time – shipped downstream to Porto in barrels that were loaded onto the regionally distinctive, Rabelo boats.

Many of the Douro’s red wines are vinified in so-called Lagares. These are large, open stone containers made of Granite and Schist that the sorted and destemmed grapes are poured into, then methodically crushed underfoot in a centuries-old, winemaking tradition. Natural fermentation begins when the wild yeasts that coat the grape skin come into contact with the sugar in the juice. Surprisingly, it frequently only requires 24hrs. to complete this step, after which the young wine is strained into stainless steel holding tanks to undergo a second, bacteria-induced ‘malolactic’ fermentation. This desirable form of intervention helps to convert the tart Malic acid in the fruit into Lactic acid, which markedly softens the mouthfeel of the wine.

Portuguese vintners are fiercely proud of their long-standing winemaking methods but are also embracing modern, international standards. Arguably, their output remains underpriced relative to the quality of what’s now on offer, which means that it’s still a great time to stock up before everyone else catches on to the remarkable value. In the case of this week’s feature of Cais da Ribeira Riserva 2014, the home of the Barão de Vilar winery is in an emerging region known as Douro Superiore: the most inland of the Douro’s three zones. Predominantly built on a blend of the classic grape varieties listed above, this bottling benefits from being decanted for several hours before serving or put some away for a year or two and be rewarded with an even suppler version of the vintage. At $13.95 this is a well-made, introductory level offering that should dispel most disbelief about whether dry, Douro DOC, red table wines can compete with those of their nominally related, Tempranillo and Monastrell-making, Spanish neighbours!

CAIS DA RIBEIRA RESERVA 2014
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #523639 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 13.95
13.1% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Douro, Portugal
By: Vinihold
Release Date: November 11, 2017

Tasting Note
Following on the dark, brooding fruit aromas, this mid-weight red wine has a surprising combination of a supple body accented with lively streaks of acidity and tannins. Pick a juicy red or black berry that comes to mind, and you’ll likely be able to tag it in the flavours of this bottling. Best alongside heartier and meaty food fare – try serving this with savoury stews, a herbed beef or lamb rib roast, and duck breast glazed with stewed prunes or apricots.

Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau

One of the world’s oldest wine regions, Beaujolais has always produced a share of unassuming young wines not destined for anyone’s cellar. Of the total output for its regionally distinctive styles, nearly 30% is exclusively finished and marketed under the Nouveau designation. They invented the concept; they’re arguably still best at making it. Historically, the barely-off-the-vine, bright and uncomplicated Vin de l’année was intended to be consumed as a celebration of the current vintage’s harvest. Following on the long summer months spent waiting and praying for the season to be a bountiful one, came arduous weeks of picking, hauling, destemming, sorting, and a short fermenting period.
For the dedicated labourers, being gifted a few bottles of the freshly made juice was a small and well-earned reward. The shipping of Beaujolais Nouveau abroad as a significant export, though, is a relatively contemporary concept that only became widespread in the middle of the 1950’s; hitting its commercial peak in 1980. This unique timed-release on the 3rd Thursday in November remains celebratory but has, in some cases, become misunderstood or misrepresented over time.

In general, over-production or indiscriminate wine-making by a handful of the largest producers has saddled this specialty offering with a very mixed reputation; confusing discerning drinkers with undue levels of aromatic character such as ‘bubblegum’ and ‘twizzler’ (red licorice). No doubt, some of the opportunistic bottling that’s on offer is fairly reflected by these descriptors. However, many of the smaller, and a few large producers are fashioning a better balance in the fruity and charmingly simple wines that are possible with the Gamay grape: the pleasingly tart, flagship variety also known regionally as Gamay Noir à Jus Blanc. Among the leading vintners is Joseph Drouhin, originally hailing from yet another noteworthy wine region, Chablis. With a move to Burgundy in 1880, he founded his new Maison in the wine capital city of Beaune. Building on his pioneering work, 4 succeeding family generations have continued the refinement; progressively becoming masters of both the Nouveau and regular Beaujolais wine styles.

beaujolais

In order to produce, bottle, and release the wine within a few weeks of picking, vintners use carbonic maceration as an alternate method to accelerate the finishing process. Unlike the traditional practice of crushing the grapes and exposing the mash to yeast, which converts sugars to alcohol and leeches out colour and tannins; in carbonic maceration, the whole grapes are placed into closed vats that are flushed with carbon dioxide to purge unwanted oxygen. The grapes begin a fermentation process inside their skin with the help of naturally present enzymes that do the work of converting sugar to ethanol. Gradually, the pressure of the fruit’s weight and the released gasses combine to squeeze out the alcoholized juice that’s then filtered and aged very briefly in stainless steel tanks — yielding a lightly pigmented and almost tannin-free Nouveau wine.

For this perennial DéClassé feature of Joseph Drouhin Beaujolais Villages Nouveau 2017, the Villages designation represents a qualitatively better grade due to the terroir-specific source of the grapes. Along with some added care in processing, these factors result in slightly higher pricing than the other generic fare. Dare to invest a few extra dollars, to rekindle an appreciation for this iconic wine. As for those that might too-generally deride the Nouveau style as representing immature wine lacking dimension and depth, pay little attention — they’re missing the playful point!

JOSEPH DROUHIN BEAUJOLAIS VILLAGES NOUVEAU 2017
VINTAGES – Product #113266 | 750 mL bottle
Price $16.95
12.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content: XD

Made in: Beaujolais, France
By: Joseph Drouhin S.A.
Release Date: November 16, 2017

Tasting Note
This light Garnet-coloured, easy drinking wine, has a zingy bouquet and flavours of cherry and berries. Try serving very lightly chilled as an apéritif with pâté and savoury hors-d’oeuvre, Gruyère cheese, beef fondue or substantial main dishes such as roast chicken, Cornish hen, and herb-stuffed pork loin.