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.

Côtes du Rhône GSM

Not only a natural kingdom populated with oak, aromatic Mediterranean shrub, and stands of Aleppo pines, the small and rumpled mountain chain called the Dentelles de Montmirail is also home to a group of historically and culturally preserved hamlets like Séguret, Gigondas, and this week’s featured wine source, Sablet. Anchored as a former bastion on a prominence nearby to the lacework of limestone outcrops (‘dentelles’), the ringed cluster of terra cotta-roofed stone houses, shops, and cobbled alleys personify the town’s medieval history, but also hint at its roots in antiquity. For 500 years as of 1274, the surrounding land and connecting waterways were part of a Papal realm known as the Comtat Venaissin. Ceded to the Catholic Church by various, minor French kings, the enclave was home for a succession of nine displaced Popes who had fled Rome due to political revolt. It remained in their control up until 1791 when all the holdings were reintegrated into France as a part of the new order that followed the French revolution. Framed by the Rhône River to the west and Provence to the south, this desirable territory also includes the prestigious Châteauneuf-du-Pape (‘the Papal Castle’). Globally renowned, this AOC (appellation d’origin controlee) still anchors the region’s modern-day reputation, though it was the visionary Romans who adapted the early grape varieties; who introduced the technology of terraced vineyards — and then went on to launch the area’s export trade via barges; down the Rhône, its tributaries, and out to sea onto their thirsty empire!

sablet

Vintners in the Southern Rhône have been cultivating Grenache Noir, Syrah and Mourvèdre vines for 14 centuries. Being well-suited to a regional climate in which the daytime heat of summer is tempered by the cooling Mistral breezes, and where a very long growing season promotes full maturity of the fruit, these three plump and prolific varieties form the backbone for the Rhône’s signature blends of red wine known as GSM. In the region’s more recent history, Cave Le Gravillas is among a group of small producers who, with a steadfast commitment to refining terroir-specific wines in the peripheral shadow of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, have also developed an international profile by offering their bottlings at a fraction of their famous neighbour’s prices. Sablet is one of 18 villages that’s permitted to add its name to the AOC Côtes du Rhône – Villages. Generally, ‘Villages’ references a more rigorous regime of planting density, harvest yields, blend proportions, and minimum alcohol levels. Whether these factors translate into a consistently better grade of wine than the generic standard is debatable, and variable from year-to-year. What’s less uncertain is that the vineyards which surround each village, coupled with their local wine finishing traditions, does yield a distinctive flavour profile for their unique recipes of GSM.

For my baseline tastes, as an admitted fan of medium to full-bodied, somewhat earthy, berry-forward red wine with polished tannins and less oak influence, this 2nd release of Villages Sablet 2014 is a balanced bottling that’s equally satisfying as apéritif or with dinner fare. This is a perennial LCBO Vintages favourite, so the available stock will evaporate from shelves quickly. As for sidestepping the impending mid-Winter blues, I suggest that you try to buy and stow away half a case!

le-gravillas-sablet

LE GRAVILLAS SABLET COTES DU RHONE-VILLAGES 2014
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #78790 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 15.95
14.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: D

Made in Rhône, France
By: Le Gravillas
Release Date: January 7, 2017

Tasting Note
As Grenache Noir makes up most of the blend (70%), its rich blackberry aromas and flavours dominate — with the Syrah (25%) and Mourvèdre (5%) adding subtle spice and pepper notes. Try this alongside wine-braised lamb and pearl onions, stir-fried pork and cabbage, beef Kefta brochettes, a savoury stew or spicy squash tagine.

Leyda Pinot Noir

Despite averaging only 175km in width over a 4,270km length that crosses 38 degrees of latitude, the long and narrow winemaking map of Chile has recently been redrawn, laterally — to better reflect the geographic and climatic diversity, and its relationship to viniculture. Previously, categorizing the various valley regions was simply determined by whether they lay either north or south of the country’s middle; a temperate zone around the capital, Santiago de Chile, and the nearby vineyard tracts in Valle del Maipo – the historical heartland of a wine industry whose heritage dates to the 16th century. With significant expansions of estates in the 1980’s and 90’s, including the development of many areas that had been dismissed as unsuitable for grapevine cultivation, Chile’s sophisticated viticulturists have come to understand that the pertinent distinction between terroirs lies in their east to west orientation. The three new categories now being promoted are Costa – the coastal areas along the edge of the Pacific Ocean that are equally conducive to red and white, cool climate varieties; Entre Cordilleras — the central valleys whose vines tend to produce medium-bodied red wines, and Andes – the foothills of the Andes Mountains that are the surprising source for Chile’s trademark, full-bodied reds. As these new markers are gradually beginning to appear on Chilean wine labels, the vintners’ aim is to provide savvy consumers with some additional insight into Chile’s impressive and ever-expanding range of regionally expressive wine styles!

leyda

One of the youngest Costa wine regions is the San Antonio Valley, which in turn, is made up of a collection of branch valleys: Rosario, Malvilla, Cartegena, Lleoleo, Lo Abarca and the source of this week’s DéClassé featured wine — Leyda. This valley’s floor sits on top of a dry, ancient riverbed that accumulated its desirable loam soil over millions of years: a silt mixture of sand, clay, and crushed granite. Somewhat ironically, given that it lies just 10km inland from the ocean, this is generally arid terrain. However, since 2001 the inventive wineries of Leyda have been building pipelines to access water from the Maipo River and using the precious resource to feed their modern/sustainable drip irrigation systems. With a climate influenced by the valley’s 100-meter altitude, and the daily cycle of fog-bound mornings giving way to sunny afternoons caused by the Humboldt current of the Pacific, the weather factors combine with the mineral-rich soil base to create an ideal terroir for the cultivation of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay — and now 15-years-on from its earliest plantings, Pinot Noir.

With this Viña Tarapacá Gran Reserva Pinot Noir 2015 serving as one compelling example, Tarapacá’s winemakers are capably producing price-competitive, premium versions of a wine style that is commonly and unjustifiably overpriced by many European and North American producers. Apart from its appealing price, the real charm lies in having achieved a balance between a vibrant fruitiness while not belabouring Pinot Noir’s elegance as a mid-weight wine style. Buy 3 today; to serve before, during, and after a very special Christmas dinner tomorrow!

vina-tarapaca

VINA TERAPACA GRAN RESERVA PINOT NOIR 2015
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #404210 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 17.95
14.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Leyda Valley, Chile
By: Vina San Pedro Tarapaca S.A.
Release Date: December 10, 2016

Tasting Note
This Chilean Pinot captures many of the bright berry fruit aromas and flavours that are typical of the region, with spice and vanilla notes well-integrated into its structure of smooth tannins. Try serving with grilled duck breast and beetroot, beef tenderloin and mushrooms or seared salmon and a crisp parsnip salad.

Yecla Monastrell

Toward the southeast corner of the Iberian Penninsula, about half way between the world renowned orange groves of Valencia and the gothic/baroque facades of Murcia, lies a tiny sub-region called Yecla that’s producing 7 million litres of wine annually. As striking is that it’s a rocky near-desert zone in a province that otherwise enjoys a mild continental climate, fertile soil and the benefits of being close by to the Mediterranean sea. It’s been blessed with these factors since a time of Argaric Bronze-age settlement. Its allure attracted the wine-interested Phoenicians, who passed on their agricultural knowledge and secrets to thirsty Romans. It was certainly part of the appeal for Moors as they expanded north from Morroco, establishing Arab taifas (fiefdoms) in the 9th century. The bounty kept them around for about 700-800 years, all-the-while cultivating grapevines simply to delight in its fresh fruit. They did so right up until the 15th century when the fiercely competing kingdoms of Castille and Aragon managed to put aside their other ambitions long enough to supplant the so-called Moorish occupation. The
celebrating Christians immediately began fermenting wine from grapes again!

Throughout the first half of the 20th century, not uncommon in the wine world of the age, Yecla was outputting bulk wine with high alcohol content. As part of a 50-year transformation in Spain’s winemaking, Bodegas Castaño is a regional leader among 11 family estates that comprise the Yecla DO. Here in the high, dry zone of Campo Arriba, traditional practice is being re-energized by innovation such as cold processing. Their mastering of a difficult terrain with low organic content and arid 40° climate presents obvious challenges, but it also reveals an underlying strength: gnarly, old bush vines, whose rootstock was less-affected by the Phylloxera scourge that wiped out most of Europe’s vines in the late 1800’s. In being both aged and stressed by the conditions, the vines produce low yields of quality grapes, lending a regional distinctiveness to the wine.

yecla

To craft the 2013 vintage of their Solanera specialty line, the Castaño vintners blend 70% Monastrell (Mourvèdre) with 15% splashes of both Cab Sauvignon and Garnacha Tintorera (Grenache). Monastrell is the star here, despite taxing the grower’s patience with its slow and long arc of development before reaching maturity. Typically harvested in mid-October, the prolonged growing period of the grape pays off by providing a broad profile of flavour and structure for the base wine; requiring less help from other varieties to round out the balance. As referenced in the wine name’s byline, Viñas Viejas, the fruit clusters are being drawn from some of the oldest stock in the vineyard, resulting in an appealingly rustic wine style that’s purposefully bottled unfiltered.

With this introduction, I suggest you immediately check the LCBO’s online search (see link in the 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. It will cellar for another year or so, though you’ll find it hard to hold past New Years!

solanera

CASTANO SOLANERA VINAS VIEJAS 2013
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #276162 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 17.95
14% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: D

Made in Yecla, Spain
By: Bodegas Castaño
Release Date: November 26, 2016

Tasting Note
With substantial aromas and flavours of acacia flower, berries, and black currant, try serving this fulsome and slightly smoky wine with 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.

Beaujolais 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 uncomplicatedVin 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 major 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 capably fashioning a better balance in the quality of 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 2016, 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 and delightful point!

joseph-drouhin

JOSEPH DROUHIN BEAUJOLAIS VILLAGES NOUVEAU
VINTAGES – Product #113266 | 750 mL bottle
Price $15.95
12.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content: XD

Made in: Beaujolais, France
By: Joseph Drouhin S.A.
Release Date: November 17, 2016

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.

Maipo Gran Reserva

Tightly framed between a 4,270km stretch of low coastal mountains along the Pacific shore, and a parallel spine of Andean foothills and peaks, most of Chile barely averages 175km in width. Not surprisingly for a long sliver of a country that crosses 38 degrees of latitude, this translates into a dynamic mix of climate and an ever-shifting geography. The bookends range from inhospitable desiccation in the northern Atacama Desert to mild Mediterranean conditions in the fertile Central Valley, to the southern third with a diverse, alpine landscape of rain-drenched lake country, foggy fjords, and windswept glaciers — giving way to tundra. Anchored around the capital of Santiago, the temperate midsection has always been a prized, agricultural and commercial heartland. Successive
Incan and Spanish incursions were thwarted until the early 1540’s when conquistador, Pedro de Valdivia, in having met more than his match, settled for a partial subjugation of the indigenous and indomitable Mapuche (‘people of the land’). In the five centuries since the so-called Spanish Conquest, Chile’s potential has attracted at least three significant waves of immigration, surprisingly including Syrians, Jordanians, and Scandinavians! Among the personal effects for those of East and West-European descent, they also brought along new varieties of Vitis Vinifera — ‘the vine that bears wine.’

In 1818, after the upheaval of the Napoleonic Wars in Spain and weakening of colonial rule, Chilean nationalists united and gained their independence. This birthing of modern Chile also coincided with an influx of German, Swiss, Austrian, and Alsatian immigrants whose descendants have become known as Germano-chilenos. Presumably, Christian Lanz was among the entrepreneurial group, as was his intrepid bride, Carmen. In 1850 he founded one of Chile’s first commercial wineries and astutely named it after his wife. After a long business tradition of winemaking that narrowly aimed to satisfy the volume demands of local consumption, the 1980’s mark a departure for Viña Carmen, and
many other long-established wineries, to turn their attention toward the promise of a burgeoning export market. For Carmen, the upscaling prompted an ambitious expansion of their vineyards into the premier growing regions of the Casablanca, Leyda, Colchagua, Apalta, and Maipo valleys. For this week’s feature of Carmen Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, the source is the Alto Maipo; a high altitude terroir of alluvial terraces in the eastern end of the valley. With a long season of hot daytime followed by nighttime cooling, the Cabernet SauvignonPetit Verdot, and Carmenere vines develop fully ripe fruit while maintaining a balance of vibrant acidity – a combination that has become an exciting hallmark of contemporary Chilean wine-making.

Apart from Spain, Portugal, and Italy, where the wine aging criteria of Reserva and Gran Reserva are definitively regulated and standardized, there remain many regions where these terms are loosely interpreted. In other words, they may simply be marketing tools that reveal little about the finishing process of the wine in advance of its release. In Chile these terms are categorized as ‘quality mentions,’ so it is left entirely to the vintner’s discretion to justify the description. Nonetheless, for the reputable wineries, there is an adherence to the principle that a bottle bearing these designations is of a higher quality. Until this becomes better codified in South and North America, consumers will have to rely on other indicators; from reliable sources such as ‘Wine Spectator’ assigning this 2012 bottling as 32nd in their ‘Top 100’ listing; ‘Wine & Spirits’ magazine naming Viña
Carmen the ’Top Winery of the Year’ four times, and — ‘DéClassé’ recommends this as ‘outstanding value for well-crafted wine at a modest $16.95 price-point.’

carmen-gran-reserva

CARMEN GRAN RESERVA CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2012
LCBO Product #358309 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 16.95
14% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Chile
By: Viña Carmen
Release Date: April 15, 2015

Tasting Note
This wine has sufficient depth of garnet-red colouring to match the expectation of a ‘Reserve’ bottling, e.g. a minimum of 12 months spent in oak and another year in bottle. What exceeds expectation is that the vintner has managed to maintain bright cherry, raspberry, and plum aroma and flavours while coaxing spice and chocolate from the soft oak. Certainly, this offering will pair with the traditional fare associated to Bordeaux-esq reds, however, Carmen’s ‘Gran Reserva’ is ready to be uncorked and enjoyed on its own!

Washington Cabernet Sauvignon

Long overshadowed by California’s North Coast regions of Sonoma and Napa, which are arguably America’s most established and prodigious wine zones, the Pacific Northwest has steadily carved out a unique winemaking reputation that’s really beginning to shine. With many mature vineyards now in the 40-year range, the coastal and inland terroirs of Oregon and Washington states are proving to be capable producers of robust blends built with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah, as well as, cool-climate, varietal white wines such as Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer. Somewhere in the middle of this unusual winemaking polarity lies a less-surprising success with Cabernet Franc, Riesling, and lighter-weight versions of Chardonnay. Though the expansive range of these varieties and wine styles do somewhat defy the conventional wisdom about what should be possible within a single growing region, this is apparently what intrepid
Washingtonians do well: side-step generalized preconception while continuing to build on the economic foundation of forestry and shipping established in the 19th-century, which then diversified into commercially-scaled agriculture in the 20th-century; becoming the USA’s foremost producer of apples, along with major crops of cherries, raspberries, pears, wheat, hops, and now – grapevines!

Aka the ‘Evergreen State,’ Washington might soon consider revising its motto due to a veritable explosion of winemaking that began as a trickle in the 1960’s and then started a meteoric rise in the 1980’s. At the outset, there were fewer than 30 wineries; as of 2016, there are over 900 and growing at a rate of 3 new winemaking enterprises per month! To satisfy the burgeoning demand, winemakers are drawing fruit from 21,500 hectares of vineyard; both from their own plots and those tended to by 350 independent growers; located mainly in the coastal zone of the Willamette Valley and the high-desert hillsides of the Columbia Valley. Despite the ‘desert’ descriptor, most of the vine stock is
planted on the same 44 thru 47th latitudes as France’s Bordeaux, Northern Rhône, and Burgundy regions and so Washington’s adapted cultivars of Vitis vinifera grapes benefit from similar dynamics in the growing cycles of their distant, European ancestors.

As for this week’s featured wine and vintner, Hogue Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, the defining difference in their various Columbia Valley plots is the prevailing dry climate. Lying in the rain shadow of the Olympic and Cascade Mountain ranges, the hot days promote plumping of the grapes and sugar content, alternating with cool nights that maintain bright acidity levels. As an introductory example of the fruity and fresh wines that these conditions yield, this deft blend of 78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Merlot, 5% Syrah, small splashes of Petit Verdot and Malbec, and cooperative weather during 2014 – all make for a pleasing bottling that defies a $14.95 price tag, and possibly prompting a few of those previously mentioned California vintners to blush with envy!

hogue-cab-sauvignon

HOGUE CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2014
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #462960 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 14.95
13.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Washington, USA
By: Hogue Cellars
Release Date: October 15, 2016

Tasting Note
This is an uncomplicated, easy-drinking Bordeaux-style red that exceeds its pedigree and expectation at this price-point. An abundance of cherry, raspberry and plum aromas and flavours are wrapped around the pleasing oak, making it a natural complement to food fare such as roasted pork tenderloin in a Madeira sauce, marinated flank steak with sautéed mushrooms or braised short ribs and polenta with crispy onions.