Loire Crémant

As early as the 6th century, the monks of the Abbey of Saint-Maur had begun to cultivate, refine and gradually proliferate some of the white wine yielding grapes that now thrive in the chalky soils or pierres de tuffeau of the Loire Valley. This underlying, light-coloured, fine-grained and fossil-laden limestone also has a long history of use as a quarried building material, giving the Loire’s photogenic cathedrals, châteaux, and towns, their distinctively luminous personality – both above and below ground, as in the surprising, 5 mile-long cellar at Maison Bouvet Ladubay. It’s actually an excavated cave, first begun a millennium ago by another monk order, Saint Florent, who used the stone in the 1040AD construction of their Abbaye La Belle d’Anjou. Now invested with an artist-commissioned installation of 35 architectural clusters, including carved pillars, capitals and arches, the Underground Cathedral is an ode to 10 centuries of skill and intricate labour by the Loire’s inspired stonemasons. It’s also a contemporary contribution to the storied, natural and cultural landscape between Sully-sur-Loire and Chalonnes; declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2000.

Finished using the Méthode Traditionelle, this is the non-Champagne descriptor for a somewhat involved, in-the-bottle, secondary fermentation process that’s employed to create premium grades of vins mousseux (sparkling wine); originating in one of eight approved AOC’s in France for the wine style that were established in the 1970’s. The best known of these include Crémant d’Alsace, Crémant de Bourgogne, Crémant de Limoux, and Crémant de LoireMoreover, the latter is further distinguished as 3 zones of unique terroir, whose vineyards sprawl along the valley slopes and banks of a meandering Loire River: Touraine, Anjou and the most prolific of all, Saumur – the fertile source for this week’s DéClassé featured Bouvet Brut Excellence.

It’s an ebullient assemblage of mainly Chenin Blanc, the region’s flagship grape that’s also known as Pineau de la Loire, and a splash of Chardonnay, a migrated variety that’s often generically referred to as white Burgundy – here contributing added depth and softness to the wine’s body, mouthfeel, and range of aromas. Aged in the winery’s deep limestone cellars, these wines must be left to mature in the bottle for a minimum period of 12 months. However, as is the typical case with the finishing of non-vintage crémant (or Champagne, for that matter), the vintner is free to incorporate a dose of stored wine from a previous harvest into the final blend – thereby better ensuring the year-to-year consistency of the brand’s intended character and flavour profile.

So, as you delight in this expertly made, dimensional and bubbly offering, see if you can experience some hinting references to the land and the prideful culture from which it comes. If you can’t, then be satisfied with having picked up several bottles of extraordinary value in Loire Crémant wine making.

Bouvet

BOUVET BRUT EXCELLENCE CREMANT DE LOIRE
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #303636 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 18.95
12.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: D

Made in Loire, France
By: Bouvet-Ladubay
Release Date: April 29, 2017

Tasting Note
This is a particularly zesty, pale golden-amber, crisp and dry sparkler with a fruit and honey bouquet – and some surprising berry flavour notes in among the 
expected apple, pear and citrus. Try this as a spritzy apéritif with soft cheeses, charcuterie and hors d’oeuvres or with seafood and freshwater fish.

Crémant de Limoux

Founded toward the end of the 8th century, the Benedictine Abbaye de Saint-Hilaire still holds a starring role in the wine-making annals and lore of Southwest France. Along with an official document dating to 1531 wherein the abbey’s monks first describe the method of making mousseux (sparkling wine), there’s another intriguing and contentious tale that involves yet another wine-making monk, Dom Pérignon; while en route to the pilgrimage path of Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Purportedly, it was during a brief stopover at this abbey in Languedoc when he was introduced to the then-curious and little-known process. In having carefully detailed the original Limoux recipe, he would continue experimenting with it after returning to his home abbey in Reims. Propelled by this work, Dom Pérignon became an iconic, globally known figurehead, and his northern French city would eventually evolve into the unofficial capital of Champagne! Despite all the colourful conjecture, this story is likely a tall tale since any bottle-fermentation in the early 17th century, which produces bubbly gasses, was strictly avoided by vintners as it caused the imperfect glass bottles of the day to explode. A serious problem for longer-term storage of finished wine, the unwanted second fermentation was considered to be sloppy wine-making and derisively referred to as Vin du Diable (‘devil’s wine’). In time, the refinement of higher quality glass and employing the double closure of an enlarged cork secured with wire wraps made the standard vessels stable enough to contain the frothy mousseux. In 1975, ‘Champagne’ became a proprietary and crowning term for their regional style, with all other variants in France and Luxembourg becoming officially referred to as Crémant. i.e. Crémant de Bordeaux, Crémant du Jura, Crémant de Dis, Crémant de Bourgogne, Crémant de Savoie, Crémant de Loire, Crémant d’Alsace, and from the region nearby to the Abbey – Crémant de Limoux.

villelongue-daude

As for this week’s featured region, the vineyards in the foothills of the Pyrénées are planted at relatively higher altitudes, and where the windy intersect of the Vent Cer blowing in from the Atlantic, and the Vent Marin off the Mediterranean make for more balanced conditions than is typical in most of the surrounding Languedoc-Roussillon zones. Coupled with stony, nutrient-poor, clay soils, these factors combine as an ideal environment for cultivating ‘Blanquette’ (Mauzac Blanc); a white wine grape that’s been grown in the Limoux AOP for several centuries now. Somewhat chameleon, this variety develops as either green or pinkish-skinned clusters depending on the influence of each vineyard terroir. The ‘Blanquette’ nickname refers to a benign white powder that coats its leaves in spring, and provides the namesake for the local Crémant styles; the sweet, Blanquette de Limoux Méthode Ancestrale, and the dry, Blanquette de Limoux Brut.

In the Blanquette de Limoux appellation, wines are required to contain at least 90% Mauzac topped off with a small splash of either Chenin Blanc or Chardonnay grapes, For this DéClassé recommended, Cuvée Jean Philippe Blanquette de Limoux Brut 2014, the vintners of Domaine Rosier are drawing fruit from hillside vineyards that ring around the Romanesque village of Villelongue-d’Aude. Equally charming and inviting, this well-dressed bottling is offered at such an affordable price-point there’s no need to hold off for a special event. So, make many upcoming days memorable by picking up several bottles of this premium, extra dry, vintage sparkler — to add a delightful dose of spritz into your wintertime, white wine mix!

jean-phillippe-brut

CUVEE JEAN PHILIPPE BLANQUETTE DE LIMOUX BRUT 2014
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #467217 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 14.95
12% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Languedoc-Roussillon, France
By: Domaine Rosier
Release Date: January 7, 2017

Tasting Note
With a lemon-tinged hue, this very crisp Crémant has bright citrus fruit and green apple notes typical of the Mauzac grape, finishing with subtle hints of the toasty flavour notes that result from its traditional, secondary fermentation method of production. Avoid overchilling to preserve the wine’s more delicate layers and pair with triple crème Brie, warm canapés with Gruyère, savoury pastries, smoked salmon, and freshwater fish dishes with cream sauces.

Crémant de Loire

Set high on a prominence that overlooks the Loire River and its embankments, 130 hectares of Château Moncontour make for one of the oldest and storied estates in Touraine — a Loire Valley sub-region where the namesake river meets two of its main tributaries, the Indre-et-Loire and Loir-et-Cher. Dating to the mid 15th-century, the Renaissance-era château was built by King Charles VII as one of the many gifts lavished on his courtesan, Agnès Sorel. Euphemistically known as ‘Dame de Beauté,’ the striking beauty and courtly influence of Agnès was one bookend in the life and fortunes of the king; the other came disguised as a boy, but was a young country maiden, Jeanne d’Arc, aka ‘La Pucelle d’Orléans.’ Her religiously-inspired military campaign to challenge the occupying English armies was a deciding factor in Charles’ quest to resecure his crown and fractured lands. Among many other tales linked to the Moncontour estate in the ensuing ages is the partial destruction by fire during the French revolution, and then becoming an elusive fascination for the 19th-century author, Honoré de Balzac, who featured its twin white turrets and brambled riverbanks in his published and personal
writings — perhaps, while giddily inspired by the bottled bounty of its vineyards!

moncontour

As with most Crémant, this week’s effervescent bottling has been produced by a double fermentation process generally referred to as méthode Champenoise, though, in the 1980’s, the term was made proprietary to wines originating from the Champagne AOC appellation in north-eastern France. This was justified to guard the distinct typicity of the region’s sparkling wines but doesn’t directly infer a greater level of quality. Moreover, the highly- variable pricing for bonafide Champagnes tends to be among the most arbitrary of all premium wine styles in France – frequently more informed by what the market is willing to pay rather than how much effort has been invested by the vintner. This week’s DéClassé featured bottle of Château Moncontour Tête de Cuvée Brut is made with 100% Chenin Blanc grapes sourced within the Vouvray AOC boundaries and finished
in an equivalent winemaking manner called méthode traditionnelle.

Moncontour’s current custodial vintners are the Feray Family, who since 1994 have been drawing Chenin Blanc fruit, aka Pineau de la Loire, from numerous small plots dotted around the village of Vouvray. Influenced by the sedimentary rock and clay soils that are typical of the Touraine, this local cultivar imparts a distinct minerality along with a high level of acidity – making it an ideal base for the pétillant (sparkling) versions of Vouvray. Having spent at least 22 months aging in the bottle before disgorgement, final corking, and release, this is so modestly priced that you will chide yourself endlessly for
not having bought more before having to wait again until next October!

Chateau Moncontour

CHÂTEAU MONCONTOUR TÊTE DE CUVÉE BRUT VOUVRAY
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #207936 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 17.95
12% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: D

Made in: Loire, France
By: Château Moncontour
Release Date: October 29, 2016

Tasting Note
This wine’s straw-yellow colour, apricot and pear aromas, some nutty and baked brioche notes, and a lively mousse make for a refreshing counterpoint to unseasonably warm weather and the possibility of a few more ‘al fresco’ meals! Try as an apéritif or with lighter fare such as fresh salads, goat cheese tartlets, pâté and seasoned crisps or alongside moderately spicy Asian appetizers.

Sparkling Rosé Alert

At 1,000 meters, the rock faces of Saronsberg (aka. Saron Peak Mountain)
begin a green cascade of rumpled ridges and water-worn gullies down into the
verdant valley at its base. Since time immemorial, the mountain’s form has been
carved by the buffeting rains and twisting currents of the South-easterlies; the
often fierce south polar winds that blow across the Cape in Spring through early
Summer. In 1488, the intrepid Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias fought his
way about in the churning seas that frame Africa’s southern tip. He depicted
this first harrowing sail by christening it Cabo das Tormentas (‘Cape of Storms’).
The winds have continued blustering over the centuries, but with the benefits of
accumulated maritime experience and sturdier ships, sailors have embraced
the more optimistic: Cabo da Boa Esperanza (‘Cape of Good Hope’). The retitling
is also credited to Bartolemeu, when to his astonishment on a returning voyage,
realized that he’d discovered the fabled and elusive sea route to India. What was
less apparent, was that he was sailing blindly past the rich potential of one of the
world’s best wine regions and some of its most accomplished wine makers!

In the 15th century, the coastal ranges of the Western Cape were occupied by
indigenous herders known as the Khoi. They were decidedly unwelcoming to this
first wave of European intruders, predictably cutting them down as soon as they
stepped ashore. It would take another 200 years of negotiated cajoling before
the displaced French Protestant Huguenot and Dutch immigrants were allowed
to exploit the land’s potential for settlement; starting the cultivation of grapevine.
300 years on from the modest beginnings, development of the fertile winelands
has continued to the present, with new zones being added or expanded in each
succeeding generation. This week’s DéClassé featured Twee Jonge Gezellen
(‘two young companions’) is an estate established in 1710 and a dynamic example
of the agricultural vision that’s been cumulatively inherited. Despite cyclical ups
and downs that are common in the challenging wine business, and with the recent,
critical infusion of new investment, it’s bearing more fruit than ever.

The property lies in the Tulbagh Valley 125 km northeast of Cape Town and is
the next outlying wine region beyond better known Stellenbosch, Frankshoek and
Paarl. With sloped vineyards in the sheltering shadow of Saronsberg mountain,
the so-called ‘rainmaker’ also provides an ample supply of irrigation. Elsewhere,
without appropriate drainage and a counterbalance of heat, the abundant rainfall
levels might be problematic. Here, there’s a balance in the 30-hectare terroir,
which current stewards, the Krone family, recognized in the 1950’s when they
first considered planting the noble varieties of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Méthode Cap Classique (MCC) is the South African term for a bottle-fermented
production method that results in sparkling wines. As the young wine is also left
to rest on its lees (expired yeast), imparting the telltale toasted notes, this style
emulates the basics in the classic French méthode Champenois. What’s more
regionally innovative is the regimen of cool night-harvesting, and a follow-on cold
temperature fermentation; both are key adaptations to the hot growing climate
that can otherwise, dull the brightness and acidity in white wine grapes. In this
well-crafted sparkler, Krone Vintage Rosé Cuvée Brut Sparkling 2014, it’s the
60% Pinot Noir that’s left in contact with the skins during first fermentation,
imbuing the light pink hue into the final blending with 40% Chardonnay.

Remarkably, this modest $18.95 bottling carries its vintage year, which is fairly
unusual across all price-points for premium sparkling wine. More typically, the
vintner will hold batches of previously finished wine, to be judiciously added to the
current vintage; maintaining year-to-year consistency. Here, as in so many facets
of modern SA winemaking wisdom, the vintner elects to let each harvest reveal
its unique character, with less intervention. Evidently, 2014 was a splendid year.
Buy two; serve well chilled to add a touch of pink delight to Christmas morning!

Krone

KRONE VINTAGE ROSE CUVEE BRUT SPARKLING 2014
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #130047 | 750 mL bottle
Price $18.95
12.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: D

Made in Tulbagh, South Africa
By: Twee Jonge Gezellen
Release Date: November 28, 2015

Tasting Note
This refreshing sparkler with a refined mousse offers flavours and aromas of
pomegranate, red apple and citrus. As expected from the fermentation method,
it also finishes with some subtle baking notes. Try serving as apéritif with herbed
cheese crostini, a roasted Goose stuffed with apple or baked smoked ham.

Crémant Alert

Finished using the méthode traditionelle, this is the non-Champagne descriptor
for a fairly involved, in-the-bottle, secondary fermentation process employed to
create premium grades of vins mousseux (sparkling wine); originating in one of
eight approved AOC’s in France for the wine style; according to the negotiated
regulations established in the 1970’s. The best known of these include Crémant
d’Alsace, Crémant de Bourgogne, Crémant de Limoux 
and Crémant de Loire.
Moreover, the latter is further distinguished as 3 parcels of unique terroir, whose vineyards sprawl along the valley slopes and banks of a meandering Loire River: Touraine, Anjou and the most prolific of all, Saumur – the fertile source for this
week’s DéClassé featured Bouvet Brut Excellence.

It’s an ebullient assemblage of mainly Chenin Blanc, the region’s flagship grape
that’s also known as Pineau de la Loire and a splash of Chardonnay, a migrated
variety that’s often referred to, generically, as white Burgundy – contributing
added depth and softness to the wine’s body, mouthfeel and range of aromas.
Aged in the winery’s deep limestone cellars, these wines must be left to mature
in-bottle for a minimum period of 12 months. However, as is the common case
with the finishing of non-vintage crémant (or Champagne, for that matter), the
vintner is free to incorporate into the final blend, a dose of stored wine from a
previous harvest – thereby better ensuring the year-to-year consistency of the
brand’s intended character and flavour profile.

As early as the 6th century, the monks of the Abbey of Saint-Maur had begun to
cultivate, refine and gradually proliferate some of the white wine yielding grapes
that now thrive in the valley’s chalky soils or pierres de tuffeau. This underlying,
light-coloured, fine-grained and fossil-laden limestone, with a long history of use
as a quarried building material, has also given the Loire’s photogenic cathedrals,
châteaux, monuments and towns their distinctively luminous personality. This both
above and below ground, as in the case of Maison Bouvet Ladubay’s surprising,
5 mile-long cellar. It’s actually an excavated cave, first begun a millennium ago by another monk order, Saint Florent, who used the stone in the construction 
of their Abbaye La Belle d’Anjou, est.1040AD. Now invested with an artist commissioned installation of 35 architectural clusters, including carved pillars, capitals and arches,
the Underground Cathedral  is an ode 
to 10 centuries of skill and intricate labour
by the Loire’s inspired stonemasons. It’s also a contemporary contribution to the
storied, natural and cultural landscape between Sully-sur-Loire and Chalonnes; deservedly declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000.

So, as you delight in this expertly made, dimensional and bubbly offering, see if
you can experience some hinting references to the land and the prideful culture
from which it comes. If you can’t, then be satisfied with having picked up several
bottles of an extraordinary value in the state-of-the-art, crémant wine making.

Bouvet

BOUVET BRUT EXCELLENCE CREMANT DE LOIRE
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #303636 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 17.95
12.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: D

Made in: Loire, France
By: Bouvet-Ladubay
Release Date: August 8, 2015

Tasting Note
This is a particularly zesty, pale golden-amber, crisp and dry sparkler with a fruit
and honey bouquet, with some surprising berry flavour notes in among the
expected apple, pear and citrus. Try this as a spritzy apéritif with soft cheeses, charcuterie and hors d’oeuvres or with seafood and freshwater fish.

Prosecco Alert

Historical references to lightly sparkling wines in the Veneto region date to the
1100’s and were much sweeter in the 12th century compared to the popular
styles being fashioned today. With the burgeoning profile and interest in this
delightful wine internationally, progressive Italian producers have had to take
pro-active steps toward guarding the unique, regional nature of their Spumante.
The traditional grape family for this, the bubbliest of all Italian white wine styles,
was for a very long time, colloquially known as Prosecco; likely to have originated
around the namesake town of Prosecco close to the Slovenian border. Official
rebranding of the name to Glera in 2009 now means that these grapevines can
be cultivated and marketed in other wine-producing regions in the world with the
new designation, but only those wines which specifically originate from DOCG
Prosecco and its various sub-regions, such as this week’s DéClassé featured
bottling from DOCG Treviso, may be labelled as bonafide Prosecco.

The sparkling wines from Italy’s geographic, north-eastern corner are distinctive
in their own right, though the vintners have employed and innovated the French
method called Charmat to achieve their form. After an initial fermentation, the
second infusion of yeast continues the converting of sugars and provoking the carbonation that provides the wine with its bubbled froth. This key finishing step
is done in large, pressurized Stainless Steel tanks rather than the bottle, so
results in a fresh, crisp fruit flavour with less of the toasted character that is
more typical in its distant French Crémant cousins.

The long rows of white pebble covered vineyards on the La Jara farm create an
appealing aesthetic while suppressing unwanted weed growth around the root
stock. Most importantly, the stones absorb the heat of daytime sun, then slowly
release the stored energy in the evening, extending exposure time of the grape
clusters to a warm microclimate; deepening their fruity character. Now in the
guiding hands of Massimo and Paolo Marion, generational family history here on
the gravelled banks of the Piave River dates to 1891and is in a renewed phase
of thriving commercially while progressively applying organic farming practice.

Avoid overchilling, but keep at cool temperature while trying in a wider mouthed
goblet rather than in slender stemware. Your brunch guests will appreciate you
having another bottle, standing by, brimming with steely fruit – to top them up.

La Jara Brut

LA JARA BRUT PROSECCO
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #402438 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 15.95
11.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: D

Made in: Veneto, Italy
By: Agricola La Jara
Release Date: Apr.4, 2015

Tasting Note
This informal sparkler has an abundance of fresh apple and pear with a nutty
finish. Try as an apéritif ahead of traditional Easter Brunch fare or as a spritzy
complement to smoked salmon and assorted savoury pastry appetizers.

Crémant Alert

Established in 1942, exports from the Clairette de Die AOC in the Rhône Valley
continue to be under-represented on North American store shelves. Largely
overshadowed by offerings from other French Crémant producing regions such
as the Loire Valley, Alsace and Bourgogne, this translates into very competitive
price-points for extremely well made bubbly – equally suitable to serve up as an
informal apéritif or to punctuate special events without breaking your budget.

As of the 20th century, the production recipe for sparklers from Clairette de Die
has evolved to include three white-skinned grapes varieties built predominantly
on a base of the region’s star Clairette, with Aligoté: a so-called ‘poor cousin’ of
Chardonnay and Muscat à Petits Grains: one the world’s oldest grape varieties,
rounding out the blend. Finished in the ‘méthode traditionelle’, this process is
defined by a secondary fermentation in the bottle that’s kick-started by adding a
dose of ‘liqueur de tirage’: a blend of wine, sugar and yeast. The gas-producing
step generates an abundance of Carbon Dioxide, infusing Crémant style wines
with its characteristically fine, frothy mousse. Rich flavour notes, particularly the
nutty or toasty ones most associated with traditional Champagnes, result from
the young wine being exposed to the expired yeast in the bottle (sur-lie) for at
least 9 months. Moreover, this wine typically doesn’t rely on the use of grapes
of a specific vintage year, rather it often incorporates several years of harvest
to better-ensure the unique consistency expected from each individual producer.

The Cave Poulet et Fils winery represents 4 generations of winemakers who’ve
passed on family traditions now guided by Emmanuel Poulet. 20 hectares of
vineyard property are situated next to the Parc Naturel Régional Du Vercors in
the southern, sheltering shadow of the Vercors Massif, a series of mountainous
limestone plateaus rising up between 2 tributary rivers that spill into the Rhône.
Here, vine stock thrives in the fertile, calcium-rich soils that have accumulated
as erosion deposit, typical in the valleys of this rugged and picturesque region.

You’re unlikely to find a more satisfying bottling of bubbly in this price category
and other judges agree, having awarded it a Gold Medal at the Concours des
Crémants de France et Luxembourg, 2013.

Cremant de Die

POULET ET FILS BRUT CREMANT DE DIE
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #392555 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 17.95
11.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: D

Made in: Rhône, France
By: Earl Cave Poulet Et Fils
Release Date: Nov. 7, 2015

Tasting Note
Has light floral aromas with field berry accents followed by the expected flavour
tang of citrus and apple, hints of peach, apricot. Try serving at brunch with smoked
salmon, with starters such as asparagus or along with stronger cheeses.