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!


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

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!


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.


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

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

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.

Vouvray Alert

Overlooking both the river and expansive hillsides of its meandering valley, 130
or so hectares of Château Moncontour make up one of the oldest estates in
the Touraine, a sub-region of the Loire – also known as ‘the garden of France’.
The current building dates back to the Renaissance period, having been built by
King Charles VII. Among many noteworthy tales, including being ravaged by an
unfortunate fire during the revolutionary period, the sculpted, ivy-covered, white
fairytale turrets of the château and its adjacent bramble-lined riverbanks were
prized by 19th century, local French writer: Honoré de Balzac, who featured it in
some of his writings while perhaps savouring the bounty of its vineyards!

Like most Crémants, this week’s very effervescent bottling has been produced in
a double fermentation method known as “méthode Champenoise” – in the late
1980’s though, the term was made proprietary to only wines originating from
within the Champagne region to the north-east. This was justified in order to
guard the distinct typicity of the region but doesn’t necessarily suggest greater
quality. Moreover, highly variable pricing for bona-fide Champagnes tends to be
among the most arbitrary of all wine styles – frequently more informed by what
the market is willing to pay rather than how much effort has been invested by
the vintner. Having said all that, note that this week’s DéClassé recommended
varietal offering from the Vouvray AOC is made with 100% Chenin Blanc
grapes and produced in an equivalent manner known as ‘méthode traditionnelle’.

Moncontour’s current custodial vintners are the Feray Family, who since 1994
have been drawing on numerous small plots dotted throughout the villages of
Vouvray for their Chenin Blanc fruit. Influenced by the limestone and clay soils
found here, this variety has a distinct mineral component along with a naturally
high level of acidity – making it an ideal base for sparkling versions of Vouvray
that are also known as ‘pétillant’. Having spent at least 22 months ageing 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 August or perhaps even a touch longer!

Chateau Moncontour

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: August 16, 2014

Tasting Note
Straw yellow colour, apricot aromas, a nutty note and lively, refined mousse
make this a refreshing counterpoint for warm weather and ‘al fresco’ meals.
Try as an apéritif or with lighter fare such as fresh salads, goat cheese, pâté
and seasoned crisps or moderately spicy Asian appetizers.