Loire Sèvre et Maine

Aptly referred to as the ‘Garden of France’, the 630km run of the Loire Valley and its namesake river represents a broad diversity of agricultural zones; producing food crops, flora, orchard fruit, and of course, grapevine. With a 2,000-year history that spans early Gaulish, Roman, and then medieval French legacies, the vineyard-lined waterway punctuated by an astonishing array of Chateaux was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2002. Anchored by the city of Nantes, the western portion that’s closest to the Atlantic is the heartland of Muscadet wine making, marketed under the designation of Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine AOC. A concentration of 23 towns and villages in the watershed lands of the Sèvre River and its Petit Maine tributary output about two-thirds of France’s total for this distinctive, varietal wine style. Here, the combination of volcanic and alluvial soil imparts vital minerals that promote optimal vine growth, and the underlying beds of chalky limestone and gravel provide the required drainage in this often, damp maritime climate. Unsurprisingly, the flinty white wines that are produced in these conditions is a natural compliment to both the river’s abundance of freshwater fish and seafood of the nearby Ocean!

This week’s DéClassé recommendation of Réserve du Chiron Muscadet Sèvre et Maine 2015 is fashioned from 100% Melon de Bourgogne grapes, which is the sole variety used to produce Muscadet. Initially imported by Dutch traders in the 17th century, the plantings around Nantes were primarily used for making ‘brandewijn’ – a distilled wine with added Brandy Spirits. After suffering a particularly hard freeze called the ‘Black Frost’ that killed off most of the region’s vineyards in 1709, King Louis the XIV is reputed to have ordered widespread replanting with a hardier variety then known as ‘Muscadent Blanc’. As a parent grape of the present day ‘Melon de Bourgogne’ cultivar, it has endured many stages of being in and out of commercial favour due to its relatively neutral nature. Somewhat more modern production techniques such as leaving the unfiltered wine stored in tanks on its lees (expired yeasts) over the winter months, the ‘Sur-Lie’ ageing process helps develop additional complexities of flavour, aroma and a creamier texture in the wine.

La Cave du Coudray is demonstrably one of the region’s masters for this inherently lean wine style – evidenced by winning multiple Gold Medals at the Concours des Vins du Val de Loire and the Concours Général Agricole de Paris in 2016. If you’re a seasonal fan of refreshing white wine Spritzers during the warmer weather, then try uncorking a well-chilled Muscadet – and leave out the ice cubes and soda water!

DU CHIRON MUSCADET SÈVRE & MAINE SUR LIE 2015
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #413757 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 13.95
12.0% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Loire, France
By: La Cave Du Coudray
Release Date: June 10, 2017

Tasting Note
This pale golden-hued wine is delicately scented with stone fruit and citrus aromas, making for a zippy, mineral-edged wine style built around its generous levels of acidity. Try serving with a poached sole, stuffed trout, oysters, scallops or a cool crab salad – it’s also pleasing as a chilled apéritif with a lemon slice!

Pinet Picpoul Blanc

Characterfully part of the Occitanie region in southwest France, the hamlet of Pinet sits six miles inland from the unusual coastal zone of a saltwater lagoon, the Etang de Thau. In spite of a modest population of 1,300, this is the heart of the Picpoul de Pinet AOC and so has a disproportionately high concentration of winemakers who specialize in the fashioning of Picpoul – once the favoured style for Emperor Napoleon III. Regionally distinctive, this premium white wine is made with a lesser-known, golden-skinned grape originally called Piquant-Paul, later as Picapulla, and finally now, Piquepoul Blanc.

Referencing the grape’s high levels of acidity and mineral accents, Picpoul’s name translates as ‘stings the lip’ – though it doesn’t really, of course! Historically, this lively fruit was blended with another obscure variety, Clairette, creating a tangy wine style called Picardin – millions of liters of which were shipped northwards along the networks of canals to Paris each year. Susceptible to various pests, the vines fell out of vinicultural favour in the late 19th century. Able to thrive in sandy Mediterranean soils, Picpoul Blanc is once again a resurgent variety in the coastal vineyards that surround Pinet.

Pinet is also home to the cooperative Cave de Pomerols. Founded in 1932, this group now boasts 350 growers who tend to over 800 hectares of highly productive vineyards in a landscape that is basically a chalky-clay plateau, rich in limestone, quartz gravel, and otherwise covered with Garrigue. Lining the coast, this indigenous vegetation is made up of small aromatic bushes, which like the local grapes, have gradually adapted to thrive in the near-drought climate of summertime. Though challenging, these growing conditions are fortuitously punctuated by late season humidity, thereby encouraging the fruit to plump up and reach full maturity before harvest.

As in this week’s DéClassé recommended bottling of Beauvignac Picpoul de Pinet 2016, the traditional varietal white wine style is dry and citrus-scented. It also has a long-standing reputation for being a perfect complement to shellfish – with the wine’s acidity balancing the saltiness of the food. However, Picpoul is generally food-friendly, as well as, fulfilling when served alone as an apéritif. Don’t expect a big-bodied white wine here, rather be prepared for a delightful succumbing to its beguiling lightness and verve.

BEAUVIGNAC PICPOUL DE PINET 2016
VINTAGES –LCBO Product #350124 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 14.95
12.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: D

Made in Midi, France
By: Les Costières de Pomérols
Release Date: May 27, 2017

Tasting Note
A very lively wine style with lemony overtones of citrus fruit, pleasantly refreshing grapefruit flavours and a hint of minerality on the tangy finish. It’s an ideal partner with seafood, grilled fish, rich and savoury cheeses or salty charcuterie.

Côtes du Rhône White

Book-ended to the top and bottom by equally renowned neighbours, Burgundy and Provence, the Côtes du Rhône region straddles the namesake river’s banks for approximately 200kms from Vienne in the north to just below Avignon in the south. Encompassing 170 villages, this was once part of Narbonese Gaul where Romans founded terraced vineyards around Vienne late in the 2nd century BC, though some significant development in the region’s wine-making history corresponds with the surprising arrival of Popes in the 14th century. Displaced from their traditional seat in Rome due to the so-called western-schism, a splitting of the Catholic Church, and hemmed in by the upheaval of France and England’s 100 Years’ War, the papal retreat to Avignon was prolonged for nine successions. Competitively inclined, the exiled Popes and Cardinals developed ever-larger farming estates on tracts of Rhône Valley lands that had been ceded to the church by various minor French rulers — becoming known as the Comtat Venaissin. Gradually expanding the vineyard plantings secured a local wine source and also provided revenue from the export of surplus production. 500 years onward, long after the Popes had vacated their summertime residence at Châteauneuf-du-Pape (Papal Castle) to reoccupy the Vatican, the Rhône region’s epicenter of Avignon was anointed with a new title in 1966. This time, though, with the secular designation — ‘Capital City of Côtes du Rhône Wine.’

What is perhaps less well known to longer-term readers of DéClassé, is that along with their primary output of signature, blended red wines, the Côtes du Rhône vineyards also produce a small host of notable white grapes and related wine styles: Clairette Blanche, Bourboulenc, Marsanne Blanche, Viognier, Muscat Blanc, and in the case of this week’s featured bottling — a blend of 80% Roussanne with 10% splashes of Grenache Blanc and Ugni Blanc that qualifies for Côtes du Rhône AOC (Appellation d’Origine Controlée) standards.

The Famille Castor, comprised of 5th generation winemakers, Gérard and Jeannette, along with their inheriting sons, Jérémie and Raphaël, now the 6th in the lineage, are demonstrating that there are few shortcuts in mastering the juggling act of expanding vineyard holdings from 7 to 150 hectares, developing a distinctive character in their wines, and being commercially viable at very approachable price points. Look no further than here in this DéClassé featured bottling of Château Saint-Nabor Côtes du Rhône White 2015 – for very convincing evidence that it’s possible to keep ‘all the balls in play.’ At home in the nearby medieval village of Cornillon, their father, the mayor, still keeps a watchful and supportive eye on his sons’ stewardship at the winery. I’ll muse that he has very little to fear, concerning the immediate future and the continued success of the family endeavour. To this end, you could make a small contribution by picking at least 3 or 4 of these attractive bottles – at $13.95, why wouldn’t you?

CHATEAU SAINT-NABOR COTES DU RHONE WHITE 2015
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #485532 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 13.95
13.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Rhône, France
By: Earl Vignobles Saint-Nabor
Release Date: April 1, 2017

Tasting Note
Stone fruit, delicate tropical notes, and a hint of waxed honey mark the flavour profile of this somewhat more unusual, mid-bodied white wine. Perfectly satisfying as an apéritif with salmon canapés, pear, camembert and prosciutto wraps, you might also try serving this alongside a cold platter of smoked fish or mildly spiced Asian and Indian dishes.

Western Cape Chenin Blanc

In the 1650’s, while toiling to create productive fields at the end of a rutted ox wagon trail that connected with the small coastal outpost of Cape Town, farmers also had to keep their ears tuned for a tell-tale shot ringing out from the heights of Kanonkop (‘cannon hill’). Repeated by a string of relay-cannons, the booming signal would eventually reach the remotest inland settlements; announcing the port arrival of a sailing ship requiring fresh provisions! Resupply and repair of the Dutch East India Company’s Maritime fleet at the southern outcrop of Africa was a compelling motivation in the 17th century for founding Cape of Good Hope as a refueling station; critically positioned halfway between Atlantic home ports in the Netherlands and the Indonesian trade colonies of Batavia that lay across the Indian Ocean and Java Sea. Included on the checklist of ships’ stores was the need to replenish their bottled spirits. The French Huguenot settlers who had been enlisted by the Dutch company recruiters were quick to transplant grapevines into this untapped agricultural paradise, then sell onboard the finished wines!

With some justified claim to being one of the Cape’s renowned white grape varieties, the plucky, old, and gnarly bush vines that produce Chenin Blanc thrive, unirrigated, in this dryland region’s crushed granite soils. Challenged by these conditions, the long-lived rootstock has learned to burrow deeply; drawing on the mineral-rich nutrients and moisture that have percolated downward in the rocky terrain. As is often the case with grapevines, environmental stresses promote the development of more characterful fruit; invested with a nuanced layering of flavour. The desirable combination is evident in this DéClassé featured bottling of a historically unheralded, though now renascent, Chenin Blanc wine style. Well suited to the terroirs of the continent’s southernmost tip, this vintner has aptly and evocatively named the offering, Vinum Africa.

helderberg

Comprising 20% of South Africa’s total cultivation and output, the winelands of the Stellenbosch region in the Western Cape continue to rise in the competitive ranks of reputation. The somewhat younger, ocean-facing vineyards of the Winery of Good Hope lining the lower slopes of the Helderberg (bright mountain), are one cornerstone of a farming enterprise that’s at the creative forefront of exploiting the advantages of a dynamic wine region, and its motivated cadre of world-class winemakers. Hands-on harvesting, manual sorting, and careful selection lead the production process where natural fermentation of the grapes takes place in stainless steel tanks. While a majority of the harvest is left to linger on the expired yeast (lees), infusing the batch with some subtle toasty notes, the other 30% is transferred to mixed generations of Oak barrels where it takes on its spice accents. The final blend and resting of both components for several months is a key step in a recipe that imbues the still-crisp acidic fruit with considerable aromatic depth and range. It’s also the measurable distinction for how Chenin Blanc develops a more rounded flavour profile in SA; contrasting the leaner versions that are fashioned in its native France, where it’s known as Pineau de la Loire.

The striking embossed symbol acting as a label combines an ethnic flourish with the Latin term Vinum (wine) and was conceived as an expression of the positive political, historical and social progression in a revitalizing South Africa. Proudly playing out their part, the passion, and care of these vintners is palatable in the glass. This is a lovely layered wine, offered at a very reasonable price-point and we’re very fortunate to have access to some of the limited cases from the 2015 vintage!

Vinum Africa

VINUM AFRICA CHENIN BLANC 2015
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #739995 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 15.95
13.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in: Stellenbosch, South Africa
By: The Winery of Good Hope
Release Date: March 4, 2017

Tasting Note
Medium-bodied, fragrant and dry, try serving this zesty wine with Mediterranean dishes, grilled vegetables of all sorts, sushi or as a compliment to Asian cuisine. It’s also very satisfying as an apéritif with goat cheese canapés or onion tarts.

Piedmontese Gavi

As of 1956, the 4th generation vintner, Michele Chiarlo, has been at the forefront of innovation and the significant elevation of wine quality in Piemonte; particularly with Barbera, Barbaresco, and Barolo. Aside of this cadre of fleshy red wines, the region also excels in some less-well-known, white wine styles with a brightly acidic character such as Moscato and this DéClassé recommended Gavi. Now with an official designation of origin, Italy’s Gavi DOCG encompasses 13 communes in the province of Alessandria whose winemakers benefit from a regional micro-climate; one that’s highly conducive to early ripening grapes like Cortese; one of the few varieties that can be successfully cultivated both as a wine and table grape. Within its diversity of vineyards that are dotted about southeastern Piemonte (‘ai piede della montagne’ – ‘at the foot of mountains’), the Chiarlo vintners continue to explore the potential and meet the challenges in managing both red and white grape-growing terroirs. Particularly helpful for this balancing act of viticulture is the  convergence of weather systems that are influenced by the Apennine Mountains, and an arm of the Mediterranean called the Ligurian Sea. The sufficiently long summer coaxes ripeness into the red Nebbiolo fruit, and as the plentiful heat gives way to nebbia (fog) shrouded harvest seasons, the desirable crispness of white Cortese is maintained. For this week’s featured, Michele Chiarlo Le Marne Gavi 2015, the unique nature of the soil provides a meaningful namesake: Le Marne – a reference to the calcium-rich marl with volcanic deposits.

michele-chiarlo-vineyard

Already blessed with the natural beauty of its surroundings, Orme Su La Court (‘Footsteps in La Court’) is another remarkable aspect of this winery. It’s a vineyard art walk that expresses the influences of the four elements: Earth, Air, Water, and Fire. Designed in collaboration with the late Genovese artist, Emanuele Luzzati, sculpture installations have been integrated into the long rows of vines that wend their way across the rolling hills of the La Court estate. One of many notable features is the group of ceramic heads on poles called ‘Le Teste Segnapalo.’ These are a reinterpretation of the traditional farming practice whereby figureheads are placed in the landscape to ward away negative influences on the growth of the grapes. For the most part, the ever-expanding installations intend to create meditative spaces, viewpoints, and playful accents on a walk that begins and ends at a cluster of farm houses. Here, the curated exhibits, screenings, and musical performances offer visitors the opportunity to further mix an appreciation of the wines with the creativity and range of the Piedmontese arts.

The North American market is still slow in appreciating a fuller range of Italy’s dry white wine catalog other than ubiquitous Pinot Grigio and Soave; arguably, some of the least distinctive of their exported offerings. Dare to consider adding this Gavi to your evolving contingent of alternative and more interesting choices such as Friulano, Vermentino, Lugana, and Pecorino. Available in the LCBO Vintages section, the limited stock of this seasonal release won’t be on shelves for very long – but will hold up well in your cellar for at least the remainder of this year.

michele-chiarlo-gavi

MICHELE CHIARLO LE MARNE GAVI 2015
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #228528 | 750 mL bottle
Price $16.95
12.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Piemonte, Italy
By: Michele Chiarlo Azienda Srl
Release Date: January 21, 2017

Tasting Note
This firmly structured, dry white wine has many of the characteristics typical of the Cortese grape including delicate notes of honeydew, apple, vanilla, and a touch of minerality. Apart from being a pleasing apéritif wine when served alongside antipasti, it’s also complementary to main courses of grilled fish, stuffed trout, light cream-based pasta or pesto dishes, roast pork, or vegetable and cheese ravioli.

Rueda Verdejo

Framing the northeastern corner of Portugal, Spain’s autonomous region of Castilla y León shares a noteworthy river system with its Iberian neighbour – the famed Duero; fed by the Trabancos, Zapardiel and Adaja tributaries. The flood terraces and alluvial soil deposits that make up their banks are called los Arribes del Duero and have been the home to unique grape varieties and a wine culture since the 11th century. Founded as separate kingdoms, Castilla and León are some of the ‘green lands’ of western Spain that were repopulated during the reigns of King Alfonso VI and VII; both of whom made small territorial gains while pushing back the Moorish expansion. Along with an influx of Basque and Cantabrian people, drawn by the region’s farming potential, ironically it was
the Muslim Mozárabes from southern Spain who reputedly introduced grapevines that originated in North Africa – merely as a source of fresh fruit. With a long history of regional refinement, these adapted cultivars of Verdejo are now considered indigenous – producing crisp, aromatic and characterful wines!

segovia

With a distant heritage of mainly outputting Palomino Fino sherry, the 74 towns and villages of Castilla y León’s central province of Rueda has gradually become the world’s epicenter for the production of Verdejo white wine styles. Here on a high-altitude and rocky plateau, 90% of the 13,000 hectares is solely dedicated to Verdejo vine stock; topped-off by small lots of Sauvignon Blanc and Viura that are mainly employed in blends such as Verdejo Blanco. For this DéClassé feature of Flor de Vetus Verdejo 2015, the varietal wine’s slow-ripening fruit has been sourced from older bush vines of a single vineyard. Despite still being a young winemaking enterprise that was only established in 2003, Grupo Artevino and their Bodegas Vetus shrewdly continue to build on their portfolio; selecting land plots according to suitability for each particular grape variety. Judging by the results demonstrated in this satisfying bottling, the property near Segovia is a real winner for Verdejo.

As 2016 comes to a close, what remains true is that North American markets are still very slow to embrace white wines other than the enduring stars such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio and Soave. So, with a view to newer possibilities in 2017, and a spirit of expanding your predisposed tastes, add Spain’s Verdejo to your DéClassé-recommended listing of alternate dry whites: Pecorino, Picpoul, Gavi di Gavi, Muscat, Coda di Volpe, Grüner Veltliner, and Vouvray/Chenin Blanc!

flor-de-vitus

FLOR DE VETUS VERDEJO 2015
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #320259 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 15.95
12.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Rueda, Spain
By: Bodegas Vetus
Release Date: December 10, 2016

Tasting Note
This is a zippy and vibrant, dry white that’s tinged with subtle herb, citrus and mineral notes accenting its medium body full of tropical fruit and melon. As with food pairings that might suit more-fulsome versions of Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Gris, try serving this Verdejo with savoury canapés, Caprese salad, seafood such as shellfish and oysters or pan-seared trout with lemon butter and almonds.

Alsace Pinot Blanc

Alsace’s most reputable wine district is the geographic portion called the Haut-Rhin (Upper Rhine). Regionally centered on the ‘wine capital’ town of Colmar, its vineyards line the low foothills of the Vosges Mountains and roll out onto the adjacent river plain. First conquered by Caesar in the 1st century BCE, it was a desirable agricultural tract in the Roman province of Prima Germania for 600 years before becoming part of a Frankish Duchy in 496. After a long period of acting as a buffering borderland in the Holy Roman Empire, it was annexed by French troops in the late 17th century as a territorial spoil of
the 30 Years War. For the next 350 years, the contested strip traded Germanic and Franco occupation before settling as a hybridized people/culture within modern-day France; so it also is with their traditions of fashioning wine.

joseph-cattin

The Alsace AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlées) was established in 1962 and its relatively stringent winemaking guidelines reflect the pride and ambition by Alsatians to codify their vinicultural expertise. Anchoring the north-east corner of France, this is the largest of 3 related appellations; representing 75% of the region’s vintners; sharing geography with a smaller group of select estates that carry the designations Crémant d’Alsace (sparkling) or Alsace Grand Crus. Their output of dry varietal whites such as Sylvaner, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Auxerrois Blanc de Laquenexy, and this week’s DéClassé featured Pinot Blanc (Klevner) are widely regarded as benchmarks for more fulsome versions of the sometimes, too-lightweight counterparts produced elsewhere. In prudently embracing the challenges of high AOC standards, particularly the preference for quality over quantity, Alsatian vintners are guarding the regional
character that’s taken centuries to forge. Arguably, they remain in a leadership role for the cultivation/refinement of these cool climate grapes and wine styles; just ahead of their burgeoning competition across the German border!

Dating to the early 1700’s, the family estate of Joseph Cattin has long been a fixture in the Upper Rhine’s west bank vineyards that lie between the villages of Voegtlinshoffen and Hattstatt. Providing the namesake for the winery, Joseph was a 20th-century pioneer in combating Phylloxera, a pest that wrought such widespread devastation in European vineyards for decades. Apart from carrying on with the development and expansion of a modest 7-hectare property, he also studied and developed vine grafting techniques that would become the viticulture model for many Alsatian growers to finally subdue the blight. Here now, in a prolonged period of critical and commercial success, note that this modestly priced Joseph Cattin Pinot Blanc 2015 is adorned with a Gold Medal from the prestigious 2016 Paris Concours Général Agricole; underscoring the
consistent level of achievement and value for this vintner’s mid-range wines!

joseph-cattin

JOSEPH CATTIN PINOT BLANC 2015
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #224642 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 15.95
12% Alcohol/Vol. that
Sugar Content Descriptor: D

Made in Alsace, France
By: Cattin Frères
Release Date: November 12, 2016

Tasting Note
This lightly fruity white, marked by apple, lemon and pear aromas and flavours wrapped around a medium body of fresh acidity, is well-suited to a traditional gastronomic mix of Choucroute à l’Alsacienne (pickled cabbage, potatoes, and assorted smoked sausages); Pâté de Foie Gras (goose liver paté with truffles, wrapped in pastry) and Flàmmeküche (flatbread with crème fraîche, onion, and lardons). It would also add balance to spicy or sweet and sour Asian cuisine with stir-fried vegetables. Try the latter first — well chilled!