Niagara Chardonnay

White Burgundy still ranks high among the wine world’s famed grape varieties, and the benchmark styles from its namesake terroir remain a gold standard. We’re of course referencing Chardonnay. It’s also done very well in California, where climate and drinking taste converged in the 20th century, providing a cornerstone for a young wine industry to develop. The widespread popularity of particular wine styles is subject to cycles. A rapid rise for Chardonnay as a staple table wine in North America was followed by a degree of consumer fatigue—expressed in a somewhat derisive and unfortunate acronym: ABC (‘anything but Chardonnay’). Within the broad range of finishing styles that includes sparkling and still wines, the world’s most planted white wine grape is enduring and defying fickle fashion.

Finished Chardonnay is a definitive winemaker’s wine in that the characteristics commonly associated with it: highly aromatic, a buttery mouthfeel, tropical or stone fruit flavours, notes of vanilla, etc.—are all methodically coaxed results from a relatively neutral grape. From time to time, the experimentation has translated into an individual characteristic overshadowing others. As Chardonnay is one rare example of a white wine being suitable for barrel ageing, overly oaked versions of less-select grape harvests contributed to the decline in reputation and desirability for more discerning drinkers. With the development of the grape in other cooler climate vineyards, fresh and vibrant expressions of Chardonnay are more common again, and arguably, more faithful to the originating style from Burgundy. The DéClassé recommended G. Marquis The Silver Line Chardonnay 2016, is a balanced reinterpretation—from the skilled winemakers in Canada’s Niagara Escarpment region.

Exclusively providing the fruit for this week’s selection, the Stone Road Vineyard is a 25-acre parcel that’s bordered by the climate tempering influence of Lake Ontario—one of the world’s largest freshwater bodies. Inland of the shoreline, deposits of loose sandy-loam soil promote vigorous growth of Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay grapes, while the microclimate conditions allow these varieties a sufficiently long growing season. G. Marquis is the premium brand line offered by the Magnotta Winery, and it’s now available in greater stock levels at the LCBO in the Vintages section. The personal care of hand-picking, sorting and six months of ageing in French-American hybrid oak casks is self-evident, so if you’re uncertain of where Niagara wines are in their quality evolution at this price-point, this noteworthy example speaks volumes!

G. MARQUIS THE SILVER LINE CHARDONNAY 2016
VINTAGES/LCBO – Product #258681 | 750 mL bottle
Price $17.95
12.5 % Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Niagara, Canada
By: Magnotta Winery
Release Date: April 3, 2018

Tasting Note
This soft, dry white wine falls into the mid-weight category of barrel-fermented Chardonnay with spice and herb-accented flavours of baked apple, melon, and ripe pear. Try serving alongside roasted or grilled pork loin, chicken, salmon steaks or pasta dishes and cream sauces.

Alsace Pinot Gris

Firmly part of territorial France in the 21st century, Alsace has been enriched by its dual Frankish and Germanic cultural history while experiencing some geopolitical upheaval due to the competing aspirations of its two parent nations. Colonized by 1st century BC. Romans; allied with the Medieval Holy Roman Empire a millennium or so later; occupied by ambitious 16th century French Kings; annexed by Germans in the late 19th century during the Franco-Prussian War; ceded back to France in the terms of armistice following the First World War, and finally, after many areas were entirely destroyed in the second world war bombing campaign by Allied forces–reaffirmed as French again. Throughout all of this tumult, steadfast Alsatians have rebuilt and found imaginative ways to keep producing fine grapes and a highly distinctive quality of wines.

Pinot Gris is a white wine grape that originated in the neighbouring vineyards of France’s Burgundy, then was proliferated throughout Europe–notably, popularized in Italy in the latter part of the 20th century where it’s known as Pinot Grigio. Derived from the larger Pinot family of grapes, this pink-skinned version with low acidity and relatively high sugar levels does well in cooler growing conditions such as Alsace and across the border around Baden, Germany.

Dating to the early 1700’s, the family winemaking estate of Joseph Cattin has been based in the heart of the Alsatian vineyards south of Colmar, between the villages of Voegtlinshoffen and Hattstatt. This storied region on the west bank of the Upper Rhine near the German border has excelled at cool-weather grape styles since the Middle Ages. The namesake of the current estate, Joseph, was an early 20th-century pioneer in combating the Phylloxera pest which did so much damage in Europe and beyond. Apart from continuing the development and expansion of what was then a modest 7-hectare property, he also studied and subsequently developed vine grafting techniques that became the viticultural model for many Alsatian growers to overcome the blight.

Later Cattin generations expanded the estate to over 50 hectares, as well as, engaged numerous local growers to cultivate according to the family’s exacting standard. With most of the combined vineyards sheltered in among the south-east facing foothills of the Vosges mountains, these terroirs of the Pinot Gris AOC d’Alsace with their highly variable soils and moderate climate help the vines yield a broad range of early ripening fruit with a well-rounded character.

This 2016 offering won Gold at the 2017 Concours Général Agricole de Paris
– as a follow-on to a long lineage of medal accolades for previous vintages.

JOSEPH CATTIN PINOT GRIS 2016
VINTAGES/LCBO – Product #196956 | 750 mL bottle
Price $16.95
13% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: D

Made in Alsace, France
By: Cattin Freres
Release Date: July 7, 2018

Tasting Note
As is typical with this wine style in an Alsatian version, it’s more fulsome than its Italian Pinot Grigio cousins with aroma and flavour notes of stone fruit, accented by hints of
almond and honey. Try serving this with a broad range of vegetable-based dishes, pasta and cream sauces, or as an apéritif with foie-gras.

Alsatian Sylvaner

First conquered by Julius Caesar in the 1st-century BCE, Alsace was a prized tract for agriculture in the Roman province of Prima Germania for 600 years—before becoming part of a Frankish Duchy in 496 CE. After an extended period 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 strip traded Germanic and Franco occupation before settling as a hybridized people and culture within modern-day France–and so it also is with their fashioning of wine.

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 northeast corner of France, this is the largest of 3 related appellations; representing 75% of the region’s vintners. Their output of varietal whites such as Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, and this week’s DéClassé featured Sylvaner, are widely regarded as more fulsome versions of the sometimes, too-lightweight counterparts produced elsewhere. In prudently embracing 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 and refinement of cool climate wines; just ahead of the burgeoning competition, across the border in Germany!

10 generations into their dual inheritance of winemaking traditions, the Allimant and Laugner families have long-lived roots around the village of Orschwiller—set against the picturesque foothills of the Vosges mountains. Since the early 18th-century, the combined estate of 20 hectares has been producing many of the varietal wines listed above. Sylvaner, though, largely remains a mystery to many North American consumers due to its limited production volumes and export—making for an unusual opportunity to get acquainted with the subtle and beguiling charm of Domaine Allimant-Laugner Sylvaner, 2015. If your white wine tastes fall somewhere in the midst of Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Soave and Pecorino, then this offering will assume a satisfying place as an alternate choice.

DOMAINE ALLIMANT-LAUGNER SYLVANER 2015
VINTAGES/LCBO — Product #538413 | 750 mL bottle
Price $17.95
12.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: D

Made in Alsace, France
By: Domaine Allimant-Laugner
Release Date: May 12, 2018

Tasting Note
Though offering little in the way of aromas, the citrus, pear and delicately herbed character of its flavours more than make up for the deficit. Dry, crisp and cooling, this ranks highly as an easy-drinking, warm-weather wine that will add sophistication to patio fare such as arugula salad with grilled chicken, vegetable pastries, poached trout, shellfish, and Pasta Primavera.

Languedoc Viognier

1202 marks one of several noteworthy junctures in the lively history of the Cazal Viel estate and the nearby market town of Cessenon-sur-Orb in southern France. In that medieval year, the titled landowner, Hugues de Cessenon, gave charge over portions of his Languedoc property to a Norbertine order of monks. In turn, the gifting of the land tracts also ushered the construction of their Abbey de Fontcaude — becoming a guiding landmark for religious pilgrims en route to Spain and the famed walk along the Camino de Santiago. Over the ensuing six centuries, the winemaking monks experimented with cultivars and diligently expanded plots that are dotted with the 2,000-year-old ruins of a previous Roman settlement. Unsurprisingly, the estate’s name is derived from a Latin origin, Cazevieille (‘old house’). The moniker remains a succinct and apt description for the unbroken chain of 8 generations of the Famille Miquel who’ve also made worthy contributions to this ever-more-productive enterprise. In the case of their lineage, they’ve been at it since the tumultuous days of the French Revolution in 1791!

What’s far more contemporary is the decision by the Miquel family to plant Viognier vines in the early 1990’s. This grape and its varietal wine style are one of the wine world’s great stories for the recovery of a Vitis Vinifera (European wine grape) that was threatened with near-extinction. In the early 1960’s, a mere 30 or so hectares of these vines were still actively being tended, worldwide — all in a tightly clustered area of the Northern Rhône Valley. 30 years onward from the starting point of cultivation by the Miquel’s, their vineyards now contribute to the thousands of hectares that are being harvested throughout France and from the burgeoning plantings in South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, and South America.

Viognier is a challenging grape to grow with consistency; yielding highly variable harvests from season to season. Since its berries are thick-skinned, the clusters require a great deal of sun exposure to coax them through to full maturity – though, not too much, as the wilting heat can provoke excessive sugar levels, potentially leading to an overly ‘hot’ content of alcohol during fermentation. This week’s DéClassé recommended, Laurent Miquel Nord Sud Viognier 2015, strikes a well-crafted balance. The final blend offers a bright and refreshing fruit character that reflects its time spent in stainless steel tanks, while the wine’s rounded body and flavour profile benefit from some smaller batches having been barrel-matured in French Oak.

Arguably, in spite of Viognier’s newfound popularity as a varietal bottling, as well as, its ongoing use in blends with varieties such as Marsanne and Grenache Blanc, it remains a niche choice by underexposed, North American consumers. This characterful offering, available at a very modest price-point, is not such an enormous gamble for the delightful rewards that will come from broadening your palette with this mid-weight white wine.

LAURENT MIQUEL NORD SUD VIOGNIER 2015
VINTAGES/LCBO — Product #673236 | 750 mL bottle
Price $14.95
13.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Languedoc, France
By: Laurent Miquel
Release Date: April 14, 2018

Tasting Note
Along with Viognier’s characteristic floral and stone fruit aromas, the sweet citrus character of this version adds a zippy brightness to the expected peach and apricot flavours. Enjoy this somewhat more fulsome white as an apéritif offering with soft cheeses, herbed bread crisps, vegetable pasties or along with poached freshwater fish, white-sauced pasta, roasted poultry, lamb tagine or mild curries.

Valle de Leyda Chardonnay

White Burgundy still ranks among the wine world’s most famous grape varieties and the benchmark styles from its namesake terroir remain a gold standard. We’re of course referencing Chardonnay. It has also done very well in California, where climate and drinking taste converged in the 20th century, providing a significant cornerstone upon which a young wine industry was initially built-up, then broadly diversified. The widespread popularity of particular wine styles is subject to cycles. A rapid rise for Chardonnay as a staple table wine in North America was followed by a degree of consumer fatigue — clearly expressed in a somewhat derisive and unfortunate acronym: ABC (‘anything but Chardonnay’). Within the broad range of finishing styles that includes both sparkling and still wines, the world’s most planted white wine grape is enduring and defying the fickle nature of fashion.

Finished Chardonnay is a definitive winemaker’s wine in that the characteristics commonly associated with it: highly aromatic, a buttery mouthfeel, tropical or stone fruit flavours, notes of vanilla, etc. — are all methodically coaxed results from a relatively neutral grape. From time to time, the experimentation has translated into an individual characteristic overshadowing others. As Chardonnay is one rare example of a white wine being suitable for barrel ageing, overly-oaked versions of less-select grape harvests contributed to the decline in reputation and desirability for ever-more discerning drinkers. With the development of the grape in other cooler climate vineyards, fresh and vibrant expressions of Chardonnay are more common again, and arguably, truer to the balance in the originating style from Burgundy. This week’s recommended bottle is a balanced reinterpretation of classic French Chardonnay, though hailing from vineyards in Chile – and highly deserving of a revisiting and re-appreciation.

One of the relatively younger Chilean wine regions is the San Antonio Valley, which in turn, is made up of a collection of branch valleys: Rosario, Malvilla, Cartagena, Lleoleo, Lo Abarca, and the second home of this week’s DéClassé featured vintner in 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 Leyda wineries have been constructing pipelines to access water from the Maipo River and using the precious resource to feed their sustainable drip irrigation systems. With a climate influenced by the valley’s 100-meter altitude and the Humboldt current of the Pacific, the daily cycle of fog-bound mornings giving way to sunny afternoons combines with the mineral-rich soil base to create an ideal terroir for cultivating Chardonnay.

Early in the 20th-century, Pedro Pavone-Voglino emigrated from the well-known Piedmont region in Italy to begin an intrepid adventure that circuitously led him to the fertile valleys of Chile. Decades of subsequent practice in grape-growing would eventually culminate in the founding of a fully-fledged winery in 1956. Flash forward 70 years and you arrive at the expert capability of fashioning Santa Ema Gran Reserva Chardonnay, 2016. With the investment of 8 months in French and American Oak Barrels, during which 40% of the blend rested on its Lees (expired yeast), this very well crafted wine credibly substantiates the numerous, aptly framed accolades for Viña Santa Ema: ‘Wine Spectator’s Top 20 World’s Finest Value Brands’ and ‘Value Winery of the Year by Wine & Spirits magazine.’ Who am I to argue with those credentials; nor should you – so, buy at least two (or three?).

SANTA EMA GRAN RESERVA CHARDONNAY 2016
VINTAGES/LCBO — Product #542365 | 750 mL bottle
Price $16.95
13.5 % Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Leyda Valley, Chile
By: Vinos Santa Ema S.A
Release Date: February 17, 2018

Tasting Note
This bright golden-yellow, full-bodied, barrel-aged wine with a significant alcohol content, playfully combines aromas of lemon balm with ripe tropical fruit flavours of passion fruit and banana along with subtle toast and vanilla accents. If serving as an apéritif, try with smoked salmon and Gruyère cheese. As a main course complement, herb-roasted chicken and Parmesan polenta, grilled Trout, oysters and mussels, seared sea scallops, crab cakes or pasta in light cream sauces – are all good choices.

Loire Sauvignon Blanc

The Loire River Valley in west-central France has a long history of being a geographical and political demarcation line. In the 1st century, Imperial Rome used it to sub-divide their occupation of Gaul into two large areas: Aquitania to the south, and Celtica to the north. With the demise of the empire, Val de Loire continued to act as a borderland, separating the southern territories controlled by the ‘barbarian’ Visigoths, and the Gallo-Romans who renamed their northern realm as Syagrius. During the Middle Ages, and perhaps most famously, English Plantagenet King, Henry 2nd, ruled the north while his erstwhile wife, Eleanor, held sway in Aquitaine. Spanning these diverse historical periods is a steady, unifying development of viniculture; eventually taking pride-of-place in the landscape and providing the modern-day Loire with an appropriate moniker, ‘garden of France.’ Winemaking legend suggests that a 4th-century monk, Saint-Martin, was first to introduce suitable vines for the terroir, and to promote an early form of pruning practice by having his donkey graze in the monastery vineyard; to strip the vines of their lower leaves and buds. It’s a critical cultivation step, where the limiting of harvest yields results in far more concentrated grapes and flavour. Nonetheless, the Loire’s vintners still manage to produce about 400 million bottles annually, with varietal Sauvignon Blanc output accounting for a large share of the total.

domaine-de-la-chaise-touraine

Centered on the city of Tours, the sub-region of Touraine is located where the valley’s namesake river meets two of its numerous tributaries; Cher and Indre. In turn, these fertile river junctions, the Indre-et-Loire and Loire-et-Cher encompass 146 communes and an expansive list of winemaking châteaux that qualify for Touraine AOP designation. Among them is this DéClassé featured, Domaine de la Chaise and their Touraine Sauvignon 2016. Drawing fruit from vineyards that lie near the postcard-famed, white Château de Chenonceau, pedigree and high standards are not in short supply!

Likely to have originated next door in Bordeaux, the Sauvignon Blanc variety is widely planted throughout the world and highly adaptable to a range of climates such as Chile, North America, and New Zealand. In the Loire’s maritime conditions, its characteristics of budding late, then ripening early, makes for a benchmark Sauvignon white wine that’s delicate, nuanced and balanced. At Domaine de la Chaise, they’re offering a refined example at a modest price. If you’re not a fan of overpriced, over-ripe and grassy Sauvignon, I suggest buying 3; to dispel your negative predisposition permanently!

DOMAINE DE LA CHAISE TOURAINE SAUVIGNON 2016
VINTAGES – LCBO Product # 452540 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 16.95
12.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Loire, France
By: Christophe Davault
Release Date: November 25, 2017

Tasting Note
Refreshing, fruity and pleasingly tart, this is a classic Loire Sauvignon Blanc with citrus and subtle honeysuckle aromas. Grapefruit and pineapple flavours mark a medium-bodied wine with some restrained, herbaceous notes left to the finish. Try serving alongside a fresh pea risotto, arugula salad with a lemon vinaigrette or with cold shrimp, lobster, and crab cakes.

Roussillon Grenache Blanc/Gris Cuvée

Here in the sunniest corner of southwestern France, after an earlier period of working abroad for other wineries, Jean-Marc Lafage and partner Eliane have followed in his father’s wine-making footsteps – establishing the sixth successful generation to take ownership for farming these historic vineyards in the Côtes du Roussillon. Arguably, the least selective AOC in the larger Roussillon region, it’s still best known for its abundant output of red wine and rosé. However, in the case of this vintner’s practices, somewhat less stringent official guidelines, and fewer entrenched traditions for fashioning their white wine allow for a more flexible, year to year recipe, particularly in the blending proportions of the allowable grape varieties.

The composition of 80% Grenache Blanc and Grenache Gris (somewhat novel) is blended with 20% Roussanne and aged in both stainless steel tanks (70%), as well as, in new French oak barrels (30%). Their Grenache vines, averaging 90 yrs. of age, thrive in the ancient Quaternary soil (stony, gravelled) that lie within view of the Mediterranean seashore. Presumably, the significant maturity of the vine stock provides the namesake for this bottling called ‘Centenaire’ (Centennial).

The generally favourable terroir here is helped by the Tramontana winds that blow from the North-West, providing both a cooling and drying effect in the vineyards. In 2016, this vintner’s plots in Roussillon were mercifully spared the hail and frost that were otherwise widespread in France, making it a difficult harvest for many winemakers. Though Roussillon had less than desirable rainfall during the main growing season, the delayed harvest of smaller grape clusters allowed for enhanced acidity and a rich aromatic character. Despite having produced lower yields, 2016 is highly regarded as a banner year for quality.

Relatively new to the international market, this week’s DéClassé recommended offering, Domaine Lafage Cuvée Centenaire 2016, couldn’t be more attractively priced as a premium white wine. If you’re able to snap up a bunch, as you should if you’re a fan of fuller-bodied whites – then know that it will cellar well for at least 2 years or more.

Domaine Lafage

DOMAINE LAFAGE CUVÉE CENTENAIRE 2016
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #343491 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 17.95
14.0% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Midi, France
By: Domaine Lafage
Release Date: September 16, 2017

Tasting Note
With aromatic hints of vanilla and white fruit, this rich white wine has subtle citrus flavours with a flint-edged minerality derived from maritime soils. Try serving with food fare such as pasta carbonara, mild curries, ratatouille or fish dishes and mussels.