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.

Niederösterreich Grüner Veltliner

20 centuries ago in one of the newly conquered lands bounded by the Danube River, the legendary Roman military commander, Tiberius, recognized the untapped agricultural potential of its fertile valleys and plains. After having subdued the Celtic and Ligurian tribes who were loosely allied in the kingdom of Noricum, he set about establishing a legionary encampment that would grow into a large and prosperous regional capital, Carnuntum. Apart from mining the ore-rich mountains, which provided high-grade steel weaponry to the empire, the settlements other success was in developing farming estates in nearby territories that eventually included Kamptal (Kamp River Valley). To fulfil a social philosophy that deemed wine to be a daily necessity for all classes of its society, from slave through noble, these ‘provincial Romans’ introduced terraced vineyards as an agricultural innovation. The technology allowed growers to exploit the underused portions of the sloped terrain; expanding the cultivation of indigenous grapes such as the one they termed Veltin; resulting in a significant boost of harvest yields and the local wine supply. In the modern age, this corner of central Europe has become known as Niederösterreich (Lower Austria), and one of the distinctive wines that Austrian vintners have become uniquely expert at is called Grüner Veltliner!

Primarily grown in Austria, Grüner Veltliner (Grew-ner Velt-leen-er) is a flagship white wine variety making up nearly a third of all plantings, with spillover into the neighbouring Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia. As a hardy and prolific vine, its suitability to these terroirs is tied to the rich löss (wind-blown soils) that have built up in the geography of ancient volcanic calderas; settling over top of crushed stone beds that provide drainage for mildew-free growing conditions. As of 2009, Austria’s wine laws have evolved to include DAC designations for both Veltliner and Riesling wines in order to clearly distinguish between the regional sources of the grapes and to promote higher quality levels. Additionally, the bottling is graded and priced according to either a ‘Classic’ finishing style of 12.5% abv (with no wood influence) or ‘Reserve’ at 13.5%abv (with some integrated wood allowable). As with this week’s DéClassé recommended Rabl Grüner Veltliner Langenlois 2015, the ‘Classic’ version is somewhat lighter-bodied, unoaked and largely intended to be enjoyed as a fresh, zingy young wine that blooms with food pairing – and it does!

rudolf-rabl

70km north-west of the capital, Vienna, the designated Kamptal DAC wine zone is centred around the Baroque-esq town of Langenlois. Surrounded by forested mountains and ringed by vineyards, this idyllic setting has been home to Weingut Rudolph Rabl for 265 years and counting. In the mid-18th century, 20 hectares of the estate’s land tracts began as a traditional farm with mixed crops and livestock. After adding grapevines, the business remained confined to selling bulk wine in barrel to local innkeepers – up until the early 20th century. In 1986, Rudolf Rabl Junior was enlisted into the family business and progressively entrusted with his father’s passion; ultimately allowing the winery to expand to 80 hectares and bloom into one of the largest estates in the valley. The distinctive icon of a green Raven depicted on Rabl (‘little Raven’) labels marks their line of well-crafted, entry-level wines; consistently offered at an exceptionally modest price-point.

All in all, it’s taken some time for North American markets to embrace white wine styles other than the enduring stars such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio and Soave. So, in the spirit of more deeply exploring the horizon of your established tastes, add this varietal wine to your DéClassé recommended list of alternate, characterful dry whites: Sylvaner, Picpoul de Pinet, Tsinandali, Gavi, Pecorino, and Vinho Verde. Consider buying half a case while being reminded that Grüner Veltliner offers the promise of longevity in the bottle; making it a worthy candidate for some short-term cellaring, over the next 2 – 5 years.

RABL GRÜNER VELTLINER 2015
VINTAGES – LCBO Product # | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 14.95
12.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Kamptal, Austria
By: Weingut Rudolph Rabl
Release Date: July 22, 2017

Tasting Note
This is a bright and elegant wine with flavour notes of apple, lemon balm and lime, delicate pepper spice, loads of ripe acidity and an intriguing minerality through the remarkably long finish. As apéritif, serve with Prosciutto crostini, smoked fish, or with mains of veal schnitzel, grilled asparagus and white-sauced artichoke.

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 that produce 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 is punctuated by an array of astonishing Chateaux and 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. Here, 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. A 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 an often, damp maritime climate. Unsurprisingly, the flinty white wines that are produced under 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 generous levels of acidity. Try serving with 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.