Provençal Rosé

Two and a half millennia’s worth of experiment and refinement in viniculture, give or take a few centuries, surely demonstrates a commitment to getting it right. In these ancient vineyards dotted among the tumbling limestone bluffs and some still-wild scrubland, a colourful panoply of migrant tribes, religious monk orders, dukedoms, kingdoms, and empires have introduced new varieties of grapevine — adapting them as regional cultivars and a diversity of styles. In antiquity, Greek settlers farmed the maritime landscape for 500 years before Caesar strode ashore triumphantly at Marseilles in 49BC. The occupation would endure for four centuries and provide Provence with its modern name derived from the long-held Latin title, Provincia Romana. With the sudden demise of the Western Roman Empire, a succession of Ostrogoths, Visigoths and Germanic Burgondes took turns making their preferred wines before being absorbed into the Kingdom of the Franks in the 8th century. Invasion by North African Berbers, then the rising of Charlemagne’s Carolingian Empire, was followed by a litany of other feudal Frankish or Italianate kingdoms. So it continued throughout the Crusades and Medieval Periods — up until 1481 when Louis XI firmly embraced Provence as a unique territory in the France we know today. Somewhere along the historical way, Provençal winemakers finally settled on the challenges and rewards of becoming the global gold standard for the fashioning of Rosé.

When cultivating grapes, especially Grenache, Syrah, and Cinsault, it’s a blessing in the Côtes de Provence AOP to see 300 days of yearly sunshine; better ensuring that the fruit will have reached peak maturity by harvest. If you’re a local vintner aiming to fashion crisp and refreshing wines from these relatively robust varieties, then it’s also beneficial for the vines to experience a significant cooling-off in the evening as a respite from the stressful, daytime heat. If you’re a painter, then the vista of the Arc Valley, framed by mountains and low-lying hills on 3 sides might be as inspiring as it was to Cezanne in his landscape composition, Mont Sainte-Victoire and the Viaduct of the Arc River Valley.

Call it ‘Provence’s sun-drenched bounty’ and know that it’s plentifully expressed in this week’s DéClassé recommended bottling of Gassier Sables d’Azur Rosé. It’s a classic blend of the grapes listed above, with the Cinsaut adding softness and bouquet to the salmon-pink formulation. As an excellent example of why this charming wine style continues to enjoy a renaissance of appreciation worldwide, it’s attractively bottled in the slender and curvy glass vessel known regionally as a flûte à corset: a playful association to the garment, and shapely effect. What’s not reined-in here is an abundance of delicately layered flavour. Buy 3 (at least)!

GASSIER SABLES D’AZUR ROSÉ 2016
VINTAGES – Product #33621 | 750 mL bottle
Price: $ 16.95
Wine, Rosé Wine
12.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content: D

Made in Provence, France
By: Advini
Release Date: May 27, 2017

Tasting Note
Fresh red berry, melon, and sweet citrus zest dominate the aroma and flavours of this dry and vibrant wine. Perfect as an aperitif served alongside Sushi, salads, Prosciutto Crostini and goats’ cheeses or with mains of stuffed Mediterranean peppers, herb-roasted poultry and sweet potato gratin.

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.

Rioja Garnacha Tinto/Tempranillo

As a signature example of both Spanish modern and old school winemaking methods, this fresh-fruited red represents the vanguard for well-made table wines in Spain’s blossoming, quality revolution. Here in the extremely hot wine country around Alfaro, it’s a desirable combination; deftly pairing innovation with deeply rooted tradition. It is modern in that the updated production style of minimal handling and filtering helps to preserve the brightness of the wine, balanced with a soft and integrated presence of Oak. The old school facets are a blending proportion of 40% Garnacha Tinta (Grenache) into the 60% Tempranillo base, as well as, incorporating small batches of finished wine from the previous vintage (max. 15%). Both are typical in Rioja Baja, the most prolific of the 3 La Rioja sub-regions – home to this week’s DéClassé featured wine from the renowned vintner, Bodegas Palacios Remondo.

Winemaker and visionary figure, Alvaro Palacios, has for some time now been making news in the wine world with his influential strategies of promoting the development of quality over quantity. In 2015 he was the news, having been declared Decanter Man of the Year by the well-regarded journal. It’s a crowning juncture in a key transition period for this cutting edge winery that purposefully dared to cut output from 200,000 cases of unremarkable bulk wine down to 50,000 of refined grades – a business risk that’s now paying off.

La Vendimia (‘the harvest’) is a solid version of a Spanish Joven designation; a decidedly young wine that has been barrel-aged for less than six months. Here on the arid, rocky slopes of Monte Yerga, the Bodega draws fruit from 40 hectares of 10 – 40-year-old vines; grown organically without irrigation, at some of Rioja Baja’s highest altitudes (+550m). Along with the varietal bottling of 100% Tempranillo, famously fashioned in the other two La Rioja sub-regions of Alta and Alavasa, this is as close to a perfect, informal sipping wine that Spain currently produces. By design it’s meant to be enjoyed young and year-on-year it continues to be offered at a fair price-point. That’s still very much the case!

La Vendimia

PALACIOS REMONDO LA VENDIMIA 2015
VINTAGES – Product #674564 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 16.95
14.0% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content: XD

Made in: Rioja, Spain
By: Bodegas Palacios Remondo
Release Date: May 13, 2017

Tasting Note
Consistently well made, this cherry-coloured, fruit-driven wine reveals aromas of blackberry jam, raspberry and a hint of Garrigue (fragrant, wild Mediterranean shrubs). Enjoy this on its own or with hearty fare such as Ratatouille, lamb ragout, or pretty much most BBQ-roasted dishes.

Loire Crémant

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

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

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

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

Bouvet

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

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

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

Rioja Alavesa Crianza

Ancient hilltop monasteries and other now-tumbled, stone fortifications that were built over the centuries, lie littered about these richly historic lands of north central Spain. Sharing a border with the former, French influenced, medieval kingdom of Navarre, the regional identity of Rioja is equally distinct on its side of the modern day boundary that’s framed by the Pyrénées Mountains. Apart from holding a unique and dynamic place in a very diverse, Spanish cultural patchwork, this region’s vintners are continuing to build on their leadership role as some of Iberia’s most competitive, progressive, and resourceful wineries – while outputting 280 million litres of wine, annually!

The designated wine denomination of Rioja is comprised of three sub-regions: Rioja Baja, Rioja Alta and the source of this week’s DéClassé focus, Rioja Alavesa. Considered a part of Basque country, this geography is sheltered by the Sierra Cantabria ridge of mountains and is home to 400 hectares of vines either owned or managed by Bodegas Luis Cañas. Their vineyards are widely distributed over 900 small individual plots, so drawing fruit evermore discerningly has been both the challenge and the key strategy pursued by the vintner toward producing an expanding range of premium wine.

Once focused only on less-remarkable, bulk-winemaking, the steady process of upscaling quality by employing advanced production techniques has also been influenced by the agricultural reality of prolonged drought. In the current period of the last 5 growing seasons or so, this stress is condensing yields but is also bolstering the layered character of the smaller grape clusters. Nonetheless, impressively, this irrepressible Bodega remains capable of producing more than167, 000 cases of fruit yearly – in a virtual desert!

As an example of a modern Rioja style, Luis Cañas Crianza 2014 blends 95% Tempranillo grapes with a small splash of Garnacha (Grenache) to top up its fruitiness. Making up ¾ of all rootstock planted in Riojan vineyards, Tempranillo’s name is derived from Temprano meaning ‘early’ – and it does reliably ripen quite early. The Crianza designation ensures that it has spent at least one year in oak casks and another in the bottle before being released. The use of mellowed 3-year-old French barrels coupled with the starring grape’s naturally soft tannins translates into a supple and pleasing mouthfeel. Albeit still youthful, this lively and medium-bodied red is ready-to-go and may become somewhat more velvety as it settles. Though not destined for long-term storage, you can certainly dare to hold this well-crafted example of the 2014 vintage for at least several more years. For those with less will, be encouraged in knowing that Rioja’s 2015 harvest, also anticipated as very good, is almost on its way – to replace the empty slots on your rack.

LUIS CANAS CRIANZA 2014
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #336719 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 17.00
14.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in: Rioja, Spain
By: Araex Rioja Alavesa S.L.
Release Date: April 29, 2017

Tasting Note
With a complex mix of dark, red fruit aromas and flavours that feature cherry,
raspberries and fig, try serving this to keep up with most anything prepared on
a charcoal grill, including beef tenderloin brochettes, Chorizo sausages or as an
apéritif with semi-ripe cheeses and spicy tapas.

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.

Ripasso Della Valpolicella

Often thought of as a singular wine style, the prodigious vineyards of the Valpolicella DOC, a Veneto sub-region in north-eastern Italy, now produce a broad range of grapes and blends. Rightfully known for light and fruity wines intended for early consumption, the bulk of the vines planted here include Rondinella, Molinara, and Corvina Veronese. Up until the early medieval age, these hillside tracts of fertile soil that are dependably fed by a lattice of brooks in the Adige River watershed were individually named valleys: Vallis Provinianensis, rolling out northwest of famed Verona, and Vallis Veriacus to the east. In time, the reference to these and an adjacent plain were combined, becoming Vallis Pulicella. Modern day Italians, along with the rest of an appreciative wine world, now succinctly call the region Valpolicella. Circa the 12th-century onwards, stewardship of the ‘valley of many cellars’ was first overseen by the Veronese nobility and then the prosperous mercantile class who followed in their footsteps. As regional contributors to the glory age known as the Serenissima Republia (‘Serene Republic of Venice’), this partnership of multi-generational families coupled with local agricultural expertise has been a winning formula for distinctive winemaking and export know-how. Viva Verona!

Ripasso (to ‘go over again’) is a relatively ancient vinification technique which has again become popular with red wine lovers looking for bolder versions of standard Valpolicella; lighter than the complex, heavyweight, and significantly more expensive Amarone, another specialty in the region. For this week’s DéClassé selection of Storia Antica Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso 2014, the ‘Ripasso’ designation refers to a multi-step process beginning with selective, hand picking and sorting of grapes that include a predominate blend of Corvina Veronese and Corvinone Nero, as well as, a splash of Rondinella. The fruit macerates in contact with the skins for approximately 10 days before filtering, after which it settles and matures while stored in Inox (stainless steel tanks) for several months. In January/February of the following year, the second fermentation stage that characterizes Ripasso wines is achieved by reusing the pumice of dried grapes discarded after a complicated production process in making Amarone. Blending this mash, which still holds a concentration of unconverted sugars, with the young Valpolicella prompts the re-fermentation. The wine is filtered again, then left to age for 12 months in large oak barrels and 6 months in the bottle. If executed with care, these steps create a richer wine with noticeably more tannin, pigment, and an alcohol content boosted from 11% to at least 13%.

A great deal of time and effort has been invested in this production style, so paying a few dollars above the baseline price-point for generic Valpolicella is more than justified. As this bottling is from the 2014 vintage, it’s ready to drink now – it may also be enjoyed over the next 3-5 years if for some reason you misplace your corkscrew!

STORIA ANTICA RIPASSO VALPOLICELLA 2014
VINTAGES – Product #273672 | 750 mL bottle
Price: $ 17.95
13.0% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content: D

Made in: Veneto, Italy
By: Le Ville Di Antane S.R.L.
Release Date: March 18, 2017

Tasting Note
With its dominant flavours of dark fruit, some chocolate and savoury notes, and the signature yet subtle raisinated quality, this ruby coloured wine is a signature Ripasso Della Valpolicella. Dry, flavourful and smooth, the bottling’s balance of oak and fruit combine in a refinement that’s not always achieved in the sometimes, heavy-handed Appassimento styles. An excellent wine choice for barbecued steaks and ribs, lamb tagine, roasted butternut squash, or Ratatouille with crispy herbed croutons.