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.

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.

Tuscan Chianti

Sangiovese Grosso, Sangiovese Piccolo, Sangioveto ….. is to name just a few of the aliases for this grape and its closely related cultivars; providing the core body for most Tuscan red wine recipes, and still reigning as the most consumed Italian wine style at home and abroad. Dark blue-skinned Sangiovese takes its name from the Latin term, Sanguis Jovis (‘blood of Jove’); an exalted reference to both the elixir’s colour and its place in Europe’s pantheon of great grape species: Vitis Vinifera. It’s also the most widely cultivated variety in central Italy, with prolific vineyards in Lazio, Umbria, Marche and Tuscany combining for 95% of worldwide plantings, which is a largely unrivaled dominance by a major grape, sourced from a single country. Over several hundred years, generations of growers have steadily built up their expertise with ‘San-joh-vay-say.’ Stewarding these slow ripening fruit clusters through to a balanced maturity is an agricultural art that Tuscans have diligently become very, very good at!

fiascoes

In the vinicultural history of many old world regions, the development of a distinctive wine style that becomes immensely popular, aided by prodigious yields of grapes that are well-suited to the terroir, adds up to a mixed record of glory times and a fair share of winemaking folly. The sometimes too-voluminous output of Tuscany’s Chianti is no exception to the latter. Happily, the decades in the mid-20th century during which large commercial producers let loose far too much unremarkable bulk wine dressed up in attractively rotund flasks swaddled with woven straw called Fiascoes, are long gone. In the 21st century, a re-invigoration of a different sort has taken hold in the baseline winemaking practices of these lands and culture that were the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance. This time, Tuscan vintners are focused on advancing the competitive quality across all grades of their wine; from everyday offerings such as charmingly simple Chianti through to premium production of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello. At the core of this shift is the general reduction of harvest yields by the growers who themselves were instrumental in redefining the mandated guidelines of Italy’s highest classification of quality: DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita). Now favouring the cultivation of higher quality grapes over the indiscriminate volumes of fruit they were once encouraged to output by the region’s factory-style bottlers, the visionary initiatives have resulted in both commercial and reputational success. Too bad about the demise of the traditional straw wrapping, though, it was so rustically emblematic of Italian table wine for such a long time!

Drawing on over 400 hectares of vineyards throughout the provinces of Grosseto, Florence, and Sienna, the cooperative growers allied with Cantina Viticoltori Senesi Aretini are focused on value-driven wines fashioned from the region’s indigenous grapes. This DéClassé feature of Castelsina Chianti Riserva is a non-estate, well-crafted everyday wine that’s a limited release from the banner 2010 vintage. Despite its fictitious branding (unlike Castellina there is no such place as ‘Castelsina’), this is nonetheless a delightful, medium-bodied Chianti, displaying an integrated character of vibrant fruit blended in among the savoury earth notes. Exercising restraint in the finishing process of wine demonstrates some modern winemaking wisdom. In the case of this bottling, the straightforward recipe of 80% Sangiovese fermented in Inox tanks before spending the 12 months in oak, results in an unfettered and refreshing offering that’s true to its pedigree. Add a $14.95 price-point, and you have a winner that will sell swiftly. I would buy many, to fill the empty slots in your loose-straw-lined storage boxes. The success of this offering will probably prompt a price increase for the next vintage!

castelsina

CASTELSINA CHIANTI RISERVA 2010
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #481184 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 14.95
13% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: D

Made in Tuscany, Italy
By: Cantina Viticoltori Senesi Aretini
Release Date:

Tasting Note
This medium-bodied Chianti demonstrates the expected combination of plum and cherry flavours and aromas blending with a restrained earthiness and the spice notes gained from its aging in oak. Try serving as an apéritif with salty charcuterie and cheeses such as Pecorino or with heartier fare such as roast lamb with rosemary, rib eye steak with asparagus and a mushroom risotto or Tuscan-style sausages and Fava beans.

El Bierzo Mencia

Despite having been quietly tucked away in the autonomous province of Castilla y León for centuries, the Bierzo DO region is re-emerging at the forefront of modern Spanish winemaking frontiers — as a reliable source of regionally distinctive, high-quality wines. What’s far more longstanding than this newly minted status are the region’s Roman-era gold mines, Templar Castles, and a host of medieval monasteries serving as way stations on the famed pilgrimage path, Camino de Santiago. Geographically acting as a funnel into the verdant northwest corner of the Iberian peninsula, the various valleys of El Bierzo make up the upper basin of the Sil River system whose waters are fed by runoff from the Montes de León and the Cordillera Cantábrica mountain ranges. Aptly referred to as the ‘gateway to Galicia,’ which in turn is characterized as ‘green Spain,’ the fertile and rumpled territory of Bierzo marks the bountiful transition zone. Though still a relatively small and less-well-known Spanish region in the international wine market, Bierzo’s rising reputation for winemaking is fueled by a unique climate of Atlantic and Mediterranean influences that moderate each other’s extremes; making for conditions where both red and white wine grapes thrive. Capitalizing on this natural blessing, the 55 major Bodegas of Bierzo are impressively outputting 11 million liters of wine annually, and with the optimistic trend by local vintners of rehabilitating their older, under-producing plots, the vineyard expansion continues at a healthy/sustainable pace.

santa-maria-de-carracedo

Though taking the inspiration for its name from the inactive, neighbouring abbey of Monasterio de Santa María de Carracedo that dates to the 10th century, Bodega del Abad (‘the Abbot’s Cellar’) only became active as an independent producer in 2003. Initially developed under the guidance of a legendary winemaking master, José Luís Santín-Vázquez, the Bodega already boasts a loyal following that was engendered by a surprising release of a 2001 Crianza-grade cache of their earliest vintage; one which had been hiding somewhere in the dark back corners of their cellars. This week’s DéClassé feature of Abad Dom Bueno Crianza 2006 is also a surprising re-release that’s being offered for a 4th consecutive year. Evidently, the current vintner, Miguel Tienda Baena, has exercised discretion in evaluating the character of this particular vintage; one that’s been settling for eleven years now. Unsurprisingly, it’s evolved into a soft and rounded bottling, but surprisingly, still possesses some fruitful vigour, mineral streaks, and a reasonable level of enlivening acidity.

These balanced attributes point to many factors of winemaking accomplishment while bringing to bear modern production techniques, but also revealing the innate potential of Mencia. Indigenous to Bierzo, and with a significant increase in plantings since the 1990’s, the rising star variety has joined the list of the four most important Spanish red wine grapes: Tempranillo, Garnacha, and Monastrell. Producing compact grape clusters of medium-sized, violet-blue berries, its renaissance of popularity has been bolstered by an ability to yield age-worthy wine at relatively modest price points. 35 hectares of this bodega’s vineyards are located up on steep terrain made up of slate and quartzite-laden soils where the mix of old vines, with some approaching 70 years-of-age, continue to yield characterful fruit. When meticulously handpicked and sorted as they are at Bodega Del Abad, the harvests are creating wines that are characteristically fleshy, velvety, and bursting with red berry flavours.

This bottling is certainly ready to please now, and as it’s a yearly favourite for LCBO Vintages customers, it will evaporate from the shelves quickly as the word of this gem’s reappearance spreads. If you’re not an optimist when it comes to storing wine, then just buy enough to get you through the upcoming spring, summer, and Fall!

Abad Dom Bueno Crianza

ABAD DOM BUENO CRIANZA 2006
VINTAGES – LCBO Product #244699 | 750 mL bottle
Price $ 15.95
13.5% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content Descriptor: XD

Made in Bierzo, Spain
By: Bodega Del Abad
Release Date: February 18, 2017

Tasting Note
Though gracefully aged, this still offers juicy red cherry and currant flavours with subtle herb, vanilla and chocolate accents. A refreshing acidity enhances the core of soft tannins, so it could stand to be slightly chilled before decanting. Try serving with rich poultry dishes such as blackened Cajun chicken, a roasted leg of herbed lamb, Balsamic and ginger marinated steak or with spicy beef empanadas.