It’s Nice to be Needled



It’s nice to be needled….as long as the “needles” are found in wine – and not, perhaps, in the hands of a phlebotomist, or an errant sewing needle finding its way into your thumb.

“Vino de aguja” is a good way to be needled. This Spanish term for a slightly sparkling wine can be translated as “needle wine.” It’s a pretty obscure term – you won’t find it in the Oxford Companion or The Wine Lover’s Companion; even a Google search will only yield a few hits.  However, keep digging and you’ll be able to figure out that aguja means “needle” in Spanish, and in the case of vino de aguja refers to the prickly effect of the tiny bubbles.

The best information I could gather came from the websites of the wines that self-identified as vinos de aguja. One producer, Bodegas Pinord, located in Penedès, makes a range of wines, including some still wines, some sparklers (Cavas), and even some organic wines. Interestingly enough, the Spanish language version of their website refers to their “La Nansa” and “Reynal” product lines – which includes La Nansa Rosado, La Nansa Blanco, and a red, rosé, and soft white version of Reynal – as “Vinos de Aguja,” yet the English language version refers to them as “pearl wines” – which might partially explain the challenge in finding reliable information on this style of wine.

Photo via

Photo via

In 1942, Bodegas Pinord was the first winery in Spain to make wines in the style of vino de aguja. The production method, which results in a semi-sparkling wine with a maximum of 2.5 bars of atmospheric pressure, is somewhat of a two-step single fermentation.  The grapes are pressed and fermentation is allowed to begin. When there is just enough sugar left in the must to create the desired style (in terms of sweetness) of wine and 3 atm of bubbles, the wines is transferred to a closed tank, where it continues fermentation in a temperature-controlled and pressurized environment. The wine is then bulk clarified and bottled under pressure.

Their Reynal red and rosé are both produced from Tempranillo, while their Reynal soft white is a blend of Macabeo, Parellada, Xarel-lo. All of the Reynal wines have just under 2% residual sugar. The La Nansa wines have 0.8% residual sugar and are, thus, technically dry. The La Nansa blanco is made from Macabeo and Chardonnay, while the La Nansa rosé is a blend of Garnacha and Merlot.

Blanc Pescador, one of Spain’s top selling white wines is also a vino de aguja. Blanc Pescador is also produced in the two-step single fermentation method, and is made in the Empordà region of northeast Catalonia. This is the type of wine that you’ll likely be served –by the tumbler – in a restaurant or bar along Spain’s Mediterranean Coast.

Blanc Pescador is a dry wine made from a blend of Macabeo, Parellada, Xarel-lo. The winery also produces a “Blanc Premium” from Macabeo, Chardonnay, Garnacha Blanca and/or Sauvignon Blanc; and a Pescador Rosé using Trepat, Garnacha, and Merlot. These wines are produced by the large Grupo Perelada that produces a wide range of Spanish wines – including some serious Cavas, red wines of Empordà, and even a Marc de Cava (pomace brandy).

The following DOs are authorized to produce vino de aguja in Spain. The DOs define vine do aguja as “semi-sparkling” or as having 1-2.5 atms of pressure, and some use the term “Vi d’agulla.” I make no claims that this is a complete list; however, these are the regions that I was able to confirm:

  • In Catalonia: Catalonia DO, Terra Alta DO, Tarragona DO, Penedès DO, Plá de Bagés DO, Alella DO, Conca de Barberá DO, Empordà DO, Costers del Segre DO
  • In the Canary Islands: La Palma DO, Valle de Güímar DO, Abona DO
  • In Aragón: Cariñena DO, Calatayud DO
  • In Valencia: Utiel-Requena DO
  • In the Balearic Islands: Plà i Llevant DO
  • In Castilla-La Mancha: La Mancha DO

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…

Misfits of Alsace



The wines of Alsace are a bit of an enigma. They are truly French, and yet certain aspects of their style, culture, and tradition are strongly Germanic. They are the only AOC-level French wine to have labeled their top-tier wines with the name of the grape variety for the last 40 years. They are also unique in that they have 51 Grand Cru vineyards, and yet not every producer or even every Grand Cru is thrilled about the fact.

Despite its long history of wine production, Alsace was one of the last of France’s major wine regions to be granted AOC status. The AOC was first created in 1962; the delightful sparkling wines of the region – Crémant d’Alsace – were awarded a separate AOC in 1976.

In 1975, Alsace awarded its first Grand Cru to Schlossberg, with more designated in 1983. Another 24 vineyards were promoted in 1992, and one more – Kaefferkopf, the 51st – in 2007. As of 2011, each of Alsace’s 51 Grand Cru Vineyards were awarded their own separate AOC.

With few exceptions – which we’ll discuss below – Alsace Grand Cru must be a white wine produced 100% from a single variety of the four “Noble” grapes of Alsace – Riesling,  Muscat, Gewurztraminer, or Pinot Gris. (Wines labeled as “Muscat” may be made with Muscat’s Ottonel, Blanc à Petits Grains, and/or Rosé à Petits Grains variations.) Alsace Grand Cru wines must be vintage dated, cannot be released until June 1 of the year following harvest, and must be bottled in a traditional, tall bottle – the Flûte d’Alsace. They are typically considered to be dry, although in some years a tickle of sugar can be detected; they may be produced in sweet styles as well. Vendage Tardive (late harvest) and Sélection de Grains Nobles (botrytis-affected) versions must be hand harvested and require an additional year of aging.



Which leads me to the “misfits” of Alsace – meaning those Grands Crus that are delightfully unique and/or unusual.  With 51 Grands Crus, there is a lot of information to corral. (If you’d like to do just that, I suggest this link.) So here are a few of the outliers – the biggest, the smallest, and the three that have exceptions to the “noble grapes only and no blends” rule.

The First and the Biggest: Schlossberg – The Grand Cru of Schlossberg, located on the slopes above the communes of Kayserberg and Kientzheim in the Haut-Rhin, is the largest Alsace Grand Cru – clocking in at 197 acres (80 hectares). Schlossberg also happens to be the oldest of Alsace’s 51 Grands Crus – being the first vineyard to be so designated when the classification first began in 1975. The name “Schlossberg” comes from the 800-year-old castle (“Schloss” in German”) located on the western edge of the vineyard.

The vineyard itself is comprised of two parcels, the majority of the area being one large plot of terraced vineyards on the south-facing slope of a large hillside; as well as a smaller parcel across the way. Riesling is the super-star here, with some excellent examples made by Domaine Weinbach, Albert Mann, and Paul Blanck.

The Smallest: Kanzlerberg – The Grand Cru of Kanzlerberg, at 7.5 acres (3 hectares), is the smallest of the Alsace Grands Crus. It also happens to be the most southerly, located in the commune of Bergheim in the Haut-Rhin Département. Kanzlerberg is located at an elevation of 820 feet (250 meters) with a due-south southern exposure, giving the vines wonderful, full sunshine and resulting in richly flavored, complex wines. Kanzlerberg is sometimes overlooked, being located just down the hill from the much larger – and very prestigious -Grand Cru of Altenberg de Bergheim. Tiny Kanzlerberg currently only has two producers – Sylvie Speilmann and Gustav Lorenz – both of whom also produce wines from Altenberg de Bergheim.



Notable for Noir: Altenberg de Bergheim – Altenberg de Bergheim, located in the hills above the commune of Bergheim in the Haut-Rhin, produces typical Alsace Grand Cru wines from 100% Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and Pinot Gris. However, it is unique for two reasons: it is allowed to make Grand Cru blends, and it is the only Alsace Grand Cru wine allowed to contain red grapes (Pinot Noir).  Blends must be 50-70% Riesling, 10-25% Pinot Gris, 10-25% Gewurztraminer, and may contain up to 10% (combined) Chasselas, Muscat (à Petits Grains or Muscat Ottonel), Pinot Noir, and/or Pinot Blanc. Chasselas, either of the Muscats, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Blanc may only be used in the blend if planted before 2005. The Altenberg vineyard has been known for its outstanding wines since the end of the 13th century.

The Latest, the Contentious, and the King of Cuvée: Kaefferkopf – The Kaefferkopf Grand Cru is located in the village of Ammerschwihr in the Haut-Rhin Département. It is the most recently promoted of the Alsace Grands Crus, having just been promoted in 2007. This promotion  was not without its own controversy – producers in the area had declined Grand Cru status when it was first offered to them in 1990, and many once again contested the decision in 2007. The contentious issue was a certain plot of land – 37 acres worth – that was part of the Kaefferkopf Title awarded in 1932, but that was specifically excluded from the Grand Cru. Producers using the grapes from this plot thus lost the right to use the name “Kaefferkopf” on their wines – and have since used the more generic Alsace AOC.

That’s a crazy story on its own, but Kaefferkopf is also unique in that it is (along with Altenberg de Bergheim) allowed to produce Grand Cru blends. The blends of Kaefferkopf must be made using 60-80% Gewurztraminer and 10-40% Riesling; they may also include up to 30% Pinot Gris and up to 10% Muscat.



The Sylvaner Specialist: Zotzenberg – Zotzenberg, located on a series of gently rising hillside slopes above the commune of Mittelbergheim in the Bas-Rhin, produces typical Alsace Grand Cru wines of 100% Pinot Gris, Riesling, and Gewurztraminer. However, this 90-acre (36.5-hectare) vineyard is a traditional growing site for Sylvaner – an also-ran grape of Alsace is ever there was one. The laws of the AOC were revised in January of 2001 to allow Zotzenberg to produce a Grand Cru wine made using 100% Sylvaner. Excellent examples are produced by Domaine Haegi and Domaine Lucas & André Rieffel. Zotzenberg is the only Grand Cru in Alsace allowed to use Sylvaner in a Grand Cru wine.

For more information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas –

Keeping Santa Cruz Weird

Santa Cruz

Visitors and residents alike (both of which I have been, at various points in my life) agree: Santa Cruz is unique. Witness the surfing santas, omnipresent drum circles, kooky politics, and even the tag line “Keep Santa Cruz Weird” (borrowed from Austin, Texas, which can also boast all of the above). Combine this with incredible natural beauty, a moderate climate, 29 miles of coastline, the University of California at Santa Cruz, the historic Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk with its Giant Dipper wooden roller coaster – and you have a heck of a place.

Viticulture as well has a unique place in this inspired environment. The area has been home to famous winemakers in the past, such as Paul Masson, Martin Ray, Randal Grahm and David Bruce; and remains a vibrant center of wine production as well as a leader in organic and sustainable winemaking.

The Santa Cruz Mountains AVA was established in 1981. It was one of the first AVAs to be established according to elevation, and largely follows – and sits above – the fog line along the coast. The region encircles the ridge tops of the Santa Cruz Mountain range – which reach over 3,000 (920 m) in elevation. The eastern boundary of the AVA rests at 800 feet (240 m), while the western edge, located close to the Pacific Ocean, extends down to 400 feet (120 m).

Santa Cruz 3However – the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA, which is tucked in betwixt and between several other AVAs, is the only section of the coastal region from Santa Barbara to the San Francisco bay that isn’t part of the larger Central Coast AVA. As a matter of fact, it is “specifically excluded” from both the Central Coast AVA and the overlapping San Francisco Bay AVA as well.  Sounds a bit tough, doesn’t it?

The story goes as such: When the Central Coast AVA was first created in 1985 (four years after the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA was born), it was much smaller than it is today, and, due to differences in topography and climate, did not include or extend above Santa Cruz. The southern boundary of the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA was (and still is) contiguous with the border of the Central Coast AVA.

However, 1n 1999, a petition was made for a new AVA, to be known as the San Francisco Bay AVA. It was proposed that this new AVA would include the counties of San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Alameda (which includes Livermore), and Contra Costa, as well as parts of Santa Cruz and San Benito Counties – including the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA. At the same time, it was petitioned that the Central Coast AVA be expanded to include this new San Francisco Bay AVA. The Central Coast AVA would, then, encompass virtually all of the area west of the Central Valley from the North Coast AVA on down to Santa Barbara.

santa cruz 2However, when the proposal was open to public comment, the TTB received almost 50 comments. Thirty-three of these were opposed to combining the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA with either the new San Francisco Bay AVA and/or the expanded version of the Central Coast AVA.

One comment claimed that combining the established Santa Cruz Mountains AVA, which many viticulturists and vintners had worked so hard to build the quality, reputation, and distinctiveness of, with the Central Coast AVA would cause “incalculable damage.”

Others stated that combining the areas of the Santa Cruz Mountains with such far-flung and diverse regions as Livermore and metropolitan San Francisco would “undermine the meaning of American viticultural areas.” Another respondent made the point that, culturally, people that reside in Santa Cruz do not consider themselves residents of the San Francisco Bay area, and that if Santa Cruz could be called part of the “San Francisco Bay Area,” then the North Coast AVA could be called the “Napa Area,” and the Central Valley could be called the  “Yosemite Area.” It was a vinous version of “hell no, we won’t go.”

Screen shot via

Screen shot via retrieved on September 26, 2015

The San Francisco Bay AVA was approved in 1999, along with an expansion of the Central Coast AVA (both were expanded again in 2006).

However, the boundaries of the new and expanded AVAs “specifically excluded” the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA, as well as its sub-region the Ben Lomond Mountain AVA.  And it remains so – keeping Santa Cruz weird.

Click here to read the official documents relating to the petition and public comments of the: Central Coast Expansion -Federal Register Jan 20 1999

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas –

The Diurnal Difference

diurnal 3Simply put, an area’s diurnal temperature variation is the difference between the high temperature and the low temperature of a single day.  That’s easy enough to understand…but as a perpetual wine student, I hear (and use) this term all the time – and wanted to know a bit more about this “diurnal swing” and the factors behind it. Thus began another wild internet search for information!

Here are some of the more interesting things I discovered:

1: Diurnal temperature variation throughout the world varies from a low of approximately 7°F/4°C (experienced in Hong Kong in July) to 100°F/56 °C (the Guinness World Record, set in Browning, Montana in January of 1916). On average, most locations experience a diurnal temperature swing of 20-30°F/12-17°C.

2: To understand the diurnal temperature variation, we need to understand how the portion of the earth that we inhabit warms up and cools down. Basically, there are two sources of heat: the sun (solar radiation) and the ground, which slowly absorbs the sun’s heat over the course of the day. After the sun sets, the ground begins to radiate its stored heat back out, heating the air until it is depleted, which on a hot, humid day usually occurs right around dawn.

3: Diurnal swing generally decreases with proximity to the sea and other large bodies of water, and increases with the impact and amount of solar radiation. Other factors include elevation, humidity, day length, and clouds; as described below.

  • diurnal 4Elevation: High-elevation vineyard regions brag about their large diurnal swings for good reason: as mountain areas are located further from the large expanse of sun-heated ground surface, they receive less heat-radiation energy as the ground cools at night – meaning they cool off faster than do the surrounding valleys.
  • Humidity: Water vapor in the air very efficiently absorbs radiation – both solar radiation and radiation that is released from the ground.  This reduces the amount of heat reaching the ground, keeping daytime temperatures low (although we humans may not always appreciate this), and also reduces the amount of heat released from the ground – keeping the ground warm and nighttime temperatures high. The lack of humidity is one of the main factors that desert areas are known for large diurnal temperature swings.
  • Day length: Longer days understandably make for more heating, which can equate to larger diurnal variations. Day length in terms of daylight hours is determined by season as well as geographic location – high-latitude areas closest to the poles have longer days in summer, and shorter days in winter than those closest to the equator. In locations close to – or on – the equator, day length may vary by a mere 7 minutes over the course of a year!
  • Clouds: The presence of clouds decreases the diurnal swing. During the day, clouds absorb and release sunlight, reflecting heat radiation back out into space – making for less heat overall. On cloudy nights, heat is trapped near the ground, making for warmer nights – and less day-to-night variation.
  • Wind: Winds can cause the warm air radiating off the ground to mix with the cooler air a few feet above; thus mixing the warmer and cooler air and resulting in a decrease in diurnal swing.

We all know that diurnal temperature swings can be conducive to viticulture, by allowing the grapes to develop their sugary ripeness during the warm days, while still allowing the grapes to hold onto high levels of acidity when photosynthesis shuts down at night. Hopefully now – we also know why and how these fluctuations can occur!


Five Fast Facts about Fritz

Zerigelt 1Fritz Zweigelt, that is – and the grape he created.

#1 – Zweigelt is the leading red grape of Austria. It is also planted in small amounts in Canada, in both Ontario and British Columbia. Zweigelt is the third most-planted grape of the Czech Republic, where is goes by the name Zweigeltrebe. A few wineries – including Wilridge Winery and Perennial Vintners – have some small plantings (a few acres or so) in Washington State.

#2 – Zweigelt is a cross of St. Laurent and Blaufränkisch/Lemberger created by Fritz Zweigelt in 1922. Fritz was working the Federal Institute for Viticulture and Pomology at Klosterneuburg, Austria at the time, which makes the Zweigelt grape a true native Austrian. It was made with the purpose of creating a red grape unique to Austria that could thrive in the cool climate, be disease-resistant, and create a red wine of medium to full body and flavor.

#3 – Dr. Zweigelt did a good job – the grape that bears his name is indeed cold-hardy, drought-resistant, and thrives in a variety of soils. It is fairly disease-resistant, but is susceptible to powdery mildew (that’s Oidium to you CSW students) and berry shrivel/grape wilt.

Zweigelt 2#4 – The name of the grape is pronounced “TSVYE-gelt” – and if you think that’s difficult to say, consider yourself lucky. The original name of the grape was Rotburger (the name of a town close to where the grape was created) but was later changed to honor its creator.  Zweigelt also goes by the name Blauer Zweigelt. By the way, don’t confuse the original name of Zweigelt – Rotburger – with the grape that goes by the name of Rotberger (who would – ha!). For the record – Rotberger (“berger with an e!”) is a white grape cross of Riesling X Trollinger.

5 – As with all wines, the characteristics of a good Zweigelt vary according to vineyard conditions and wine-making techniques. Cool-climate, unoaked versions from Austria’s northern reaches are typically violet-red in color, medium-bodied, and moderate in tannins with fruit-forward flavors favoring red and black cherry. As such, it is the most widely consumed red wine in the pubs, bars, and casual restaurants in and around Vienna. The warmer growing regions in the areas of Lower Austria (Niederösterreich) – particularly  Neusiedlersee – produce full-bodied, richer wines with firm tannins. Such wines are often oak-aged, resulting in flavors of red cherry, red plum, cinnamon, and black pepper.


The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…

Five Fascinating Facets of Flor

Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana (producers of La Gitana Manzanilla) in Sanlúcar de Barrameda – photo by Caleteron via Wikimedia Commons

Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana (producers of La Gitana Manzanilla) in Sanlúcar de Barrameda – photo by Caleteron via Wikimedia Commons

Ok, I apologize for the gratuitous alliteration, but you have to admit…flor – the indigenous yeast cells that form a “veil” on the surface of certain types of Sherry as it ages – is fascinating. Flor (meaning “flower” in Spanish) is a subject that just seems to get more interesting the closer you look. As a matter of fact, I had a hard time limiting the information I found to just five facets!

#1: Flor is what separates the Finos from the Olorosos. Flor is a film-forming yeast (actually, several related strains of yeast) that is indigenous to the region around the Jerez-Xérès-Sherry DO. Flor is the main factor that causes the myriad types and styles of Sherry to divide roughly into three camps – Fino, Hybrid, and Oloroso – based on the extent of flor influence. Fino Sherries (such as those labeled as Fino or Manzanilla) are aged under the somewhat constant influence of flor. Oloroso Sherries (labeled as Oloroso or sometimes as Cream Sherry) are aged entirely without flor; while hybrids (such as Amontillado and Palo Cortado) are aged partially with flor and partially without.

#2: Flor is that “something in the air” in Jerez. Flor imparts its magic by finding its way from the air to the young base wines being prepared each year. The flor starts to develop in the base wines, and, after the wine is fortified – as long as the maximum level of alcohol remains around 15% by volume or less – and placed in a barrel, the yeast will reproduce and start to form a veil (velo in Spanish) that covers the surface of the wine in the barrel like a blanket.  The veil has been described as a waxy foam, about two centimeters thick; or as a light “cottony” film. The “blanket” formed by flor is sturdiest and palest in spring and autumn and turns rather thin and grey in summer and winter. Talia Baiocchi, in her new book “Sherry: The Wine Industry’s Best-Kept Secret” describes a thick film of flor as resembling a “1970s popcorn ceiling.”

Sherry barrel with transparent front to demonstrate the natural development of flor - Photo by El Pantera via Wikimedia Commons

Sherry barrel with transparent front to demonstrate the natural development of flor – Photo by El Pantera via Wikimedia Commons

#3: Flor protects the wine from oxidation in a variety of ways. The veil that is created via the action of flor protects the wine resting beneath it in a myriad of ways. For one, it simply forms a protective barrier between the wine in the barrel and the oxygen above it. In addition, the flor actually consumes some of the oxygen around it, as well as some of the alcohol, glycerol, and (if present) sugar. Thus, Fino Sherries tend to be pale in color, light in body, and bone-dry.

#4 – The collective effects of flor – referred to as “biological aging” – are amazing. The main benchmark for biological aging is considered to be the wine’s aroma. Simply put, contact with flor (both while it is alive, and after it expires and sinks to the bottom of the barrel as lees) may create up to 1,000 milligrams per liter of acetaldehyde in the wine. That is, according to Ruben Luyten of the blog Sherry Notes, more than twenty times the amount of acetaldehyde found in most table wines.  Acetaldehyde’s aromas have been described, variously, as rancid apple, apple cider, almond, hazelnut, and even straw or hay. The presence of flor will also lead to an increase of in other highly aromatic compounds, such as lactones and terpenes, which may add an array of aromas – from dried herbs to green walnuts, mushrooms, and baking spices – to the wine.

#5: Flor has some definitive preferences as to climate and conditions.  Flor can only survive in wine that has an alcohol level of somewhere below 15% abv – but that’s just the beginning of its ways. Flor also needs a good deal of humidity in the air, which explains why Fino Sherries thrive in certain areas, such as the cooler, coastal areas around Sanlúcar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa María, while Oloroso Sherries (which are aged without flor) thrive in the hotter, drier, more inland areas around Jerez. It is well-known that solera systems (and the buildings that surround them) are often at ground level (as opposed to an underground cellar) and built with high ceilings or even left partially open to the elements, so as to encourage air flow. It’s also rumored that bungs are left gently in place in Fino Soleras to encourage the movement of the humid air inside the barrels.

Flight of Fino Sherries at London’s Bar Pepito – Photo by Ewan Munro via Wikimedia Commons

Flight of Fino Sherries at London’s Bar Pepito – Photo by Ewan Munro via Wikimedia Commons

While wines produced “under a veil” are somewhat uncommon around the world, there are a few shining examples besides Fino Sherries. These include the Vin Jaune of France’s Côtes du Jura AOC, certain types of Tokaji, a “Vin de Voile” produced by Domaine Plageoles in France’s Gaillac region, and the “Condado Pálido” produced in Spain’s Condado de Huelva DO, among others.  While these wines undergo a similar style of biological aging, it is not certain that they use the same strain(s) of yeast as are found in Jerez-Xérès-Sherry, and, of course, each of these wines is made in its own conditions of climate-atmosphere-terroir. Thus, we can safely say that there’s nothing in the world quite like the flor of Jerez, the protective foam-blanket it creates, and the resulting Fino Sherry.


Five Cognac Curiosities

Cognac CuriositiesAll good wine and spirits students know that Cognac is a high-quality French Brandy, made from grapes grown in the delineated Cognac region, located just north of Bordeaux. There are several grape varieties allowed, of which Ugni Blanc (aka Trebbiano) is the preferred; the ferment goes through a double distillation in an Alembic still, followed by a minimum of two years’ aging in oak. Good! We’ve covered the basics. But did you know…

#1 – The product of a third distillation is known as “Espirit de Cognac.” Espirit de Cognac was awarded an AOC in 1936, and is an unaged product that – after hours and hours of distillation – comes off the still at 80 – 85% abv. Brandy lovers of the world, don’t feel bad if you think you’ve never had Espirit de Cognac. In reality, you actually might have – as all of the production is destined to be used in the “liqueur d’expedition” for sparkling wines such as Champagne.

#2 – Don’t confuse the unaged, bound-for-bubbly “Espirit de Cognac AOC” with a product labeled as “L’Espirit de Cognac.” Many Cognac producers use the term “L’Espirit” to designate their top-tier bottles. For instance, “L’Espirit de Courvoisier” is an assemblage of old cognacs – the oldest is rumored to be from the 1802 vintage (“the few precious drops that escaped Napoleon’s lips”), and the youngest from 1930.  Bottled in a numbered, hand-crafted Lalique crystal decanter, L’Espirit de Courvoisier sells for upwards of $5,000 per bottle – if you can find one.

Cognac grapes#3 – Cognac is distilled from a white wine base, which, according to the AOC, must be a minimum of 90% Colombard/Folle Blanche/Montils/Sémillon and/or Ugni Blanc. (In practice, Ugni Blanc is by far the dominant grape, accounting for up to 90% of the total vineyards.) A Folle Blanche X Ugni Blanc cross named Folignan may be used up to a maximum of 10%. Upon being authorized for use in Cognac in 2005, Folignan became the first cross variety produced at the INRA (Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique) to be authorized for use in an AOC.

#4 – Three other grapes are currently allowed to be used in the base wine as well. These are Jurançon Blanc, Meslier-St-François, and Sélect. However – it gets a little tricky here – they are only permitted through the 2020 harvest, and only if they were planted prior to September 18, 2005. Most of these grapes fall into the “uninteresting” category; however Meslier-St-François is (according to Jancis Robinson, et al, in Wine Grapes) a historic French variety that once grew in Champagne, the Yonne department of Burgundy, and the Loire Valley. As a matter of fact, in 1990, Charles Jumert of Cave de la Berthelotière “saved” the last surviving Meslier-St-François grapes of the Loire Valley by taking cuttings off of a vineyard as it was bulldozed under. He planted the grapes in Villiers-sur-Loir (north of Tours) and has been making a varietal “Vin de France” from them since 2003.

Cognac curiosities 2#5 – 97% of all Cognac produced each year is exported. That’s right – only 3% of the Cognac produced, on average, is consumed at home. As a matter of fact, the French consume as much Scotch whisky as they do Cognac. This means that an average of 130 million bottles of Cognac are exported each year, which is enough to make grape brandy one of France’s most valuable exports. (As for France’s other valuable exports, #1 is airplanes (as in Airbus), #2 is medications, #6 is wine (as in yeah!), #9 is make and sun-tan preparations, and #13 is perfume (we knew those had to be in there somewhere). Number 18 is brandy, Cognac included – not bad. You can see the rest of the data on French exports here.

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…


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