Mother Muscat

MuscatIt is often said that Muscat is an ancient grape, known to antiquity since perhaps 3,000 BC. It is just as often claimed that Muscat was one of the grapes described by Pliny the Elder and his contemporaries as Apiane, named due to the fact that they were so sweet as to attract bees (api in Latin). It has even been claimed that Muscat was the original vinifera grape from which all others sprang forth – heck, I’ve even mentioned that in some of my classes.

But all of this talk is, alas, just talk, and not backed up by any actual history or botanical facts. It may be true – but then again, it may just be the stuff of legends.

It cannot be denied, however, that Muscat is an old grape. With at least 200 grapes going by the name Muscat Something, and dozens more showing the grapey-musty aroma characteristic of the family, we know that Muscat has been swimming in the grape gene pool for at least 2,000 years.

A student of mine recently asked me to give her a list of the main members of the Muscat family. At first I thought such a task would take hours, but determined to “keep it simple” – I came up with the following descriptions of some of the leading members of the Muscat extended family:

muscatbeaumesdeveniseMuscat Blanc à Petits Grains: The main Muscat – that is, the grape that gets the prize for consistently producing the highest-quality wines and the one that is believed (by actual botanists) to be the Muscat from which the other Muscats sprung is Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains. This grape has a vast number of synonyms, most of which are really just translations, such as Muscatel, Moscatel, Frontignac, Muskateller, Moscato, Moshcato, and Muscat Canelli. This is the majority grape that is used in the vins doux naturels of southern France, including Muscat de Rivesaltes, Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise, and the similar wines of Frontignan, Mireval, and Saint-Jean-de-Minervois. In Italy, this grape appears as the star of Asti and Moscato d’Asti. In Greece, she is known as Muscat of Patras, Samos, and many other, more-difficult-to-pronounce wines.

Muscat of Alexandria:  Another ancient variety, considered to be very close to the top of the Muscat food chain, as a likely cross between an Italian grape known as  Axina de Tres Bias and Mother Muscat (Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains). This grape is considered to be somewhat inferior to Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, and is often used to produce very sweet wines with moscatel-de-setubal_1orange or orange-flower aromas. Muscat of Alexandria (which, by the way, has no proven connection to the ancient city of the same name) is used as a minor grape in the sweet Muscat-based wines of southern France. In Italy, the variety is far more likely to be used as table grapes as opposed to wine, except in on the island of Pantelleria, where it is much beloved as the star of Passito de Pantelleria. Much of Spain’s Moscatel is Muscat of Alexandria, where it is used in Sherry, Málaga, and the surrounding areas for many styles of wine, including the sweet and fortified wines of the region. Muscat of Alexandria is also the star of Portugal’s Moscatel de Setúbal, and, as Hanepoot, is used in the fortified wines and brandies of South Africa.

Muscat Fleur d’Oranger: Actually a cross between Chasselas and Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains; often known as Orange Muscat. California, particularly the warmer regions, grows a good deal of Orange Muscat, where it makes its way into sweet wines such as Quady’s brightly-packaged Essencia and Electra. Delightful Orange Muscats are made in Washington State, Canada, and Texas as well. In Italy, Moscato Fior d’Arancio in the Veneto’s Colli Euganei is made with Orange Muscat, and the grape makes its way into many of Australia’s sweet wines as well.

Photo of Elysium via Quady Winery

Photo of Elysium via Quady Winery

Muscat Ottonel: Thought to be a Chasselas X Muscat de Saumur cross, native to the Loire. Used for both dry and sweet wines, mainly in Alsace, where it may be bottled as Muscat d’Alsace. Austria’s Neusiedlersee and Neusiedlersee-Hügelland are known for sweet, botrytis-affected wines produced using Muscat Ottonel (here known as “Muskat Ottonel”). Hungary uses the grapes, mainly as blending partners, in both sweet and dry wines. Other plantings are found throughout eastern Europe, including in Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova, Russia, and the Czech Republic. 

Muscat of Hamburg: Also known as Black Muscat or Zibibbo Nero. The origin of the grape is unclear, although there is an excellent story about an Englishman named  Mr. Seward Snow who created the grape by crossing Black Hamburg (Schiava Grosso) grapes with Muscat of Alexandria, thus producing Muscat of Hamburg as a “grandchild” of Mother Muscat (Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains). Throughout the world, Muscat of Hamburg is used in a scattering of sweet red wines, and widely grown to be used as red table grapes. It is grown extensively in California’s Central Valley, where it is used to produce Quady’s sweet, dark dessert wine known as Elysium.

As previously mentioned, these are just the main branches of the 200+ members of the Muscat Family tree. Muscat is primarily known for sweet, dessert, and fortified wines, but we can’t forget the fact that Muscat is often made into dry wines (known for their hauntingly “funky” aromas of must, flowers, and fruit), as well as its widespread use in table grapes and raisins! For those of you practicing blind tasting, it is widely accepted that while all wine is made from grapes (well, at least the wines that might show up at a blind tasting), Muscat-based wines are among the few and far between that actually have “grapey” aromas in the finished wine. Try it and see!

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…. missjane@prodigy.net

 

Can She Pair a Pumpkin Pie?

Can she pair a pumpkin pieOne from the archives, but timed rather well…

After the Thanksgiving meal is served…and served, and served, and served…you swear you’ll never eat again.  But, after an hour or so of watching football, washing dishes, or snoozing on the couch, you’re ready for some pumpkin pie.

The typical accompaniment for T-day dessert in my experience has been the dregs of whatever wine was served with the meal.  Nothing wrong with that, but Thanksgiving is a special day, so why not offer up a specially chosen Pumpkin Pie Pairing to cap off the day?

If you’ve read The Bubbly Professor’s “Real Rules of Food and Wine Pairing” you know that (imho) the most important factor in most food-and-wine meetups is to “pair to taste, not to flavor.”  This makes a pumpkin pie pairing really simple:  you need a sweet wine, lest the food dull out the wine.  Now, it doesn’t have to be uber-sweet, just a hint of sweetness will do, but this is also one of those pairings where super-sweet wine works. 

Here are a few of my favorites –  enjoy!

Sauternes:  Sauternes, with its luscious sweetness is a match made in heaven for pumpkin pie.  The wine is a good “big and rich meets big and rich and they live happily ever after” type of match in terms of texture, and the subtle dried apricot-vanilla-nutmeg-dried leaves kind of aromas and flavors of Sauternes make this a Fall Fest in a glass.  Sauternes can be expensive…my personal favorite, Chateau Guiraud, is a cool one hundred bucks, however, there are many inexpensive (around $20.00 a bottle) versions on the market these days, and they are worth a try as well.

Tawny Port: For years now, I’ve spent my Thanksgiving in the best possible way…surrounded by an awesome group of friends and family at the lovely home of (hi Janelle and Kyle!!) Janelle and Kyle. My contribution to the feast has often been a selection of dessert wines…with all of my suggestions listed here of course…and every year, the first bottle to be emptied is the Tawny Port.  So there.  First emptied = great match.  Not a scientific experiment, but a darn good one.  My go-to Tawny Port is Taylor-Fladgate 10-Year-Old Age Indicated Tawny Porto, which runs about $20.00 a bottle. 

Moscato d’Asti:  Moscato d’Asti, besides being just plain hands-down delicious, is a great match for pumpkin pie. It’s light, fizzy and sweet, but not too sweet, and with the pumpkin pie pairing, the wine will transform and taste just slightly off dry.  It’s a cool trick to play with people who claim to be too sophisticated for sweet wine.  Moscato’s popularity of late has spawned a host of cheap imitations, but you can’t go wrong with a true Italian; Saracco makes one of my favorites, and it’s a winner at around $14.00

Vin Santo:  Tuscany’s famous  “Wine of the Saints” is another great match for pumpkin pie.  The wine’s just-barely-there sweetness will allow it to pair with the pumpkin pie well; after a bite of pie, you won’t taste the wine’s sweet side anymore, but it will still taste rich, woodsy, spicy, and delightful.  If you try, if might even find a scent of pumpkin pie spice lingering in your glass.  Just about any Vin Santo will delight you, but my personal favorite is from Borgo Scopeto.

Brandy:  If you enjoy a long evening of conversation, Brandy is a great choice to serve with your pumpkin pie.  I personally don’t buy into the “spirits dull the palate” argument and think that Brandy with its warmth and calm makes a perfect pie pairing partner.  The anh (adorable new husband) and I fell in love with Torres Brandy on our honeymoon in Spain, but I am equally enamoured with Christian Brothers Brandy from the San Joaquin Valley in California.  The Christian Brothers Wineries and Distillery played an impressive role in the history of California Wine, as any visitor to Napa knows…perhaps that’s a story for a future blog post!

Coffee:  If you are in need of a wake-up (or sober-up) session before continuing on to the rest of your day, nothing beats a good cup of coffee with your pumpkin pie.  Coffee and pumpkin pie also makes a great day-after-Thanksgiving breakfast…just don’t tell  your fitness trainer.

Happy Holidays, Everyone!

Ground Control to Major Dram

Ardberg in Space!In what has just got to be a first for the spirits industry, several servings of Ardbeg Scotch has just returned from outer space.

To repeat: Scotch whisky in space.

How we did not know about this before, I’ll never know, but the story goes like this: In 2011, the Ardbeg Distillery sent several vials of Ardbeg Scotch new-make whisky, along with some wood shavings from American oak barrels, into space.

As part of an experimental partnership between Ardbeg and a US-based space research company called NanoRack, the whisky spent the last three years aboard the International Space Station. The whisky orbited the earth, circling the planet at 17,227 miles per hour, 15 times a day, for 1,045 days.

After the vials of whisky were returned to earth, they were revealed for the first time at a reception held on October 23, 2014 at The Intrepid Sea, Air, & Space Museum in New York City. The vials, which had been insured for $1 Million, were officially returned to Dr. Bill Lumsden, Ardbeg’s Director of Distilling and Whisky Creation. Dr. Lumsdem, we presume, is planning on studying the effects of zero gravity on terpenes, aldephydes, and fatty acid esters; and hoping to discover what, if any, impact of gravity has on the maturation processes  of some of the compounds found in Scotch.

Ardberg scientistsArdbeg’s newest limited malt edition Scotch was released at the reception as well. Named to commemorate the return of the Ardbeg vials from space it is named – wait for it – Supernova 2014.

Established in 1815, Ardbeg is considered to be one of the “peatiest, smokiest, and most complex” of the Islay malts. Perhaps we can now add “most traveled” or “most out-of-this-world” to that list!

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas   missjane@prodigy.net

 

Tree Fruit and Cognitive Bias

IdeaI received a question via email early  this morning, which led me to experience one of those “a-ha!” moments that are sometimes very dangerous in the early morning hours. (You know what I mean?  Can’t go back to sleep, don’t eat breakfast, skip the gym, phone calls go unanswered…all until you GET THIS DONE!)

The question, concerning the logical tasting rationale that is part of the CWE (Certified Wine Educator) exam,  was quite simple, and went something like this: “What do you mean by tree fruit? How does tree fruit differ from citrus fruit? Don’t most citrus fruits grow on trees?”

The question was really quite brilliant in its simplicity, and demonstrates to perfection the issue that educators know as “The Curse of Knowledge.” The curse of knowledge is a cognitive bias that causes well-informed parties to find it almost impossible to think about topics from the perspective of lesser-informed parties.

Teachers often suffer from the curse of knowledge when – #1 – they know things their students don’t know (which better be true) and #2 – they have forgotten what it is like not to have this knowledge. That’s where a quick understanding of how to lift the curse of knowledge comes in.

The first step in lifting the curse of knowledge is to realize that it does indeed exist. However, like a person who is drunk but doesn’t realize it, the curse, by definition, means we don’t realize we are affected by it.  Educators, assuming they know about idea professorthe curse of knowledge, should review their lecture notes and – even more importantly – written materials to ensure they aren’t confusing their students by their choice of words.

Another good idea is to “try out” your handouts, power points, or lecture on an unsuspecting victim (hopefully a significant other or best friend who is NOT an expert in what you are the maven of.) You can also prepare your materials, wait a few days, and review them yourself. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read over my work and – assuming I can read my own handwriting – wondered to myself “what did I mean by that”???

Perhaps the best way to break the curse of knowledge is to encourage and pay attention to feedback – written, verbal, even non-verbal. That’s what happened to me in the wee hours of this morning – so be sure and listen to and respond to the feedback your audience gives you. It sure worked for me – tree fruit and all!

If you are a wine educator who has been using terms like “dry, sweet, body, terroir, complexity, mouth-feel, balance, mineral, earthy, and – PERFECT EXAMPLE ALERT – tree fruit,” it might be a good idea once in a while to go back and create some clear, meaningful, and simplified definitions for such terms – and remember to use them when teaching beginners!

Idea TreeWith that in mind, here’s a breakdown of fruit aroma and flavor terms, as they are often used to describe wines:

Fruit Descriptors – Mostly Used for White Wines: 

Tree Fruit: Apple, Green Apple, Green Pear, Yellow Pear, Asian Pear, Peach, Apricot, Nectarine, Green Plum

Citrus Fruit: Lemon, Lime, Orange, Tangerine, Grapefruit, Pink Grapefruit, Lemon Peel, Orange Peel

Tropical Fruit: Pineapple, Mango, Papaya, Banana, Passion Fruit

Refuse to be Classified: Melon, Lychee, White Grape, Gooseberry

Fruit Descriptors – Mostly Used for Red Wines: 

Black Fruit: Blackberry, Black Currant, Black Cherry, Blueberry, Black Plum, Prune, Fig, Raisin

Red Fruit: Strawberry, Red Cherry, Raspberry, Cranberry, Red Plum, Pomegranate, Red Current

Refuse to be Classified: Red grape, grape juice, Welch’s, grape jelly/grape jam

 

Note: The term “the curse of knowledge” is credited to Robin Hogarth, and the effect was first described in print by the economists Colin Camerer, George Loewenstein and Martin Weber in The Journal of Political Economy, 1989.

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas – missjane@prodigy.net

 

Chile’s Southernmost – The Malleco Valley

Chile MallecoChile’s Malleco (pronounced mah-YAY-ko) Valley, located near the 38th parallel, is currently the southernmost “official” viticultural region of Chile. The terrain is rugged, and growing grapes here is challenging – but the area has potential, and since 1994, has been growing a small quantity of grapes that are made into crisp, refreshing wine.

This is an up-and-coming wine region if ever there was one: just shy of 30 acres in total are planted. It’s a bit out of the way – over 300 miles south of the Capital city of Santiago. The area’s main town, Traiguen, has less than 20,000 inhabitants. And, as if that weren’t enough, the climate is marginal, the rainfall is high, and the growing season is short.

The cool climate skirts the limits of what is suitable for viticulture, and defines the grape varieties to that can be cultivated here. The varieties currently under vine include Chardonnay (7 acres), Pinot Noir (10 acres), Sauvignon Blanc (7 acres) and Gewurztraminer (2 acres).

Being so far south, however, has its advantages, just as the northerly latitudes of Washington State and Germany work to their advantage. The southerly (remember, this is the southern hemisphere) locale means the vineyards enjoy more hours of daylight than those areas closer to the equator, and the nights cool down considerably, lending a good diurnal temperature fluctuation that slows down the ripening of the grapes.

The soil in the Malleco Valley is mainly volcanic in origin, and consists of red clay, sand, and alluvial matter. Such well-drained soils are essential in an area that sees so much rainfall, and as a result, the vines become somewhat stressed in the quest for water and nutrients, resulting in concentrated, flavorful grapes with great wine-making potential.

Las Raíces Tunnel - photo by Miguel Millan

Las Raíces Tunnel – photo by Miguel Millan

This is not, by any means, the semi-arid Maipo Valley, and the wines have a fresh, lively acidity to show for it. Most of the grapes grown in the Malleco Valley are currently owned by the Viña Aquitania Winery, which produces their Malleco Valley Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Noir, under the brand name “Sol de Sol” at the winery in the Maipo Valley.

The area around the town of Traiguen is not without its charms, and a good deal of adventure-seeking travelers come to the area for hiking, skiing, and camping. One local attraction is the Las Raíces Tunnel (Túnel Las Raíces), the second longest tunnel in South America. At just shy of 3 miles long, the tunnel, built in 1939, was originally intended to be part of a highway linking the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, however, the rest of the highway was never finished. The tunnel does, however, link the Chilean city of Temuco with the Pino Hachado Pass, and the highway continues towards Argentina.

This tunnel allows only one-way traffic, and averages about 450 vehicles a day. Cyclists must take their chances at finding a kind-hearted truck driver to give them a lift through the tunnel.  Click here for a very cool youtube experience of riding through the tunnel!

The Malleco Viaduct (Viaducto del Malleco), another local landmark, is currently on the tentative list to be named as a Unesco World Heritage Site.   The viaduct was opened by President José Manuel Balmaceda on October 26, 1890. At that time, it was the highest railroad bridge in the world and is still considered one of the largest works of metal engineering in Chile. The bridge was built in France, in the workshops of Schneider et Cie. Interestingly, the workshop of Gustave Eiffel also submitted a bid, but was not selected to complete the project.

The Malleco Viaduct - photo by Marcelo Reston

The Malleco Viaduct – photo by Marcelo Reston

The finished sections of the bridge were transported first by ship and then by railroad and assembled on site.  The bridge is 1,200 feet long and 250 feet high – that’s about as high as a 20-story building – pretty impressive for 1890!

Cool tunnels, towering bridges, beautiful country and (a little bit of) excellent wine – it sounds like the Malleco Valley is an interesting place!

Note: It was not easy finding information on the Malleco Valley – and, as such, I had to (gasp!) veer off the internet and go old-school and use books (remember those?) in addition to a few websites in order to find the information I wanted. As such, I’d like to acknowledge the following resources used to research this post:

The Bubbly Professor is…”Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas    missjane@prodigy.net

The Southern Alps, Mount Cook, and the Nor’westers

Mount Hood Hiking Path

Mount Hood Hiking Path

Students of New Zealand wine are familiar with the mountain range known as The Southern Alps. They can probably tell you that the mountain range extends along much of the length of New Zealand’s South Island, forming a rain shadow that keeps a good portion of the eastern side of the island warm and dry. For this reason, the wine regions of Marlborough, Canterbury, and Central Otago are able to grow some of the finest Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir in the world.

The Southern Alps run for about 275 miles, forming a natural dividing range along the entire length of the South Island. New Zealanders often refer to the range as the Main Divide, as it separates the more heavily populated eastern side of the island from the somewhat wilder west coast. A large portion of the mountain range, which includes glaciers, glacial valleys, and lakes, is inaccessible except to the heartiest of mountaineers, and enjoys the protection of the National Park Service.

The highest peak in New Zealand, Mount Cook (also known by the Maori name “Aoraki,” said to mean “Cloud-Piercer”) is part of the Southern Alps.  At 12,218 feet high, Mount Cook is a dangerous but popular challenge for mountain climbers.  Aoraki/Mount Cook consists of three summits – the Low Peak, the Middle Peak, and the High Peak – surrounded by the Tasman Glacier to the east and the Hooker Glacier to the west.  The settlement of Mount Cook Village is a tourist center and serves as a base camp for climbers. For the adventurous, the area offers a wealth of hiking and skiing as well as star-gazing at Mount John Observatory in the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve – the largest dark sky reserve area in the world.

Nor'west Arch over Canterbury Photo by Jman Matthews

Nor’west Arch over Canterbury Photo by Jman Matthews

The prevailing westerly winds known as the “roaring forties” push in from across the Southern Ocean and the Tasman Sea, bringing along with them a host of moist air, much of it aimed directly at the west coast of New Zealand. When the winds bump up against the mountains of the Southern Alps, they are forced upward, and this force cools the air, and condenses the moisture to rain. The cold air and precipitation are kept on the west side of the island, thus creating the warmer, drier conditions on the eastern side of the island where the majority of the population (and vineyards) live.

The prevailing west winds also create a weather pattern known as the nor’wester. As the ocean breezes rise up the west side of the mountains and drop their rain, the wind turns warm and dry as it descends down the eastern side of the mountains, similar to the Zonda often experienced in Mendoza. These warm, dry winds play a major role in the intermittent droughts experienced by Canterbury and other regions on New Zealand’s eastern coasts.

A more pleasant side effect of the nor’wester winds is a cloud formation unique to the South Island of New Zealand known as a “nor’west arch.” A nor’west arch appears in the sky as an arch of cloud in an otherwise blue sky, and is frequently visible in the summer across Canterbury and North Otago.

If you are interested in learning more about the unique terroir of New Zealand, join me for my SWEbinar on “Greywacke and Gravel “ on Saturday, October 11th at 10:00 am Central Time!

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

Context is Queen: I know this post seems a bit far-fetched for a wine post…but…I’ve found in teaching or studying a subject as complex as wine, it helps to know the context. While a wine student may memorize the fact that the Southern Alps form a rain shadow for parts of New Zealand, taken out of context, that bit of information will remain what students (not so kindly) call a “factoid” and others may call “trivia.” Such things are hard to remember, and even more difficult to understand. However, with a bit of context, especially at the human level (“what can you do there, do I want to go there, that looks cool/scary/weird…”) these facts become much easier to remember, use, and understand. So that’s what this post is all about – content is king, and context is queen!

 

Map Happy

PortugalAs part of my “day” job as the Director of Education for the Society of Wine Educators, I just finished (with a lot of help) a HUGE project revising, renewing, and updating all of SWE’s wine maps.

Here’s a copy of a super-pretty one as a sample, and you can have access to a complete set of 43 different maps – both jpegs and pdf – over at the “map page” on SWE’s website.

Enjoy your studies!

 

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