New Wine Mini: Advanced AVAs

Pick me!If you are just dying to take a new quiz, here is an advanced wine mini good for those folks studying for the CWE, or perhaps WSET (level 2 or 3, etc). The quiz concerns the US and her beautiful AVAs! Just click here: Advanced wine mini – AVAs.

While we’re at it – just for fun – here’s some AVA trivia:

Oldest AVA:  Augusta – Located near the town of Augusta, Missouri, the Augusta AVA was approved on June 20, 1980.

Smallest AVA:  Cole Ranch – Located in Mendocino, California, the Cole Ranch AVA spans just 62 acres.  That’s less than one quarter of a square mile.

Largest AVA:  The Upper Mississippi Valley – The Upper Mississippi Valley AVA, approved on July 22, 2009, covers 29,914 square miles and includes parts of Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Runners Up:  Coming in at #2, The Ohio River Valley AVA covers 26,000 square miles.  Third place goes to The Columbia Valley at 26,000 square miles.

Happiest AVA Names (Just for Fun):  Fair Play, Happy Canyon, Horse Heaven Hills, High Valley, and Rocky Knob.

Best Use of an Abbreviation:  Sta. Rita Hills

Most Mysterious Names:  Linganore, Lime Kiln, and Jahant (Comment below if you know what they mean!)

If you like wine quizzes, just click here for more.

For spirits and cocktail quizzes, click here!


Pinot Noir. It’s Complicated.

27863500_lAnyone who appreciates a good red wine has most likely waxed poetic over a red Burgundy, a Central Otago Pinot Noir, or a glass of the Willamette Valley’s finest.  I can hear it now – “So Subtle! Layers of flavors! It evolves in the glass!”

If this is you – if you tend to like to say things about the cherry-berry-smoky-earthy-herbal-floral-rose-spicy-awesomeness of a complex glass of Pinot Noir – you are redeemed!

Science has proven it: there’s a lot going on in that glass.

It happened a while back, in 2007, but still amazes me. In a project that took over two years to complete, a group of French and Italian scientists working at the French National Genetics-Sequencing Laboratory just outside of Paris unlocked the genome – the chemical building blocks of the DNA – of Vitis vinifera Pinot Noir.

Pinot Noir was the first fruit crop to be sequenced and only the fourth flowering plant. The first flowering plant the team investigated was a strain of wild mustard – chosen for its ease of growth in the plant lab and 6-week life span. This was followed by a series of plants deemed most important to human culture.

Their next plant was rice, followed by corn – and then, as their first choice for fruit – Pinot Noir. And with good reason! The grape, it was discovered, has over 30,000 gene sequences in its DNA. That’s more than a typical human being, whose DNA contains anywhere from 20,000 to 25,000.

The team also provided a scientific explanation for the legendary (and much appreciated) flavor complexity of Pinot Noir. It seems that over 100 of its 30,000 gene sequences are terpenes, tannins, and other compounds whose job it is to contribute aromas and flavors. According to researcher Patrick Wincker, that’s about twice as many as a typical plant.

According to NBC News, the breakthrough is proof that Pinot Noir is “Scientifically delicious.” That’s a pretty good quip, and hard to follow! However, what the mapping of the Pinot Noir genome may mean to the future of viticulture is yet to be seen!

I’ll tell you one thing, though…this Eyrie Vineyards Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2012 – with its rich, complex, cherry-berry-earthy-spiciness – is going to be tough to improve upon.

secret life janeIf you love Pinot Noir and would like to learn a bit more about this amazing grape, you can catch the Bubbly Professor at one of her favorite seminars – “The Secret Life of Pinot Noir” at the Boston Wine Expo on Saturday, February 14th. See you there!

More information on the mapping of the Pinot Noir genome: If you understand ScienceSpeak and have all afternoon to read through the original publication, click here.  If you’d prefer Soundbyte, as reported by NBC News, click here.

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



Now on the Wine Travel Bucket List: Moldova

moldova mapQuick! Tell me everything you know about Moldova!

If you can’t come up with anything, don’t feel bad. As of yesterday, I knew a grand total of about three things about Moldova: one-it was part of the former Soviet Union; two-they make wine there (but I couldn’t tell you anything about it); and three-it is the home of the “Epic Sax Guy.”

Today, though, I can tell you quite a bit more about Moldova. For instance, Moldova is located between Romania and Ukraine, just north of the Black Sea. As part of the breakup of the Soviet Union, Moldova declared itself an independent state – the Republic of Moldova – in 1991. The transition has not been easy and there has been civil unrest and economic woes. But there has also been progress, and in 2013 Moldova entered into an “Association Agreement” with the European Union, meaning that they can work towards aligning their practices with EU standards in the hopes of becoming a member in the future. It should be interesting to see how that unfolds.

This also means that wines of Moldova may soon fall under EU standards, and perhaps that means that more wine lovers may soon become a bit more familiar with Moldovan wines. For starters, here are a few fascinating facts about the wines of Moldova:

It’s ancient: Moldova has one of the oldest wine cultures in the world; there is evidence of wine production in the area as far back as 3,000 BC.

It’s growing: Moldova currently has over 275,000 acres of vines. Of the vinifera grapes planted, about 70% of them are international varieties of the Cabernet-Merlot-Chardonnay type. About 20% are grapes sometimes called “Caucasian grapes” and are widely grown throughout eastern Europe – Rkatsiteli and Saperavi, for example.

"Caves Milestii Mici Moldavie" by Photo: Myrabella / Wikimedia Commons.

“Caves Milestii Mici Moldavie” by Photo: Myrabella / Wikimedia Commons.

It’s indigenous: About 10% of Moldova’s vineyards are planted to the indigenous varieties of the region. Some of these include Feteasca Alba (white), Feteasca Regala (white), Feteasca Neagra (red), Rara Neagra (red), and Viorica (white). These are surely some of the most historic and unique wines of the region.

It’s deep: Moldova is well-known for its historic and extensive wine tunnels. The cellars of Mileștii Mici Winery stretch on for over 135 miles, at an average depth of 250 feet. The cellar, built in the style of a feudal fortress, is understandably one of Moldova’s most popular tourist attractions. With over 1.5 million bottles of wine from all over the world – some dating back to the 1960’s – Mileștii Mici Winery’s “Golden Collection” holds the Guinness World Record for the world’s largest wine cellar and wine collection.

It sparkles: During the time of the Soviet Union, Moldova was a large producer of the sparkling wine known at the time as Sovetskoye Shampanskoye (“Soviet Champagne”). The Cricova Winery, the largest producer of Moldovan sparklers, makes its wines using the “Traditional Method” and ages its wine in its underground cellars. The underground cellars of the Cricova Winery –  stretching on for 45 miles and housing a large wine collection known as the “National Vinotheque” – are almost as impressive as the cellar at Mileștii Mici.

Map via the Wine of Moldova site:

Map via the Wine of Moldova site:

It has 4 designated regions, including 3 PGIs:

  • The historic region of Balti is the smallest, northernmost and coolest region. The Balti region produces mainly white wines as well as a high-quality brandy known as Divin.
  • The Codru PGI is the largest area, producing over 60% of the country’s wine.  This cool-to-warm-climate region, surrounded by forests, is known for white wines.
  • The Valul lui Traian PGI, located in the southeast of the country, is the leading producer of red wine.
  • The Ștefan-Vodă PGI, located in the basin of the Nistru River, includes the famous Purcari region. It produces both red and white wines. Purcari wines have been renowned throughout Europe since 1878, when Negru de Purcari (a red wine made with Cabernet Sauvignon, Rara Neagră and Saperavi grapes) was awarded a gold medal at the World Exhibition.

For more information, visit the Wine of Moldova website!


More Minis (because we love them)

Mini-cupcakesTiny bottles of vodka, mini-cupcakes, teeny teddy bears, even Mickey Mouse  – it seems everybody likes things mini. They are just so darn cute and collectable.

It seems that people especially like mini wine quizzes (although, in this case, probably because they are fast, as opposed to cute). So, in honor of the many, many requests I’ve had for more mini wine quizzes, I’ve just uploaded another batch:

Click here for:  Wine Mini Quiz #8

Click here for: Mini Wine Quiz #9

Click here for: Mini Wine Quiz #10

If you are studying at a level beyond the CSW, try these:

Click here to take: Advanced Wine Mini #8

Click here to take: Advanced Wine Mini #9

Click here to take: Advanced Wine Mini #10

If you’d like more-more-more - just click here for the rest of the bunch.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Jean- Antoine Claude Chaptal, Comte de Chanteloup

Portrait of Jean-Antoine Chaptal (1815)  by Anicet Charles Gabriel Lemonnier

Portrait of Jean-Antoine Chaptal (1815) by Anicet Charles Gabriel Lemonnier

Winemakers all over the world consider him a friend, but – in public – they might pretend they don’t know him. No, he isn’t a fuzzy underworld-figure selling steroids, feel-good vitamins, or anything smutty. He isn’t an embarrassing relative or a wine writer with a price – he’s Jean-Antoine Claude Chaptal, Comte de de Chanteloup!

Perhaps we should refer to him by the name and moniker by which he is best-known (to wine lovers, that is), simply Jean-Antoine Chaptal, the scientist, professor and industrialist who perfected the process of adding sugar to grape must before fermentation in order to increase the final level of alcohol   in the wine. That process – now known as chaptalization, after Jean-Antoine, is still in use today.

Jean-Antoine was actually a fascinating man. Born on June 4, 1756, he died in 1832, having lived until age 76. He was a both a chemist and a doctor, chaired the chemistry department at the medical school at the University of Montpellier, and is credited with coining the term “nitrogen” (fr. nitrogène) for a gas produced via nitric acid, then known as “mephitic air.”

A learned, confident, and outspoken man, Chaptal was arrested and imprisoned during the French Revolution. However, he was soon released due to the intervention of his allies.  Despite his earlier brashness, after the revolution Dr. Chaptal became a statesman, succeeding Lucien Bonaparte as Minister of the Interior of the First French Empire. During his time as Minister of the Interior, Dr. Chaptal established the Paris Hospital, built a chemical manufactory near Paris, founded a school of arts, and instituted the metric system in France.

It makes sense that Dr. Chaptal, conferred the title of Comte de Chanteloup by Napoleon himself, was a decorated man of science.  In 1816, he was nominated a member of the French Academy of Sciences by Louis XVIII. He was awarded the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor, the cordon of the Ordre de Saint-Michel, and his name is one of the 72 names inscribed on the Eiffel Tower. Rue Chaptal in Paris’ Montmarte neighborhood is named after him.

Perhaps, however, his greatest legacy is this – that silky Pinot Noir, that bracing Riesling, or that lighter-than-air Champagne that you are enjoying right now – might have been produced – to perfection – with a little help from chemistry, as seen by the mind of Jean- Antoine Claude Chaptal, Comte de Chanteloup.

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

Decoding the Amtliche Prüfungsnummer

AP rhineThis is a blog post borne of necessity…in teaching my online CSW Prep Classes, I always dread “Module 8.” Module 8, you see, covers the wines of Germany and Austria.

This does not in any way mean that I dread talking about – or partaking of – the wines of Germany and Austria. As a matter of fact, the Grosses Gewachs Mosel Riesling or Kremstal DAC Grüner Veltliner I am sipping alongside is most likely going to be the highlight of my day.

But it’s all about the words, the language, the umlauts and the eszetts. They are all a bit intimidating and confusing to me, being a native English speaker who never traveled to Europe until the 4th decade of her life.

So, in an attempt to dive straight to the heart (in das Herz) of the matter (von tge Sache) I set about to understand something that had always baffled me: Amtliche Prüfungsnummer. It turns out, the Amtliche Prüfungsnummer, while certainly appearing cryptic and complicated, contains a lot of useful information about a German wine, and absolutely reveals the seemingly complex tangle that is German wine to be a highly organized, useful system.

First of all, for the simple language (thank you, Google Translate).

Amtliche – “Official”

Prüfungsnummer – “Exam Number”

Thus, our Amtliche Prüfungsnummer, commonly referred to as the “A.P. Number,” translates as  “official exam number,” although most wine references will refer to it as the “official approval number.”  The A.P. Number identifies the wine as to producer, village of origin, and testing center where the wine was awarded its official approval. The process is required for all wines bottled under the classifications of QbA and Prädikatswein.

The actual number consists of several blocks of figures – surely you’ve seen one, looking quite complicated, such as this example:

AP wine glassA.P. NR. 2 606 319 011 07

Here is what those numbers mean:

2 606 319 011 07: 2 – The first number represents region where the wine was tested. The wine will be tested in the same general region where it was produced, however, there are only 9 testing centers as opposed to 13 quality wine regions (Anbaugebiete). This testing center – number 2 – handles wines from the Middle Mosel and Rheingau.

2 606 319 011 07: 606 – The second number, which may be two or three digits, represents the particular village within the larger testing region, where the wine was produced.

2 606 319 011 07: The third number represents the particular bottler (producer).

2 606 319 011 07: The fourth number represents the sequential order that the wine was submitted by that produce. In other words, this is the eleventh wine submitted for testing in this particular year by the producer.

2 606 319 011 07: The fifth number represents the last two digits of the year that the wine was submitted for testing, usually the year after the vintage.

Whew! Do you have information overload? It’s a lot of data, but remember, this is all to protect the quality and reputation of German wines, which is good for everyone – even us consumers. Producers are required to keep sample bottles of each wine for a certain number of years, and thus the system is such that, if a complaint were received or someone had reason to doubt a wine’s authenticity, a bottle of the specific wine could be located and tested.

Simple? No.

Effective? Yes.

I sleep better at night knowing my Pflaz Riesling (5 594 022 17 12) and my Rheingau Spätburgunder (4 383 675 01 11) is signed, sealed, and approved!

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



It’s all about that CLORPT



It happened again. All I really wanted to do was to get a quick, google-assisted definition of the word “colluvial.” I had read somewhere (the particular book, magazine, or webpage long since totally forgotten) that many of the soils in Alsace were colluvial.

Colluvial soils, it turns out,  are made up of materials that tend to accumulate at the bottom of steep slopes and cliffs, mainly via the action of gravity – as opposed to alluvial soils, which accumulate due to the action of rivers and streams.

But here’s what I also found out…we are living in the pedosphere! The pedosphere, which rests above the lithosphere (basically the earth’s crust and mantle) but below the atmosphere, is the outermost layer of the earth. It is where soil lives, and where soil is formed, via the weathering (breaking down) of minerals, the decomposition of organic matter, and everything moving around (as in living things moving around, as well as -ahem – colluvial and alluvial actions). The pedosphere is the foundation of all plant life (and therefore animal life) on the planet. And here we thought it was all about the specific flavor of Riesling from the Haut-Rhin!

Soil has Texture

Here’s something else I learned: soil has texture. Good students of wine most likely know that the particles that make up soil are categorized by size, with clay being the smallest, silt the intermediate, and sand the largest. The blend, so to speak, of the particles is what makes up a soil’s “texture.” There are actually 12 major soil classifications, as defined by the USDA. Some of these, such as “sandy clay” or “silty clay” are self-explanatory; while “loam” is made up of somewhat equal parts of sand, silt, and clay.



Soil has Color

We know about bright-red terra rosa and glistening gray llicorella, so it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that the color of soil varies according to mineral content, organic material, and water. That lovely orange/brown color signals high iron content. Dark brown or black soils are high in organic material. A well-drained soil is brightly colored, while a poorly drained soil will show an uneven pattern of red, yellow, and gray.

Soil has Structure.

Is this beginning to sound a bit like wine? Color, texture, structure? Perhaps that’s a stretch – but you have to admit all things are connected. The structure of soil relates to how the soil particles arrange themselves into small clumps, called “peds.” Peds vary due to the nature of the particles themselves and the conditions under which they were formed. For instance, getting wet and drying out, freezing and thawing, being walked on, having things grown in it, and/or being moved around can all influence the nature of the peds.

There are six basic ways to describe soil’s structure, based on how these peds interplay. They are: platy, prismatic, columnar, blocky, granular, and single-grained. Platy soil is thin and flat; sometimes the result of being walked on or otherwise compacted. Prismatic soil is formed into columns; columnar soil is also formed into columns but with a salty “cap.” Blocky soil is irregular. Granular is crumbly, usually the result of plant growth. Single-grained soil refuses to “clump” together.



Good/Bad Dirt = Texture, Structure, and CLORPT

Soil “behaves” based on a combination of texture and structure. What a farmer might call “good soil” may be a granular soil with a loamy texture, as it holds water and nutrients. A vigneron, however, might prefer a sandy clay soil with a blocky texture, as it would be well-drained of both water and nutrients.

As for the specific soils we wine students love to talk about – jory, tufa, greywacke, marl, schist, shale, slate…they differ due to five major factors, known as CLORPT. (Now there’s a term I bet you never heard before!) CLORPT stands for climate, organisms, relief, parent material, and time – all the things that go into the various vineyard soils, all over the world, that make such tasty wine. And, lest we forget – they support all plant life and therefore animal life as well – one must eat before one can drink.

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

Note: I researched this post using about two dozen Wikipedia pages, the Soil Sciences of America Association,  and the “gardening resources” page on the Cornell University website.


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