The Outer Limits: Cléebourg and the Quatre Bans

The Abbey of Saints-Pierre-et-Paul in Wissembourg

The wines of Alsace are among my favorites—rich Pinot Gris, snappy Riesling, the occasional white blend, an even more occasional Pinot Noir, and all of those delightful bubbles. Great wine, amazing food, incredible scenery—in my dreams, I retire in Alsace.

But back in the real world of wine studies, all good wine students need to know about the Vosges Mountains, the Rhine River, and the lay of the land in Alsace. For instance, nearly all of the 15,300 hectares/38,000 acres of vines planted within the Alsace AOC (including all 51 of the famous Grands Crus) are located along a 60-mile (96-km) swath of land beginning just north of Strasbourg (in the Bas-Rhin department) and ending just south of Mulhouse (in the Haut-Rhin).

Map of the Alsace AOC via https://www.inao.gouv.fr/

However, here’s a lesser-known fact: about 30 miles to the north of Strasbourg, there is a tiny exclave of the Alsace AOC. In the area surrounding the town of Wissembourg, we find a small cluster of obscure vineyards planted near the border (with some straddling the line) between France and Germany.

This tiny corner of the Alsace AOC covers just 5 communes of the Bas-Rhin department—Cléebourg, Oberhoffen, Riedseltz, Steinseltz, and Wissembourg—and measures just a few miles across and a few miles long.

According to the Wines of Alsace website, it is well worth the 30-mile train ride from Strasbourg to see this beautiful and unique region—the northernmost outpost of the Routes des vins d’Alsace. Once you arrive at either the Riedseltz or Wissembourg station, you can grab a car or a taxi and pay a visit to Cave Vinicole Cléebourg.

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According to the Cave Vinicole Cléebourg website, wine has been produced in the area since the 9th century BCE, beginning at Dominican Monastery in Wissembourg before spreading to Cléebourg and beyond. Despite a series of political upheavals, phylloxera, and devastation from the retreating armies after World War II, the area’s viticulture has managed to survive. These days, there are 190 members in the Cléebourg cooperative, producing a range of varietal wines and crémant d’Alsace as well as late harvest/noble late harvest wines (when conditions allow). Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Gewurztraminer, Muscat, Sylvaner, and Auxerrois are the main varieties.

The Cave Vinicole Cléebourg is home to the Confrérie des Vins des Quatre Bans. The Confrérie (brotherhood) is composed of wine lovers (both brothers and sisters) who are interested in promoting the wines of the area. All members—which range from beginners/novices up to the levels of enlightened brothers/sisters, ambassadors, and 17 members of the Grand Council—must pass a series of increasingly difficult wine tasting exams and participate in regional wine events. Each year, the Confrérie selects a particularly high-quality wine to bear the label of the society.

Photo of Château de Fleckenstein by Peter Schmenger, via Wikimedia Commons

After a tour of the winery, I suggest you take the 11-mile (18-km) drive to the Château de Fleckenstein, a hilltop, Romanesque castle first built in the 12th century. Portions of the castle—including some stairs and several under-ground rooms—were carved out of the sandstone bedrock. The castle is in ruins, but open for tourism and educational visits.

The town of Wissembourg is a good place for a home base. Located on the German border and surrounding the Lauter River, Wissembourg is built around a central canal (the Lauter Canal) and is home to an several impressive gothic buildings, including the Abbey of Saints-Pierre-et-Paul, the largest parish church in Alsace, exceeded only by the cathedral in Strasbourg. Just on the other side of the abbey’s garden, you can visit the canal-side Maison du sel Wissembourg—first built in 1488 for use as a hospital and later as a salt warehouse—known for its exceedingly steep (and undulating-from-age) roof.

Northern Alsace looks like an excellent spot for a low-key wine vacation, and for those looking for a bit more immersion into wine…the Duetsches Weintor (German wine gate, noting the southern end of the German Wine Route) in Schweigen-Rechtenbach is just 2 miles (3.3 km) away!

References/for more information:

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

The Outer Limits is my series of appreciative posts about small, obscure, or out-of-the-way wine regions.

Confusion Corner: the Montepulcianos

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Welcome to confusion corner, Montepulciano! Well-deserved! To wit: Montepulciano is a place (a town in Tuscany), a grape (a red variety), and the name of several wines. Let’s see if we can de-muddle some of the Montepulciano mayhem by taking them one by one.

Montepulciano—the town: Montepulciano is an ancient hilltop town located in Tuscany—about 43 miles (70 km) southeast of Siena. The town—once a Roman fort charged with guarding the main roads of the area—sits on a 1,985-foot- (605-m-) high limestone ridge. The town’s historic center is home of a range of Renaissance palaces (Palazzo Comunale, Palazzo Tarugi), a delightful town square (Piazza Grande), and more than one imposing place of worship (don’t miss the Santa Maria Assunta Cathedral). Beyond Montepulciano’s medieval walls lie rolling hills, vineyards, and cypress trees as far as the eye can see. Such towns are what Tuscan dreams are made of.

The Palazzo Comunale (Town Hall) in Piazza Grande, Montepulciano

The wines of Montepulciano (the town): Those vineyards surrounding the town of Montepulciano are mainly planted to Sangiovese—although here it goes by the name of Prugnolo Gentile. The most famous wine of the area—Vino Nobile de Montepulciano DOCG—is produced using a minimum of 70% Prugnolo Gentile. In addition, it often contains a smattering of other red grapes and maybe a dash or two (maximum 5%) Malvasia Bianca Lunga or other white grapes. Vino Nobile de Montepulciano DOCG requires a minimum of one year in oak and a total of two years of aging (measured from January 1 of the year following the harvest) before its release.

Rosso di Montepulciano DOC—a more modern, fruit-forward red wine of the region—is produced using the same grape varieties but only requires a few months of aging. With some exceptions, Rosso di Montepulciano DOC may be released on March 1 of the year following harvest. In April of 2020, the consorzio for Rosso di Montepulciano DOC sought to assuage some of the Montepulciano madness by requiring that the wine bear the term Toscana on the label along with the name of the wine.

Montepulciano: the grape

Montepulciano—the grape: The grape variety known as Montepulciano is most likely native to the area around Abruzzo. Montepulciano—widely planted across central Italy—is a prolific grape known to produce red wines of deep color and ample tannin. After Sangiovese, it is the second-most-widely planted red grape in Italy and as such, it makes sense that Montepulciano (the grape) is often used as a blending partner for Italy’s superstar Sangiovese.

On its own, Montepulciano can be made into medium-bodied, easy-drinking pizza wines with cherry-berry aromas and a good zing of acidity. However—particularly when grown on old vines and vinified with a touch of oak—Montepulciano can produce a serious, age-worthy wine redolent of red plum, black fruit (boysenberry, blackberry), herbs, and tar (sounds weird, but Syrah can show tar aromas as well).

Photo of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo by Agne27 via Wikimedia Commons

The wines of Montepulciano (the grape): The Montepulciano grape variety is used (in varying amounts) in over 50 DOC/DOCG wines of Italy. Offida Rosso DOCG, Rosso Conero DOC, and Terre Tollesi DOCG are among those that best showcase this grape.

However, the confusion corner sets in with the wines named for the grape itself: Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane DOCG. Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC, produced in a large swath of the Abruzzo province stretching along and inland from the Adriatic Sea, is one of Italy’s most widely produced and popular wines. Beloved for its fruity flavors, soft tannins, and delightfully inexpensive price point, it is an easy wine to love.

Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane DOCG—made only in the hilly, northwest section of the larger DOC area—is made with a minimum of 90% Montepulciano grapes; the remaining 10% may be Sangiovese (or more Montepulciano). The wine required a minimum of 2 years of aging (from November 1 of the harvest year). This two-year aging regiment must include at least one year in oak or chestnut and at least six months of bottle aging.  Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane DOCG is a uniquely opulent wine with intense flavors of fruit (dark cherries, red plum, spice (), and smoke.

TLDR: Montepulciano is a town in Tuscany; the wine known as Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG is made from Prugnolo Gentile (Sangiovese). Montepulciano—the red grape—is a specialty of central Italy and made into a wide range of wines; Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC is among the best known.

Any questions?

References/for more information:

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

Tidal Bay: Nova Scotia’s Signature Wine

Vineyards in Nova Scotia’s Gaspereau Valley/photo by Gavin Gangille via Wikimedia Commons

Canada’s Nova Scotia province—located on the Atlantic Coast and including several islands—is known for the Cabot Trail (hailed as one of the world’s most scenic drives), the Halifax Waterfront, Peggy’s Cove (a charming fishing village), whale watching, music festivals, and delicious lobster.

These days, the area is also known for its wine. More than 20 wineries are currently producing world-class wines in Nova Scotia—hailed as Canada’s smallest and coolest-climate wine region.

Nova Scotia produces a range of wines, reserving particular pride for a unique style of wine known as Tidal Bay. The name “Tidal Bay” is strictly regulated and reserved for still (non-sparkling) white wines produced from 100% Nova Scotia grapes. Tidal Bay wines are fresh and crisp in acidity, dry to off-dry, moderate in alcohol (11% abv is the maximum permitted), and highly aromatic. They are ideal to pair with the area’s abundant seafood dishes and are billed as Nova Scotia in a glass, reflecting the climate, terroir, and culture of the region.

The requirements for use of the name “Tidal Bay” (as defined by the Winery Association of Nova Scotia) include the following:

  • 100% Nova Scotia grapes
  • A minimum of 51% (combined) of the final blend must be comprised of primary grape varieties. These are:
    • L’Acadie Blanc (complex hybrid [Cascade X Seyve-Villard 14-287] created by Ollie A. Bradt of Ontario)
    • Seyval Blanc (complex, French-created hybrid)
    • Vidal (complex, French-created hybrid)
    • Geisenheim 318 (German hybrid [Riesling X Chancellor])
  • Secondary grape varieties—including Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Chasselas, Ortega, Siegfried, Osceola Muscat, Frontenac Gris, Frontenac Blanc, Petit Milo, and Cayuga—are optional, but may be included up to a (combined) total of 49% of the blend.
    • Other grapes grown in Nova Scotia (tertiary varieties) are permitted to be included in limited amounts (up to 15% of the blend).
  • A maximum of 2% residual sugar (although there are exceptions based on the wine’s acidity and overall taste profile)
  • Limited, minimal, or no skin contact
  • Little or no influence of new oak
  • The wine must be vintage-dated and approved by a five-person tasting panel 

Peggy’s Cove (Nova Scotia)

With the number of grapes (and potential blends) allowed in the final mix, every Tidal Bay wine has the potential to be unique. However, during my research (and tasting) I found the following aroma/flavor descriptors to be apt: peach, apricot, pear, green apple, citrus (orange, tangerine, lemon) candied ginger, mineral/minerality, mint, and flowers.

Outstanding producers of Tidal Bay include Benjamin Bridge, Domaine de Grand Pré, and Jōst Vineyards.

Nova Scotia produces a wide range of other cool-climate wines in addition to Tidal Bay. On your next road trip through this beautiful area, be sure and seek out the region’s sparkling wines, piquette, crisp white wines (Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling are standouts), icewine, and Cabernet Franc rosé. 

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About that name: The Bay of Fundy—one of the many natural wonders of Nova Scotia—is located between the Canadian province of New Brunswick and the island of Nova Scotia. The funnel-shaped bay is home to some of the highest tides on the face of the earth; the tidal surge can be as high as 43 feet (13 meters). In comparison, the worldwide average tidal range (height difference between high tide and low tide) is 3 feet and 3 inches (1 meter). The Bay of Fundy experiences two high tides a day, each about 12 hours and 26 minutes apart. With each high tide, 100 billion tons of seawater flow inland.

As the tide recedes, miles of ocean-front property makes itself available to hikers, picnickers, and bird watchers—every summer, the area is visited by 30,000 migrating sandpipers (and the folks who follow them). It’s no wonder Nova Scotia’s signature wine goes by the name “Tidal Bay.”

References/for more information:

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

The Outer Limits is my series of appreciative posts about small, obscure, or out-of-the-way wine regions.

The Rum Files: Bootleggers and Mythical Beasts

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Rum is a fascinating and diverse category of spirits. It goes by many nicknames—kill-devil, screech, and Nelson’s blood (to name a few). The rum brands are just as interesting—Skinny Pirate, Flipflop, Bumbu, Cargo Cult, and Dead Man’s Fingers all caught my eye.

Among the funny, irreverent, and outlandish rum brands, several are named for bootleggers or mythical beasts. Here are a few to watch out for:

The Rougaroux: The rougaroux is a big, scary, creature somewhat akin to a werewolf. The legend of the rougaroux centers around French Louisiana/Cajun Country.  The name rougaroux is thought to be a localized variation of the French words loup (“wolf”) and garou (“man”)—or loup-garou (“wolf-man”). The rougaroux is a shape-shifting beast with the body of a man and the head of a wolf. He prowls the swamps of Louisiana and preys on children who misbehave, and—as some like to believe—Catholics who forget their Lenten vows. Thankfully, well-behaved youngsters (and devoted Catholics) are of no interest to him. Click here to visit the website of Rougaroux Full Moon Dark Rum.

Bill McCoy in 1921 (Public Domain)

The Real McCoy: The term “the real McCoy” is typically used to mean  “the real thing” or “the genuine article.” The saying has a plethora of backstories and possible meanings. These date as far back as 1856, when the Scottish poet Robert Louis Stevenson wrote a letter that contained the phrase a drappie o’ the real MacKay. However, when it comes to the Real McCoy Rum, it’s all about Bill.

William “Bill” McCoy (1877–1948) was an American bootlegger, famous for being one of the first—and best—sea captains to sail to the Caribbean and return to the east coast of America with a hull full of whiskey, rum, and all other sorts of alcohol. Bill was an experienced, savvy businessman and the owner of several boats. Bill and his crew would sail to the Bahamas, load up  with liquor, and return to the east coast—always careful to stay three miles off shore, which at the time represented the international boundary. Unlike many of the other rum runners of the time, Bill was known to never dilute his spirits with juice, water, sugar, or other additives. As such, his products became known for their quality and purity, and were referred to as “the Real McCoy.” Click here to visit the website of The Real McCoy Rum.

Photo by Rama via Wikimedia Commons

The Lugger: The term lugger represents the type of boat that the legendary Jack “Ratt” Rattenbury (1778–1844) would have used in his many years as a smuggler. Jack smuggled a range of goods between France and England. His modus operandi was to sink tubs of contraband—including brandy, tea, tobacco and silk—off the English coast for later collection.

lugger is equipped with one or more four-cornered sails, known as lug sails. Luggers were widely used by bootleggers and other smugglers in the waters around England, Ireland, Scotland, and France from the mid-18th century onward. Luggers were prized for their speed and power—which often made them able to evade and outrun the authorities. Click here to visit the website of Jack Ratt Lugger Rum. 

Colossal octopus drawing by Pierre Denys de Montfort (via Wikimedia Commons)

The Kraken: The Kraken is a legendary creature of Norse mythology. The scariest thing about the kraken—often described as a giant squid- or octopus-like creature—is that it may well be based on real-life giant squid, which can grow to lengths of 40 feet or longer (ouch). This ocean-dwelling monster is reported to dwell off the coast of Greenland, Norway, Sweden, and other parts of the North Atlantic, often terrorizing ships and sailors. The kraken is often described in literature and lore—Alfred Tennyson wrote a poem called “the Kraken,” and kraken-like creatures appearance in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick as well as Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas. Click here to visit the website of Kraken Rum.

Here are a few more rum names I’d like to investigate in the future: La Hechicera, Admiral Rodney, Dead Man’s Fingers, and Holey Dollar. Any other suggestions?

References/for more information:

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

One Small Step for the EU, a Giant Leap for German Wine?

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All good wine students know that Germany famously has 13 Anbaugebiete (quality wine regions); each of which can produce Qualitätswein and Prädikatswein.  These are wines of the highest quality—with multiple layers of regulation and protection—classified in the EU as wines with a protected designation of origin (PDO). The 13 Anbaugebiete are all permitted to produce a wide range of wines, and each region’s product specification contains a long list of allowed grape varieties, wine styles, and wine-making techniques.

Well, good wine students of the world, hold on—because things are changing. Germany now has five PDOs defining small, specific areas within the larger Anbaugebiete. In addition, their rules dictate a list of approved grape varieties, limits on yield, and required/allowed/disallowed methods of production—just like a French-style AOC or an Italian DOCG. Welcome to the world, German PDOs.

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Here are some details concerning Germany’s new region-grape-and-style-specific PDOs:

Monzinger Niederberg (Nahe): This vineyard was registered as a PDO by the EU on December 13, 2018. Monzinger Niederberg PDO is approved for the Riesling grape only; specifically for wines with “fine apple and citrus fruit notes in their aroma and a distinct minerality.” The region specializes in dry wine (defined as having less than 25 g/L residual sugar/less than 18 g/L if total tartaric acid is below 7.2 g/L), but sweet wines are produced as well. PDO regulations specify that the wines must be produced using taste-neutral containers, but allows for the use of oak containers if the oak character in the finished wine is “discreet” or not discernible. The use of small, new oak barrels is specifically prohibited.

Bürgstädter Berg (Franken): Bürgstädter Berg PDO was registered by the EU on May 17, 2017. It allows for the production of white wine, rosé/weissherbst, red wine, and sparkling wine. The wines may be produced in a range of styles, including the “traditional but very rarely produced sweet wines—Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese, and Eiswein.” The Bürgstadter Berg PDO is located on a predominantly south-facing slope alongside the River Main. According to the documentation, the area within the Bürgstädter Berg PDO differs from the surrounding region by way of its variegated sandstone soils that contain “lower soil cohesion and the lower pH value than is usual in Franconian soils.” The preferred grape varieties for white wines are Riesling and Silvaner; other allowed grape varieties include Zweigelt, Frühburgunder, Weissburgunder, Silvaner, Spätburgunder, Müller Thurgau, Riesling, and Chardonnay.

Map of the Uhlen Roth Lay, Uhlen Laubach, and Uhlen Blaufüsser Lay PDOs via https://www.ble.de/DE

The following three PDOs—Uhlen Blaufüsser Lay, Uhlen Laubach, and Ulen Roth Lay—are all part of the larger Winninger Uhlen vineyard. Located in the Lower Mosel—just 5 miles/8 km from where the Mosel meets the Rhine—they are positioned next to each other (intertwined in some spots), on a series of south-facing terraces along the Mosel River. All three of these PDOs were registered on December 13, 2108:

Uhlen Blaufüsser Lay (Mosel): This region is approved for white wines, both still and sparkling. Riesling is the only grape variety permitted. The wines are described as having fruity notes (ripe autumn apples) as well as notes of violets and licorice—but it is the “slate minerals” and “cool metallic” aromas that the wine is best known for.  Some wine making practices (including the use of potassium sorbate, de-alcoholization, concentration via centrifuge or osmosis, sweetening with grape must, and the use of oak chips) are specifically prohibited.

Uhlen Laubach (Mosel): This PDO is approved for the same styles of wine (Riesling only, still and sparkling) as its neighbors. It also shares the same list of prohibited wine making practices. However, in addition to fruity aromas and the character of clean slate, the wines of the Uhlen Laubach PDO are described as smelling of “cool smoke and hazelnuts,” and as “generally fuller, softer, and with great depth of flavor.”

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Uhlen Roth Lay (Mosel): Like its neighbors, the Uhlen Roth Lay PDO is approved for Riesling only, which may be still or sparkling. The wines of the area are known to demonstrate fruity and aromas and notes of minerality. The region is unique for its sparse rainfall and climate, which features slightly higher temperatures than the surrounding areas.

Wait, there’s one more: A sixth appellation—Würzburger Stein-Berg, located in Franken—is at the “publication” stage of the EU approval process. The Würzburger Stein-Berg PDO application was accepted earlier this year and published in the Journal of the EU on April 17, 2020; it still need that final step of EU registration.

Pictures or it didn’t happen: If you are finding all this a bit hard to believe, I feel you. As proof-positive, you can read the documentation—straight from the Official Journal of the EU—in the reference section below.

References/for more information:

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

Confusion Corner: Fleurie and Fleurieu

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Fleurie and Fleurieu…for years I thought they referred to the same place…you know—that delightful little hillside hamlet also known as “the Queen of Beaujolais.”

Right? Wrong. Even though the two words are differentiated by nothing but a tiny, final vowel…they could not be further apart. As in 9,975 miles (16,050 km) apart; like from France to Australia.

To clarify: Fleurie and Fleurieu are totally different spots, literally half-way across the world from each other. As they are both wine-producing regions, and official appellations in their respective countries, we find them smack in the middle of the confusion corner.

Let’s take a closer look at Fleurie (floo–ree) and Fleurieu (floo–ree–ah)…perhaps this will clear up the confusion!

Chapelle de la Madone, Fleurie, France

Fleurie: Fleurie AOC is one of the ten Crus of Beaujolais (France). It is located near the northern edge of the Beaujolais region, tucked between Moulin-à-Vent and Chiroubles. The area is nestled into a zone of steep hills, and the highest peak (at 1,400 feet/425 m) is home to the Chapelle of La Madone. The hillsides around the chapel—particularly those with a southeast-facing aspect—are home to the appellation’s finest vineyards. Fleruie is known for its pink granite soils, unique even in the granite-rich region of northern Beaujolais.

Like all Beaujolais Cru, the Fleurie AOC produces red wines based on the Gamay grape variety. Fleurie is considered one of the most delicate and elegant of the Crus—and is often described in floral terms such as iris, violet, and rose. Other typical descriptors include red fruit (strawberry, cranberry, red cherry, kirsch), blue fruit (blueberry, plum) and savory (mineral, black pepper).

Despite the fact that fleurie translates to flowery, the area is not named after the wine’s famously floral aromas. Rather, the area is named for a Roman legionnaire named Florus (sometimes written as Floricum) who, at one time, made his home among these hills. 

Vineyards in Fleurieu (McLaren Vale)

Fleurieu: The Fleurieu Zone is located on the coast of South Australia (south of the city of Adelaide). It is centered on the Fleurieu Peninsula—a bit of land that extends into the Great Australian Bight and defines the southern side of St. Vincent Gulf. The Fleurieu Zone (as a geographical indication) also includes Kangaroo Island, located about 11 miles/18 km west of the mainland.

The Fleurieu Zone is positioned at the 35th latitude, however, its location directly on the coast of the Indian Ocean means that the area enjoys a much cooler climate—typically defined as Mediterranean—as compared to South Australia’s more inland locations.  Shiraz is the leading grape variety here (as it is in much of South Australia), along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc.

Map of the Fleurieu Zone via WineAustralia and Google Maps

In terms of geographical indications, the Fleurieu Zone includes the following five regions: Currency Creek, McLaren Vale, Kangaroo Island, Langhorne Creek, and Southern Fleurie. Of these, McLaren Vale—located about 22 miles/35 km south of the city of Adelaide and known for Cabernet Sauvignon—is undoubtedly the most notable.

The Fleurieu Zone does have a bit of a French connection—it was named after Charles Pierre Claret de Fleurieu, a French hydrographer who worked along the coast of South Australia in the early 1800s.

TL/DR: Fleurie = Beaujolais Cru, Fleurieu = South Australia (Shiraz, Cab Sauv)

References/for more information:

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

Sweet Secrets of the Northern Rhône (the Misfits Series)

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The 30-mile (72-km)-long stretch from Vienne to Valence in France’s Northern Rhône Valley is famous for its sturdy, Syrah-dominant red wines. Just whispering the word Hermitage (or Cornas or Côte-Rôtie) is enough to make a red wine lover smile. Equally well-known—albeit produced in much smaller amounts—are the fruity, floral, and powerful white wines of Condrieu and Château-Grillet (made from 100% Viognier). The area also produces sparkling wines down along its southern edge in the Saint-Péray AOC. While the Marsanne and Roussanne-based bubblies of Saint-Péray may seem somewhat out-of-place in the rough-and-tumble Northern Rhône, they are nevertheless well-known and acknowledged among well-informed enthusiasts and students of wine.

However, there is a secret whispered among the steep, hillside vines of the Northern Rhône, and you can hear it if you really try. It sounds like this—sweet wines are made here too. You may need to tread deep into the cellars to find these wines, but they are here: Hermitage Vin de Paille and Condrieu Doux.

The Condrieu AOC—located towards the northern end of the Northern Rhône, just south of the Côte-Rôtie—is a white wine-only appellation producing richly flavored and -textured wines from 100% Viognier. Like most Viognier-based wines, Condrieu AOC tends to be wildly aromatic, showing perfume-like scents of fruit (apricot, peach, tangerine, mango, fruit cocktail); flowers (honeysuckle, rose petals, jasmine) and baking spice (cinnamon, nutmeg, anise).

It’s a little-known fact, but (like many French wines), Condrieu was historically produced as a sweet wine. Harvest would traditionally begin on All Saint’s Day (November 1). It was not until the mid-1950s that the leading style of Condrieu shifted to the heady, dry wines that make up the majority of the production today.

In keeping with tradition, some wineries in Condrieu still produce sweet wines (alongside their dry versions). Cave Yves Cuilleron produces a sweet (11% RS) Condrieu, Condrieu Ayguets Doux. According to their website, the south-facing aspect of the vineyard promotes over-ripeness, and the grapes (harvested in stages from mid-October to mid-November) were at least partially affected by botrytis in the 2018 vintage. The resulting sweet wine was matured for eight months in oak barriques and emerged with “notes of candied fruits, honey, wax and mild spice.”

Other examples of sweet Condrieu include Domaine du Monteillet’s Condrieu doux Candice (made from 50% botrytized grapes), Domaine Christophe Pichon Cuvée Patience, and E. Guigal Condrieu Luminescence (produced only a few times over the history of the estate using ultra-over-ripe grapes).

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The Hermitage AOC—located on a famous south-facing, terraced hillside towering above the curving Rhône River and the town of Tain-Hermitage—is well-known for its sturdy, fruity-but-earthy Syrah-dominant red wines. The red wines of the region allow for the use of up to 15% (combined) Marsanne and Roussanne grapes, and white wines—based mainly on the Marsanne grape variety and known for being dry, sturdy, and long-lived—are produced as well.

Viticulture in Hermitage can be traced back thousands of years, and many people believe this hillside to be the actual—or perhaps just spiritual—birthplace of the Syrah variety. Vines were tended, and wine was produced in the area as far back as Roman times, when the local wine was referred to as the “wines of Vienne.” Among these ancient wines were sweet wines made from grapes allow to dry (raisinate) on straw mats after harvest. This style of wine—now known in this area as Vin de Paille—is being produced again, now under the auspices of the Hermitage AOC.

According to the rules and regulations, Hermitage Vin de Paille may be produced using the Marsanne and/or Roussanne grape variety. The grapes—which may be picked at a “typical” level of sugar ripeness—are left to dry on straw mats for a minimum of 45 days and until they have a minimum must weight of 350 g/l. While not required, the rich, sweet juice is typically barrel fermented and oak aged for several years before bottling. The resulting wines are intended to be very aromatic—redolent of candied fruit—with good levels of sugar and alcohol, and very well poised for long aging.

M. Chapoutier has—since 1990—occasionally produced a Hermitage Vin de Paille; the 2009 vintage was made from 100% Marsanne grapes that had been dried on straw mats for two months before pressing. The wine produced in 2009—which the winery advises may continue to successfully age for up to 50 years—has almost 15% abv and 10.5% residual sugar. The wine (as reported by the estate) has a deep, golden yellow color and intense aromas of candied fruits and honey. It is suggested to be served with fruit desserts…or as a dessert by itself.

Sweet wines of the Northern Rhône…they are fascinating, ancient, and true misfits, but secret no more!

References/for more information:

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

Fishbowl or Rabbit Hole? (How to Study for an Essay Exam)

I tend to dive deep down the rabbit hole while studying. A “quick search” for a definitive definition of llicorella once led me along a path leading from slate to metamorphic rock to sedimentary rock to clay to volcanic ask to foliated rocks and—finally, at the bottom of the tunnel—to quartz and (phew!) my desired definition of llicorella.

Jumping down the rabbit hole—studying a series of interrelated topics in minute detail—is all well and good, and I have benefited from my in-depth understanding of llicorella.

However, it is my opinion that if you have an essay test in your future, you should also include another form of study in your routine. I call this the “fishbowl” routine. Think of it this way: to the fish, the water in the bowl is the whole world. An observer knows that it is a tiny part of the world, but to the fish, it’s everything. When studying for an essay test, my advice is to look at a singular topic—whether it is white wines of Tuscany, Chardonnay across the world, or sugarcane juice-based rum—and study the whole topic. Don’t’ be distracted by anything else (anything outside of the fishbowl); but try to cover the length and breadth of the fishbowl topic.

Keep in mind that essays test you on the big picture. In addition to specific details, you will need to demonstrate your grasp of themes, relationships, and major concepts. You might be called on to use critical thinking, offer up an opinion, make a prediction, provide an analysis, or compare-and-contrast.

Here are some specific study techniques to use while studying for an essay test.

Study with the purpose of teaching. Strive to get to the point where you can comfortably speak about the topic—without looking at your notes—anticipating any questions that future students might ask. (Creating teaching materials, whether you will ever use them or not, is a great study technique for any type of test).

Review the material frequently to maintain a good grasp of the content—used spaced repetition.

Create an outline for an entire chapter or section in a book. Using the CSW Study Guide, the CSS Study Guide—or your reference material of choice—outline an entire chapter (Italy, Spain, Franc, Rum) or section (Tuscany, Rioja, Alsace, Rhum Agricole). Focus on the entirety of the material to envision the “big picture.”

Review your notes for recurring themes. Long time readers of this blog might recall that I like to approach the study of any wine or wine region along the following lines: location > terroir > grapes > style > terminology (in that order, as there could be causation/effect). Or, you can use “viti, vini, style” (viticulture, vinification, style) for wines; for spirits I use base ingredient > production techniques > style.

Make-your-own charts to represent differences/similarities. For instance, a good wine student knows that there are three main white grapes in the Loire Valley (Chenin Blanc, Melon, and Sauvignon Blanc). Make a chart with the three grape names across the top; list the wines/appellations known for each in the columns underneath. Here are a few other ideas: brands of whiskey (Bourbon vs. Tennessee Whiskey; Scotch distilleries by geographical indication), sparkling wines across the world, Muscat-based wines across the world, leading orange liqueurs, gravel soil across the wine-making world.

Visual mapping/concept maps: Make some free-form graphs or doodles to visually represent the relationships between themes or ideas and patterns that recur on a regular basis. You could create a concept map with Chardonnay in the center, surrounded by the concepts you believe to be important. These might include Old World Chard, New World Chard, varietal Chard, Chard in blends, Chard in sparkling wine, Chard in dessert wine, low-intervention Chard, high-intervention Chard, reductive Chard, oxidative Chard, cool climate Chard, warm climate Chard…and so on (and on and on and on).

Practice your critical thinking and analytical skills as you go. This is so much easier that it sounds. All you need to do is ask yourself why? Why is New Zealand Sauvignon blanc so zingy? Why is Burgundy Grand Cru expensive? Why is fino Sherry an acquired taste? Why is Cabernet Sauvignon the most widely planted vinifera grape in the world? Why is Caribbean rum distinctive?

Create summary notes: If you have used more than one reference (CSW Study Guide, Oxford Companion, World Atlas, Guild Somm, Wine Bible), grab your various stacks of notes and compile them all into one outline.

These suggested study techniques will help you prepare for any type of exam, whether it be verbal, short-answer, multiple choice or the dreaded essay exam—and can also prepare you to use your new-found knowledge in real life (which is the ultimate, end-game goal).

Always remember to enjoy your studies!  Click here to see more of our tips and tricks for the study of wine and spirits.

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

Happy June Solstice 2020!

Five Fast Facts about Muscadelle

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The Muscadelle grape is often mis-pronounced and mis-understood. (For the record, the English pronunciation sounds like this: muhs-kuh-del.)

Muscadelle has been the victim of multiple cases of mistaken identity. It  is NOT synonymous with Muscadet, it is NOT a close relative of Muscat (despite the indisputable similarities in grapey, floral aromas), and it is not another name for Muskateller. Once upon a time, it was believed that Muscadelle was another name for Hárslevelű, one of the leading grapes in the famous wines of Hungary’s Tokaj region. This led to the grape being known in some areas as Tokay. However—you guessed it—we now know that Muscadelle is NOT Hárslevelű.

Muscadelle is not, in fact Muscat, nor Muscadet, nor Hárslevelű. But it is a fascinating grape, and here are five fast facts to prove it!

Fast Fact #1: Muscadelle is believed to be native to the area around Bordeaux and the Dordogne in south-western France. It is the offspring of Gouis Blanc and as-yet-unknown variety. This means that Muscadelle is part of the extended Pinot Family and some sort of a half-sister to Chardonnay.

Fast Fact #2: As befits its native status, some of the largest plantings of Muscadelle are in Bordeaux. Here, Muscadelle plays what might be its most famous role—as the number three grape (after Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc) in the white wines (both dry and sweet) of Bordeaux. However, even here it is grown in limited amounts, amounting to just over 2,000 acres (885 ha) and—when used—typically amounts to no more than 3% of the total blend. One exception is Château Palmer, a Troisième Cru located in Margaux, that often produces a white wine—Blanc de Palmer—with as much as 50% Muscadelle in the mix

Fast Fact #3: Muscadelle is a bit more highly appreciated in Bergerac, a region about 50 miles (83 km) inland (and down the Dordogne River) from Bordeaux. The grape is used in varying amounts in the dry white wines of the area, including those of the Gaillac AOC and the Bergerac AOC. Many people believe that Muscadelle shows best in a sweet wine that allows its rich, floral aromas to shine. The wines of the sweet-wine-only Monbazillac AOC (located just up the river from Bergerac) are among the finest to showcase the Muscadelle grape variety in this way.

Photo via Campbells of Rutherglen

Fast Fact #4: Australia’s Rutherglen GI has produced unique, fortified-and-oxidized wines since the 1850s. These wines, made in a range of styles, are primarily produced from Muscat and Muscadelle grape varieties. Rutherglen is one of the regions where—in days past—Muscadelle was known as “Tokay” and as such, some of these wines were known as “Liqueur Tokay.” The name of the wine has since been changed to “Topaque” (as part of an agreement between the EU and Australia). Campbells of Rutherglen describes their Topaque as follows: “Deep, brilliant old gold. Lifted toffee, honey and cold tea characters combine to produce the unique character of Rutherglen Topaque.”

Fast Fact #5: Muscadelle has some fun nicknames, including the following: Vesparo, White Angelica, Marseillais, Guilan Musque, Raisinote, and Musquette. In part of California it is known as Sauvignon Vert, but this should not be confused with that other, more famous grape (also) known as Sauvignon Vert (aka Sauvignonasse or Friulano).

References/for more information:

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