Wine Geo: What (exactly) is a Cape?

The impressive cliffs of Cape Horn

Cape Canaveral, Cabo San Lucas, Cape Cod…we’ve heard of them all, we’ve visited some of them…but do we really know what a cape is?

Geographically speaking, a cape is a narrow point of land—usually quite high and rugged—that extends into a body of water. Capes can be part of a large land mass (such as Cape Finisterre in Galicia and the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa ) or part of an island (such as Cape Hatteras in North Carolina).

Technically, a cape is a peninsula (although geography geeks may argue that a cape is smaller). Other terms that may be used to describe a cape include headland (a cape is often defined as a large headland), bluff (geographers will say a bluff is typically rounded via erosion, whereas a cape is jagged), or promontory (a more general term that also includes raised lands surrounded by lowlands).

All is well at Cape Foulwind

Terroir-derived benefits of a cape—a rugged spot perched high above the surrounding waters—are likely to include the following: include typically cool, maritime climate; low risk of frost; moderate elevation and slope; aspect; and well-drained (often rocky and infertile) soil.

The concept of the cape is woven into the language of wine. South Africa, for instance, contains at least six wine regions that are so designated, including the Western Cape, Cape South Coast, Cape Agulhas, Cape Town, Eastern Cape, and Northern Cape—all official geographical indications for South African Wine

Here are a few more capes that should be well-known to wine lovers:  

  • The Cape May Peninsula AVA: located in southern New Jersey and to date, the only AVA with the word “cape” in the name.
  • Cape Kidnappers: best story ever and part of New Zealand’s Hawks Bay GI.
  • Cape of Good Hope: part of South Africa’s Cape Town GI, often thought to be the southernmost point in Africa—but that award goes to Cape Agulhas, located on the other side of False Bay.
  • Cabo da Roca: the western-most point of continental Europe and part of Portugal’s Colares DOC.
  • Cape Naturaliste, Cape Leeuwin, Cape Hamelin, Cape Freychinet, and Cape Mentelle: all are located within Western Australia’s Margaret River GI, several will sound familiar for their namesake wine estates.

View from the Cape of Good Hope

Beyond the world of wine, famous capes include the following:

  • Cabo San Lucas: Baja California’s famous beach resort area
  • Cape Fear: located off the coast of North Carolina’s Bald Head Island, also a scary movie.
  • Cape Canaveral: on Florida’s Atlantic coast, part of the Space Coast, famous site for launching spacecraft.
  • Cape Cod: famous beach town located off the southeast coast of Massachusetts, technically a series of glacier-formed islands that have experienced significant erosion.
  • Cape Foulwind: located on the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island, and so named after Captain James Cook’s ship was blown far off course from this point. It had previously been known as Rocky Point.
  • Cape Horn: the often-frozen southern edge of Chile’s Tierra del Fuego archipelago, close to the southernmost point of South America, intrepid sailors can slip through Drake’s Passage and brag about rounding the horn.
  • Cape Finisterre: the western-most point on the Camino de Santiago; during Roman times the land was literally believed to be the edge of the known world; the term derives from the Latin finis terrae (end of the earth).

References/for more information:

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

Confusion Corner: Côte des Bar, Côtes de Barr, Clos de la Barre

In the world of French wine, there are several different places that go by the name Bar (or Barr or Barre).  They sound similar, they look alike (almost) on a wine label, but they are not at all the same. At least two are officially-designated appellations of origin; some are descriptive terms—well-accepted and widely used, but not granted any type of protected status under the law. Let’s take a look at three of these, spread out over Champagne, Burgundy, and Alsace—and collectively representing the three of the iconic styles of wine: red, white, and sparkling.  Let’s dig a bit deeper in the Côte des Bar in Champagne, the Côtes de Barr in Alsace, and the Clos de la Barre in Volnay. Do you know which is which?

Alsace–Côtes de Barr AOC: The Côtes de Barr is one of the 13 official sub-appellations—dénominations géographiques complémentaires—of the Alsace AOC. Some of the Alsace sub-appellations are fairly well known—serious students of wine will no doubt recognize Klevener de Heiligenstein, Ottrott, and Saint-Hippolyte—however, the Côtes de Barr remains somewhat obscure.

Located just south of the town of Heiligenstein and covering the entirety of the commune of Barr in the Bas-Rhin, the Côtes de Barr is sub-appellation is approved for white wines based on the Sylvaner grape variety only. Domaine Leipp-Leininger is a leading producer. Barr—despite its small population of 7,000—is considered one of the leading wine towns of the Bas-Rhin and is worth a tourist stop for its centuries-old half-timber houses, the Place de l’Hôtel de Ville (town square), Musée de la Folie Marco (museum housed in a 17th-century Alsatian villa), and the Chapel of Saint Martin.

In an eternal nod to the confusion of Confusion Corner, the commune of Barr is also home to the Alsace Grand Cru Kirchberg de Barr AOC. Named for the steep-sided slopes leading up to the Chapel of Saint Martin (the name Kirchberg is derived from hill of the church), the vineyards are largely planted to Gewurztraminer; although Riesling, Muscat, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Noir are represented as well. True wine nerds will recognize Kirchberg de Barr as one of the two Alsace Grands Crus recently approved for the production of Pinot Noir (red wine) under the Grand Cru label.

Map of the Côte des Bar via the Union des Maisons de Champagne

The Côte des Bar: While not an official sub-region, the Côte des Bar is one of the five informally grouped districts of Champagne and it is described on the appellation’s cahier des charges. This area—often referred to as the Aube, based on the area’s political department—is located well to the south of the other, more centralized vineyard areas of Champagne.

The Côte des Bar is named for two towns which are, in turn, named after the two main rivers—the Aube and the Seine—that run through the area. Bar-sur-Aube is located on the eastern side of the area, while Bar-sur-Seine is situated on the west. In the case of both of these towns, the name Bar is derived from an old Gallic term meaning summit or height.

The area is known for its band of Kimmeridgian soil (also seen in Chablis) as well as some outcroppings of Portlandian limestone. While all seven of the grapes of Champagne are grown in the Côte des Bar, a great majority—as much as 86% of the total vineyard acreage—is planted to Pinot Noir.

Volnay Clos de la Barre Premier Cru AOC: Clos de la Barre—barre being an Old French term meaning fence—is one of 29 designated Premier Cru vineyards located within the Volnay AOC. The Volnay AOC—including all 29 Premiers Crus—is only approved for red wine. The Clos de la Barre Premier Cru is a tiny appellation—totaling about 1.3 hectares/3.5 acres—situated just to the east of the village of Volnay. The vineyard is owned by one family and planted exclusively to Pinot Noir. These days, all the grapes are sold to Maison Louis Jadot, making them the sole producer of Volnay Clos de la Barre Premier Cru wines.

Note: for this article, I’ve only included mentions of the place-name Bar (or Barr or Barre) that are listed on an appellation’s Cahier des Charges. If there are more to be found, let us know!

References/for more information:

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

The Bubbly Professor on Tim Gaiser’s Message in the Bottle

Photo of Tim Gaiser, MS by Kelly McCarthy

I recently read a book on wine tasting. As a sworn wine afficionado, it’s probably the 100th wine book I’ve read. However, this one—Message in the Bottle: A Guide to Tasting Wine by Tim Gaiser, MS—was special.

First of all, I’ve known Tim for about 20 years and have—on many occasions—had the pleasure of being in the audience as he gave a presentation on the intricacies of wine tasting. Tim has contributed much to subject of tasting and has given the crowded field of wine expertise a truly original perspective. Tim Gaiser is—in my humble opinion—one of the best wine educators in the world.

I am not in any way qualified to review books. I don’t know anything about writing styles, theme development, or the needs of the target audience. However, I can tell you that I learned a lot from this book, and that the book simplified some concepts—such as the subjective vs. the objective in wine tasting—that truly needed simplifying. (Before you think that means that this is an easy book, please note that simplifying something is extremely difficult. In the words of Steve Jobs, “Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”)

Before I go too far down that rabbit hole, here are a few things I learned from Tim Gaiser’s book:

We may never solve for the objective vs. the subjective in wine tasting, but Tim’s book has a notable take on the matter: Some things are objective and measurable (sediment, clarity, alcohol by volume); some things are subjective (aromatic intensity, flavors, balance)—and never the twain shall meet. However, Tim points out that even truly subjective concepts can be described and discussed by defining the extremes (nothing vs a large amount) and working from there. For instance, bitterness in wine can be non-existent (like a bowl of vanilla pudding), or extreme (like a double shot of espresso). Describing a specific wine as somewhere on that continuum is a way of combining the objective with the subjective (and might just limit the number of fist-fights to break out at tonight’s Valpolicella tasting).

There’s a tech sheet manifesto: I use wine tech sheets all the time and suggest their use to all of my students. Beginners will often ask what a tech sheet is, and I stumble all over an explanation which turns out to be something like “winemaker’s notes that may or may not tell you what you want to know.” While this sad fact is unlikely to change anytime soon, Tim’s book contains a meticulous wish list of what a tech sheet would, could, and should be. It includes basics such as grape variety, sweetness, pH, and level of alcohol (which are all-too-often missing) and well as more telling factoids such as vineyard elevation, ripeness levels at harvest, and cases produced. It’s a well-thought-out checklist, and if I thought it would work, I’d start a Change(dot)org petition to bring Tim’s Tech Sheet Manifesto to life.

Using associative rehearsal, you can improve your tasting skills without wine: Using a form of active recall to describe a specific type or style of wine (without the wine in front of you) is a great study technique; it’s been around a while and many wine educators refer to this practice as writing a dry tasting note. Tim has several meaty pages of advice for associative rehearsal/dry tasting notes, which—if followed—promise to help the student connect with and cement their knowledge of specific wines from tastings past. If you—like most wine students—have amassed a mountain of tasting notes and have a hard time remembering which wine is which, this advice is for you.

Impact compounds impact more than a wine’s aroma: I appreciate the concept of impact compounds, and love to wax poetic about the rosy notes of terpenes, the black pepperiness derived of rotundone, and the simple explanation as to why your wine may smell of gasoline (TDN).  Tim’s book explains the origin of impact compounds—which might be grape chemistry, the vineyard itself,  winemaking magic, or who knows what else. More importantly, what I gained from this section is the knowledge that these tricky little chemical groupings can be a key tool in detecting and recognizing specific varietals or regions-of-origin. In other words, if you want to develop your wine recognition/blind tasting skills, impact compounds are your new best friends.

I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in refining their wine tasting skills or exploring the philosophy of wine. There’s a lot here for advanced tasters, but plenty of space is dedicated developing the beginner’s palate as well.

Message in the Bottle: A Guide to Tasting Wine by Tim Gaiser, MS (Newworlding Publishing, 2022) is available on You can contact Tim via his well-read blog at

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

Confusion Corner: Monte Carlo and Montecarlo

Monte Carlo and Montecarlo: they really have nothing in common. While both are named for the hill of Carlos (Charles), that’s where the similarities end. One is a posh, urban area on a glamorous riviera—and the other is an obscure wine region in the northwest of Tuscany.  And yet, the names alone qualify this topic for Confusion Corner. Let’s break this down:

Monte Carlo, the town: Monte Carlo is a small town (ward) and arguably the most famous region of the Principality of Monaco—that tiny sovereign micro-state located on the French Riviera, tucked between Provence and Liguria. You won’t find any wineries in this exclusive area of wall-to-wall hotels, casinos, and luxury residences, but the Champagne Lists at the Hôtel de Paris Monte Carlo and the Casino de Monte Carlo are impressive indeed.

Monte Carlo, Monaco at dusk

Monte Carlo (the town) is named for Charles Honoré Grimaldi. Also known as Charles III of Monaco, he was the founder of the town’s famous casino and served as the Prince of Monaco from June of 1856 until his death in 1889.

Montecarlo, the DOC: The Montecarlo DOC (established in 1969) is named after the comune of Montecarlo, located in the Province of Lucca (Tuscany). Montecarlo lies between Florence (31 miles/50 km) to the east and Lucca (about 7 miles/12 km to the west. The village dates back to 1333, when Charles IV (the namesake of the town and future Holy Roman Emperor) defeated the city of Pisa and freed the citizens of Lucca from Pisan rule.

In addition to its namesake, the Montecarlo DOC includes the municipalities of Altopascio, Capannori, and Porcari. It overlaps a small portion of the equally obscure Valdinievole DOC and shares its western boundary with the Colline Lucchesi DOC. The edge of the uber-famous Chianti DOCG is about 15 miles/24 km away.

Wine has been made in the area since antiquity; before the town took the name of Montecarlo it was known as Vivinaia—the Via del Vino—named for a well-traveled trade route that crossed the region’s hills. In the 1200s, Benedictine Monks produced a wine described as “clear, vermilion, pure and frank.” Several centuries later, the region provided wine to Duke Cosimo I De Medici, at whose court “the bunches of Montecarlo grapes and the Trebbiano of that community cheered the diners.” (Quotations via the disciplinare, linked below.)

In the late 1800s, the wines of the region were greatly influenced by a wine merchant known as Giulio Magnani who traveled to France and brought back vines from Bordeaux (including Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon), Burgundy (including Pinot Blanc/Bianco), and the Rhône (including Syrah and Roussanne). These grapes still play a role in the wines of the Montecarlo DOC.

  • The Montecarlo DOC is approved for a range of wines, including white wine, red wine, and vin santo (dried grape wine), made according to the following formulas:
    • Montecarlo Bianco: 30% to 60% Trebbiano Toscano; 40% to 70% must comprise at least three of the following grapes: Semillon, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Bianco, Vermentino, Sauvignon, and/or Roussanne. (Any remainder, up to 20%, may consist of any non-aromatic white variety allowed for use in Tuscany.)
    • Montecarlo Rosso: 50% to 75% Sangiovese; 15% to 40% Merlot, Syrah, and/or Canaiolo Nero; 10% to 30% Ciliegiolo, Colorino, Malvasia Nera, Cabernet Sauvignon, and/or Cabernet Franc. (Any remainder, up to 20%, may consist of any non-aromatic red or white variety allowed for use in Tuscany.)
    • Varietal wines may be produced using a minimum of 85% one of the following: Vermentino, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Syrah.
    • Vin Santo may be produced using any of the approved grape varieties; grapes must be air-dried, and the wine must be aged in caratelli (wooden vessels with a maximum capacity of 500 liters); vin santo may not be released until November 1 of the third year following the harvest.

Montecarlo, Tuscany: photo by Marco Ziero via Wikimedia Commons

If you visit Montecarlo, in between wine tastings you’ll want to visit the Church of Sant’Andrea (and its fifteenth-century frescoes) as well as the Fortezza di Montecarlo . The fortress is situated atop the highest point on the hill of Montecarlo and was once the site of numerous battles between the powerful cities of Florence, Lucca, and Pisa.

References/for more information:

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

Wine Geo: The Camargue

The largest river delta in Europe—the Rhône River Delta—lies just south of the town of Arles, France. Known as the Camargue, this area—located within the aptly named Bouches-du-Rhône (Mouths of the Rhône) Department—is a vast plain dotted with brine lagoons (étangs), sandbars, and marshlands surrounded by a large area of rich agricultural cultivation.

The Camargue is tucked between the two arms of the Rhône River Delta—the Grande Rhône (on the eastern edge), and the smaller Petite Rhône (along the west). A large portion (as much as a third of the total area) is a protected nature reserve and part of the Parc Naturel Régional de Camargue. The area is one of the few European habitats for the Greater Flamingo and home to hundreds of species of unique flora and fauna, including the beautiful, white-grey, semi-wild breed of Camargue Horses.

Aside from the protected areas, ranching and agriculture rule the Camargue. The region is one of the largest producers of rice in Europe and has achieved a protected geographical indication (PGI/IGP) for Riz de Camargue, cultivated since the 1600s.  The rice fields in the area provide most of the rice consumed in France and also allow for the other main crops of the Camargue—including cereal gains and grapevines—by desalinating the water and soil.

The best-known wine of the region is bottled under the Sable de Camargue PGI. As befits the area’s location—on the Mediterranean Coast and tucked between Provence, the southern Rhône Valley, and the eastern reaches of the Languedoc—94% of the wine produced is rosé. Vin gris (a very pale pink style of rosé produced via direct press followed by little-to-no maceration time on the grape skins) and gris de gris (an ultra-pale vin gris made from lighter/thinner-skinned grapes) are regional specialties. Whites, reds, and sparkling wines mare made in small amounts; and all of the wines are meant to be delicate, fresh, and reflective of the ethereal landscape and sable (sand)-based soils of the area.

  • The wines of the Sable de Camargue PGI may be produced using the following grape varieties:
    • Rosé/vin gris (may be still or sparkling): minimum 70% Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan, Cinsaut, Grenache Noir, Grenache Gris, Merlot, and/or Syrah; up to 30% Aubun, Marselan, Tempranillo, and/or any of the grapes allowed for white wines
    • Gris de Gris (still/non-sparkling only): Grenache Noir, Grenache Gris, Carignan, and/or Cinsaut
    • Rouge/red (may be still or sparkling): minimum 70% Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache Noir, Merlot, Marselan, Syrah, and/or Petit Verdot; up to 30% Alicante Bouschet, Aubun, Carignan, and/or Tempranillo
    • Blanc/white (may be still or sparkling): minimum 70% Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Clairette, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Muscat à Petits Grains, Muscat d’Alexandrie, Roussanne, Sauvignon Blanc, Ugni Blanc, and/or Viognier; up to 30% Carignan Blanc, Colombard, and/or Rolle (Vermentino)

The Camargue is also known for its fleur de sel (salt). Salt has been harvested in the marshlands since the Middle Ages, when several religious orders (including the Benedictines and the Cistercians) settled in the area and established several “salt abbeys,” made wealthy through the extraction of salt.  The remains of one—the Benedictine Abbey of Psalmody—was declared a Monument Historique in 1984.

The black cattle of the area—Raço di Biòu—are spread over dozens of ranches and tended to by the gardians (herders). The bulls are the stars of the Course Camarguaise—a type of bloodless bullfight where the object of the raseteur is to grab a rosette from between the horns of the bull. The cattle are also bred for beef and the meat of the young bull—a protected product known as Taureau du Camargue AOC—is bright red, ultra-lean, tender, and meant to be consumed extra-rare.

Note of intrigue: France, it seems, is looking to promote the wines of the Sable de Camargue from PGI to PDO status. Witness the action taken on May 31, 2022, when France simultaneously submitted an application to the EU for a Sable de Camargue PDO and requested cancellation of the Sable de Camargue PGI. Who know how long this will take, and if it even ends up being successful, but we be watching for an update!

References/for more information:

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

Five Fast Facts about the Bay of Biscay

Biarritz (France)

If you are a wine student who has studied Bordeaux, you’ve heard of the Bay of Biscay. If you have dreamed of traveling to the resort town of Biarritz, you’ve heard of the Bay of Biscay.  If you are a sailor who likes a challenge, you’ve heard of the Bay of Biscay. If you are interested in learning more, read on for five fast facts about the Bay of Biscay!

#1: The name and the place: The Bay of Biscay is a portion of the Atlantic Ocean located off the west coast of France and the northern coast of Spain. It stretches from Point Penmarch (a small peninsula in Brittany’s Finistère department) in the north to Cape Ortegal (a headland on the shores of A Coruña, Galicia) in the south. It is named for the province of Biscay—a sub-region of Basque Autonomous Community of Spain (Comunidad Autónoma del País Vasco).

If you sailed from Point Penmarch to Cape Ortegal (you might want to consult item #5 before doing so), you would cover 360 miles/580km; if you drove the coast, you would cover 914 miles/1,475 km and pass through the cities of Nantes, Bordeaux, Bayonne, San Sebastian, and Bilbao.

#2: It’s a bay…it’s a gulf…it’s a sea: The term Bay of Biscay is used mostly by English Speakers. In France, this area is known as the Golfe de Gascogne (Gulf of Gascony), and many Spanish speakers know it as the Golfo de Vizcaya (Gulf of Biscay/Vizcaya). In Spain, the waters just off the coast of Northern Spain (stretching east to the French city of Bayonne) are known as the Mar Cantábrico (Cantabrian Sea).

  • For the geo-curious: Terms such as bay, gulf, and sea are loosely defined. However, according to the National Geographic Education Resource Library:
    • A bay is any body of water partially surrounded by land.
    • A gulf is a portion of the ocean that penetrates land. (As such, the terms bay and gulf are largely interchangeable.) While there are some exceptions (such as the Bay of Bengal), in common use a gulf is larger than a bay.
    • Sea is a broad term that may be applied to more than 50 different types of water formations; this term is typically reserved for bodies of salt water.

#3: The Rennell Current: Several ocean currents flow through the Bay of Biscay, all of which are considered branches of the Gulf Stream. The Gulf Stream—named for its source (the Gulf of Mexico, at 20°N)—carries warm water northward and eventually reaches the northern coast of Europe. The portion of the current flowing closest to the coast in the Bay of Biscay is known as the Rennell Current, named for James Rennell (1742–18300, a British geographer and oceanographer who studied and mapped many ocean currents. It is estimated that the Rennell Current can have a warming effect of up to 4°(F) on the areas along the coast of France.

#4: The triangle of fog: Fog can show up at any time and just about any place on the Bay of Biscay, but it is an almost daily occurrence during late spring and all through summer, particularly in the southwest portion of the bay.  This “triangle of fog” typically forms over the deepest water in the bay and can extend inland along the northern coast of Spain (Galicia–Asturias–Cantabria—Basque Country) for several miles.On th

On the coast in Deba (Basque Country, Spain)

#5: The shelf and the shallow: The Bay of Biscay has a long history of shipwrecks, rough water, and tumultuous storms. During the winter months, areas of low pressure (unstable air masses/depressions) track into the bay via the Gulf Stream and are easily energized into fierce thunderstorms, much to the dismay of anyone caught on the open water.  At times, these thunderstorms are met with winds from the east and this clash of wind and rain can cause the water to churn “like a washing machine.” In addition, the continental shelf extends over a large portion of the bay, resulting in shallow water and rough seas that can occur during all types of weather.  Click here to see a detailed map of the continental shelf in the Bay of Biscay. 

Here’s to the Bay of Biscay! The next time you raise a glass of Muscadet, Cognac, Txakolina, Sidra de Asturias, or Bordeaux…remember to pay homage to the influence of the Bay of Biscay…whether it be storms or fog or ships that made it through.

References/for more information:

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

The Outer Limits: The Moselle Luxembourgeoise AOP

Vineyards near Wormeldange

Luxembourg: It is one of Europe’s smallest countries, yet it is among the wealthiest—by most accounts, it has one of the highest gross domestic products (GDP) at purchasing power parity (PPP) per capita in the world.  It is the world’s one-and-only remaining sovereign grand duchy, and yet its capital city—also known as Luxembourg—is one of the four institutional seats of the European Union.

The leading industries of Luxembourg include banking and finance, high-tech start-ups, chemicals, rubber, and steel. Agriculture employs only about 2% of the population, with an emphasis on dairy cattle, barley, oats, and potatoes.

And then there is the wine. While less than 1% of the arable land is planted to vines, it makes sense that this tiny country tucked between Germany and France—two vinous powerhouses—could make some mighty fine wine (and they do)!


The eastern edge of Luxembourg is defined by the Moselle (Mosel) River. The southern portion of Germany’s Mosel Region—one of its best and most famous quality wine areas—lies just across the border.  Luxembourg’s one-and-only protected designation of origin—the Moselle Luxembourgeoise AOP—is located on this international border, stretching along the winding Moselle River for just over 26 miles/42 km.

This is a tiny production area, with less than 1,300 hectares (/3,200 acres) of vines. Of these, the great majority–90%—are planted to white grapes. Dry white wines are the leading product (by far), but the appellation also allows for red, rosé, Crémant de Luxembourg (quality sparkling wine), Vin de Paille (dried-grape wine), Vendage Tardive (late harvest wine), and Vin de Glace (icewine).

The Luxembourg side of the Mosel has more rolling hills than steep slopes, so Riesling often has a difficult time ripening here. As such, the #1 spot in terms of vineyard acreage goes to Rivaner (the local name for Müller-Thurgau), which accounts for as much as 25% of the region’s total. Pinot Gris takes the number two spot, being planted in 15% of the area’s vineyards.

Photo via: Caves Bernard Massard

The white wines of the Moselle Luxembourgeoise AOP are typically produced as varietal wines using Rivaner/Müller-Thurgau, Pinot Gris, Auxerrois, Riesling, Pinot Blanc, or Elbling grapes. White blends are allowed as well. Reds and rosés may be produced using Pinot Noir, Pinot Noir Précoce, St. Laurent, and/or Gamay. Chardonnay is often used in crémant, and sweet wines (though rare) may include Gewürztraminer.

  • The country of Luxembourg uses the EU-approved label term Marque Nationale to refer to a wine that is made from 100% Luxembourg grapes. (Like many other cool-climate countries, wine is sometimes made with imported grapes). To qualify for Marque Nationale status, a wine must be awarded a minimum of 12 (out of a possible 20) points, as determined by a panel of expert tasters. This score may be reflected on a wine label via the following terms:
    • Marque Nationale Vin Classé: for a minimum of 12 points
    • Marque Nationale Premier Cru: for a minimum of 14 points
    • Marque Nationale Grand Premier Cru: for a minimum of 16 points

Map of the Moselle Luxembourgeoise AOP via:

Most of the wine in the Moselle Luxembourgeoise AOP is produced at cooperatives, but family-run wineries abound as well.  Good choices for a visit include Domaine Kox, Caves Bernard-Massard, and Domaines Vinsmoselle/Caves de Wormeldange.

One thing to note: compared to most European wine regions, the Moselle Luxembourgeoise AOP is tiny in area and tiny in production. Most of the wines are consumed in Luxembourg; those that are exported find their way mainly to Germany or Belgium. While it may be possible to find a Luxembourgeoise wine outside of Europe, your best bet is a wine-fueled road trip to Luxembourg.

References/for more information:

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

Christmas (Wine) in the Roussillon

Muscat de Rivesaltes AOC—an appellation dedicated to vin doux naturel (sweet, fortified wines) based on white Muscat grapes—is also known for a wine dedicated to Christmas: Muscat de Noël.

The Muscat de Noël of Rivesaltes—produced using Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains and/or Muscat of Alexandria grapes—is allowed to be released on the third Thursday of November (and required to be estate bottled before December 1) of the year of the harvest, making it something of a nouveau wine (but let’s not say that in Beaujolais).

Muscat-based wines have been produced in the area for thousands of years and are well-documented throughout the Middle Ages and beyond. The tradition of Muscat de Noël can be traced back to time when the Roussillon was part of the Principality of Catalonia and ruled by the Crown of Aragon (and later by the Monarchy of Spain). The luscious, sweet, wines were sent to the rulers of the area—known as Comte de Barcelona (Counts of Barcelona)—to be served throughout the 12 days of Christmas—from Christmas Day through the Feast of the Epiphany (traditionally January 6). The light, sweet, and fruity flavors of Muscat de Noël provide an excellent accompaniment to Christmas feasts and celebratory foods of all kinds—from rich roasts to sharp cheeses and sweets.

Map via the INAO

Here are a few fast facts about Muscat de Rivesaltes and Muscat de Noël—perfect for wine students nerdy enough to be studying on Christmas Day (myself included):

  • All versions of Muscat de Rivesaltes must contain a minimum of 15% abv and 10% residual sugar.
  • The Muscat de Rivesaltes AOC is by far the largest sweet-wine appellation in France in terms of total geographic size.
  • The area within the Muscat de Rivesaltes AOC covers the entirety of the Rivesaltes AOC as well as the Banyuls AOC (both approved for vin doux naturel only) and occupies the exact same area as the Grand Roussillon AOC (see the accompanying map).
  • The Muscat de Rivesaltes AOC/Grand Roussillon AOC extends across the entire eastern third of the Pyrénées-Orientales Départment and a small portion of the Aude (to the north). Dominated by limestone-based scrubland, the region stretches for over 50 miles/82 km along the Mediterranean Coast from L’étang de La Palme (the La Palme Lagoon) to the border with Spain.
  • In addition to the Rivesaltes AOC and the Banyuls AOC, the area within the Muscat de Rivesaltes AOC/Grand Roussillon AOC also encompasses the entirety of the Fitou, Maury, and Collioure AOCs.
  • The town of Rivesaltes is named for a Catalan term meaning high banks. The topography of the area—consisting of hills and terraces alongside several significant rivers, ponds, and lagoons—easily lives up to the name.
  • Sweet, Muscat-based wines produced in the Roussillon were acknowledged—as far back as 1936—with some of the first AOCs of France. Five separate appellations—Muscat de Banyuls, Muscat de Maury, Muscat des Côtes d’Agly, Muscat des Côtes du Haut-Roussillon, and Muscat de Rivesaltes—were originally approved. However, in 1956, all five were consolidated under one single designation:  the Muscat de Rivesaltes AOC. Muscat de Noël was added in 1997.
  • Muscat de Noël is produced in tiny amounts—it may represent as little as 5% of the total production of the Muscat de Rivesaltes AOC.
  • The Roussillon was ceded to France in 1635 with the signing of the Treaty of the Pyrenees/Traité des Pyrénées that ended the Franco-Spanish War of that year. Traces of Catalan culture are still apparent in the area (including the name of one of the most important IGPs of the region, the Côtes Catalanes.)


Not to be forgotten—Christmas (wine) in the Languedoc: The Languedoc also gets in the Christmas wine spirit, with two appellations—Muscat de Lunel AOC and Muscat de Saint-Jean-de-Minervois AOC—also known for Muscat de Noël. Just like their cheery counterparts in the Roussillon, these wines are bottled by December 1 of the year of the harvest and meant to be enjoyed as a sweet, fruity complement to the holiday season.

References/for more information:

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

Five Fast Facts about Strohwein

Sweet wine made from grapes dried on straw mats, often referred to as straw wine—has a long history in Europe. The first such examples were likely produced in Greece, and the drying technique eventually made its way to Italy (where a more general term—passito—is typically used to refer to dried-grape wines of many types).

Students of wine will undoubtedly recognize Strohwein as a specific type of dried-grape wine produced in Austria—and in doing so they would be almost correct! Read on to read five fast (and fascinating) facts about Strohwein.

#1: In Austria: Strohwein is indeed a type of sweet, dried-grape wine produced in Austria. The country obtained EU protection for the term as representing it as a distinctive product of Austria in 1999. Schilfwein (reed wine)—also registered as a distinctive product of Austria in 1999—is synonymous with Strohwein. In Austria, the term Strohwein can only be used on a PDO wine, with Burgenland as a leading region. There is a minimum of 5% abv, but no minimum sugar is mandated.

#2: Specifications for Austrian Strohwein: Grapes are to be stored (dried) on straw or reed mats for at least three months. Sugar content before pressing must be minimum of 25°KMW (about 29.6° brix). The white grapes of Austria—including local favorites Grüner Veltliner, Muscat, and Riesling—are often used for Strohwein, but red grapes such as Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch are used as well.

#3: In Italy: Italy is also allowed to use the term Strohwein for certain products produced in the province of Bolzano (also known as South Tyrol, Südtirol, or Alto Adige). Bolzano is located in the far north of Italy, just south of (and adjacent to) the Austrian state of Tyrol. Italian Strohwein may be labeled with a PDO or a PGI designation. As such, it may be produced under any of the following appellations: Alto Adige/Südtirol DOC, Mitterberg IGT, or Vigneti delle Dolomiti IGT.

#4: Specifications for Italian Strohwein: The Italian definition of Strohwein requires that the grapes be dried, after harvest, over a straw trellis. According to the requirements of the Alto Adige DOC, passito wines may be produced using Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio, Müller Thurgau, Sauvignon, Riesling, Silvaner, Gewürztraminer, Kerner, and/or Moscato Giallo grapes, and may not be sold until June 1 of the year following the harvest.

#5: Straw wine from Germany (or not): Despite its penchant for sweet wines, dried-grape wines of any type were— along with the major re-writing of the German wine law—disallowed for use in the PDO wines of Germany in 1971. The reasoning was (so it seems) that dried-grape wines were not “fresh” and that the drying process roughly equated to chaptalization. However, in the early 2000s, the Ulrich Stein Estate lobbied the ministry of viticulture and eventually succeeded in getting the ban on straw wine overturned. However, by the time this was accomplished—in 2009—Austria and Italy had already protected the term. Eventually, Ulrich Stein was able to get a new term—Striehween (based on a local dialect)—trademarked for use with certain wines. (It is not, however, part of any appellation rules.)

Switzerland produces dried grape wines sometimes labeled with the term Strohwein—but keep in mind, they are not a member of the EU—and like much of the world beyond Europe—they are not entirely beholden to EU rules.

France has a small but interesting tradition of straw wine—known as Vin de Paille—and we will tackle that topic in the near future! Keep in mind that straw wine—no matter what you call it—is typically produced in exceedingly small amounts and will likely be difficult to procure outside of the region of production.

References/for more information:

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


And the award for the smallest AVA goes to….


For decades—since 1983, when it was first established—the Cole Ranch AVA held the title as the smallest AVA in the United States. However, as of June 30, 2021, there’s a new (tiny) kid in town, and it is the Ulupalakua AVA.

The Ulupalakua AVA is unique in many ways—including its location on the Hawaiian Island of Maui. Ulupalakua is Hawaii’s first and only AVA (to date), as well as the southern-most AVA of the United States (it sits in the middle of the Pacific Ocean on the 20th parallel). However, maritime influence and elevation helps to make this tiny corner of the 50th state conducive to quality viticulture. Believe it or not, grape-based wine production was first introduced to the region in the early 1800s—although pineapple wine and other fruit wines were (and remain) a specialty as well.

These days, there are 16 acres of vineyards located within the Ulupalakua AVA. Leading grape varieties include Syrah, Grenache, Malbec, Chenin Blanc, and Viognier. Varietal wines—Syrah is a specialty— blended wines, and sparkling wines are crafted (under several different brands) by the nearby Maui Winery, many of them using estate-grown grapes.

About that new “smallest AVA” title, here are the statistics of our two teeny contenders:

  • Ulupalakua AVA:
    • Total land area: 70 acres
    • (Reported) acres planted to vine: 16
    • Date established: June 30, 2021
  • Cole Ranch AVA:
    • Total land area: 150 acres
    • (Reported) acres planted to vine: 55
    • Date established: May 16, 1983

And the winner of the title smallest AVA in the United States is…the Ulupalakua AVA!

P.S. As part of my day job with the Society of Wine Educators, I’ll be updating the material in the 2023 Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) Study Guide to describe the Cole Ranch AVA as the “smallest AVA in California.”

References/for more information:

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