Confusion Corner: Rully and Reuilly

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As I am sure most of my readers are well aware, there is a lot of confusion inherent to the study of wine. A lot of this has to do with the fact that it is just a huge amount of material, and that it covers so many disciplines from geography and botany to culture, chemistry, and cuisine.

But then there are those times when it just seems like the world is stacked against the serious student of wine. How, for instance, is one supposed to differentiate between Listrac and Lirac?  Ciron and Cérons? Shanxi and Shaanxi (are you kidding me)?

Today’s post will try to unravel just one tiny confusion corner of the wine world—in this case, Rully and Reuilly. For starters, Rully is in Burgundy, and Reuilly is in the Loire Valley. Let’s see what other stories these two regions have to tell.

Our Burgundian, Rully (pronounced ryoo-YEE) is one of the five villages in the Côte Chalonnaise that has AOC status (the others are Bouzeron, Givry, Mercurey, and Montagny). Rully AOC wines are produced in the commune of Rully as well as Chagny, its neighbor-to-the-north. The Rully AOC is located just southeast of Bouzeron and just northwest of Mercurey.

Château de Rully in the Côte Chalonnaise

Château de Rully in the Côte Chalonnaise

The Rully AOC produces both red and white wines and includes 23 premier cru vineyards. White wines are permitted to be made using either Chardonnay or Pinot Gris, but in practice they are almost exclusively Chardonnay. Red wines are produced from Pinot Noir, and may contain up to 15% Chardonnay or Pinot Gris (combined). The AOC currently has 558 acres (226 ha) planted to white grapes including 173 acres [70 ha] premier cru. Red grapevines cover acres 292 acres (118 ha) including 72 acres (29 ha) premier cru.

The commune of Rully is located just below the eastern side of a low-lying limestone ridge named La Montagne de la Folie. It comforts me a bit to learn that this name translates to “Mountain of Madness,” although apparently the name is not due to mental illness (caused by wine study) but refers to a very old legend telling that the villagers in the valley would often see flickering lights coming from high in the hills. They nicknamed these lights la folia (dance of the fairies).

The Montagne de la Folie is an extension of the limestone escarpment of the Côte de Beaune. It runs from north to south, in between the communes of Rully and Bouzeron. The best vineyards of the Rully AOC (and most of the premiers crus) are located on the eastern slopes of La Montagne de la Folie.

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Did I mention that the commune of Rully is located in the département of Saône-et-Loire? Is that confusing? (I think so.) Here’s some fun information to hopefully clear things up. The département of Saône-et-Loire is located in the region of Bourgogne-Franche-Comté (formerly known as simply Bourgogne). It lies between the two rivers after which it is named—the Saône and the Loire. The two rivers flow through the area in opposite directions, as the Loire flows north from its source in the Massif Central, and the Saône flows south from its source in the Vosges Mountains, until it joins the Rhône in the city of Lyon.

Reuilly (pronounced reuh-YEE), on the other hand, is an AOC located in the Eastern (or Upper) Loire Valley. Reuilly is located (along with the Quincy AOC) near the Cher River (a Loire tributary) in an area often called the Central Vineyards—which is a bit confusing in itself, as it refers not to the Central Loire (which would apply to Anjou, Touraine, and Samur) but the center of France. A bit further to the east (closer to the Loire itself), one finds the better-known areas of Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé, and Menetou-Salon (also considered part of the Central Vineyards of France).

The Reuilly AOC produces red, white, and rosé wines but is perhaps best-known for its crisp, dry, white wines made from 100% Sauvignon Blanc grapes. These wines are often described as having herbal, grassy, and citrus flavors and as such are inevitably often compared to the more famous wines produced in neighboring Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé.

The River Cher

The River Cher

The red wines of the Reuilly AOC are 100% Pinot Noir and tend to be light-bodied with aromas of cherries, raspberries, and dried flowers. Rosé wines are produced using Pinot Noir or Pinot Gris.

The Reuilly AOC is located quite a bit further inland than the majority of the other wine regions of the Loire, and as such experiences a much more continental-style climate. As a matter of fact, Reuilly is one of the driest and hottest areas in the Loire (even considering its neighbors in the Central Vineyards), so much so that this is quite often the first appellation in the Loire Valley to begin its harvest.

Hopefully, this clears up at least some of the confusion between Rully and Reuilly. However, if you happen to find yourself stuck in another wine confusion corner, let me know and I’ll try to straighten it out!

References/for further information:

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

The pH of it all

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When we talk about wine, we talk about acidity, and when describing wines, one of the typical ways to describe acidity in wine is to use the pH scale. Dedicated students of wine can easily quote 2.9 to 3.9 as the typical range of pH in wine.

I personally love the zip and zest of highly acidic wines and adore Mosel Riesling (the drier the better), New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, and even 100% Sicilian Grillo. I’ll take the tongue-curling antics of a wine with a pH of 2.9 any day.

But what exactly is pH? You probably already know that it is a scale runs from 0 to 14 and measures how acidic or basic a substance is. But what does that mean? To answer this question we need to dive into some science…we can start with chemistry and biology, and might just have to visit the physics department (and if we are going there, it better be worth it). So here we go!

About the p and the H: First things first—the term “pH” stands for “power of hydrogen.” The term was invented in 1909 by the Danish biochemist Søren Peter Lauritz Sørensen, so originally the “p” stood for potenz (the German word for power). The “H” (for us absolute beginners) is the element symbol for hydrogen, and the pH scale reflects the concentration and type of the hydrogen-based atoms in a solution. (Note: some references define the “p” in pH as “parts” or “potential.”)

What’s hydrogen got to do with it: Hydrogen is the common element to all acids. What determines whether a solution is acidic or basic is the form and degree of saturation of hydrogen ions.

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Define ions, please: To put it as simply as possible—ions are atoms or molecules that have lost or gained an electron over the course of their travels. In the case of hydrogen, this can occur when water splits apart.  If a hydrogen atom loses an electron, it becomes positively charged and is known as a hydrogen ion (H+). If a hydrogen atom gains an electron, it becomes negatively charged and is known as a hydroxide ion (OH).

Hydrogen ions: An acid is a molecule that can split apart in water and release hydrogen ions (thus, acidic solutions have measurable concentrations of hydrogen atoms). Bases are stronger in hydroxide ions. In neutral solutions, the two are roughly equal and they cancel each other out (neutralize each other).  The way that these hydrogen molecules react in water is the basis for the pH scale.

Deliver me from logarithms: The pH scale is logarithmic. Logarithms are multiples of ten; that means that for every full integer on the pH scale, the strength of the acid or base increases tenfold. Thus a pH of 2 is ten times more acidic than a pH of 3—and a pH of 2 is 100 times more acidic than a pH of 4. If this seems confusing, consider another logarithmic scale, the Richter Scale, where an earthquake measuring 7 is ten times stronger than a 6.

Liquid required: A substance has to be water-based in order to have a pH. Powders and oils (such as vegetable oil or olive oil) cannot be measured on the pH scale. There are, however, several other ways of measuring acidity.

The neutrality zone: A 7 on the pH scale is neither acidic nor basic, and considered neutral. Distilled water is generally neutral, but other types of water are not. An interesting (kind of gross) fact is that  human blood is very close to neutral (just slightly basic) and often has a pH of 7.35 to 7.45. Any deviation from this ideal blood pH can have devastating effects on one’s health.

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Just the basics: In the wine world we deal with levels of acidity, but it is interesting to understand the types of substances on the other end of the scale.  Here are a few common items and their basic pH levels:

  • 8: Baking soda, sea water
  • 9: Toothpaste
  • 10: Milk of Magnesia
  • 11: Ammonia
  • 12: Soapy water
  • 13: Oven cleaner
  • 14: Drain cleaner

The equation for pH: Never mind. If you are interested (and have a logarithmic calculator and know how to use it) click here.

References/for more information:

The Bubbly Professor (who has not formally studied chemistry or physics since college) is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net

The First-Ever AOC Goes to…

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The first-ever AOC goes to…Roquefort Cheese!  As a matter of fact, Roquefort Cheese was protected by a Parliamentary Decree in the year 1411 and as such, may be credited with starting the entire idea of terroir-based certification for agricultural products. Several centuries later, once the French government created the bureau of the Institut National des Appellations d’Origine (later called the Institut National de l’Origine et de la Qualité [INAO]), Roquefort Cheese was awarded the first-ever AOC in 1925.

I can hear you saying to yourselves, “but I thought this was a wine blog!” And indeed it is. But it’s always best to start with first things first, and it appears that  the concept of the AOC was first introduced for cheese—which seems apropos, as cheese is an icon of French gastronomy (and thus agriculture). There are now (by most counts) 36 AOC-designated French cheeses, and in the 1950s the concept was opened up to other types of products, which now include Le Puy green lentils, chicken from Bresse, and lavender essential oil from Haute-Provence.

Which leads us to another issue: What was the first French wine to be granted AOC status? Most people will say it was Châteauneuf-du-Pape. This is at least partially true; however, if we look at the rest of the story, it is more accurate to state that Châteauneuf-du-Pape was one of the first.

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Here are the true facts and figures about the first time an AOC was granted for wine: In 1935, the Comite’ National des Appellations d’Origin (CNAO) for wine and spirits was created (recall that a similar group had been created in the 1920s for cheese).

By early 1936, the CNAO had received and approved six applications for protected designations of origin for French wine. On May 15, 1936, French President Albert Lebrun signed the first six decrees for wine AOCs into law. The designations, published in the Official Journal on May 17, were (in order of their appearance in the journal) Arbois, Tavel, Cognac, Cassis, Monbazillac, and Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

As for the rest of the story concerning Châteauneuf-du-Pape, it goes back to 1894 when there was rampant fraud concerning the wines of the area. In response, the winegrowers of Châteauneuf-du-Pape formed a Syndicat Viticole presided over by the mayor of the town. The Syndicat worked for years and in 1919 managed to pass a law that defined the geographic boundaries of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine-producing region. This was one of the earliest geographical designations in France.

While it helped, the 1919 wine appellation law in Châteauneuf-du-Pape did not put a stop to the ongoing fraud,  and it was soon seen as too general and essentially limited to the question of geographical boundaries.

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By 1923, the winegrowers decided it was time to enforce more specific legislation in order to protect their appellation. A delegation of wine growers went to Château Fortia and asked its owner, Baron Le Roy (a lawyer and winegrower), to help. Soon thereafter, on October 4th, 1923, the first meeting of the Winegrowers Union of Châteauneuf-du-Pape took place, and Baron Le Roy was elected President.

The newly-formed Winegrowers Union met many times to codify and define all the conditions necessary to entitle wines to the use of the name of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  After presenting their case to the court in the Commune of Orange, the court found that there was no precedent for the legal definition of a wine, and assigned the case to a panel of experts. This panel was tasked with establishing the legal foundation for the “conditions of territorial origin and faithful, constant, and local traditions concerning the Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation.” After four years of deliberations, the panel of experts published their report, and on November 21, 1933 a law was passed by the Cour de Cassation (French court of last resort) that defined the geographic boundaries and production requirements of the wine known as Châteauneuf-du-Pape. It is believed that this was the first set of laws in all of France concerning not just geographic boundaries but also production parameters for a specific wine.

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So…was Châteauneuf-du-Pape the first AOC? Well, not exactly. There were five other AOCs established on the same day, and Arbois—with the first listing in the Journal—might want to claim the first spot for their own. However, Baron le Roy always insisted that his application on behalf of Châteauneuf-du-Pape was the first to be presented to the CNAO and the first to be accepted—so why not give it to him? What do you think?

References/for more information:

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(A Pound of) the Legendary Fernet-Branca Cure

Paging Doctor Fernet...

Paging Doctor Fernet…

Usually, an ounce of prevention is best. However, at this time of year, perhaps we should just go straight for the cure. For many people, a shot of Fernet-Branca is a lengendary cure—for a long night of drinking, or whatever ails you. While its flavor  has been variously described as “a smack in the face with a eucalyptus branch1” and “a cross between medicine, crushed plants, and bitter mud2,” these are terms of endearment and the taste (once it has been acquired) is crave-worthy.

The legends of Fernet-Branca take many forms, including history, cocktails, secret ingredients, and curative properties. Read on for a few of the legends of Fernet-Branca!

Paging Doctor Branca: Fernet-Branca was invented in Milan in 1845 by Bernadino Branca, a self-taught herbalist. The name “Fernet” comes from one Doctor Fernet—a fictional Swede with whom Branca originally shared credit for the drink, presumably to add authority to his claims of the drink’s health benefits. According to the story, the “renowned liquor” had helped Dr. Fernet and several members of his family to live for over one hundred years.

A Corner on the Saffron Market: Fernet-Branca has been produced using its original recipe since its inception. The exact formula is a trade secret, but is known to contain cinchona bark, bitter orange, aloe, chamomile, myrrh, cardamom, gentian, peppermint, anise, and bay leaves. It is rumored that saffron is also a key ingredient, so much so that the makers of Fernet-Branca have a (rumored) corner on a large percentage of the world’s saffron market.

Tastes like (Poison) Iodine: In 1960, the legendary Broadway actress Betsey Von Furstenberg played a joke on Tony Randall, and “spiked” his on-stage drink with Fernet-Branca. Upon tasting it, Tony believed that he had just swallowed iodine and thought he was being poisoned. Laughing no longer, Ms. Von Furstenberg was suspended from the Actor’s Equity Union for 60 days for her role in the prank.

A New Year’s Toast with Fernet:  The drink’s numerous medicinal claims—which included being prescribed for fever, cholera, intestinal parasites, colds, and menstrual cramps—came in handy in San Francisco during American Prohibition where it was still legal for sale in pharmacies, as a medicine. This was the beginning of the City’s love affair with Fernet, where it has become such a cult favorite that in some bars and restaurants, a midnight toast of Fernet-Branca is raised just before midnight on New Year’s Eve, in lieu of Champagne.

Hanky-Panky: A Fernet-based cocktail known as the Hanky-Panky was invented by in 1903 at the Savoy Hotel in London. One of the bar’s regular customers was an Edwardian Actor named Charles Hawtrey. One night after a performance, Hawtrey came into the bar and asked for something “with a bit of a punch.” The bartender, Ada “Coley” Coleman, created a variation on a martini using gin, sweet vermouth, and a dash of Fernet-Branca. When Hawtrey tasted it, he acclaimed, “By Jove! That is the real hanky-panky!”

1http://www.littledenblog.com/blog/classic-cocktails-the-negroni

2http://www.romefile.com/food-and-drink/fernet-branca.php

References/for further learning:

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

 

Wine Icon: The Crumbling Castle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape

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It is one of the most enduring symbols of wine that I can think of…the crumbling castle on the hill in the middle of the commune (and the vineyards) of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. You see it on labels and in textbooks, and I use the picture to symbolize the Old World of wine in my CSW classes. (The Sydney Opera House symbolizes the New World.)

The first written reference to the commune of Châteauneuf-du-Pape is in a document dated 1094, from the records of an estate belonging to the Bishop of Avignon known as Castrum Novum. “Castrum” actually means “fortified town” rather than “castle,” however, the two meanings bounced around quite a bit over the centuries.

The next mention of the village is dated 1213, in documents of the Bishop of Avignon that refer to the town as “Castronovo Calceranrium” and “Châteauneuf Calcernier.” The word calcernier was most likely added to the name of the town to distinguish it from others of the same name, and refers to the limestone quarry located nearby. It’s also known that in keeping with local traditions, there were vineyards established in the area by this time.

The fates changed for the sleepy town of Châteauneuf Calcernier and its wines in the early fourteenth century, when a series of seven Popes took up residence in Avignon rather than Rome due to the volatile political situation in Rome (and between Rome and the King of France).

1th Century Engraving of Pope John XXII (public domain)

1th Century Engraving of Pope John XXII (public domain)

The first of the Avignon Popes was Clement V. Clement V, a Frenchman, served as the Pope from 1305 until 1314. In 1309 he moved to Avignon, where he stayed as a guest at the Dominican Monastery. You can pay homage to Clement V by drinking a glass of Château Pape Clément, a property in Pessac-Léognan whose vineyards were originally planted in 1300; Pope Clement V was one of the property’s first owners.

The successor of Clement V was John XXII. Pope John XXII began the expansion of the now-massive Papal Palace in Avignon and built the Pope’s summer residence in Châteauneuf Calcernier. It is said that John XXII chose Châteauneuf Calcernier for the summer residence because he wanted a spot far enough away from Avignon to “discourage courtiers, sycophants, and scroungers,” yet close enough so that a courier could make a round-trip between the two spots in a single day.

John XXII oversaw the total construction of the immense summer castle that began in 1317 and was completed in 1333. Grapevines and olives trees were also planted on the estate, and according to the records of the Apostolic Chamber, the area had over 3 million grapevines by 1334. John XXII had a great appreciation for the wines of the area, and granted them the rank of “Vin du Pape.” As such they were served to foreign courts and dignitaries, and soon began to be shipped in barrels to areas far and wide.

After John XXII, none of the succeeding Avignon Popes used the enormous summer residence. However, during the time of the Great Schism (1378-1417) when there were two competing Popes (one in Rome and one in Avignon), Clement VII stayed in the castle for security reasons.

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After the departure of the Popes, the great castle passed to the ownership of the Archbishop of Avignon. However, the building proved too large and too expensive to maintain, so the building was slowly dismantled and its stones and hardware were used for building projects in the town. At the time of the French Revolution, the name of the town changed again, first to Châteauneuf d’Avignon, and later to Châteauneuf-du-Pape. At this time, the remaining buildings of the Pope’s once-magnificent summer estate were sold and dismantled, and only the fortified tower remained.

During World War II, an attempt was made to demolish the tower with dynamite, but only the northern half of the tower was destroyed. Today, the southern half survives, looming over the village, keeping a watch on the vineyards, and remaining as one of the most enduring symbols in the world of wine.

Click here to read the amazing-but-true story of the flying cigars of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

References/for further information:

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

My Wild Goose Chase (for Raisins and Cheese)

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The joys of being a teacher—if you teach, you know what I mean. Even if you don’t teach, you most likely know what it is like to have someone disagree with you, argue with you, or dispute your version of the facts. Which is fine, which is life, which is freedom-of-speech-and-expression-and-it’s-all-good.

However, as a teacher, I never want to discount it if someone tells me I have the facts wrong. After all, that’s always a possibility—especially in the worlds of food, wine, and spirits in which I specialize. In this world, everything is always evolving. So over the course of the last few weeks, I have spent a good deal of time tracking down a few facts based on comments I’ve received via the blog and webinars—and I certainly learned a great deal!

My first adventure (shall we call it that?) can about from a blog post I wrote a while back about Gin de Mahón (which you might know by its brand name, Xoriguer). I am so glad I decided to write that post – I learned a lot about the product (which is now my favorite gin) and met some fascinating folks who contacted me with some background and opinions on the gin.

One particular email, however, turned me for a loop. This person claimed that there was absolutely no geographical indication for Gin de Mahón, and that it was a very common and widespread misconception, but that the only GI for Mahón was for cheese. Cheese?

photo of Queso Mahón Menorca by Ihourahane, via Wikimedia Commons

photo of Queso Mahón Menorca by Ihourahane, via Wikimedia Commons

First things first—a quick web search to the EU database confirmed that there is indeed a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) for Gin de Mahón. So my facts are straight. But it’s also true that there is a Denominación de Origen (DO) for cheese from Mahón (Mahón-Menorca DO).

In the spirit of “every situation offers an opportunity for learning,” I decided to find out a bit more about cheese from the Mahón-Menorca DO.

Mahón-Menorca DO is a cow’s milk cheese produced on the Spanish island of Menorca in the Balearic Islands. It is named after the port city of Mahón (just like the gin). The milk may come from the Friesian, Menorcan or Brown Swiss breed of cows, and may also include up to 5% milk from Menorcan sheep. There are actually two different styles, one know just as Mahón-Menorca—produced from pasteurized milk, and Artisan Mahón-Menorca—produced from raw milk. Either version may also be made in several styles, including tender (which has barely developed a rind and is cured for 21 to 60 days), semi-cured (which is firmer, with a soft orange rind and is cured for 3 to 5 months), and mature (which is firmer and flakey, sharp in flavor and aged for more than 5 months).

Cheese from the Mahón-Menorca DO is produced in small (between 5 and 9 cm high) pressed rounds of 1 to 4 kilos. It must be a whole-milk cheese of at least 38% milk fat. It should have a smooth, buttery flavor, a slightly salty taste and a bite of acidity. It may be served as a cheese course with fruit and nuts, in cheese sauce, served atop pan con tomate, or used in a range of recipes.

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My second wild goose chase adventure began with a webinar on the wines of southern Spain and started off innocently enough with the following statement, “there are two DOs for wine in the region of Málaga—the DO Málaga, which produces a wide range of wines based mainly on the Pedro Ximénez and  Moscatel de Alejandría grape varieties, but specializes in dried grape, aged, and fortified wines; and the DO Sierras de Málaga DO which features mainly dry wines from a wide range of allowed grape varieties.”

I thought I was off to a good start, but someone typed in the chat box and asked “What about the Pasas de Málaga DO?” I was pretty well thrown, as all of my research in the finest tomes on wine regions had not mentioned this particular appellation. My student, however, was adamant that I had missed a wine designation, so I agreed to investigate it further and follow up after class.

Later that day I set off on a research project to find out about the Pasas de Málaga DO. I checked in all the usual spots: the Oxford Companion to Wine (all three editions), the World Atlas of Wine, wine-searcher.com, Guild Somm—nothing. Onto a deeper search of the web, and—at long last, I came upon the website of the Consejo Regulador of the Málaga DO and sure enough, there are three DOs, including Pasas de Málaga. As the website is only in Spanish, it took me a while to decipher; however, in the end I discovered that there was indeed a Pasas de Málaga DO….for raisins. For eating.

But these are no ordinary raisins. According to regulations, Pasas de Málaga are produced using Muscat grapes; specifically the Moscatel de Málaga or Moscatel de Alejandría variety. They must be grown and dried in the regions of Axarquía or Manilva. They must be naturally sun-dried and be greater than 65° Brix, with a roundish shape and uniformly black color (as reddish or grey color would indicate early harvest or artificial drying).  They may be presented either in bunches or as individual raisins, with the conditions of drying (including the slope, awnings, dimensions and support of the drying platform, and allowed time) specifically defined for each type. Above all else, the raisins must have a proper sweet/acid balance (defined by brix and pH.), the proper texture (juicy and fleshy, not dry or inelastic), and the obvious aroma of Muscat grapes “reinforced by an intense retronasal aroma” (reforzado por un intenso aroma retronasal).

DOs for raisins and cheese are not unusual throughout the European Union; in addition to raisns, cheese, and hundreds of wines and sprits, Protected Designations of Origin (PDOs) exist for Sabina olive oil, Yorkshire rhubarb, Belgian butter, Traditional Balsamic vinegar, and Neapolitan Pizza. All of these products are fascinating and I’d love to research each and every one—even at the end of a wild good chase.

References/for more information:

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

A Stinger or a Spider, a Beak or a Peak

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As many of you know, lately I’ve been taking a very, very deep dive into the grape varieties of the Rhône. More specifically, I’ve been diving for the grapes of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, in preparation for a mini-conference presentation. If it is part of the Châteauneuf 13 (or is it 18), I’ve studied it.*

One of the grapes I’ve been studying is Piquepoul. This is an interesting grape! For starters, while its most famous (and widely planted) incarnation is the white variety (blanc), there is also a PIquepoul Gris and a Piquepoul Noir. There are also a quite a few ways to spell the grape, all of them considered correct in certain places—such as Picpoul, Picpoule, Piquepout, and Piquepoule.

The leader if the Piquepoul pack is definitely the white version—Piquepoul Blanc. This grape has 4,000 documented acres (1,620 ha) in France and additional acreage in California. Most people would recognize this grape from the 100%-Piquepoul wine produced in the Languedoc’s Piquepoul de Pinet AOC. This is a popular wine for summer sipping, especially appreciated for its wide distribution and reasonable price point (ranging from around $10 to $15 a bottle). These light-bodied, high-acid wines are crisp, clean, and refreshing. Typical aromas and flavors of Piquepoul de Pinet include lemon, grapefruit, lime, peach, apricot, white flowers, yellow plum, and a hint of crunchiness or minerality.

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Piquepoul Noir is planted to about 200 acres (81 ha) in France, with about 7 acres in Spain. On its own, it tends to produce pale, acidic wines with oddly high levels of alcohol—in other words, it is not great on its own. However, it is very well suited to red blends and (in some cases) rosé. It’s an allowed variety (mostly in small amounts) in the Tavel, Vinsobres, Minervois, Gigondas, and Vacqueyras, and is allowed in the reds and rosés of the Luberon AOC—but only if planted before 1988.

The pink-skinned version, Picquepoul Gris, does not have any documented acreage in France (or elsewhere), and would be considered extinct save for a few cuttings and samples lurking in nurseries and university vineyards. Of course, being a color mutation, it might just decide to rise up one day in the middle of a vineyard somewhere. And it lives on in spirit, as Piquepoul Gris is still listed as an allowed variety in a few AOCs. Well, I could only find two AOCs that allowed Piquepoul Gris in their wines: Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Tavel, but surely there are plenty of vin de pays that have not yet kicked Piquepoul Gris out of the patch.

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As for the name Piquepoul, it has long been rumored to be based on the French word piquer, meaning “to sting,” and many people say that it is based on the Occitan term for “lip stinger.” Both versions of this “stinging” allusion relate back to the piquant acidity of the grape (and subsequent wine). However, it is now thought that while the term Piquepoul has a different background, the word piquer (to sting) is indeed the etymological root to a similar but separate grape variety (also grown throughout Southwest France) known as Picardan. Picardan, however, is also known as Araigan, and the name Araigan is thought to be based on the French word araigneé, meaning “spider’s web” and referring to the spider web-like hairs that grown on the underside of the leaves.

As for the meaning behind the grape known as Piquepoul, we need to consult a French botanist named Guy Lavignac and his book “Les Cépages du Sud Ouest—2000 Ans d’Histoire” (“The Grape Varieties of the Southwest – 2,000 Years of History [however, as far as I can tell, the book has not been translated in English]) Mr. Lavignac, a well-respected ampelographer, makes the claim the name Piquepoul is derived from the Oc dialect word for “peak” as in “mountain peak” or “place with a peak.” Alternatively, he believes it might refer to a “beak” as in a bird’s beak.

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There you have it: blanc, gris, and noir—all named after a stinger or a spider. Or was that a peak or a beak. I’ll take two glasses of Piquepoul de Pinet and think it over.

*There are thirteen grapes if you count varieties; and 18 if you add in the color mutations of Grenache, Piquepoul, and Clairette

References/for further information:

  • Lavignac, Guy. Les Cépages du Sud Ouest—2000 Ans d’Histoire. Paris, 2001: Roergue/INRA
  • Robinson, Jancis, Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz: Wine Grapes. New York, 2012: Harper Collins Publishers
  • Robinson, Jancis and Julia Harding: The Oxford Companion to Wine, 4th Edition. Oxford, 2015: The Oxford University Press
  • http://www.picpoul-de-pinet.com/en

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