Confusion Corner: Sercial, Cerceal, Cercial

Let’s face it. If you are reading about wine (specifically Spanish or Portuguese wine), and you encounter the term “Cerceal,” you are likely to assume it refers to an alternative spelling of the “Sercial” grape (best known as the leading grape of the driest styles of Madeira). At least…that is what I did, until I knew better.

As it turns out, they are two different varieties, although both white and both native to Portugal. And there’s more…another grape (unrelated) likes to go by the name “Cercial” (note the minor spelling difference). These grapes rightfully deserve their place in the Confusion Corner. Let’s see if we can clear this up…

Sercial: The Sercial grape variety is well-known as one of the leading grape varieties of the Madeira DOC. It is believed to be native to the Bucelas area (near Lisbon), where it was traditionally known as Esgana Cão—or dog strangler—based (one hopes) on its outrageously high levels of acidity.

It is believed that Esgana Cão was brought from the mainland to the island of Madeira, where the name Sercial caught on. Despite the fact that the grape’s claim to fame is based on its use in Madeira, the island region accounts for only 20 hectares/49 acres of the Sercial vineyards. The Portuguese mainland boasts about 70 hectares/173 acres of Sercial; much of it grown in the Douro where it is used in both White Port and dry (non-fortified) wines.

Sercial is not often found as a (non-fortified) varietal wine; but is typically used in blends. It is a late-ripening grape that has a yellow/green color when young, but ripens to a deep, golden hue. Sercial has an amazing ability to retain its acidity throughout its long growing season. The grape’s vibrant acidity is coupled with intense aromatics—including yellow fruit, white flowers, and a hint of almond—as well as an ability to age gracefully.

Sercial is not widely grown outside of Portugal. However, the amazing estate of Mas de Daumas Gassac (in France’s Languedoc) has a small plot (0.5 hectares/1.25 acres) of Sercial. In some years, the Sercial is used in the estate’s unique dry white wines; in others it is blended with Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains to produce a well-aged and well-oxidized dessert wine (vin de liqueur) known as Vin de Laurence and bottled under the Vin de France designation.

Also known as: in the Azores (Açores), Sercial is known as Arinto dos Açores. In the Minho, it is known as Esganoso. Esgana and Esgana Cão are also listed as synonyms in the Vitis International Variety Catalogue (VIVC).

Cerceal/Cerceal Branco: Cerceal Branco is believed to be a natural cross of Malvasia Fina (white) X Tinta Pereira (red)—this, according to the VIVC. However, other references cite it as a possible cross of Malvasia Fina X Sercial.

Cerceal Branco is a late-ripening, thick-skinned variety known to produce age-worthy wines with lively acidity. These wines are known for a subtle fruit character (focusing on citrus/grapefruit, lemon, and lime) while showing a good deal of savory character (what many people refer to as “earthy” or “mineral”). 

There are approximately 113 hectares/279 acres of Cerceal Branco in Portugal. A good majority of it is grown in the Douro, as well as the Dão. Smaller amounts are grown in the Bairrada, Tejo, and Alentejo DOCs. It is often used in white wine blends, including some sparkling wines. Typical blending partners include Bical and Encruzado (both native Portuguese white varieties). It may also be seen as a varietal wine; Quinta dos Roques produces a lively example (full of gorgeous fruit and mineral aromas) in the Dão DOC.

Also known as: Cercial (in Bairrada) or Cercial do Douro.

Cercial: Cercial is a totally different grape; believed to be related to one of Portugal’s most prolific red grapes: Castelão. Cercial is native to the Colares region, where it is known as Jampal. Cercial/Jampal is an allowed variety in more than a dozen Portuguese DOCs, and is grown in and around the regions of Colares, Lisboa, Beiras, and Tejo. The grape is known to produce high-qualty, aromatic white wines redolent of fruit and flowers. Despite its promise, there are currently just 106 hectares/262 acres of Cercial/Jampal in Portugal.

Wait, there’s one more—Sercialinho: Just to keep things interesting: Sercial, Cerceal, or Cercial should NOT be confused with Sercialinho. Sercialinho is a Vital X Alvarinho cross created in the Bairrada Region sometime in the 1950s. It is believed that there are about 9 hectares/22 acres of Sercialinho in Portugal, most of it planted in the Bairrada.

Sercialinho is reported to have high levels of acidity, potentially very high sugar, and aromas of green apple, pear, and honey—and some have even compared it to Riesling. Alas, it seems to lack complexity…but who knows what the future may hold for Sercialinho?

References/for more information:

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

Five Fast Facts about the Cantabrian Mountains

Extending across the northern coast of Spain for over 180 miles (300 km), the Cantabrian Mountains (Cordillera Cantábrica) comprise one of the major mountain ranges of Spain. These mountains are famous for providing a wind-and-rain shadow to the lands located to their south as well as defining Green Spain—the cool-and-rainy area along the coast.

While keeping our focus on the world of wine, here are five fast facts about the Cantabrian Mountains:

#1—From the Pyrenees to the Galician Massif: The Cantabrian Mountains stretch from the western edge of the Pyrenees (Navarra), through País Vasco, through a portion of the northern edge of Castilla y León, across Cantabria and Asturias, and into Galicia. The western edge of the range is typically defined as the valley of the Minho River and the point where the Cantabrian Mountains meet the eastern edge of the Galician Massif.

Geologically speaking (in terms of orogeny [mountain formation] and composition), the Cantabrian Mountains are similar to the Pyrenees. However, they are considered a distinct range.

#2—Green Spain defined: The mountains at the western-most edge of the Cantabrian Mountains—known as the Asturian Massif—join up with a series of mountains ranges known as the Galician Massif. The mountains of the Galician Massif—along with the Cantabrian Range—form part of a rather imposing wall of mountains that borders the plateau of Spain’s Meseta Central. These mountains help to keep the interior of the country “high and dry” while the area on the seaward side of the mountains—Green Spain, although the term Cornisa Cantábrica is more likely to be heard in Spain—remains lush, rainy, and temperate.

This cool-climate area—home to many of Spain’s favorite white, fizzy, and light-red wines—includes a large portion of Galicia, Asturias, and Cantabria, as well as the northern section of País Vasco. The DOs of Rías Baixas, Ribera Sacra, and Riberio as well as the three txakolinas (Arabako Txakolina DO, Bizkaiko Txakolina DO, and Getariako Txakolina DO) could all be considered wines of Green Spain.

#3—Three sections of the Cantabrian Mountains: The Cantabrian Range has three distinct sections. The westernmost section—extending into Galicia—contains the foothills and mountains of the Asturian Massif.

The center region contains the impressive Picos de Europa. This region contains the Torre Ceredo, located on the border between Asturias and Cantabria and topping out at 8,690 feet (2,650 m) above sea level.

The easternmost portion of the mountains—stretching eastward across Navarra to the western edge of the Pyrenees—is sometimes referred to as the Basque Mountains. The mountains here are incredibly old and eroded, topping out at Aizkorri (Basque for bare stone), a limestone summit reaching 5,023 feet (1,528 m) in height.

#4—Wine Rivers: The Cantabrian Mountains are the source of several important wine-related rivers. These include the following:

  • The Ebro (flows east/southeast through the Rioja DOCa before emptying into the Mediterranean Sea)
  • The Minho (flows south then west, defining part of the border between Spain and Portugal while outlining Portugal’s Vinho Verde DOC as well as Spain’s Rías Baixas DO)
  • The Sil (flows through Bierzo and onward through the Valdeorras and Ribeiro DOs before joining the Minho)
  • The Pisuerga (flows through the Cigales DO before joining the Duero)
  • The Esla (courses through the Tierra de Léon DO before joining the Duero).

#5—Heroic viticulture in the Cantabrian Mountains: Located in the Cantabrian Mountains of Asturias, the Cangas VCIG (Vino de Calidad Indicación Geográfica) appellation has been designated as practicing Viticultura de Montaña ( mountain viticulture). Mountain viticulture (sometimes called heroic viticulture) is so-defined by an organization known as CERVIM (Centro de Investigación, Estudio, Salvaguarda, Coordinación y Valorización de la Viticultura de Montaña/Center for Research, Study, Safeguarding, Coordination and Valorisation of Mountain Viticulture).

According to CERVIM, aspects of mountain viticulture include vine cultivation at elevations above 1,640 feet/500 m, vines planted on slopes with a minimum of 30° of incline, vines planted on terraces or embankments, and topography that prohibits mechanization.

Other wine regions have been recognized by the CERVIM organization as practicing mountain viticulture include Ribeira Sacra (Galicia, Spain); Priorat/Priorato (Catalonia, Spain); Banyuls (Roussillon, France); Portugal’s Douro Valley and the Mosel in Germany.

Click here for a map of the Cangas VCIG wine region

References/for more information:

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

Confusion Corner: The Cerasuolos

Two Italian wines use the term cerasuolo in their titles: Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG and Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo DOC. These two appellations consistently end up in the confusion corner, for obvious reasons.

The term cerasuolo is related to the Latin word cerasia—meaning cherry—and does indeed refer to some sort of cherry-like attribute. However, that in itself does not mean that these two wines are the similar in style.

To clear up any confusion, let’s take a closer look at the cerasuolos.

Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo DOC: This Abruzzo-based cerasuolo is a wine with a “cherry-pink” color; famous for being one of the few Italian appellations with a focus on rosato.  The required formula includes a minimum of 85% Montepulciano grapes—with the other 15% allowed to be comprised of any red grape allowed for cultivation in Abruzzo.

The color is described—via the disciplinare—as rosa ciliegia più o meno carico (“more or less intense cherry pink”). This characteristic color is produced via vinificate…in presenza della buccia per un limitato periodo di fermentazione, al fine di conferire al vino ottenuto il caratteristico colore rosa ciliegia (see the disciplinare, article 5, as posted below). Translation: “The grapes are to be vinified in the presence of the grape skins for a limited fermentation period to give the resulting wine its characteristic cherry pink color.”

The Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo DOC covers a large part of the Abruzzo province and co-exists (in the exact same geographic area) as the well-known Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC. The appellation rules require that most of the vines be planted at elevations of or 500 meters (1,640 ft) or lower. As such, the appellation includes the entire coastline and the coastal plains of Abruzzo before zigging and zagging through the interior of the region, hugging the lower-elevation valleys and foothills of the Apennines.

Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo was awarded its DOC in 2010; prior to this date these wines were bottled as a specific style of wine produced within the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo appellation (Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Cerasuolo DOC).

Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG: This cerasuolo is a wine with “cherry-like” aromas and a deep red color. Cerasuolo di Vittoria is famous as Sicily’s one-and-only DOCG.

The rules require this wine to be produced using 30% to 50% Frappato and 50% to 70% Nero d’Avola. The Frappato grapes are credited with giving the wine its distinctive cherry-strawberry aromas. Thin-skinned Frappato does not, however, bring much in terms of tannin or structure to the wine. These attributes are, however, well-provided by the Nero d’Avola. Nero d’Avola grapes are also largely responsible for the wine’s deep color, which is described as da rosso ciliegia a violaceo (“from cherry-red to purplish”) via the disciplinare.

The defined area for the production of Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG is located in the southeastern corner of the island of Sicily, encompassing the coast (and the city of Vittoria) and extending inland for almost 45 miles (70 km). The Vittoria DOC—which allows for the production of red blends as well as varietal bottlings of Nero d’Avola, Frappato, and Ansonica—occupies the exact same area as the Cerasuolo di Vottoria DOCG.

One more—Cerasuolo, Molise: Just to make it crowded in the confusion corner, Cerasuolo is also the name of a small town (hamlet) in Molise. Located within the commune of Filignano, this Cerasuolo is located right along the border between Molise and Lazio. Cerasuolo in Molise lies within a mountainous region of the Apennines and It is not really known as a wine capital, although it does lie within the (nearly) region-wide Molise DOC.  Rather, this Cerasuolo is super-small mountain town (around 300 buildings) located just outside of a large national park—the Parco Nazionale d’Abruzzo, Lazio, e Molise.  Click here for a dreamy, beautiful visual tour of Cerasuolo in Molise, via Michael Pacitti.

References/for more information:

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

Wine Geo: Anatomy of a (Wine) River

Rivers are a big deal to wine students. Rivers define regional and national borders; carve out valleys, gorges, and ravines; provide water for irrigation; move and mold the soil; and moderate the climate (to name just a few of their tricks).

Being a wine geo nerd, I thought it would be interesting to take a closer look at the anatomy of a river, with a nod to a few of the many wine regions defined by their river(s).  As such, here is a quick dive into the anatomy of a river, from head (source) to tail (delta):

The Headwaters: The beginning, or source, of a river is known as its headwaters. Headwaters can be formed from a small trickle bubbling up from an underground stream, an outlet from a lake or pond, an area fed by melting mountain snow, or a place where several small streams flow together.

Upstream/Downstream: If you want to head upriver you need to point in the direction of the river’s source (headwaters). If you are heading downriver, you are paddling towards the river’s mouth (end). An area described as “upper” will be closer to the source of a river than a “lower” area. (This is often confusing, as we tend to think of upper or lower in terms of elevation.)

It is quite common for wine regions to be named in part due to their position on a river.  Some examples include Oberösterreich/Niederösterreich (Upper Austria/Lower Austria), the Lower Long Tom (proposed AVA), and the Upper Goulburn GI (Victoria, Australia).

The Riverbank: The area right next to the river is called the riverbank—or (in more scientific terms) the riparian zone. The banks of a river are typically fertile areas, frequently replenished by areal flooding. However, in the world of wine some of the prime river-adjacent areas are located on elevated plateaus above the river or on steep hillsides leading down to the river. Spain has several appellations named after riverbanks (riberas); these include the Ribera del Duero DO, the Ribera del Guadiana DO, and the Ribera del Júcar DO. 

The Tributaries: A tributary is a river the feeds into a (typically larger) river rather than reaching its end in an ocean or lake. Many of the world’s most impressive rivers gain most of their water from their tributaries. For example, France’s Loire River is fed by close to 80 smaller rivers, including the Sèvre, the Maine, the Allier, the Sarthe, the Loir, and the Cher. Tributaries are sometimes referred by as left-bank or right-bank tributaries. The terms refer to the location of the tributary as one is looking downstream (facing the mouth/end, rather than the source/beginning of the river). 

Several well-known wine regions are named for the tributaries of famous rivers. These include Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine AOC (the Sèvre and the Maine are both left-bank tributaries of the Loire) and the Saar Grosslage (named after a right-bank tributary of the Mosel).

The Delta: The end of a river—where it meets an ocean, lake, or wetland—is known as its mouth or delta. As it reaches its end, a river typically slows and spreads out into a wide area. As this occurs, the river is no longer able to carry large amount of sediment and it leaves behind deposits of rich soil.

For this reason, the deltas of the world often coincide with centers of civilization (such as Lower Egypt’s Nile Delta) and/or fertile nesting grounds for birds and other wildlife (such as the Guadalupe Delta Wildlife Management Area of southern Texas).  In the United States, the Mississippi Delta AVA (located partially on the delta of the Mississippi River in parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee) is a center for enological research specializing in native North American grapes.

If a river ends at the sea, it forms an estuary—an area where saltwater mixes with fresh water—as it heads into the ocean. Spain’s famous Rías Baixas DO is named after a series of drowned river estuaries (the upper rías).

References/for more information:

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

Spotlight: Re-write (Tips for Transforming your Mangled, Messy Notes into an Awesome Study Tool)

In all my years of teaching, I have found that the students who claim to have “studied really hard” and yet fail to reach their goals have one thing in common: they did not take notes. They may have re-read the text a thousand times, dried up a hundred highlighters, and listened to a year’s worth of podcasts—but they did not take notes.

Here at the Bubbly Professor, we believe strongly in the power of notes. It starts with a proper reading of the textbook (ideally before you attend a class or webinar on the subject matter)—and taking written notes.

In this article, we’d like to offer up a few ideas on another best practice: the re-write. Used properly, a re-write (or three) can transform your notes—even if they started out as a mangled mess of scribbles—into a streamlined study tool.

For starters, here are a few basic pointers:

  • Read over your notes two or three times before you attempt your first re-write. This will certainly give you a head start with memorization, but the real goal here is to ensure that you understand the context and see the “big picture” surrounding the information.
  • Use a fresh, designated notebook or file for your re-writes. You should expect this notebook or file to be highly useful during your revision.
  • Rewriting is not the same thing as re-copying. Your notes should be transformed in the re-writing process, and this will take some effort. This is especially important if you have made the mistake of taking liner notes—meaning you’ve copied something from the book or something that your instructor said basically word-for-word.

Idea #1: Create a Shrinking Outline: The first step in creating a shrinking outline is to re-write your notes into outline form—your first outline. Start by identifying the key concept in a section of your notes and—using the key concept as your section header—add the supporting details. Make sure that you paraphrase the pertinent information in clear, simple terms and in your own words.

Study this outline for a few days (or weeks, or whatever your timeline allows), and then create your second outline. Shrink this outline so that it includes just the key concepts and eliminates the supporting details. When studying from this outline, use active recall to fill in the supporting details. Refer back to the first outline to judge your progress.

Your third (and perhaps final) shrinking outline should contain just a list of prompts or key words. This final outline might remind you of the process of creating a deck of flash cards (and once completed, it may be used in the same way). Use this outline for self-testing, once again referring back to your first outline to make sure you’re capturing all the information that you want to learn.

Idea #2: Create Cloze Exercises: Don’t be frightened off by the obscure terminology: a cloze exercise is just a fill-in-the-blank exercise. (The terminology is believed to have been derived from the law of closure, as used in Gestalt Theory.)

Despite the weird-sounding name, cloze exercises can easily be created via a re-write—and they are an excellent study tool.

To create cloze exercises, follow the steps outlined above to create your first set of outlined notes (alternatively, you could start with your messy, mangled notes if they are clear enough). Re-write your notes or your outline leaving out the key words or phrases that you’d like to commit to memory. Put the answers on a separate page. If you are typing your notes, create a new file and blank out the key words; your original file can serve as the answer key.

Here are a few examples:

  • The main grape of the Chianti DOCG is _______________________; which must comprise a minimum ________________ of the finished wine.
  • The only EU country to have an AOC-designated rum is _______________; the name of this product is __________________.

One of the reasons that fill-in-blank notes are so effective is that they allow you to use the awesome power of the active recall study technique.

TL/DR: Please take notes. Re-write them effectively. Use them for revision. They can—and should—be one of your best study tools!

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

Confusion Corner: Saint-Macaire

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Saint-Macaire: It’s a grape, it’s a place, it’s an appellation…but despite the name of that appellation—Côtes de Bordeaux-Saint-Macaire AOC—it is NOT one of the sub-zones of the Côtes de Bordeaux AOC. As such, Saint-Macaire is a perfect subject for Confusion Corner!

Let’s take a look at the many faces of Saint-Macaire:

It’s a grape: Saint-Macaire is a super-obscure red grape, believed to have originated somewhere in the area around Bordeaux. It was once-upon-a-time grown in small amounts on Bordeaux’s Right Bank and known for producing soft, fruity wines with a good snap of acidity and a deep red color. However, the grape was not widely re-planted in Bordeaux in the years following phylloxera and eventually, it was nearly forgotten.

Official statistics tell us that these days, only about 1 hectare of Saint-Macaire remains planted in all of France. It is not approved for use in any of the modern AOCs of Bordeaux—including its namesake, the Côtes de Bordeaux-Saint-Macaire AOC—but it may end up in the wines of the Atlantique IGP or a Vin de France.

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Outside of France, there are a few estates in California that grow Saint-Macaire—these include O’Shaunessy Estate Winery in Napa’s Howell Mountain AVA and Sonoma’s Hanna Winery. Due to its historic stature as a lost grape of Bordeaux, Saint-Macaire is included in the list of grapes approved to be used in Meritage—as defined by the Meritage Alliance—and once in a great while, I’ll find it listed on a Meritage label.

Australia’s Calabria Family Winery (formerly known Westend Estate) grows a few acres of Saint-Macaire in Victoria—and is believed to be the only estate in Australia growing the grape.

It’s a place: Occupying a 2-mile (3-km) stretch of the northern bank of the Garonne River in France’s Gironde Department, Saint-Macaire is a tiny commune (population: 1,196).  In addition to its vineyards (planted mainly to Muscadelle, Sauvignon Blanc, and Sémillon), the area’s claim to fame is the Château de Tardes, a Monument Historique (national heritage site) and castle dating from 13th century. The building was rebuilt—complete with a hexagon-shaped tower and spiral staircase—into a Renaissance-style mansion in the centuries that followed.

Photo of Château de Tardes by Henry Salomé via Wikimedia Commons

It’s an appellation: Nestled between the Garonne River and the surrounding Entre-Deux-Mers AOC, the Côtes de Bordeaux-Saint-Macaire AOC is located on the softly rolling (south-facing) hills found along the eastern edge of Bordeaux. The Côtes de Bordeaux-Saint-Macaire AOC is approved for the production of white wines only. Dry wines are allowed and are defined as having less than 4 g/L (0.04%) of residual sugar. However, the area is best-known for its sweet (moelleux) and even sweeter (liquoreux) versions of white wines. Produced using ultra-ripe grapes (often affected by botrytis or allowed to dry after harvest), the sweet wines of the area known for notes of ripe pear, toasted almonds, bees wax, tropical fruit, dried apricot, honey, and fig.

It is NOT one of the sub-zones of the Côtes de Bordeaux AOC: Despite the similarity in their names, the Côtes de Bordeaux-Saint-Macaire AOC is not a sub-zone of the Côtes de Bordeaux AOC. The Côtes de Bordeaux AOC, established in 2009, has five sub-zones—Francs, Cadillac, Castillon, Blaye, and Sainte Foy—all of which are located quite close to Saint-Macaire. Each of these subzones may append their name to the “Côtes de Bordeaux AOC” title; this means that the name of wine bottled under the Francs subzone (as an example), could be listed as “Francs—Côtes de Bordeaux AOC.” And thus, the confusion reigns.

However, Saint-Macaire has not joined the the club of the Côtes de Bordeaux AOC. One clear definition between the appellations is that the Côtes de Bordeaux AOC (and its five sub-zones) are all approved for the production of red wines, while the Côtes de Bordeaux-Saint-Macaire AOC is only approved for white wines. (Note: Three of the Côtes de Bordeaux subzones—Francs, Blaye, and Sainte Foy—may produce white wines in addition to reds.)

Map of the Côtes de Bordeaux-Saint-Macaire AOC via http://www.sweetbordeaux.com

Hopefully, this post cleared up some of the confusion regarding Saint-Macaire. It’s really quite simple: Saint-Macaire is a grape, a place, and an appellation—but it is not one of the sub-zones of the Côtes de Bordeaux AOC, despite sharing the good portion of a name and being located in a similar spot.

Any questions?

References/for more information:

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

Zonda, Diablo, Nor’wester, Chinook: The Foehn Winds of Wine

Advanced students of wine can name them: the Zonda winds of Argentina, New Zealand’s Nor’westers, California’s Diablo, and the wild Chinook winds of Oregon. These are foehn winds—warm and dry, sometimes fierce and hot—that periodically rush down the leeward side of a mountain range after the air has dropped its rain on the windward side and climbed up and over the peaks.

Other areas in the wine-producing world that are affected by foehn winds include Alsace, the Jurançon (Southwest France), Switzerland, Washington State, northwest Italy, Catalonia, Lisboa (Portugal), Cotnari (Romania), Valencia, and Málaga. To simplify the concept, think of it this way: any place that benefits from a rain shadow provided by a large mountain (or mountain range) can also be in the line of fire for the foehn.

The well-known Zonda wind of Argentina, experienced most acutely in Mendoza, La Rioja, and San Juan—where the Andes reach their highest peaks—is the perfect, illustrative example. It all begins with the cool, humid breezes off the Pacific Ocean that head towards Chile, coming in from the west. As they reach the shore, they drift inland along Chile’s numerous river valleys, allowing the fog and cool air to penetrate inland. Eventually, the air mass bumps up against the Andes and begins to drift higher and higher.

As the air lifts, it expands and cools. Clouds begin to form as the air becomes laden with water vapor. As the clouds become saturated, the moisture condenses, and it begins to rain or snow. This activity allows for the release of latent heat, and by the time the air mass reaches the peak of the mountain it is cool and dry.

Above the mountains, the wind can be bounced about by mountain air waves—changes in the air flow sometimes referred to by the frankly terrifying name the turbulent vortex—and flung downward, assisted by variations in air pressure.

As the air rolls downhill, it quickly warms up, assisted by the warmth on the ground and the sunshine on the leeward side of the mountains.  Further downslope, the increase in air pressure coaxes even more heat into the air and by the time it reaches the foot of the mountains, it is warm, dry, and ready to roll.

Foehn winds can be beneficial to vineyards; a nice, warm breeze can reduce the risk of mold- or fungi-related vine diseases, and otherwise help keep a vineyard healthy and dry. However, In the extreme, a foehn wind can shake, rattle, and roll a vine enough to cause physical damage. If the wind lasts for more than a few days (which is not unusual), the vineyard’s human inhabitants often complain of nervousness, headache, difficulty sleeping, and irritability.

Another good reason to keep your eye on the weather!

Note: Foehn winds were first studied in the European Alps, and are often referred term as föhn winds, after the original German.

References/for more information:

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

Make it Meaningful to Make it Memorable (ft. The Chianti Seven)

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As a wine student, you have most likely memorized the seven subzones of the Chianti DOCG—and somewhere along the way, you got it through your head that Chianti Classico does its own thing and is NOT one of the seven. For your next trick, you probably learned where to find each subzone on the map.

Or…at least that is the way my studies progressed. I was well-armed with flashcards, wine maps, and a power point slide with seven distinct bullets—one for each of the not-so-famous subzones of the Chianti DOCG.

Despite endless repetition, I had a hard time memorizing the seven subzones of Chianti (much less locating them all on a map). My mistake, of course, was trying to memorize a list of terms without any meaning or familiarity behind them. However, once I learned each area’s “back story,” memorizing the terms—and locating them on the map—was a breeze!

The moral of my story is: make it meaningful to make it memorable. Your brain loves (and finds it easy to remember) information that is ripe with narrative and meaning. Your brain hates (and tends to forget) lists of words, terms, or sounds that lack context.

Here is some of what I learned about the subzones of Chianti, many years ago. I still remember it to this day.  

Cityscape of Florence with the Arno River in the foreground

Four of the seven subzones are grouped around the city of Florence, so we will start there:

Colli Fiorentini:  This area—translated as and encompassing the hills around Florence—surrounds the southern edge of the city of Florence. This is one of the northernmost areas of the Chianti DOCG. The vineyards of Colli Fiorentini are generally planted on the south-facing slopes of the rolling hills of the area; and may reach as high as 1,000 m (300 ft). The zone also includes some low-lying land in the valleys of the Pesa and Arno Rivers. This is one of the lesser known of the Chianti sub-regions, and much of the wine produced from the Colli Fiorentini vineyards ends up being served—by the glass or carafe—in the cafes and restaurants of Florence.

Montalbano: This subzone is named for the Montalbano Hills—a low chain of hills located to the north/northwest of the city of Florence. The Montalbano zone—located towards the northern end of the Chianti DOCG—overlaps the Carmignano DOCG. Vines used for Chianti Montalbano tend to be planted on the western side of the hills (where the soil is more sandstone), while the Carmignano DOCG is located on the eastern side of the zone—where the soil is richer in limestone. As such, wines labeled under the Chianti-Montalbano DOCG tend to be lighter and fruitier in style than those produced in some of the more inland areas. This region famously includes the town of Vinci—where Leonardo di Vinci once lived.

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Montespertoli:  Montespertoli is the newest of Chianti’s official subzones, having been designated as such in 1997. Before that, it was part of the Colli Fiorentini region. Named for the town of Montespertoli—located about 12 miles/20 km southeast of the historic center of Florence—this is the smallest of the chianti subzones in terms of acreage. The area is known for its rolling hills, well-drained limestone soils, and abundant sunshine—all of which help to produce well-ripened grapes and lush, balanced wines.

Rufina:  Rufina—undoubtedly the most famous of the Chianti subzones—is located in the foothills of the Apennines, east of the city of Florence. Rufina overlaps the Pomino DOC and is differentiated from most of the rest of the Chianti DOCG by its inland location. Likewise, Rufina experiences more continental influences on its climate and can claim some of the region’s highest elevations: vineyards here are planted as high as 1,600 ft /500 meters (higher than the average of the rest of the region, including Chianti Classico at 1,000 ft/300 meters). The high elevation of the area’s vineyards lend an excellent diurnal temperature fluctuation, and the area’s limestone-and-clay soils strike the ideal balance between excellent drainage and just enough water retention (making this area particularly drought-resistant).

  • The dueling republics of Florence and Siena famously solved their border dispute via a race between two knights on horseback, who each set off from their respective towns at the first crow of the rooster. The hungry black rooster of Republic of Florence famously arose before dawn, allowing most of the disputed land to be awarded before Florence. In honor of this event, the black rooster has been the symbol of the Consorzio of Chianti Classico since 1924. The rooster on our graphic map thus serves to remind us of Florence to the north, and Siena to the south.

Three of the seven subzones of the Chianti DOCG are located further afield from Florence:

View over the city of Siena

Colli Senesi: The Colli Senesi subzone—located in the southern reaches of the Chianti region and spread out over three noncontiguous areas—is tucked into the hills surrounding the city of Siena. The area is considered one of the most prestigious of the seven subzones, which makes a lot of sense considering that it overlaps Montalcino, Montepulciano, and San Gimignano. It even has stricter standards than some of its kin, in a sense. For instance, wines of the Chianti DOCG require a minimum of 70% Sangiovese in the mix; in Colli Senesi, the minimum is raised to 75%. It also requires a higher level of alcohol (13% minimum abv) for its Riserva wines; Chianti DOCG and the other six subzones require just 12% or 12.5%.

Colli Aretini: The Colli Aretini zone is named for the hills of Arezzo. Arezzo—one of the 9 provinces of Tuscany—is located in the eastern part of Tuscany. The Colli Aretini encompasses the valley of the River Arno at the point where the river moves from its southerly course and takes a loop-de-loop turn to head north and west on its way to the city of Florence. This river valley keeps the region cool, as it allows the moderating influence of the Mediterranean Sea to penetrate inland. The zone does include some elevation—as high as 1,000 ft/300 meters in spots—on the hills that rise out of the Arno valley floor. The Chianti Aretini subzone is not particularly well-known; much of the vineyards of the area produce fruit destined to be included in wines labeled as Chianti DOCG.

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Colline Pisane:  The Colline Pisane—the hills around Pisa—zone is located just south of the city of Pisa. This region is unique in that it is closer to the Mediterranean Se—and on a lower set of hillsides—than the rest of the Chianti region. It is also somewhat of an outlier—literally—in that there some distance between Colline Pisane and the rest of the Chianti subzones, all of which are connected. The area’s unique location (and terroir) helps to make the wines of the Colline Pisane quite distinctive. They are often described as lighter and softer than most, with a ruby-red color, floral (violet) aromas, and a distinctively fruity (as opposed to earthy) character— especially when young.

Note: In addition to the concept that making information meaningful makes it memorable, this post demonstrates chunking—a key principle of education and learning that I find particularly applicable to the study of maps and geography. More on that later!

References/for more information:

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

The Bubbly Professor’s third annual “I don’t Wanna Study on Christmas Eve” Wine Quiz

I know you probably don’t want to study today, tonight, or tomorrow…but you also don’t want to lose your study rhythm! How about a nice compromise….the Bubbly Professor’s third annual “I don’t wanna study on Christmas Eve” quiz!

It’s so dang hard to study on Christmas…

If you want to go for it, click here.

Happy Holidays to those that are celebrating, and best wishes to all!

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

Best Practices for Practice Tests

It happens at least once a month. A frustrated test-taker sends me their regrets—they have failed the exam! And they just cannot understand how-on-earth-they-could-have-failed-when-they-scored-100-on-all-the-practice-tests!

First—I feel your pain, failed test taker. This is no fun at all—and as a teacher I feel I have failed a bit myself. But…I know where this conversation is going. I have seen it many times before. So, I pick up the phone and let them vent a bit, and then gingerly ask: “So, that practice test you scored 100 on…how many times did you take it?” This is inevitably followed by something like this: “I took it TEN TIMES!”

Enough said. I get it, you took the practice test over-and-over again until you scored 100. That is an excellent way to learn some content (active retrieval and spaced repetition and all). However, if you take the same test ten times, you are NOT assessing your readiness for test day. 

There are several different ways to take advantage of practice tests, and you should decide which you intend to use before you dive right in. Consider these three distinct uses:

  • To assess how well you know the content: Taking a practice test can let you know how well you know the material and can provide a basis for planning the rest of your studies. In this case, you can take a practice test towards the beginning of your studies—or at a convenient mid-point—and use your results to inform the areas that you should focus on as you create and implement your study plan. 
  • To use as an item bank for study content: After you take a practice test, go back and revisit the questions you missed. However, do not just memorize the answers. That will only help you on test day (or in real life) if you encounter the same questions with similar options. Instead, strive to understand the content as well as its context and really learn it. If the original question was a true/false question—make sure you can explain why it was true or false. If the original question was a multiple-choice question, try to learn not only the correct answer—but why it was correct, and why each distractor (incorrect option) was NOT correct.
  • To assess your readiness for test day: To make use of this valuable option, you need to practice a bit of self-control as this will only work if you can approach a practice test under simulated exam conditions. This means—first and foremost—that you are taking a specific practice test for the first time, sight unseen. It also means that you use the same timeline parameters as defined for the actual test, and (unless it is an open-book or open-note exam), that you do not have any books, notes, maps, or cheat sheets in view. You can further mimic the testing environment by sitting at a desk or table, keeping the noise level low, dressing as you would for the actual exam, and trying your best to avoid interruptions (a “do not disturb” sign on the door might be in order—if you can swing it).

Once more, for effect: Practice test results will NOT assess your readiness for test day if you have previously taken the exact same exam (although, as described earlier, this is a valid way to study content).  It is a good thing to score a 100 on a practice test when your previous score was 60—it proves that you mastered previously unknown content. However, if you want to assess your readiness for test day…start with a new exam. 

Here are a few other benefits of using practice tests:

  • Using practice tests can help to ease your exam anxiety.  Scoring in the 90s-plus on practice tests and quizzes can boost your confidence and help keep you calm on exam day.
  • Using practice exams can also help increase your mental endurance; testing can be surprisingly exhausting. Using practice tests (especially in simulated exam conditions) can give you an excellent understanding of how you will perform under extended periods of mental focus. If you have a difficult time remaining alert towards the end of an hour or two, this is a good indication that your study plan should include some flexing of your mental endurance—think of it as building up your test-taking muscles.
  • More good news: taking practice tests that use the same format as the actual exam (multiple-choice, short answer, true/false, essay) is likely to improve your score on the final test—no matter what combination of the three approaches (discussed above) that you use. This is due to a phenomenon known as Transfer-Appropriate Processing. Put simply, this means that we are more likely to remember (retrieve) information in the same manner in which it was encoded.

Practice tests can and should be part of your study plan. Taking practice quizzes and exams is a highly effective method of active learning—just be clear on how you are using them and how you are interpreting your results.

P.S. One final caveat: consider the source. Make sure you are using a quality product. I won’t name names, but I have seen a whole lotta so-called practice tests and quizzes floating around the internet that amount to little more than “the blind leading the blind.” Ideally, seek out a set of practice tests created by subject matter experts based on the course content and the format of the actual exam. If you are taking a class—ask your instructor!

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