Confusion Corner: Lirac and Listrac

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I am back for another round of Confusion Corner! This is the fourth installment of the series in which I attempt to unravel some of the words, terms, and concepts of wine that have always confused me. After unraveling Verdelho from Verdejo, Rully from Reuilly, and Catalunya and Calatayud; this week I take on another tongue-twister: Lirac and Listrac.

First off, here is what these two things have in common: they are both AOC wine-producing regions in France, they are both well-established, and they are both primarily known for red wines (although the Lirac AOC produces whites and rosés as well). And then there are the differences…

First up—Listrac: One thing we need to get cleared up is that while it is very common to see the term Listrac used on its own; the actual name of this place is Listrac-Médoc. Listrac-Médoc is both the name of a commune (in the Gironde department) and an appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) wine-producing area of the Médoc.

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Listrac-Médoc sits on Bordeaux’s Left Bank, at about 45°N. Just a portion (1,650 acres/668 ha) of the commune is given over to viticulture, and those grapes that are present are surrounded by other crops, forests, and meadowlands. The vineyards of the Listrac-Médoc are located in an area known as the “limestone outcrops” and are a bit west of Gironde Estuary as well as a bit inland—away from the maritime influence and the mists of the river—and as such the area has a borderline continental climate. The area is often called “the roof of the Médoc” due to its slightly elevated perch—measured at 141 feet (43 m) above sea level.  The soil is more of a limestone/clay mix as compared to the gravelly soils of the surrounding areas, and as such the vines’ roots do not grow as deeply here are they do in the more prestigious vineyards located nearby areas.

The Listrac- Médoc AOC is approved for dry red wines only. The area is mainly planted to Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, with a small amount of Cabernet Franc and a tiny fraction of Petit Verdot and Malbec.  The wines produced in this area are known for being “tightly wound” while young, but powerful and rich with a few years of age.

And in the other (confusion) corner, we have the Lirac AOC. The commune of Lirac, located in the Gard Department, is one of the four communes included in the Lirac AOC (the others are Roquemaure, Saint-Geniès-de-Comolas, and Saint-Laurent-des-Arbres).

The lira AOC is situated on the western side of the Southern Rhône Valley AOC, about 300 miles to the east of Listrac-Médoc (and a bit further south, as lira sits at about 44°N).  Red, white, and rosé wines may be produced under the LIiac AOC, and the majority of the output is red. However…the area is also known for its rosés  – which makes sense when you realized that Lirac’s neighbor-to-the-south is Tavel, and that the boundary between the two wine regions is the political boundary between two communes.

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Rosés from the Lirac AOC are based on a minimum of 80% Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah, or Mourvèdre. The other 20% is allowed to be white grapes or Carignan (although Carignan itself is limited to a maximum of 10%).

The red wines of the Lirac AOC are typically produced from a blend based on Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, and Cinsault. Lirac AOC rouge tends to be in the softer “Côtes du Rhône” style of red wines, but some producers are going for a bigger, bolder style of wine. Perhaps this is not surprising considered that the region’s neighbor-to-the-east is Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

The Lirac AOC also produces a small amount of white wine from the typical Rhône varieties—namely Bourboulenc, Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, and Clairette.

And there you have it. Listrac and Lirac—confused no more.

Next up in Confusion Corner, I attempt to unravel the Grecos (Greco di Tufo, Greco Bianco, Greco di Bianco). What do you think?

References/for further information:

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

Salad, a Grotto, and DOC Wine: the Island of Capri

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A trip to the island of Capri should be a part of any dream trip to Italy. Located on the south side of the Gulf of Naples, the island may be reached via a 40-minute ferry ride from Naples or Sorrento. Once you arrive at the island’s Marina Grande, you can take a short bus ride or a scenic funicular up to the town of Capri, and then perhaps journey a bit further to the town of Anacapri.

Either way, you’ll want to take a long gaze at the coastline, lined as it is by the faraglioni—limestone crags also known as “sea stacks” that rise above the surface of the azure sea.

You’ll also want to join the throngs of tourists at the Grotto Azzurra (the Blue Grotto). It might be crowded, expensive, and kitschy—but it must be done! The Blue Grotto is a cave, formed over the millennia by the action of the sea, on the island’s coast. The opening to the cave is about 3 feet high by six feet wide, and can only be accessed when the sea is calm and the tide is low. It is worth the wait, however, because after you duck your head and your boat slips into the 165-foot long cave, the sunlight filtering through the seawater creates a blue reflection that bathes the cavern in a clear, blue light.

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After building up an appetite, you’ll need a good meal, and an Insalata Caprese (quite literally, the “salad of Capri”) sounds like the perfect first course. This is a simple salad of sliced fresh mozzarella di buffala, tomatoes, basil, and olive oil, made to resemble the colors of the Italian flag.  (There’s a recipe in the links below.) Insalata Caprese, they say, was invented in the early 20th century to show off the  abundant produce of the sunny island, to give a nod (via those colors) to patriotism for Italy, and to appease the growing numbers of important politicians and royalty (Hollywood and otherwise) who were visiting Capri in droves.

You’ll probably need a nice glass of white wine to go along with your lunch, and you are in luck, as the island produces a red and a white wine under the Capri DOC. With just two acres planted to vines, your lunch on Capri might be your only chance to ever taste these wines, so we suggest you try a glass of each.

The white wine produced in the Capri DOC is made from a minimum of 80% (combined) Falanghina and Greco. The Falanghina grape is one of the leading grapes of Campania, and plays a role in many of the DOC-based wines of the province. Falanghina-based wines tend to be high in acidity and show aromas of peaches, pears, apricots, almonds, and a bit of “leafiness” and minerality. The Greco grape variety is also widely grown in Campania (as well as several nearby regions such as Lazio, Puglia, and Molise). Wines made from Greco sound quite similar to those made from Falanghina, and have been described as having aromas of apricot, peach, citrus, fresh herbs, and a hint of minerality along with medium body, fresh acidity and a nice balance. Sounds like a Capri Bianco DOC would pair nicely with an Insalata Caprese.

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If your secondo of choice is some variation on pasta with tomato sauce, a glass of Capri Rosso DOC is a perfect accompaniment. Capri Rosso DOC is produced using a minimum of 80% Piedirosso.  The Piedirosso grape is likely native to Campania and is one of the most widely grown red grapes of the area (this, despite the fact that you probably never heard of it before).  Piedirosso is known for producing light-ish red wines with fruity flavors of plum, blackberry, and cherry, has a fresh bite of acidity and (not surprisingly) it’s often compared to those produced from Gamay.

One interesting tidbit about Piedirosso is its name which derives from “red feet.” I assumed that this referred to the red feet one might acquire while stomping around in a vat of freshly-picked Piedirosso grapes, but apparently it refers to the color and shape of the stalks that attached the bunches of grapes to the vine—they are three-pronged and thus resemble the claws of a pigeon, and around harvest time, they turn red.

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Wine making is an ancient but dying are on the island of Capri, but it is kept alive by a small but hardy troupe of winemakers keeping the dream alive. For some great insight into Capri and its wines, I suggest a visit to the Scala Fenicia Winery. If that’s not possible in the near future, you could always just visit their website.

References/for further information:

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

The Limone and Liquore of Sorrento

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Hugging the coastline just across the bay (and accessible by ferry) from Naples is the town of Sorrento. Sorrento is many-a-person’s touristy dream destination, and in real life it does not disappoint. While you are in Sorrento, be sure and tour the Duomo (Cathedral), visit the old town, drink coffee in the Piazza Tasso, take a day trip to the island of Capri, and drive along the coast to Amalfi. You can’t miss any of it.

Another thing you can’t miss in Sorrento is lemons. You can eat and drink lemons—as in lemon cake, spaghetti al limon, lemon gelato, and bruschetta rubbed with lemon, all washed down with limoncello (or lemonade for the kids). Italians will have a lemon slice dipped in sugar (peel and all) for a snack. Next, you can take a stroll through the lemon trees, planted in terraced groves, thriving in the tufo and limestone soil and abundant sunshine—as they have for centuries. And while shopping for souvenirs, stroll into a ceramics studio and find a big bowl or a pitcher decorated with pictures of lemons. You’ll want to remember these lemons for a long time.

The lemons grown in Sorrento are so unique that they have been award Protected Geographical Indicaton (Indicazione Geografica Protetta/IGP) status by the European Union, complete with a consortium (the Consorzio di Tutela del Limone di Sorrento IGP) to protect, promote, and market the Limone di Sorrento. According to the consortium’s guidelines, in order to qualify as a Limone di Sorrento IGP, the lemons must have the following attributes:

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    They are a “local ecotype” of the common lemon, aka Lemon of Massa, “Massese,” or “Oval of Sorrento”

  • They are grown in a geographically-delineated area of the Sorrento Peninsula that includes the districts of Massa Lubrense, Meta, Piano di Sorrento, Sant’Agnello, Sorrento, Vico Equense, and Capri.
  • They must be elliptical in shape with medium-large dimensions (weight not less than 85 grams [3 ounces]).
  • They must have a medium-thick peel and a citrine (pale-to-golden) yellow color over at least 50% of the surface.
  • They must be rich in essential oils and very fragrant, “very juicy” and with straw-colored yellow pulp.
  • The juice, characterized by an elevated acidity, must be rich in vitamin C and mineral salts.

To an American eye Limone di Sorrento might look kind of pale and funky…but these lemons are not chemically treated, colored, or dipped in wax. They are the real deal, they look natural, and they are a much sweeter lemon than those that most Americans are used to. While it’s a bit of a stretch, many people note that Limone di Sorrento are more like Meyer Lemons than the “supermarket” lemons (known as Eureka Lemons or Lisbon Lemons) that we get in the US.

And then there is the local limoncello. As a tourist in Italy, you are certain to remember the first time you had limoncello. Perhaps it was at an aperitivo (the Italian version of “happy hour” to stretch the definition a bit) or after a meal at a restaurant. Wherever or whenever it was, I am sure you will remember it.

Photo of Sorrento’s Marina Grande by Cutiekatie via Wikimedia

The limoncello produced in Sorrento has been awarded an IGP as well, known officially as Liquore di Limone di Sorrento IGP. The technical standards for Liquore di Limone di Sorrento include the following guidelines:

  • It must contain a minimum of 30% alcohol by volume.
  • It must be produced from a base of neutral spirits via by maceration with the peels of Limone di Sorrento IGP for a minimum of 48 hours.
  • It should be between 20% and 35% sugar by volume.
  • It must be produced within the Limone di Sorrento IGP cultivation zone.
  • It must contain a minimum of 250 g (by weight) of Limone di Sorrento PGI fruit or juice per liter of liquor.
  • No other colorings or flavorings (other than Sorrento Lemons) are allowed (but ascorbic acid may be added as a stabilizer).
  • It must be citrine yellow in color, and may be clear or opalescent.
  • The aroma and flavor must be characteristic of the Limone di Sorrento IGP.

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All of that is a bit heavy on the “technical” but doesn’t it still sound delicious? I’m thinking tonight is a good night for Pollo al Limone (as true Limone di Sorrento are hard to find outside of Italy, I’ll settle for using the recipe provided by the consorzio but substitute Meyer lemons [don’t hate me]) followed by some lemon cookies dipped in Liquore di Limone di Sorrento. Luckily, a true Liquore di Limone di Sorrento IGP can—these days—be found in good old Austin, Texas.

References/for more information:

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

Confusion Corner: Catalunya and Calatayud

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I am back for another round of Confusion Corner! In case you missed the first two installments, in this series I attempt to unravel some of the words, terms, and concepts of wine that have always confused me. So far I’ve unraveled Verdelho from Verdejo and Rully from Reuilly. This week I have another tongue-twister, and one that has eluded me for a long time: Catalunya and Calatayud.

First of all, here is what the two things have in common (besides the fact that the words look and sound alike): They are both areas in northern Spain, and they are both DOs. They both produce a range of wines (including red, white, rosado, fortified, and sparkling) from a long list of allowed and authorized grape varieties. However, that’s pretty much where the similarities end.

First up—Catalunya: Catalunya is the Catalan name for the Spanish region also known as Catalonia (in English) and Cataluña (in Spanish). It is one of Spain’s 19 autonomies (17 autonomous communities plus 2 autonomous cities), and is the only one of the autonomies to have a DO that covers the entire region.

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Catalunya is located in the extreme northeast of Spain, and shares its northern border with France and the tiny Principality of Andorra, along the Pyrenees Mountains. To the east, the area has a long coastline that borders the Mediterranean Sea; and the western boundary is shared with the autonomous community of Aragon. Valencia is to the south. Not surprisingly, the climate on the coast is Mediterranean, while inland areas share the warm, arid climate of much of the rest of Spain.

Catalunya is an absolute paradise for travelers—whether wine-related or not. The capital and largest city is Barcelona, an ideal vacation spot for those interested in art, architecture, gastronomy, history, beaches, Catalan culture, or shopping—what more could you want? For those interested in wine tourism, San Sadurní d’Anoia—the birthplace and “spiritual home” of Cava—is a very short drive from Barcelona, and dozens of Cava producers and tasting rooms are open to the public. If you don’t mind a slightly longer drive and some winding roads, you can visit Priorat, Alella, or Tarragona as well.

The Catalunya DO, approved in 1999, is authorized for the following types of wine: white (using an allowed 14 grape varieties but dominated by Garnacha Blanca), rosé (rosat in the Catalan language and generally based on Garnacha), red (from a list of over a dozen approved varieties but generally made using Garnahca, Monastrell [Mourvèdre] and Tempranillo [known here as Ul de Llebre]), vino de licor (fortified wines), and vine de aguya (slightly sparkling wines).

Santa Maria del Mar in Barcelona

Santa Maria del Mar in Barcelona

Wine bottled under the Catalunya DO is typically produced using grapes grown in the areas betwixt and between the 11 DOs of the region, or produced from a mix of grapes grown within the smaller DOs. The DOs of Catalunya include some very prestigious appellations (such as Priorat DOCa), some very famous areas (such as [parts of] the Cava DO and the Penedès DO), as well as some lesser-known regions (such as the Empordà, Alella, and Costers del Segre DOs).

And now for Calatayud: Calatayud is a DO located in the southwest corner of the autonomous community of Aragon. The wine region is named after the city of Calatayud (population around 20,000). Calatayud is an old city, strategically located between the Central Meseta of Spain and the Ebro River Valley. The modern city dates from around 700 CE and is famous for its many surviving examples of Mudéjar (Moorish) architecture.

The Calatayud DO area is almost completely surrounded by the mountains of the Sistema Ibérico—and as such has a hot, arid climate, like much of inland Spain. However, the area also has some elevation with many vineyards planted on south-facing hillsides—some of which reach as high as 2,600 feet (800 m). This elevation, as well as a system of criss-crossing rivers, provides some relief to the heat.

Detail of the Santa Maria Church in Calatayud

Detail of the Santa Maria Church in Calatayud

Many different styles of wines are allowed under the Calatayud DO (approved in 1990), including red, white, rosé, fortified, lightly sparkling, and fully sparkling. Garnacha is the main red grape variety, along with Tempranillo, Mazuela (otherwise known as Carignan, and named after the region of Cariñena, Calatayud’s neighbor-to-the-east), and Bobal—along with a smattering of international varieties. White grapes (and wines) make up a relatively small proportion of the area’s output and include plantings of Macabeo (aka Viura), Malvasia, and Chardonnay.

Some interesting styles of wine that are specifically defined by the Calatayud DO include Viñas Viejas (old vine) wines which must be made from vineyards that are at least 35 years old, and Calatayud Superior, which must be produced from a minimum of 85% Garnacha Tinta from vineyards that are a minimum of 50 years old.

References/for more information:

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

 

Valpolicella—What’s in a Blend?

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Valpolicella is one of the most beloved red wines of Italy. Produced in Veneto, it is renowned for its rich fruit aromas of black cherry and cranberry, its soft tannins, and its woodsy-spice-wild berry-bitter almond flavors.

Valpolicella is also a wine of many faces. It may be produced in normale, ripasso, amarone, and recioto versions; in superiore, riserva, and spumante styles, and in the Classico and Valpantena subzones.  That’s a lot of versions of Valpolicella!

But the good news for we perpetual students of wine is that all of the variations of Valpolicella require the exact same palate of grape varieties, and it’s fairly simple at that.

For starters, there are only two grapes that are required to be used in Valpolicella. They are Corvina and Rondinella. Corvina must be at least of 45% the blend and Rondinella must be present at a minimum of 5%. So that’s the legal baseline. Above and beyond that, 25% of the blend may be made from a long list of different grape varieties (defined as “red grapes suitable for cultivation in Verona”) with the caveat that no single accessory variety may comprise more than 10% of the total blend.

The basic blend of Valpolicella

The basic blend of Valpolicella

The most well-known of these permitted accessory grapes include Corvinone, Malvasia Nera, Refosco, Marzemino, Molilnara, Oseleta, and Croatina. We’ll discuss all of these (plus Corvina and Rondinella) in a bit more detail below:

King Corvina:  Corvina, which I call King Corvina, is considered to be the superior grape in Valpolicella blends, and may comprise anywhere from 45% to 95% of the total. This grape is also known as Corvina Veronese. The name may have come from the word corvo, meaning “crow” (in reference to the color of the berries) or from the local term cruina, meaning “unripe” (and referring to its late maturation). Corvina provides a light sour cherry flavor, fresh acidity, and a hint of bitter almond to the wines of Valpolicella.

Ruby Rondinella: Rondinella, which I call Ruby Rondinella, is included as part of the Valpolicella blend for its bright ruby-red color, and fruity, cherry-esque flavors. It must be at least 5% of the blend (and is permitted to be up to 30% of the total). Rondinella is the offspring of Corvina and is thought to be named for the term rondini (meaning “swallows”), in reference to the color of the berries.

Cousin Corvinone: I call the Corvinone grape Cousin Corvinone because it was previously believed to be a clone or mutation of Corvina (and thus, technically, the same grape). However, in 1993 (God bless DNA profiling) it was proven to be a distinct variety. After it was discovered to be its own grape, the disciplinare of the Valpolicella wines were updated to allow Corvinone to continue to be used in the wines. As such, it is now allowed to be substituted for up to 50% of the total amount of Corvina used in any given blend.

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Minor Molinara: Molinara freaks people out in reference to Valpolicella, and for good reason. It used to be a required part of the blend, and lots and lots of wine reference materials still state it as so. However, the rules were recently changed, and now Molinara is allowed but not required. The grape is now considered to be not-so-high quality, rather pale, and prone to oxidation (thus its demotion). However, some old-vine Molinara is grown in Veneto—specifically at the Masi, Carlo Boscaini, and Villa Bellini estates—and is used to produce some high-quality wines, some of which are bottled as a (very pale, almost rosé-like in appearance) varietal under the IGT Veronese.  There are reportedly only about 3,300 acres (1,350 ha) of Molinara in Veneto, and these days it definitely plays second fiddle to the Crovina/Rondinella team in Valpolicella. For this reason, I call it Minor Molinara —but Molinara is neither gone nor forgotten.

Obscure Oseleta: The Oseleta grape has been found to be very close to Corvina in terms of both DNA profiling and character. As such, it is an allowed grape in the Valpolicella mix, but it very rarely used. It was—once-upon-a-time—very close to extinction. Luckily, it was recovered beginning in the 1970s, primarily around the small village of Fasola-Pigozzo. Even today, Oseleta is grown in very small amounts (50 acres/20 ha) in the Valpolicella zone; as such, my nickname for the grape is Obscure Oseleta.

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Crazy Croatina: Croatina has earned the nickname Crazy Croatina due to its involvement in one of the craziest grape-name schemes in all of viticulture. See if you can follow this: Croatina is also known as Bonarda, but that is not Argentina’s Bonarda (which is actually Douce Noire). Valpolicella’s Coatina is also NOT Piedmont’s Bonarda (that would be Bonarda Piemontese). Croatina is rather the version of Bonarda that is also grown in  Oltrepò Pavese—however…never forget that there are at least six different grape varieties that sometimes go by the name Bonarda. Crazy. Croatina is actually an interesting little grape, grown sparingly but across a wide swath of northern Italy, and often compared to Nebbiolo in terms of color and character. The name of the grape is derived from the term “Croatian girl,” despite the fact that it is believed to be native to Lombardy.

What else is in a blend? Other grapes that are allowed as part of the Valpolicella blend include Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Merlot, and Teroldego. For a more complete list, see the website of the Consorzio Valpolicella.

References/for more information:

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

Confusion Corner: Verdelho and Verdejo

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I have recently started a new series called “Confusion Corner.” In these posts, I am going to try to unravel some of the more (to me) perplexing corners of the wine knowledge universe. For my first post, I tackled “Rully and Reuilly,” and due to the baffling nature of the wine world, I predict I will keep this series going for a long time.

This week I will attempt to un-muddy the waters surrounding Verdelho and Verdejo. But first, I must admit that for the longest time I believed that these two white grape varieties were one and the same—you know, just one of those language things—but thankfully, now we know better.

First of all, let’s discuss what Verdelho and Verdejo have in common. The names sound almost identical (thus their inclusion in confusion corner). Both are white grape varieties, early-ripening, and low-yielding with small, compact bunches. They are both capable of producing richly-flavored, medium-to-full bodied white wines and are used in both dry wines and sweet wines, as well as fortified and un-fortified styles.  Both are medium-to-high in acidity. A lot of the references I consulted also described both grapes as being prone to oxidation, but it seems that modern winemaking has this issue mostly solved.

As for their differences, we can generalize them in this way: Verdejo is grown mainly in Spain, while Verdelho is primarily Portugal. Verdejo is the super-star grape of the dry, unfortified wines of the Rueda DO, and Verdelho is mainly known for off-dry, fortified Madeira–a product of Portugal.

Photo of Rueda by Agne27, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo of Rueda by Agne27, via Wikimedia Commons

Verdejo: The Verdejo grape variety (named for verde, after the greenish color of the grape berries) is thought to be native to the Castilla y León area of north-central Spain, and may even be native to its modern-day epicenter of Rueda. Other names for Verdejo include Albillo de Nava (which is not the same grape as Albillo Mayor), Botón de Gallo Blanco, and Verdeja. Verdejo Colorado (aka Pedral), Verdejo Negro (aka Trousseau), and Verdejo Serrano (aka Rufete Blanca) are distinct varieties as opposed to mutations or clones.

Verdejo is one of the most widely planted white grape varieties in Spain (number five among white grape varieties, according to Wine Grapes) and accounts for a significant portion of the grape plantings in Castilla y León, Castilla-La Mancha and Extremadura. The current favor of the grape dates from the 1970s, when the winemakers at Rioja’s Marqués de Riscal began to produce dry white wines in the Rueda DO (an area previously known primarily for fortified wines). Marqués de Riscal currently produces several Verdejo-based wines using Rueda grapes, including—in addition to their Rueda DO—Marqués de Riscal Limousin (from 40-year old, goblet-trained vines), and Finca Montico (using grapes from an estate vineyard located in the El Montico area).

White wines produced under the Rueda DO must be a minimum of 50% Verdejo. They are sometimes 100% Verdejo, while other times they are blended with a portion of Sauvignon Blanc (Viura and Malvasia are also allowed). The Rueda DO also allows for varietally-labeled Verdejo and Sauvignon Blanc (with the requisite minimum 85% proportion).

Verdejo is also allowed in seven out of the nine white-wine producing DOs located in Castilla y León, as well as close to ten other DOs located throughout Spain. Dry white wines produced using the Verdejo grape tend to highly aromatic with aromas of citrus, melon, fresh herbs, and fennel. These wines typically have medium to high levels of acidity, a high level of extract, and a touch of bitterness of the finish often described as “bitter almond.”

Verdelho in Portugal

Verdelho in Portugal

Verdelho: Verdelho is a thought to be native to the island of Madeira, and may have spread from the island to the Portuguese mainland—or it may have occurred the other way around.Either way, most of the Verdelho currently grown in Portugal is on the  island of Madeira or the Azores Islands.

In a true twist to the confusion corner, in Spain’s Galicia region and Portugal’s Dão, the Godello grape is sometimes known as Verdelho or Verdelho do Dão—but it is not the same grape. This grape, which I will call Godello-not-Verdelho, is also known as Gouveio.

Verdelho is undoubtedly best-known for its role in the fortified wines of Madeira. Madeira labeled with the term Verdelho is typically medium-dry. Verdelho is also used to produce (unfortified) dry white table wine on the island of Madeira under the Madeirense DOC; it is one of over a dozen white varieties allowed in the DOC’s white (branco) version. In addition, it is an authorized variety in the three DOCs of the Azores Islands (Pico, Graciosa, and Biscoitos) and allowed in a smattering of other Portuguese DOCs including Setúbal, Bairrada, Dão, and Palmela.

Small amounts of Verdelho are grown in other pockets of the world, including France, California, Australia (where it is sometimes use to produce a Verdelho-Semillon blend, and sometimes even Chardonnay-Verdelho-Semillon), and New Zealand. Unfortified wines produced using the Verdelho grape variety tend to be aromatic with scents of citrus, tropical fruit, fresh herbs, green grass, apricot and peaches; these wines tend to have medium-plus  body and crisp, zesty acidity. There does seem to be a bit of a divide between the Verdelho-wine styles of the old world (more subtle, herbal, and grape-like) and new world (more tropical fruit, stone fruit, and fuller-bodied).

So, what do you think? Can we move move Verdejo/Verdelho out of the confusion corner?

References/for more information:

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

Fuzzy Wuzzy was a Vine

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One of the first things that a serious wine student will learn about Priorat is that it is one of the two DOCa regions in Spain, and that (its red version) is a hearty wine based around the Garnacha Tinta and Mazuelo (Carignan/Cariñena) grape varieties. Next, one might note the list of accessory varieties, which include some well-known international varieties (including Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Syrah, and Tempranillo) as well as a grape known as Garnacha Peluda.

There it is: Garnacha Peluda; otherwise known as Hairy Grenache. The name peluda seems to come from the French pelut and means furry.  How cute is that? The “hairy” part of the name refers to the small white hairs covering the underside of the leaf. Other terms used to describe this hirsutulous (botanical term for slightly hairy) characteristic include downy, wooly, fluffy, fleecy, and fuzzy. But they all mean the same thing: this leaf is hairy.

Garnacha Peluda, a mutation of Garnacha Tinta (aka Grenache Noir), is considered a unique variety and is often referred to as a downy-leafed variant of Grenache—which may make the inquiring mind wonder why a certain grapevine would mutate into such a form. The answer is that growing furry leaves is a biological adaptation. Biological adaptations are changes—structural (either morphological [able to be observed] or anatomical [internal]), physiological, or behavioral—that occur over many generations of plant or animal life in order to make the organism better suited to its environment and to improve its chances of survival.

Garnacha Pelut vineyards in Priorat

Garnacha Peluda vineyards in Priorat

The hairy-leafed variation of Grenache is a result of a morphological adaptation to hot, dry environments such as found in Priorat, as well as the Roussillon and Languedoc areas of southern France. (Note: in southern France, the grape is often called Lledoner [or Lladoner] Pelut.) The fuzzy layer protects the vine from water loss due to transpiration, helps shade the leaves, and reflects sunlight to help keep the plant cool. The hairy-leaf solution is one of several ways plants adapt to hot, dry environments. Others include small leaves, curled-up leaves, wax-coated leaves, woodsy stems, and green stems but no leaves.

Compared to its non-hairy cousin, Garnacha Peluda tends to produce wines that are lower in alcohol, lighter in color, and higher in acidity. The Garnacha Peluda grape is authorized for use in the following wines:

  • Recommended/Principle variety in: Terra Alta DO, Languedoc AOC (as Lledoner Pelut)
  • Accessory grape variety in: Empordà DO, Priorat DOCa, Terrasses du Larzac AOC (as Lledoner Pelut), Côtes du Roussillon and Côtes du Roussillon-Villages AOCs (also as Lledoner Pelut)

Vitis aestivalis varieties and native North American grapes native to the southwest, such as Mustang and Muscadine, are also likely to demonstrate the hairy-leafed adaptation. Many other plants have adopted this downy-leafed adaptation, including rosemary, sagebrush, oleander, buckthorn, magnolia or sycamore trees, potato, petunia, and lamb’s-ear.

Fuzzy-leafed lamb's ears

Fuzzy-leafed lamb’s ears

Another famous hairy-leafed vinifera grape is Pinot Meunier. As meunier means “miller” in French, the grape is so-named for the layer of white, downy hairs on the underside of the leaves, said to resemble grains of flour (as produced by the town miller at the local flour mill). But as we now know, it is all about that morphological plant adaptation.

References/for further information

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