Confusion Corner: Blaye, Blaye, Blaye

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Tucked away in a sleepy corner off the right bank of the Gironde Estuary, you’ll find the town of Blaye. Blaye is a picture-postcard-perfect town rich in history and charm. Wine lovers, of course, will recognize the name Blaye as a small-but-impressive area for the production of Bordeaux wine. And that’s where the confusion begins. There are three appellations d’origine contrôlée (AOCs) that go by the name of Blaye: Blaye AOC, Côtes de Blaye AOC, and Côtes de Bordeaux–Blaye AOC They all share the exact same location and all three—of course—produce Bordeaux wine.

And yet and still, each of these three appellations comes with its own unique twist.  Here’s what we mean:

Blaye AOC: The Blaye AOC is approved to produce still (non-sparkling) dry red wines only. Blaye AOC may be produced from any of the six “typical” red Bordeaux varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec (known here as “Côt), Petit Verdot, and/or Carmenère. There are, however, some interesting parameters set to the assemblage (blend): at least 50% of the blend must consist of the three principal varieties of the appellation—Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. The other three grapes (Malbec/Côt, Petit Verdot, and Carmenère) may only be found in concentrations of less than 50% (combined).

Photo of vineyards in Blaye by Michael Clarke via Wikimedia Commons

Côtes de Blaye AOC: The Côtes de Blaye AOC produces still (non-sparkling) dry white wines only. This appellation could be considered a loveable misfit of Bordeaux, as the wines are required to be based on Colombard and/or Ugni Blanc. You read that right! As a matter of fact, the wine must be produced using 60% to 90% (combined) Ugni Blanc and/or Colombard. The remainder may consist of Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris, Sémillon, and/or Muscadelle.

Côtes de Bordeaux–Blaye AOC: The Blaye sub-region of the Côtes de Bordeaux AOC produces still (non-sparkling wines) in both dry red and dry white. This appellation was created in 2015 when the late, great Premieres Côtes de Blaye AOC was absorbed by the Côtes de Bordeaux AOC.

The regulations for the red wines are similar to—but not exactly the same—as those for the Blaye AOC. Côtes de Bordeaux–Blaye AOC Rogue must contain a minimum (combined) 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot; Carmenère has a maximum of 10%, and Petit Verdot and Carmenère combined may not exceed 15%.

The white wines of the Côtes de Bordeaux–Blaye AOC somewhat reflect the requirements for standard dry white Bordeaux wines and may contain any combination of Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris, Sémillon, and/or Muscadelle (although it is likely to be heavy on the Sauvignon Blanc). Colombard and Ugni Blanc, while allowed, must be kept to a (combined) maximum of 15%.

The red wines of the Blaye AOC and the Côtes de Bordeaux–Blaye AOC seem awfully similar, so it helps to keep in mind that the Côtes de Bordeaux is considered one of Bordeaux’s over-arching regional appellations, and as such it maintains somewhat looser standards than those required for the other AOCs, as seen in the following examples:

  • Blaye AOC: Minimum potential alcohol: 12%, maximum yield: 48 hl/ha
  • Côtes de Bordeaux–Blaye AOC Rogue: Minimum potential alcohol: 11.5%, maximum yield: 52 hl/ha

Any questions?

References/for more information:

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

Confusion Corner: Tuff, Tufa, Tuffeau

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Tuff, tufa, tuffeau: welcome to confusion corner.

These “three t’s” are all types of stone and/or soil. Two—tuff and tuffeau—are of particular interest to viticulture, while tufa is the odd man out.

Let’s take a closer look:

Tuff: Tuff (pronounced tuhf like the English word tough) is a type of volcanic soil; however, it is sometimes classified as a sedimentary soil—so let’s just say it is formed via both volcanism and sedimentation.

Tuff is created when molten lava blasts out of a volcano, cools and fragments as it floats through the air, and eventually lands in a heap upon the ground. With time, the fragments (including volcanic ash as well as bits of igneous rock) settle, condense, and cement together into a soft, porous stone.

Tuff soils inside the crater of Mount Vesuvius (photo credit: Simona Cerrato via Wikimedia Commons)

Tuff-based soils are found in Napa (Howell Mountain), Lake County (California), Madeira, Hungary (Tokaj), Alto Piemonte (Gattinara, Ghemme), Campania (Mount Vesuvius) and large swaths of Yellowstone Park.

Tuffeau: Tuffeau (pronounced too’-foo) is a local type of limestone found in the Loire Valley. Tuffeau is fine-grained and very low density (about half the density of granite). Tuffeau is formed from the remnants of the sea floor (sediment, fossilized sea creatures, and sand) that covered the Loire Valley over 90 million years ago. Over the millennia, these particles became compressed to form a unique type of limestone due to the presence of foraminifera (creatures with multi-chambered shells), and the (previously) shallow water that stood between 2 and 20 meters deep—other forms of limestone were formed under deeper waters.

The fortified wall at the 8th-centure Château de Loches, showing tuffeau blocks of various ages (photo credit: Valerius Tygart via Wikimedia Commons)

Weathered tuffeau, combined with sand, flint, and clay—as found in the Central Loire regions of Anjou, Saumur, Touraine—is an excellent vineyard soil. Tuffeau is equally famous for being the building blocks of many of the gorgeous castles of the Loire, and may also be known as Turonian Limestone (after the city of Tours).

Tufa: The words “tufa” (pronounced too’-fah) and “tuff” and commonly confused, and that’s ok for people having casual conversations about the ground beneath their feet. However, for geologists and wine geeks, there’s a big difference between the two (and, to make matters worse, tufa and tuffeau have more in common than tuff and tufa). So here goes: tufa is a rare is a rare type of limestone created when calcium carbonate-saturated water releases carbon dioxide and precipitates a soft, caclium-carbonate rock. Tufa is specifically formed in ambient-temperature water.

The best-known examples of tufa (in the fascinating form of tufa towers) can be found at Mono Lake, California. Tufa is not—to the best of my knowledge—a factor in vineyard soils.

Tufa deposits originating from hot springs are known as travertine—and that’s a whole other corner story.

References/for more information:

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

You can’t be First but you can be Nouveau

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Beaujolais Nouveau Day approaches!

That’s right…tomorrow (the third Thursday of November—in this case, November 21, 2019) is Beaujolais Nouveau release day—the day that wine snobs love to hate!

While Beaujolais Nouveau is often talked about, widely belittled, and perhaps seems a bit cliché, there is still a lot to learn (and appreciate) about this once-a-year, fresh-and-fruity, bright-cherry-red, chillable quaffer. As such, I offer five fast obscure facts about Beaujolais Nouveau:

#1—Beaujeu is party central: The Commune of Beaujeu is the place to be. There are over 120 Beaujolais Nouveau release parties held every year in the Beaujolais region. The best of these—Les Sarmentelles de Beaujeu—is a five-day festival held in Beaujeu, the historical capital (and namesake) of the Beaujolais region. The festivities of Les Sarmentelles include a Salon des Vin (Beaujolais wine-tasting extravaganza), induction of a new set of compagnons/compagnonnes into the Beaujolais Guild, an arts and crafts market, a gourmet market, banquets, lunch-time dances, concerts, torch-lit parades, and a tasting trail that takes you to all 12 areas of production. Rumor has it that the festival includes a Beaujolais wine tasting competition where the winner receives their weight in Beaujolais-Villages.

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#2—There’s more than one Gamay:  The famous Gamay Noir grape of Beaujolais fame has a red-fleshed country cousin known as Gamay Teinturier de Bouze. As one would expect from the use of the term “teinturier,” this grape has red juice and flesh (a rarity in the world of red wine grapes). Gamay Teinturier is believed to be either a mutation of Gamay Noir, or perhaps its offspring. Another grape—Gamay Teinturier de Chaudenay—is a mutation of Gamay Teinturier de Bouze;  both versions are allowed for use in the wines of the Beaujolais AOC as long as they are limited to a (combined) maximum of 10% of the final blend.

#3—Beaujolais Blanc need not apply: Beaujolais Nouveau may be the most famous wine of region, but several other styles of Beaujolais are produced as well. The best-of-the-bunch Beaujolais Crus may only be produced as red wines. The required assemblage of all ten Beaujolais Cru is as follows: a minimum of 85% Gamay, with an allowed 15% (combined) of Chardonnay, Aligoté, and/or Melon de Bourgogne. Beaujolais AOC (which includes those wines labeled as “Beaujolais-Villages AOC” as of 2011) may be produced in red or rosé (produced from a minimum of 85% Gamay with an allowed 15% [combined] Aligoté, Chardonnay, Melon de Bourgogne, Pinot Gris, and/or Pinot Noir) as well as white (100% Chardonnay). Only red or rosé wines, released under either the Beaujolais or Beaujolais-Villages AOC may be designed as nouveau—Beaujolais Blanc and Beaujolais Cru do not qualify.

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#4—There’s more than one Nouveau: In addition to Beaujolais, France has a list of about 50 wines that are allowed to be labeled as “Nouveau” and released on the third Thursday of November. These include those from the Anjou AOC, Muscadet AOC, and Mâcon-Villages AOC.

#5—You can’t be first but you can be next Nouveau: The nouveau wines of France are not the first wines of the harvest to be released in Europe. That title, it appears, goes to Italy and its rather long list of red wines—including Vittoria DOC, Rosso Piceno DOC, and Castel del Monte DOC—that are allowed to designated as “Rosso Novello” and released on October 30. Nouveau wine (in the Northern Hemisphere) can loosely be defined as wine that is allowed to be released in the same year in which it was harvested. Several European countries have their own versions of nouveau wine—including Portugal (Novo), Spain (Vendemia Inicial), and Austria (Heurige).

References/for more information:

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

Confusion Corner: The Grecos

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There are at least 7 different grape varieties that go by the name “Greco.” One of those, Greco Bianco, stars in a sweet, copper-colored dessert wine known as “Greco di Bianco DOC.” Another—that we’ll call “just plain Greco”—produces a crisp, clean, dry white wine in the Greco di Tufo DOCG.

And then there are the red Greco varieties—including Greco Nero, Greco Nero di Sibari, and Greco Nero di Verbaicaro—not to be confused with the un-related Grechetto di Orvieto or Grechetto di Todi (aka Pignoletto, not to be confused with Pignolo).

Welcome to confusion corner, where (in this case) the confusion needs no further introduction. In this post, we’ll attempt to unravel the white varieties (and wines) of the Grecos.

First we’ll unravel the white grapes that go by the name Greco:

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Greco: While the name “Greco” certainly seems to imply that this aromatic white grape variety originally hails from Greece—and this has been suggested—however, it is possible that the grape is native to Western/Central Italy. There are several reasons to believe this theory, including the fact that (these days) a majority of the planet’s Greco is grown in Italy’s Campania region. Beyond Campania, Greco is grown in Puglia, Molise, Lazio, and even Tuscany. The Greco grape variety is allowed for use in several DOCs, scattered throughout Central and Southern Italy. These include the Vignanello DOC (Lazio), Vesuvio DOC (Campania), Capri DOC (Campania), Bianco di Pitigliano DC (Tuscany), the Gravina DOC (Puglia), and—most notably, Campania’s Greco di Tufo DOCG (more on Greco di Tufo later).

Wines produced using the Greco grape variety tend to be slightly aromatic, showing scents of citrus, apricot, white peach, fresh herbs, and a decided minerality. The color tends to be deep yellow to gold. The grape is a late-ripener making it ideal for Central Italy’s warm, Mediterranean climate

Noted (and confusing) synonyms for the Greco grape variety include Greco di Tufo, Greco del Vesuvio, Greco di Napoli, Asprinio, and Greco della Torre but NOT Greco Bianco.

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Greco Bianco: According to Jancis Robinson, et al in the book Wine Grapes, despite the constant confusion between the grapes, the Greco Bianco grape variety is NOT linked to, or even closely related to, the Greco variety (as discussed above). Greco Bianco, rather, is identical to (synonymous with) Pecorello Bianco. Both names are used in Calabria, where most Greco Bianco is found. The Greco Bianco grape variety is allowed for use in a smattering of DOC wines, including Melissa DOC, Terre Di Consenza DOC (Calabria), Frascati DOC and Frascati Superiore DOCG (Lazio), and Cirò DOC (Calabria). As Pecorello Bianco, it may be found in the wines of the Savuto DOC and the Donnici DOC (both of Calabria). Greco Bianco is often used in the production of late harvest/dessert wines, but may also be made in to dry wines with fruity, floral, and citrus aromas.

Greco Bianco di Gerace: Also known as Malvasia di Lipari, and often confused with Greco Bianco (even by the experts – so who knows).

Greco Bianco di Novara: Also known as Erbaluce.

Next, the wines:

Campania, Italy—with the town of Tufo highlighted (via Google Maps)

Greco di Tufo DOCG: First things first: Greco di Tufo is both a grape (synonymous with Greco) and an Italian DOCG wine region. Here, we are focusing on the wine. The Greco di Tufo region (located about 35 miles inland from Naples and about the same distance away from Mount Vesuvius) is named after the town of Tufo. The town—Tufo—is itself named after the “tuff” soil of the area, created when volcanic ash falls down and eventually consolidates into a sedimentary rock.

According to regulations, Greco di Tufo DOCG must be comprised of a minimum of 85% Greco, with the remaining 15% allowed to contain Coda di Volpe. Greco di Tufo DOCG is a highly regarded, dry white wine well-appreciated for its crisp acidity and aromas of citrus (lemon, mandarin orange), pears, peaches, almonds, fresh green herbs and distinctive minerality.

Greco di Tufo is one of the four DOCGs located in Campania; the other three are Fiano di Avellino DOCG, Aglianico del Taburno DOCG, and Taurasi DOCG.

Calabria, Italy—with the town of Bianco highlighted (via Google Maps)

Greco di Bianco DOC: Greco di Bianco DOC, located in the hills surrounding the coastal town of Bianco, is a copper-colored dessert wine produced from dried (passito) grapes. The grapes must be so concentrated as to have a potential of 17% abv and the resulting wine must be either amabile o dolce (semi-sweet to sweet, meaning basically a minimum of 1.5% RS and more likely at least 4.5% RS). The grapes must be at least 85% Greco Bianco (as opposed to just plain Greco), with the other 5% loosely defined as “white grapes allowed for production in Calabria.” Greco di Bianco DOC wines tend to be rich, velvety, and luscious with intense aromas of dried citrus peels, lemon curd, roasted almonds, and honey. These wines are typically aged for a minimum of one year; regulations do not allow its release before November 1 of the year following harvest. To recap: the name of the town is Bianco, the name of the grape is Greco Bianco, and the name of the wine is Greco di Bianco.  Any questions?

References/for more information:

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

Confusion Corner: Haut Benauge

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It happens at least once a month: someone emails me (or calls me out over social media) claiming that the list of Bordeaux Appellations in the CSW Study Guide is missing Haut Benauge.

While I love to be called out over social media as much as anyone, here is my typical response: Haut Benauge is not an AOC (but it is a defined sub-zone of two different AOCs), and it is not “missing” from the list.

So…what exactly is Haut Benauge?

Haut Benauge is a region located within the Entre-Deux-Mers area of Bordeaux, situated “between the two rivers” (the Dordogne and the Garonne), to the east of the Cadillac AOC. Haut Benauge covers nine communes: Arbis, Cantois, Escoussans, Gornac, Ladaux, Mourens, Saint-Pierre-de-Bat, Soulignac, and Targon.

The name “Haut Benauge” is an homage to Jean de Foix (1414–1484), the Viscount of Benauge. The 11th-century Castle of Benauge is still standing, and is open to visitors by appointment.

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The terroir of Haut Benauge is differentiated by the surrounding areas due to its elevation and soils. The elevation is slight (between 85 meters/275 feet and 118 meters/390 feet) but is sufficient to define an elevated ridge, formed when the sea floor was pushed up and out of the sea via the movement of the Pyrenees Mountain range several million years ago.

The soils of Haut Benauge reflect its aquatic past, and include limestone, fossilized oyster shells, sand, gravel, and clay.

Haut Benauge was defined as an appellation in 1955 and designated as a sub-zone (defined geographical indication) of BOTH the Entre-Deux-Mers and the Bordeaux AOC. This is where the confusion seems to come in. Here are the two different wines that may carry the Haut Benauge name:

  • Bordeaux-Haut Benauge AOC:
    • White wines only, produced using any mix-and-match blend of Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris, and/or Muscadelle
    • May be dry/off-dry or sweet; there is a minimum of 5 and a maximum of 60 g/L residual sugar
  • Entre-Deux-Mers-Haut Benauge AOC:
    • White wines only, based on a minimum of 70% (combined) Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris, Muscadelle, and/or Sémillon; there is an allowed maximum 30% Merlot Blanc, and an allowed (combined) maximum 10% Mauzac, Colombard, and Ugni Blanc
    • Must be dry with a maximum of 4 g/L of residual sugar

Photo of the Castle of Benauge by Henry Salome, via Wikimedia Commons

Fun fact: Haut-Benauge is the only appellation located within the Entre-Deux-Mers area that does not have a boundary that touches one of the defining rivers of the area (the Dordogne nor the Garonne).

Some excellent examples of Haut Benauge wines are produced by Château Morlan-Tuilière and Château de Bertin. These wines are known to be a great value for lovers of white Bordeaux wines—enjoy!

References/for more information:

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

Peculiarities of Perception

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Time flies when you’re having fun (or better put: time flies when you’re having rum).

A watched pot never boils.

A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.

It seems—at least from the platitudes we often use—that we all understand that perception is relative. Time does seem to fly by when you’re having fun, but every  second spent while stuck in traffic drags by endlessly.

This vagary of perception is equally easy to understand when applied to taste. For instance, I love coffee, but when served black it’s too bitter for me. Once I add a shot of milk, I don’t notice the bitterness as much (and I drink at least three cups every morning). I also like Earl Grey tea, but only if there is a spoonful of sugar and a squeeze of lemon involved, making it taste less tannic and (in my opinion) richer and smoother.

Wine enthusiasts experience these peculiarities of perception with just about every taste – despite the fact that we don’t always know or recognize it. First-time sippers of Sauternes often have an immediate reaction to the sweetness of the wine (some even recoil from it). However, Sauternes is typically quite acidic in addition to its more obvious sweetness. We just don’t notice it (unless we are truly focused on finding it), as our perception of the acidity is masked by the sweetness – especially on the attack (the first few seconds of the tasting experience).

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Sweetness (residual sugar) in a wine really does a number on our overall perception of that same wine, and can be credited with the following peculiarities on the palate:

  • Suppresses the perception of acidity
  • Suppresses the perception of bitterness
  • May suppress the perception of astringency (tactile dryness)
  • May enhance the perception of viscosity

And then there are those factors that cause a quirk in our ability to perceive true sweetness (residual sugar) in a wine:

  • Acidity, tannin, and/or bitterness may suppress the perception of sweetness
  • High(ish) levels of alcohol enhance the perception of sweetness
  • Bubbles in sparkling wine tend to suppress the perception of sweetness
  • Aromas of oak and/or vanilla mimic sweetness
  • Oak-derived lactones: mimic sweetness
  • Fruity aromas tend to mimic sweetness
  • Cold temperatures suppress the perception of sweetness
  • Glycerol (glycerin) has a sweet taste (but is not sugar)

Most of this only really matters if you are trying to analyze a wine (as in a blind tasting or when writing a tasting note), or when you are trying to develop your palate and improve your wine tasting ability. If this happens to be one of your idiosyncrasies, perhaps you’d like to check out the attached chart (see below) that lists the peculiarities of the perception of sweetness in wine, as well as some for bitterness, tannin, and acidity.

I hope it makes the time fly!

Check out the chart here: The Peculiarities of Wine Perception – the Bubbly Professor

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

 

Girò, Nasco, Nuragus: the Grapes of Cagliari

Cagliari coastline

Cagliari is the capital city of the Italian island (region) of Sardegna (Sardinia). Located on the southern edge of the island, the city and its surrounding municipality (also known as Cagliari) are home to more than 430,000 people.

Cagliari is a modern city built on and around the ruins of an ancient civilization; people have lived and congregated here for over 5,000 years. There are many amazing sites to see for the traveling history buff: check out the spooky pre-historic chamber tombs of Domus de Janas, the Roman Amphitheatre of Cagliari, or the hilltop citadel Il Castell. Art lovers will want to make sure to leave time to visit the Galleria Comunale d’Arte di Cagliari —and anyone and everyone will want to spend some time on Poetto beach.

Foodies will have plenty to keep them occupied as well. In addition to the ridiculously abundant seafood, be sure and try the uniquely Sardinian Pane Carasau (a thin, crisp bread), fregola (a small, pearled pasta somewhat similar to couscous), and culurgiones (stuffed pasta similar to ravioli). Of course, you’ll want to eat as much Pecorino—a sheep’s milk cheese made in many regions of Italy, with a great deal produced in the area around Cagliari—as you possibly can.

Poetto Beach

And then there is the wine. The island of Sardegna produces a great deal of wine, much of it reflecting the 400-year Spanish rule that lasted until the 1700s. Sardegna boasts 18 PDO wines, including Cannonau di Sardegna DOC, Malvasia di Bosa DOC, and Vermentino di Gallura DOCG—the island’s only DOCG.

There is also a Cagliari DOC that encompasses the city and municipality of Cagliari as well as a good section of the island’s southern and western portions. A range of wines are produced under the auspices of the Cagliari DOC, including red wines based on the Monica grape, white wines using Moscato and/or Vermentino, and both still and sparkling wines based on Malvasia.

Cagliari also produces some unique wines based on unique grapes, such as Nasco (Nasco di Cagliari DOC), Girò (Girò di Cagliari DOC) and Nuragus (Nuragus di Cagliari DOC). It was the unfamiliar (to me) names of these grapes that caught my eye and inspired this post. You’ll find some information about these grapes and these wines below—hopefully you’ll find them as interesting as I did.

Photo by Fabio Ingrosso, via Wikimedia commons

Nuragus (Nuragus di Cagliari DOC): Nuragus is a white grape variety that—despite its seeming obscurity—is the second most widely-planted white grape on the island of Sardinia (after Vermentino). Wines produced using Nurugus tend to be somewhat neutral in aroma and character; however, the best (low-yield) versions can be crisp in acidity, somewhat bitter, and redolent of green apples and almonds. The Nuragus grape is used—blended with other white grapes—in up to 15 different IGP wines of Sardinia, and is often used in the production of vermouth.  The Nuragus di Cagliari DOC allows for the production of dry and sweet wines (based on a minimum of 85% Nuragus) in both still and sparkling version.

Nasco (Nasco di Cagliari DOC): Nasco, a white grape, is rumored to have been introduced to Sardinia via Spain (although there is as yet no solid evidence to confirm this). History tells us that the grape was once widely planted across the island, but the variety did not fare well post-phylloxera. These days,  Nasco is grown in very small amounts in and around Cagliari—reported plantings total just 423 acres/171 ha—and it is possible that it is not planted anywhere besides Sardinia.  The Nasco di Cagliari DOC allows for the production of dry wines, sweet wines, and fortified wines (which may be either dry or sweet). The grape—and its wines—are known for a musky aroma, as well as aromas and flavors of green herbs, dried flowers, honey, sweet spices, and apricots.

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Girò (Girò di Cagliari DOC): Girò is a cherry-scented red grape variety, also believed to have been introduced to Sardinia via Spain. It was widely grown throughout the island before phylloxera, but now is somewhat limited to the area around Cagliari. At last count, Sardinia had just over 1,300 acres (525 ha) of vines planted to Girò. The grape thrives in hot, dry climates—and such conditions will lead to high concentrations of sugar, but sometimes leads to low acidity.

The Girò di Cagliari DOC allows for the production of still (non-sparkling) red wines, both dry and sweet. Many Girò di Cagliari DOC wines are fortified, and post-harvest drying of the grapes is sometimes used to produce passito-style wines as well.

References/for more information:

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