Meet the Bombinos

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It’s hard to not perk up when you hear the word Bombino. It’s just so cute, and you’re just not sure what you just heard. Did someone just call you a bimbo? A bambino? Or, better yet, a bombshell?

If the conversation revolved around wine, it’s likely that the word was used in reference to a rather obscure grape—or set of grapes—grown around southern Italy and most likely native to Puglia.

There are two Bombino grapes—Bombino Bianco and Bombino Nero—and they are apparently not twins, clones, or even that closely related. As with many things ampelographical, it is not yet certain how, or if, they are related. It is, however, possible that Bombino Bianco and Trebbiano Arbuzzese are either closely related or the same grape. Yet we do know (or think we know) where the name derives from—Bombino means “little bomb” and may refer to the roundish shape of the grape clusters.

Bombino Bianco is grown in moderate amounts throughout southern Italy, and also shows up in some of the regional  wines of central and northern Italy. In Puglia, Bombino Bianco is the star of the white wines of the San Severo DOC, where it is required to be between 40% and 60% of the blend (the other portion may be Trebbiano Bianco with a maximum of 15% other approved white varieties). In Abruzzo, it can be interchanged with Trebbiano Abruzzese or Trebbiano Toscano in the Trebbiano d’Abruzzo DOC.  (If you made it through that sentence with your cognition still intact you are a genius.)

In Lazio, Bombino Bianco goes by the name of Ottonese. In the wines of the Frascati DOC, it is allowed to make up a maximum of 35% in the Malvasia-based blend.  It may also be produced as a varietal wine under the Marino DOC.

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Farther north, in Emilia-Romagna, Bombino Bianco is required to be a minimum of 40–50% of the blend in the white wines of the Chardonnay-heavy (50–60%) Colli Romagna Centrale DOC, and may be produced as a varietal wine—under the name Pagadebit—under the Romagna DOC. (For the serious wine student growing wearing of this name-calling, a good fact-of-the-day is that the Romagna DOC was created in 2011 out of the now-defunct DOCs of Cagnina di Romagna, Pagadebit di Romagna, Romagna Albana Spumante, Sangiovese di Romagna, and Trebbiano di Romagna.)

Pagadebit (or Pagadebito) is another synonym for Bombino Bianco, and just might mean “debt-payer.” However, just to keep things interesting, some of the grapes known as Pagadebito in Emilia-Romagna might actually be a related variety known as Mostosa. And to keep things even more interesting, “debt-payer” is a common nick-name for a handful of high-yield, juicy grapes.

At last count, there were approximately 7,400 acres (3,000 ha) of Bombino Bianco grown in Italy. Some of it makes its way into vino (EU table wine) and IGT wines in addition to the DOCs discussed above. Germany also grows some Bombino Bianco, much of it used in the production of Sekt (German sparkling wine). While high-yield grapes are known to produce neutral-tasting wines, given a measure of care, Bombino Bianco can produced wines with aromas of citrus and tropical fruit, herbal notes, and even a hint of minerality.

Bombino Nero is far less complicated, and far less planted; at present Italy grows about 2,890 acres (1,700 ha) of Bombino Nero. Most of this is accounted for in Puglia, but some plantings are also found in Basilicata, Lazio, and on the island of Sardinia. While Bombino Nero seems to be native to Puglia, remember, it’s not exactly Bianco’s dark-skinned twin but is (maybe) an indeterminate relative of sorts.

Bombino Nero is allowed to be a maximum of 40% of the blend in the reds and rosés of Puglia’s Lizzano DOC. It’s also allowed to make up any amount of the blend in the rosato (rosé) and rosato spumante produced under the Castel del Monte DOC. Being a vigorous, late-ripening grape with excellent color and a strong slug of anthocyanins, it makes sense that it would be an excellent choice for rosé. Which leads me to the biggest bombshell to drop from the dark-skinned Bombino: it’s the majority grape variety (minimum 90%) allowed in a DOCG that is dedicated solely to rosé—the Castel del Monte Bombino Nero DOCG. This is a tiny DOCG, with just 40 acres (16 ha) of vineyards.

Castel del Monte Bombino Nero DOCG is the only DOCG dedicated solely to rosato in Italy. Boom.

References/for further information:

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

The Outer Limits: AOC Châteaumeillant

Vineyards in Châteaumeillant - Photo by Ameliris, via Wikimedia

Vineyards in Châteaumeillant – Photo by Ameliris, via Wikimedia

Tucked away into the southwestern corner of France’s Cher département, the Châteaumeillant AOC is located quite literally in the outer limits of the Loire Valley wine region. About 45 miles south of Quincy, it’s the last Loire Valley AOC on the road out of town.

The Châteaumeillant AOC is named after the town it surrounds  in the foothills of the Massif Central. The town of Châteaumeillant has about 2,000 residents. The AOC of the same name somewhat straddles the line between the Indre and Cher départments. It has been called the most central vineyard in France—and it does appear to rest firmly in the middle of the country.

Wine has been part of the local economy here since the fifth century BC, as proven by the discovery of over 300 amphora that were unearthed during a construction dig.

In the fifth century, the area was a Roman town named Mediolanum. Due to its location, Mediolanum was an important part of the wine trade and something of a way-station for Italian wines being sent to troops stationed in (what was then) western Gaul. Some time later, the area began growing grapes and producing wine.

The Châteaumeillant AOC is a small producer. There are currently just 173 acres (70 ha) dedicated to red wines and another 49 acres (20 ha) for rosé (vin gris). Red wines are made from a minimum of 40% Gamay with Pinot Noir allowed to fill in the rest. The pale vin gris (rosé) is made from the same basic formula, but also allows for a maximum of 15% Pinot Gris in the blend. Rumor has it that the appellation is going to steadily increase the minimum portion of Gamay until it reaches 60% sometime after the year 2027. White wines made primarily from Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are also produced in the region, but are labeled with Val de Loire IGP status.

Culan Castle

Culan Castle

Châteaumeillant became a vin délimité de qualité supérieure (the now-defunct VDQS category) in 1965 and was promoted to AOC status in 2010. There seem to be only around 10 wine estates in the area; noted producers include Domaine Roux, Domaine Goyer, and Domaine du Chaillot.

If you would like to visit Châteaumeillant, it’s about a two-and-a-half hour drive from Paris. Once there, you can see the ancient amphora of the region at the Archeological Museum of Chateaumeillant, tour Culan Castle (built in the 13th century), and visit the Chapitre d’Albret (dating from the 1500s). The region also has a variety of farms that produce some of the Loire Valley’s famous goat cheeses, which should be a great match with the vin gris of the AOC Châteaumeillant.

It sounds like a trip to the outer limits that you might enjoy!

References/for further information:

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

Au Revoir, Rosé

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Au revoir, rosé—see you next summer. I’m hoping that by adding some heavier wines to my evening tasting line-up that I can conjure some cooler temperatures for central Texas.

But before saying my last goodbye for the summer, I thought I’d take one more stroll through my local wine store and see if I could find any interesting pink wines. I think I told my husband I was searching for something weird (I received the shade eye in return). I did not return home with any weird wine, but I was nevertheless quite happy with my haul: two French rosés, and each of them from an Indication Géographique Protégée (IGP/PGI) aka Vin de Pay region.  Score!

The first wine—Petit Bourgeois Rosé of Pinot Noir 2015, Vin de Pays de Val de Loire

The bottle reads Mis en bouteille par Henri Bourgeois – Chavignol. The Henri Bourgeois estate was founded 50 years ago and produces a range of wines in the Upper Loire. Assisted by his sons Rémi and Jean-Marie, Henri grew the estate to a total of 72 hectares of vines, consisting of 120 individual parcels. Many of the estate’s wines are made from these individual vineyards, such as their Sancerre d’Antan and Sancerre Jadis.  (For enquiring minds: Chavignol is a small town in Sancerre, famous for a goat cheese known as Crottin de Chavignol as well as its wine.)

The Henri Bourgeois Estate’s Loire Valley wines includes Sancerre (white, red, and rosé versions), two versions of Pouilly-Fumé, Quincy, and Menetou-Salon (red and white). Sharp wine students will recognize these areas as prime Sauvignon Blanc country sprinkled with a bit of Pinot Noir, Gamay, and Cabernet Franc (among others). Their line of “Petit bourgeois” wines, labeled under the Vin de Pays de Val de Loire includes a varietally-labeled Cabernet Franc, a varietally-labeled Sauvignon Blanc, and my rosé of Pinot Noir.

The Vin de Pays du Val de Loire region covers roughly the same area as the entirety of the Loire Valley’s AOCs and covers 14 French departments—each of which is considered a subregion of the IGP. It follows the Loire River for over 350 miles from the Atlantic coast to the Auvergne Hills (which are practically in the center of the country). As stands to reason, the Vin du Pays de Val de Loire is one of the largest and most diverse wine regions of France in terms of geographic area.

This wine was a lovely salmon-pink color—a hue I used to call “San Diego sunset” – which you’ll really understand if you’ve ever lived there. I learned from the tech sheet that the juice was fermented on the skin for 48 hours, followed by a slow, cool fermentation at 60°F. The subsequent wine was quite aromatic, and ripe with the scents of rose petals, strawberries, watermelon, cherries, and peaches. It was fermented dry and had a good squirt of cherry-like acidity. All in all, this was a wonderful wine for about $15.00 (and the Wine Enthusiast liked it to the tune of 87 points). We served it up with some grilled shrimp accompanied by roasted red bell peppers, yellow tomatoes and goat cheese—a good match.

The Henri Bourgeois Estate also has some vineyard acreage in New Zealand’s Wairau River Valley (a subregion of Marlborough). The New Zealand property is a result of their search for new areas to “tame” in the pursuit of the world’s finest Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. The property, known as the Clos Henri Vineyard, is planted along the Waihopai River as its runs down a hillside into the sea. The latest generation of the Bourgeois family, Arnaud, Jean-Christopher, and Lionel, named the vineyard in honor of their grandfather.

The second wine: La Galope Rosé, Comté Tolosan IGP:

La Galope is a second label created by the Domaine de l’Herre winery, located in the heart of Gascony in Southwest France. The winery also produces a Sauvignon Blanc from the Côtes de Gascogne IGP under the La Galope label, as well as varietal Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Petit Manseng under the winery’s main label.  The Domaine de l’Herre winery was founded in 1974 and currently cultivates over 320 acres (130 ha) of vines, mainly on south-facing slopes in the foothills of the Pyrenees.

The Comté Tolosan IGP (Vin de Pays de Comté Tolosan) covers a large region of Southwest France—including 12 French departments—in the area commonly referred to as Gascony. This region is part of the Aquitaine Basin that occupies the plains between the Pyrenees and the Massif Central.  The IGP is bordered by Bordeaux to the northwest, Spain to the south, the Languedoc-Roussillon region to the east, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west.  The Garonne River cuts through the heart of the area, and to an extent separates the white wine-dominant vineyards to the west (nearest the coast) from the red wine-dominant vineyards to the east (further inland).

Several well-known AOCs are included within the catchment of the Comté Tolosan region—including Cahors, Jurançon, Madiran, and Irouléguy —but the IGP designation is typically used for wines grown or produced outside of the boundaries of these more prestigious sections.

Some research on the company website informs me that my rosé is produced from a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The grapes are harvested in the early morning hours, and rushed to the crush pad where they are pressed with a high-tech inert gas press that crushes the grapes and immediately blankets them with nitrogen in order to avoid oxygen contact (and oxidation.) Following the press, the juice is macerated on the skins for a period of time before being pressed and fermented at about 60°F.

This wine is a nice light pink color. It’s fairly aromatic, with aromas of white flowers (I’m thinking cherry blossoms), strawberries, red peaches and red apples. All of those aromas are mirrored as flavors, accompanied by a nice zing of citrusy acidity. A hint of mineral on the finish is a nice surprise. All in all, an excellent value for $12.00, and a perfect wine for the bbq sliders we pulled from the grill.

Now, if only it would cool down a bit…

Note for all of us wine students: The Val du Loire IGP and the Comté Tolosan IGP are two of the six regional IGPs of France. The other four are the Atlantique IGP (covers Bordeaux, Cognac, and Dordogne), the Comtés Rhodaniens IGP (covers the Northern Rhône and Savoie), the Méditerranée IGP (covers the Southern Rhône and Provence), and the very well-known Pays d’Oc IGP (covers the Languedoc and Roussillon).

References/for further information:

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

Lorraine: Quiche, Plums, and a bit of Wine

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Lorraine—home of the famous quiche, a particular plum, and just a little bit of wine—is located in northeast France, just west of Alsace. Lorraine was an administrative region of France from 1982 until January 2016; since that time it has been part of the region known as Alsace-Champagne-Ardenne-Lorraine. Lorraine makes up over half of the French border with Germany, and is also the only French (historical) region to border three countries (Germany, Belgium, and Luxembourg).

Lorraine has never really caught my attention in a big way, as most of my knowledge of French geography (and to be honest, world geography) is based on my wine studies. As the Lorraine area is home of only two AOCs (Côtes de Toul and Moselle) in addition to the Côtes de Meuse IGP, I kind of overlooked the area. I have, however, always been a fan of Quiche Lorraine—and I am quite embarrassed to admit I always thought that the “Lorraine” referred to the Loire. Time to remedy this—read on to learn about three of the leading products of the Loire: Quiche Lorraine, Mirabelle plums, and the wine!

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Quiche Lorraine: Definitely one of the best-known dishes in French cuisine, Quiche Lorraine is part of the Lorraine area’s German heritage. Quiche actually originated in Germany, and the word “quiche” is derived by “kuchen” (cake). While the original (German) version of the dish was baked in a brioche shell, the French version is a cream-and-egg pie baked in a savory pie-style pastry shell. True Quiche Lorraine is made with eggs, cream, and lardons—and no cheese! Most modern recipes include eggs, cream, bacon or chopped ham, and a good measure of cheese such Gruyère or Emmentaler.

Also good to know: Two of France’s most famous cookies—the Madeleine and the Macaron—also have ties to the Lorraine area. The Madeleine, a shell-shaped, cake-like cookie, is believed to have originated in the town of Commercy and named after the cook for Stanislas Leczinski, Duke of Lorraine. The cookies are often referred to as Madeleines de Commercy.

The Macaron, aka Macarons de Nancy—the delightful almond and meringue sandwich cookies that are currently enjoying quite a popular run—originated in the town of Nancy. Legend holds that they were first produced by the Sisters of Les Dames du Saint Sacrement who were expert bakers due to the fact that meat was prohibited in their Convent!

Mirabelle Plums: The yellow plum of the area, the Mirabelle, actually has PGI status as the Mirabelle de Lorraine. (There is also a PGI for the eau-de-vie made from the plums—more on that later.) Mirabelle plums have been appreciated world-wide since the famous French food critic Jean-Pierre Coffe (who was born in Lorraine) stated “Happiness exists. I’ve met it. It weighs 14.3 grams and it comes from Lorraine.”

Lorraine actually produces over 70% of the world’s Mirabelle plums. While they certainly can be enjoyed on their own, the plums are often made into tarts, jams and the famous clafoutis of the area in addition to being used in savory dishes such as honey-glazed duck with mirabelle plums.

Two specific types of the plum, Mirabelle de Nancy and Mirabelle de Metz, are used to produce a local brandy known as Eau-de-Vie de Mirabelle or simply “Mirabelle.” Eau-de-Vie de Mirabelle has PGI (protected geographic indication) status as well as being classified as an AOR (appellation d’origine réglementée—a specific classification used for certain eaux-de-vie and marcs that are produced outside the larger areas such as Bordeaux and Burgundy).

Eau-de-vie de Mirabelle has been described as aromatic with intense flavors of plums and baking spices with a bit of sweetness on the palate. Versions of Mirabelle (and other types of plum brandy) are made in many areas of the world, but the Mirabelle de Lorraine PGI/AOR product is special. The best I have ever tasted was from the Distillerie Maucourt located in Marieulles, just a few miles south of Metz.

The city of Metz, along the Moselle River

The city of Metz, along the Moselle River

A Little Bit of Wine:  Lorraine is a small producer as far as French regions go, and only contains two AOCs. The Moselle AOC is named after the French department of the same name as well as the Moselle River (better known to wine lovers as the famous Mosel River of Germany). The source of the Moselle is in France’s Vosges Mountains near the border of Alsace and Lorraine. The Moselle flows (mostly north) through Lorraine for 195 miles (315 km), then forms the border between Germany and Luxembourg for 25 miles (40 km) before it becomes the famous river of Germany’s Mosel Valley (at least until if flows into the Rhine).

The Moselle AOC is located in the northern portion of Lorraine, along the Moselle River, very near the city of Metz, and close to the border with Luxembourg and Germany. The AOC produces a small amount of wine, mainly dry and off-dry, in red, white, and rosé. White wines are produced using at least 50% Auxerrois; the remainder may be Müller-Thurgau, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, or Riesling. A maximum of 10% Gewurztraminer may also be used, and varietally-labeled Pinot Gris and Müller-Thurgau is also produced.  The red wines of the Moselle AOC are 100% Pinot Noir, and the rosés are a blend of Pinot Noir (minimum 70%) and Gamay.

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The Côtes de Toul AOC is located a bit further to the south, closer to the town of Nancy. The Côtes de Toul AOC also produces red, white, and rosé wines, with its specialty begin vin gris (very pale rosé made using the direct press method). These rosés are made from a blend of Pinot Noir and Gamay (both are required), and may also include Pinot Meunier, Aubin, and Auxerrois. The white wines of the Côtes de Toul AOC are produced from Auxerrois or Aubin, and the red wines are Pinot Noir.

Note: Interestingly enough, in Pre-AOC days, grapes grown in Lorraine were shipped to Champagne to be made into the world’s favorite sparkling wine. This worked out well for a while, as Lorraine stayed phylloxera-free much longer than many other regions in France, including Champagne. Eventually grape growers in the actual Champagne region put a stop to the grape invaders, as AOC laws were passed (then revised, then ignored, then passed again). After phylloxera (eventually) devastated the vineyards of Lorraine, they never recovered to their former levels.

References/for more information:

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

Folle Blanche and the Baco Brothers

Photo of Folle Blanche, Conservatoire du Vignoble Charentais by Pancrat, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo of Folle Blanche, Conservatoire du Vignoble Charentais by Pancrat, via Wikimedia Commons

I taught the “Brandy” chapter of the CSS class yesterday, which is always a fun day; after all, the class includes a drink-along suggestion of Cognac VSOP—which works well even for the morning session.

Brandy is a huge subject—there’s Cognac, Armagnac, Calvados, Applejack, Pisco, Kirschwasser, Slivovitz, Pálinka, Grappa, Poire William…the list goes on and on. As such, in this class I need to focus on one or two representative products and just “drill down.” Yesterday I chose the classic French (grape-based) brandies of Cognac and Armagnac—and discussed the finer points of the regions, the grapes, the production processes, and the aging of the brandies.

As for the grapes, Ugni Blanc (aka Trebbiano Toscano, aka Saint Émilion) is the leading variety used in both Cognac and Armagnac. It seems a good use for this grape, which is both widely grown and a prolific producer despite the fact that it produces wines that are sometimes described as “bland.”

Also common to both brandies, there is a secondary grape lurking in the background in both regions: Folle Blanche.

Armagnac Tower in the city of Auch

Armagnac Tower in the city of Auch

Folle Blanche is considered by many to be the “original” (pre-phylloxera) grape of the Cognac and Armagnac regions and was documented in the area as early as 1696 via a list of grapes growing in the Charente-Maritime department. It is believed that the name Folle was derived from the French word Feu—meaning “mad” and perhaps referring to the grape’s maddening tendency to grow with unreserved vegetative vigor wherever it was planted. Other synonyms for the grape seem to back up this tale; the grape is sometimes known as Enrageat (from the French enragé—which needs no translation) and is known as Gros Plant (Big Vine) in parts of the Loire Valley.

Besides its stand-in role in the great brandies of France, Folle Blanche (under its synonym) is the star in the dry white wines of the Gros Plant du Pays Nantais AOC. This sur lie-aged wine is produced in the same area as the far more famous Muscadet and tends to produce wines with fruity-mineral character and high levels of acidity. Most Gros Plant du Pays Nantais AOC is consumed locally so it is rare to encounter it outside of France.

According to DNA analysis, Folle Blanche is an offspring (along with sister Chardonnay) of Gouis Blanc; the other parent is an unknown. It also appears to be genetically close to Petit Meslier and Meslier Saint-Francois, which makes it fairly certain that the grape originated in Southwest France, from whence it spread north to Charente and eventually all the way up to the Loire Valley.

While Folle Blanche may never achieve grape variety superstar status, it has a lasting legacy nonetheless as the parent of Baco Blanc, Baco Noir, and Folignan. All of these grapes have a small but fascinating role to play in viticulture, and all are the result of the long arm of science stretching its way to the vine.

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Folignan, an Ugni Blanc X Folle Blanche cross, was created by the Institut National de la Recherché Agronomique/INRA (National Institute of Agricultural Research) in Bordeaux in 1965. Forty years later, in 2005, it was approved for use in the Cognac AOC (although its contribution is capped at 10% of the total blend). This move made Folignan the first INRA cross to be approved for use in an AOC.

The Baco Brothers (as I am referring to Baco Blanc and Baco Noir) were both created under the watchful eye of François Baco, a French nurseryman, back in the late 1890s/early 1900s. Baco was attempting to create a grape with resistance to black rot.

Baco Blanc (sometimes known as Baco 22A) is a hybrid of Folle Blanche crossed with the Noah grape variety (itself already a complicated labrusca X riparia hybrid). It was created in 1898 and for a time, was planted in a variety of areas across France—in its heyday there were over 2,000 acres (825 ha) planted in France. These days, there exists just a smattering of Baco Blanc vines in the Armagnac region of France and a tiny bit in New Zealand. However, it enjoys some significant notoriety in Armagnac, where it is approved as one of the ten grape varieties allowed for use in the brandies of the Armagnac AOC. This makes Baco Blanc the only hybrid grape variety allowed for use in a French AOC (PDO) product. Not bad, Baco, not bad.

Baco Noir was created in 1902 as a hybrid of Folle Blanche with Grand Glabre—a highly obscure grape of the Vitis riparia species. Baco Noir was once widely planted in France, however, these days its appearance in Europe seems to be limited to about 2.5 acres (about 1 ha) in Switzerland. However, Baco Noir does not seem to be saddled with the “foxy” aromas found in many hybrid grapes, so it is enjoying some limited success in the colder wine growing regions of the New World. As such, it may be found in New York State (particularly in the Finger Lakes and Hudson River AVAs), and Canada (particularly in Ontario, Nova Scotia, and Quebec).

Sources/for further information:

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

 

 

Cassis: the Town, the Wine, the Liqueur

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What do you mean by cassis?

It’s a question I have heard quite often—usually at wine tastings, when someone with a nose in a glass of Cabernet claims it as one of the wine’s aromas. Several others in the group may nod in approval at the spotting of a black currant jam- or Cassis liqueur-like aroma in the glass. Others have never heard of it—and thus, the question at hand.

Cassis is actually many things—a seaside resort town in Provence, a French AOC wine-producing region dominated by white wine, and a black currant-flavored liqueur produced in many parts of the world, but particularly famous in Dijon. Read on for a bit more information on the many faces of Cassis!

Cassis—the Town: If you happen to find yourself on the Mediterranean Coast, perhaps in the Provencal town of Marseille, and if you drive south on coastal route highway 559 for about 15 miles, you’ll end up in the seaside resort of Cassis.  The waterfront of Cassis is a picturesque fishing port lined with cafes and restaurants, making it both a wonderful place to stroll as well as one of the most popular tourist destinations in Provence. While there, you can take the petit train touristique around the town, walk along the waterfront, or grab a boat tour to the impressive calanques (narrow, very steep rocky inlets found along the Mediterranean coast).

The town of Cassis

The town of Cassis

The town is snuggled at the foot of Cap Canaille–a 1,293-foot (394 m) high seaside cliff (the highest in France).  The very picturesque Route de Crêtes (Corniche des Crêtes) runs over the top of the cliff, linking Cassis with the nearby towns while offering stunning views of the cliffs, the sea, and the towns in between.

If you’d like to find the sunniest part of the town, follow the signs to La Cheminee du Roi Rene (King Rene’s Fireplace)—a sun-drenched area at the junction of the two water-side walkways known a s the  Quai Jean-Jacques Barthélémy and the Quai des Baux.

Cassis—the Wine: Red, white, and rosé wines are produced in the Cassis AOC. The reds and rosés, typical for the area, are based on Grenache, Cinsault, and Mourvèdre with a smattering of other red grapes allowed in the mix. The white wines, of which the area is rightfully quite proud, are based on Marsanne (30–80%) and Clairette. Other allowed white grape varieties include Bourboulenc, Sauvignon Blanc, Pascal Blanc, Ugni Blanc, and Terret Blanc.

The Cassis AOC is unique in rosé-heavy Provence in that white wines dominate its production; in fact, three out of every four bottles of Cassis AOC is a white wine. These wines are known for their aromas of citrus, white flowers, pears, and honey along with a touch of minerality. Generally fresh, dry, and medium-bodied, these wines are delightful when young, but may also improve in the bottle for 2 to 5 years. Not surprisingly, they pair perfectly with Mediterranean fish dishes as well as dishes made with tomatoes, olives, and herbs.

Cassis—the Liqueur:  Crème de Cassis is a sweet, dark red liqueur flavored with black currants (sometimes known as cassis fruit). It is quite famous as an ingredient in the Kir cocktail—white wine (ideally Burgundy Aligoté) and crème de cassis—as well as its fancier cousin, the Kir Royale (ideally made with champagne). As with many things in life, you can get an inexpensive version of generic cassis at just about any corner liquor store and be done with it (try it on ice cream or in a Pompier cocktail [3 parts dry white vermouth, 1 part crème de cassis, served tall over ice with soda]).

On the other hand, there is the good stuff: Europe has five PGI versions of cassis, including those that hail from Bourgogne (France), Dijon (France), Saintonge  (France), Dauphiné (France), and Beaufort (Luxembourg). Of these, the original—and most say the best—is the Crème de Cassis de Dijon.

Sweet, fruit-flavored beverages were made in many places around Europe in the eighteenth century. These were often referred to ratafias and generally made with fortified wine or unfermented grape juice flavored with a variety of berries (and sometimes produced with a spirit base as well).

True crème de cassis began to be produced in Dijon in 1841 by a gentleman name Auguste-Denis Lagoute. Lagoute was a fan of the sweet ratafias but wanted to produce a beverage of a higher quality using local fruit. He began by soaking black currants, which grew in abundance around Dijon, in oak barrels along with high-proof spirits and beet sugar. Soon the family’s brand of crème de cassis, Lejay (named after the son-in-law), was wildly popular, particularly when served over ice with a splash of vermouth de Chambery, and later, when served as a Kir along with the white wine of the region. Lejay is still produced, and is one of the few producers approved to use the PGI of Crème de Cassis de Dijon.

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The PGI for Crème de Cassis de Dijon was first approved in 1923. The regulations specify that the finished product contain at least 400 grams of beet sugar per liter (cane sugar is not permitted).The specific type of black currant is not defined, but in general there are two varieties of high-quality black currants: Noir de Bourgogne (known for its aromatics) and Black Down (considered to be rounder, smoother, and sweeter variety).

The finest Crème de Cassis is described as having aromas of black currants, cherries, and plums; a rich, velvety texture; intense, fruity flavor; and a sweet taste balanced with a bit of an acidic “snap.” Sounds good to me!

References/for further information:

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

 

On Screech and Screechers

St. John's, Newfoundland

St. John’s, Newfoundland

There’s always some history there. In the case of Newfoundland screech, the history goes back to the 1700s when English colonies were first settled in the area now known as Newfoundland, Canada. By the 1800s, colonists in Newfoundland were engaged in the British Empire Trading System, shipping salt cod to the West Indies (primarily Jamaica) in exchange for rum. This dark, aged rum became the drink of choice for the settlers living in the cold, isolated area.

Fast forward to the twentieth century, and Canada is an independent country with a not-so-independent liquor industry. The individual provinces of Canada all have their own complicated relationships with the sale, distribution, and consumption of alcoholic beverages, with all the provinces except Alberta controlling the retail liquor sales.

In the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, the state took over control of the rum trade, including the bottling and the distribution of Caribbean rum. The rum was, fomost part bottled as it was received (and quite strong) in bottles labeled (uncreatively but informatively) as “Rum” or “Rhum.”

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On the island of Newfoundland, on Canada’s cold Atlantic coast, the locally-bottled Caribbean rum continued to be a favorite drink of the locals. When American servicemen were stationed in Newfoundland during World War II, they took a liking to it as well.

Here is the story of how one of those American servicemen helped to give the rum its nickname (and current “official” name)–Screech. This story comes to us via the Newfoundland Screech website:

“As the story goes, a visiting American WWII serviceman downed the rum in one quick toss. His howls of distress caused a bystander to rush to his aid, roaring “What the cripes was that ungodly screech?” The taciturn Newf simply replied, “The screech?” ‘Tis the rum, me son.” As word of the incident spread more soldiers began trying this mysterious rum, adopting it as their favorite. Thus a legend was born.”

Screech is such a part of the Newfoundland culture that visitors can opt to become an “honorary Newfoundlander” through a ceremony known as a “screech-in.” Details on what constitutes a screech-in are sketchy and may vary by location, but in general, it proceeds like this: The ceremony must be officiated by a true resident of

Photo via screechrum.com

Photo via screechrum.com

Newfoundland, but it seems that any and all residents are qualified as such. Participants (outsides who want to become honorary Newfoundlanders) are asked to stand and introduce themselves (and may–or may not be required to stand in a bucket of salt water while doing so). After the introduction, they are asked if they would like to become an honorary Newfoundlander, to which they must respond with a heart “Yes”! Then, holding a shot of screech, they are asked, “Are ye a screecher?” to which they respond “’Deed I is, me ol’ cock! And long may yer big jib draw!” (Translation: “Yes I am, my old friend, and may your sails always catch wind.”) In some instances, the ceremony ends with the newly-anointed Screech kissing a cod (or whatnot). All in good fun.

These days, Newfoundland Screech is popular all across Canada; it’s also available on the east coast of the United States. The Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corporation bottles three types of Screech–Screech Honey, Screech Spiced 100, and Screech Spiced–in addition to the original, labeled as “Famous Newfoundland Screech Rum.”

Newfoundland seems like a great place to visit, especially the capital city, St. John’s. George Street is the place to go if you’d like to participate in your own Screech-in. If you’d like to visit some wineries while you are there, according to the Wines of Canada website, there are four wineries on Newfoundland Island (one of which produces grape-based wines).

Rodrigues Markland Cottage Winery and Auk Island Winery produce fruit wines and brandies from local products such as plums, pears, raspberries, and cloudberries. SapWorld Winery makes fruit wines as well in addition to as well as a beverage produced from fermented birch sap (or nectar) locally known as “Spring Wine.”

I’m not sure how Newfoundland puppies feel about Newfoundland screech

I’m not sure how Newfoundland puppies feel about Newfoundland screech

The Duck Cover Cottage Winery has a true vineyard with over 1,800 vines. Seeing as Newfoundland sits between the 49th and 58th parallel on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, the challenges for viticulture are obvious. However, since 1992 the owners have been experimenting with a variety of cold-hardy vinifera and hybrid varieties, finding the most success with Pinot Noir, Gewürztraminer, Frontenac, and Delisle.

References/for more information:

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