The Bubbly Professor Tackles Topography

Topography: the study of the surface of the earth and how it creates the underlying foundation of a landscape. Sounds like a long, boring chapter in Geography 101.

However, to students of wine and spirits, topography is destiny. Studying the paths of rivers can help us understand the wine and spirits regions through which they pass. Climate, a major determinant in what grapes grow where, can be inferred from terrain and latitude. Current events—whether they be political, cultural, or changes in wine laws—are easier to understand if you understand the physical geography of a region. Physical geography can even determine the boundaries of a region, a country, or a kingdom.

So—to put it bluntly—I have been studying a lot of topography of late. So much so that I made a list of all the landforms, waterways, and winds I have studied (as witnessed by the sloppy reams of notes that surround me and the two-foot stack of new flashcards at my feet).

The list that follows is a short-hand cheat sheet I created to try to transform this mess into some kind of taxonomy. You can download a pdf version of the list here (The Bubbly Professor Tackles Topographyr Tackles Topography) or check it out below.

  • France
    • Land: Western Alps, Massif Central, Vosges Mountains, Pyrenees, Auvergne Mountains, Jura Mountains, Morvan Massif, Mont Blanc
    • Water: Rhône River, Moselle River, Rhine River, Loire River, Cher River, Charente River, Garonne River, Dordogne River, Gironde River (Estuary), Seine River, Marne River, Hérault River, Saône River, Aube River, Atlantic Ocean, Bay of Biscay, Mediterranean Sea, English Channel
    • Wind: Gulf Stream, Mistral, Tramontane 
  • Italy
    • Land: Italian Alps, Apennines, Dolomites, Mount Etna, Mount Vesuvius, Mont Blanc
    • Water: Arno River, Po River, Tiber River, Tanaro River, Adige River, Piave River, Tagliamento River, Sesia River, Lake Garda, Lake Como, Mediterranean Sea, Gulf of Venice
    • Wind: Sirocco winds, Grecale Winds 
  • Spain:
    • Land: Pyrenees, Meseta Central, Picos de Europa, Sierra Nevada, Cantabrian Mountains, Sistema Ibérico, Montes de Toledo, Sierra de Gredos, Sierra de Guadaramma, Sistema Penibértico, Canary Islands, Balearic Islands
    • Water: Ebro River, Duero River, Tagus River, Guadiana River, Guadalquivir River, Rías Baixas, Rías Altas, Atlantic Ocean, Bay of Biscay, Gulf of Cadiz, Mediterranean Sea
    • Wind: Garbinada Winds, Cierzo Winds, Levante, Poniente
  • Portugal
    • Land: Serra da Estrela, Montes de Toledo, Sintra Mountain, Azores, Madeira Island
    • Water: Minho River, Douro River, Tagus (Tejo) River, Guadiana River, Sado River, Mondego River, Ave River, Gulf of Cadiz, Atlantic Ocean
    • Wind: Portugal Current
  • Austria
    • Land: Central Alps, Pannonian Basin, Bohemian Forest
    • Water: Danube River, Lake Neusiedl (Neuisiedlsee)
    • Wind: Alpine Föhn (Nordföhn,  Südföhn)
  • Germany
    • Land: Black Forest, German/Bavarian Alps, Ore Mountains, Haardt Hills
    • Water: Rhine River, Mosel River, Saar River, Ahr River, Saale River, Unstrut River, Main River, Neckar River, Elbe River, Lake Constance (Bodensee)
    • Wind: Alpine Föhn (Nordföhn,  Südföhn), Böhmwind (Bohemian Wind) 
  • California/North Coast
    • Land: Coastal Mountains, Mayacamas Range, Vaca Range, Klamath Mountains, Diablo Range
    • Water: Napa River, Russian River, Dry Creek, Sonoma Creek, Navarro River, Lake Berryessa, Clear Lake, Lake Sonoma, San Pablo Bay/San Francisco Bay, Pacific Ocean, Sacramento River
    • Wind: Petaluma Gap, Chalk Hill Gap, Diablo Winds (named for Mount Diablo) 
  • California/Central Coast, Central Valley and Southern California
    • Land: Gabilan Mountains, Santa Cruz Mountains, Santa Lucia Range, Inner Coast Range, Diablo Range, Sierra Nevada, San Gabriel Mountains, San Bernardino Mountains
    • Water: Nacimento River, Lake Nacimento, Salinas River, Santa Ynez River, San Francisco Bay, Monterey Bay, Pacific Ocean, Sacramento River, San Joaquin River, Los Angeles River, Arroyo Seco, San Gabriel River, San Diego River, Santa Margarita River
    • Wind: Santa Ana Winds, Salinas River Valley Winds, Sacramento Delta Breezes, Templeton Gap, Sundowner, Norte Winds
  • Oregon
    • Land: Cascade Mountains, Coastal Range, Mount Hood, Mount Jefferson, Klamath Mountains
    • Water: Willamette River, Rogue River, Applegate River, Umpqua River, Illinois River, Columbia River, Snake River, Walla Walla River
    • Wind: Van Duzer Corridor, Coastal Winds, Coho (Gorge) Winds 
  • Washington State
    • Land: Cascade Mountains, Coastal Range, Mount Rainier, Mount Saint Helens
    • Water: Columbia River, Walla Walla River, Yakima River, Snake River, Puget Sound, Pacific Ocean
  • New York
    • Land: Niagara Escarpment, Adirondacks, Catskill Mountains, Appalachian Mountains, Hudson Highlands
    • Water: Finger Lakes, Lake Erie, Hudson River, Lake Ontario, Lake Champlain, Long Island Sound, Peconic Bay, Atlantic Ocean
  • Canada/British Columbia
    • Land: Coast Mountains, Cascade Mountains, Canadian Rockies, Alberta Plateau, Gulf Islands, Vancouver Island
    • Water: Columbia River, Okanagan River, Fraser River, Kootenay River, Pacific Ocean
    • Wind: Chinook (dry foehn wind, the “snow-eater”), Squamish (Arctic Outflow)
  • Canada/Ontario
    • Land: Niagara Escarpment, Prince Edward Island, Midwestern Canadian Shield, Boreal Forests
    • Water: Niagara River, Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, Saint Lawrence River, Pacific Ocean
  • South Africa
    • Land: Cape Fold Mountains, Cape Flats, Drakensberg, Simonsberg, Great Escarpment
    • Water: Orange River, Breede River, Erste River, Oliphants River, Berg River, Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean, Walker Bay
    • Wind: Benguela Current, Cape Doctor, Berg Wind (katabatic/descending winds)
  • New Zealand
    • Land: Southern Alps, Mount Cook, Volcanic Plateau (North Island), Mount Taranaki, Canterbury Plain, Moeraki Boulders, Marlborough Sounds, Fiordland, Piopiotahi (Milford Sound)
    • Water: Waikato River, Lake Taupo, Waitaki River, Poverty Bay, Bay of Plenty, Cook Strait, Franz Josef Glacier, Fox Glacier, Tasman Sea, Pacific Ocean
    • Wind: Canterbury Northwester, Roaring 40’s, The Barber (Grey District, West Coast)
  • Australia
    • Land: Great Dividing Range, Australian Alps, Peterman Ranges, Great Victoria Desert, Nullarbor Plain, Great Sandy Desert, Darling Range, Madonel Ranges, Tasmania, Great Barrier Reef
    • Water: Murrumbidgee River, Murray River, Darling River, Lachlan River, Flinders River, Gascoyne River Goulburn River, Yarra River, Great Australian Bight, Bass Strait, Spencer Gulf, Pacific Ocean, Indian Ocean, Tasman Sea
    • Wind: Albany Doctor, Brickfielder Wind, Freemantle Doctor, Roaring 40’s, Southerly Buster
  • Argentina
    • Land: Andes Mountains, Mount Aconcagua, Altiplano (Andean Plateau), Puna De Atacama (Atacama Plateau), Las Pampas (Argentine Plains), Tierra del Fuego, Falkland Islands
    • Water: Neuquén River, Río Negro, Chubut River, Mendoza River, Tupungato River, Jáchal River, Tunuyán River, San Juan River, Colorado River, Río de la Plata, Iguazu Falls, Atlantic Ocean
    • Wind: Zonda, Sudestada
  • Chile
    • Land: Andes Mountains, Ojos Del Salado, Coastal Range (Coastal Cordillera), Central Valley (Intermediate Depression), Atacama Desert, Los Lagos, Chilean Archipelagos/Tierra del Fuego, Chiloé Island, Isla Grande
    • Water: Rapel River, Cachapoal River, Colchagua River, Aconcagua River, Copiapó River, Huasco River, Elqui River, Choapa River, Maipo River, Straits of Magellan, Pacific Ocean
    • Wind: Humboldt Current, Viento Puelche

Please note: this list does not claim to include every landform and waterway that is important to the regions included, nor do I believe that it contains everything that is important in the context of wine and spirits studies. It does, however, represent those items that I came across while studying physical geography for wine and spirits theory classes or exams. I also included a few items that were interesting enough to (imho) be important to understanding a certain region, even if they do not have any direct impact on wine or spirits agriculture or production.

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

The Toughest Wine Theory Question in the World? (les Notres Dames)

Notre-Dame de Paris (2015)

I think I may just have stumbled upon one of the toughest wine theory questions in the world. Here goes: Name all the French wines that have a “Notre Dame” sub-appellation.

How many did you get? If asked this question yesterday, I am quite sure I would have only come up with one: Bourgogne-La Chapelle Notre-Dame AOC.

However, for some reason I became intrigued with the name, and after some research I discovered two more (and I may have missed some; if so, let me know in the comments below).

So, with a tip of the hat to the great cathedrals, chapels, and universities of the world that take the name of Our Lady, here are the three wines of Notre Dame. 

Bourgogne-La Chapelle Notre-Dame AOC: The Burgundy Region is known for its web-like system of overlapping, scattered, and nested appellations. Critics call this system confusing; proponents prefer to call it complex…like the wines.

Even at its most basic, generic level of geographical indication—the area-wide Bourgogne AOC—the region is complex. Theoretically, a Bourgogne AOC wine may contain grapes grown anywhere within the region—and this includes Chablis, the Côte d’Or, the Côte Chalonnaise, the Mâconnais, and Beaujolais. Allowed in red, white, and rosé, Bourgogne AOC wines may be produced as still (non-sparkling) wines based on Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, or Pinot Noir, with other grapes—Pinot Gris, Gamay, and César—allowed in limited amounts, but only if grown in certain places.

In addition, the Bourgogne AOC has no less than 14 geographically defined subzones, many of which carry their own specific standards (as to yield, density, and minimum must weights, for example). The most interesting of the 14 subzones, for our question du jour, is Bourgogne–La Chapelle Notre-Dame AOC.

The tiny (5 acre/2 ha) La Chapelle Notre-Dame subzone is located in the commune of Ladoix-Serrigny (near the northern edge of the Côte de Beaune). The region sits at the bottom of the hill of Corton, just below the vines of the Corton Grand Cru (and overlapping the single-vineyard Ladoix Premier Cru (there’s that mash-up again). The vineyard overlooks the town of Ladoix-Serrigny and takes its name from the nearby Chapelle Notre Dame du Chemin. 

Puy Notre-Dame: photo by AnnyB via Wikimedia Commons

Saumur-Puy Notre-Dame AOC: The Saumur AOC—covering a sizable area in the central Loire Valley—is approved for a range of wine types and styles, including Chenin Blanc-based whites and Cabernet Franc-based reds. However, a significant amount of the appellation’s production (and lots of the attention) is focused on the region’s high-quality, traditional-method sparkling wines—Saumur Mousseux. The area is also home to some renowned red wines, such as the Cabernet-Franc based wines of the Saumur-Champigny AOC (tucked into the northwest corner of the larger Saumur AOC, just south of the Loire River).

The Puy Notre-Dame sub-appellation covers most of the larger region, save for the area designated as the Saumur-Champigny AOC and a few other outposts. The Saumur-Puy Notre-Dame AOC is named for the commune of Puy Notre-Dame (sometimes referred to as Le Puy; and built around the hill of Puy. The Saumur-Puy Notre-Dame AOC is approved for Cabernet France-based red wines only, and has stricter standards (as for yield, viticultural practices, and aging) than those for the red wines produced under the larger Saumur AOC.

The village church of Puy Notre Dame purportedly houses a wristband once worn by the Virgin Mary and has served as a way station for pilgrims traveling to Santiago de Compostela on the Camino Francés.

Photo of Sanctuaire Notre-Dame des Anges by Christian Pinatel de Salvator, via Wikimedia Commons

Côtes de Provence-Notre-Dame des Anges AOC: The Côtes de Provence AOC is ground zero for Provençal rosé. Although red and white wines are approved for production, nearly 90% of production is rosé.

Rosé made in the Côtes de Provence AOC must contain at least two grape varieties—typically Cinsault, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah, and/or Tibouren. 

Covering close to 50,000 acres/20,000 ha—and encompassing almost the entire eastern half of the region—the Côtes de Provence AOC is the largest appellation in Provence. The terrain is understandably varied, ranging from the rolling hills in the north, limestone ridges, low coastal mountains, and the coastal plain. In 2019, an area located somewhat in the center of the Var Département—known as Notre-Dame des Anges—was approved as the fifth sub-appellation of the Côtes de Provence AOC.

The Côtes de Provence-Notre-Dame des Anges AOC surrounds the Massif des Maures—a low mountain range that cuts (west to east) across the center of the Var department. The AOC is named for the Sanctuaire Notre-Dame des Anges—a catholic church and pilgrimage site at the top of one of the Massif’s highest peaks.

Bonus Points—French cider also has a Notre-Dame connection: Within the Pays d’Auge AOC—centered around the Calvados department and approved to produce dry-to-off-dry, frizzante apple cider—there are 22 sub-appellations. Two of these—Notre-Dame-deLivaye and Notre-Dame-d’Estrées—are communes named for Our Lady. 

References/for more information:

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

Who ya gonna call? Those bastards!

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Who are all these bastards? The Vitis International Variety Catalogue (VIVC) lists no less than 38 wine grape variety names that begin with some form of the term bastardo. These include Bastardo Branca, Bastaro do Douro, Bastardo dos Frades de Bolinio, Bastardos Saperavi, and Bastardo Castico. They are mostly red varieties (32/38 are red), and hail from many different countries—Spain, Portugal, France, Georgia, Ukraine, and South Africa.

Some of these 38 bastardos are synonyms for other, better-known grape varieties—such as Bastardo Espanhol = Tinta de Lisboa, Bastardo Negro = Alfrochiero, and Bastardo Nero = Graciano.

No less than five of our Bastardos—including Bastardo do Castello, Bastardo do Douro, and Bastardo Preto—are listed in the VIVC catalog as synonyms for Trousseau. Trousseau is also the name cross-referenced with the entry for Bastardo in Wine Grapes by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding, and José Vouillamoz. So, with that ultra-impressive source, I am going to find out a bit more about this bastard by learning about the grape variety otherwise known as Trousseau.

Trousseau is a red grape variety and one of the two grapes indigenous to the Jura region of eastern France—the other is Poulsard, also a red variety.  Trousseau only occupies about 5% of the vineyard land in the Jura; but is authorized as a principal grape variety in many Jura appellations, including the Arbois, Crémant du Jura, Macvin du Jura, and Côtes du Jura AOCs.

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Trousseau is planted in many regions across Spain, including Galicia and Asturias (where it may be known as Verdejo Negro). It is approved for use in the Ribeira Sacra and Valdeorras DOs (under the name Merenzao), and is grown in other regions throughout the north of Spain as well.

Portugal has more than 3,000 acres/1,200 ha of Trousseau/Bastardo and as such, is the leading country in terms of plantings. Much of it is grown in the Douro, where it is often found in field blends (mixed vineyards), and winds up being used in the production of Port. Plantings are also found in the Dão, Beiras, and on the island of Madeira. Bastardo is the typical name used for the grape in Portugal, and appears to be the birthplace of the colorful name.

Trousseau is early-budding, early-ripening, somewhat disease-prone, and susceptible to botrytis. It needs a lot of sunshine to fully ripen; and can lack color intensity if under-ripe or over-cropped. As such, it’s a bit difficult in the vineyard.

When its good, Trousseau produce delightful, varietal wines with aromas of dark, red-and-black berries, orange peel, black pepper, fresh herbs, a hint of earthiness, and a distinct minerality. The grape can potentially reach high levels of sugar while retaining a crisp acidity; and has been known to produce a flavorful rosé.

We may never know who the original bastardo was. According to Jancis Robinson, et al, in Wine Grapes, the name was first recorded long ago—in 1531, to be exact,—in a treatise entitled Description of the Terroir Around Lamego written by Portuguese a writer named Rui Fernandes.

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Fun facts about Trousseau:

  • The name Trousseau may be a reference to the Old French word trusse, meaning “a bundle;” it could be said that the grapes appear “bundled up.” Or…it may be a reference to the French word troussé, meaning “trussed;” this could be a reference to the shape of the bunches.
  • Trousseau is not the same grape as Tressot—a red grape from France’s Yonne department—even though they are often confused (and despite the similarity of the names).
  • A white (pink-skinned) mutation of Trousseau known as Trousseau Gris is grown in a few areas—mostly in the Jura region of France—and was known, once-upon-a-time in California, as Gray Riesling.
  • In the New World, Trousseau has recently been identified in an old vineyard in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley AVA. Several wine growers in Oregon—in the Umpqua and Willamette Valley AVAs—have begun planting it as well.

References/for more information: 

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

Five Fast Facts about the Vosges Mountains

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Famous for framing the vineyards of Alsace, the Vosges Mountains are a range of low mountains located in eastern France. The Vosges run parallel to the Rhine River for about 70 miles along a swath loosely defined as the area between the German border (to the north) and town of Belfort (to the south/southwest). The Vosges are defined as being wholly in France; the rolling hills and uplands that continue north of the German border are referred to as the Haardt Hills (Hardt Mountains/part of the Palatinate Forest).

Here are five wine-centric fast facts about the Vosges:

#1: Plateaus to the west, plains to the east—On its eastern edge (particularly in the south), the mountains of the Vosges form steep slopes over the Rhine Valley. Beyond the slopes—between the mountains and the Rhine River—lies an area of flood-prone meadows that are referred to as the Plaine d’Alsace (Alsatian Plains) or the Grand Ried. Across the Rhine (in Germany), the Black Forest—which is both a forest and a mountain range, despite the name—marks the eastern edge of the Rhine Valley.

On the western edge of the mountain range, the forested slopes of the Vosges descend more gently into the Lorraine Plateau.

Grand Ballon

#2: The highest mountains are ballons—No, not balloons filled with helium and red ribbons, but ballons. The French word ballon means a “round-topped mountain” implying a mountain with a dome-shaped—rather than a jagged—summit. The highest mountain in the Vosges—located in the Haut-Rhin about 16 miles/25 km northwest of Mulhouse—is Grand Ballon. Grand Ballon rises to 4,671 feet/1,423 m above sea level, and is sometimes referred to as Ballon de Guebwiller, due to its location (just 5 miles/8 km west of the town of the same name).

#3 Haute, Central, and Lower—The Vosges are considered low mountains—the peaks here do not rise nearly as high at those found in the Alps (hello Mount Blanc, at 15,774 feet/4,808 m) or the Pyrenees (topping out on Mount Aneto at 11,168 feet/3,404 m).

The highest section of the Vosges—known as the Hautes Vosges—is in the southernmost portion of the mountain range (roughly defined as the region to the south of Saint-Dié-des-Vosges). Here we find the highest mountains, including Grand Ballon and 15 others higher than 4,000 feet/1,200 m. This portion of the Vosges is based on gneiss and granite bedrock.

The Village of Riquewihr

The section in the center—known as the Middle Vosges—has summits as high as 3,300 feet/1,000; but north of the Col de Saverne (Saverne Pass), the highest peaks top out at 2,000 feet/610 m. Further north, closer to the German border is a section referred to as the Lower Vosges. Here, the mountains level off into a plateau of reddish-pink sandstone (known as grès des Vosges) with elevations averaging between 1,000 feet/300 m and 1,850 feet/560 m above sea level.

#4: A most effective rain shadow— The Vosges Mountains (particularly in the south, where the mountains are at their highest) provide a very efficient rain shadow for the vineyards of Alsace. At approximately 500 mm (less than 20 inches) of rain per year on average, the town of Mulhouse is one of the driest spots in France. The rain shadow helps to create a long, dry, sunny growing season for the vineyards of Alsace, helping the grapes to achieve high sugar levels, maintain their acidity, and consistently reach a high degree of phenolic ripeness.

Alsace does get some snow in the winter; skiing and other winter sports are popular—and half-timber houses look beautiful in the snow. Alsace is land-locked and thus experiences some aspects of a continental climate; however, the northerly latitude keeps it from getting too hot. As such, all four seasons can be experienced—and enjoyed—in Alsace.

Map of the Vosges Mountains by Boldair via Wikimedia Commons

#5: The source of some viticulturally significant rivers—The Moselle River (Germany’s Mosel) has its source in the Hautes Vosges on the western slopes of the Ballon d’Alsace (by my count, the 17th highest mountain in the Vosges, at 3,842 feet/1,171 meters high). The Moselle flows through the Lorraine Region west of the Vosges, exits France and forms the short border between Germany and Luxembourg before entering Germany and joining the Rhine. The Saar, a tributary of the Moselle, has its source at Mount Donan (in the Central Vosges). The Saar flows through Lorraine and into the Palatinate (Pflaz) region of Germany before joining the Mosel near the town of Konz. The Saône (that I like to call Burgundy’s River) has its source about 40 miles/130 km west of Grand Ballon on the western edge of the Vosges.

And finally—many of the finest vineyards of Alsace are planted on the sun-grabbing east- and southeast-facing slopes of the Vosges at elevations up to around 1,300 feet/400 meters. The majority (34 out of 51) of the area’s Grand Cru sites are situated in the Bas-Rhin tucked into (and to the east of) the Hautes Vosges.

References/for more information:

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

The Outer Limits: Cléebourg and the Quatre Bans

The Abbey of Saints-Pierre-et-Paul in Wissembourg

The wines of Alsace are among my favorites—rich Pinot Gris, snappy Riesling, the occasional white blend, an even more occasional Pinot Noir, and all of those delightful bubbles. Great wine, amazing food, incredible scenery—in my dreams, I retire in Alsace.

But back in the real world of wine studies, all good wine students need to know about the Vosges Mountains, the Rhine River, and the lay of the land in Alsace. For instance, nearly all of the 15,300 hectares/38,000 acres of vines planted within the Alsace AOC (including all 51 of the famous Grands Crus) are located along a 60-mile (96-km) swath of land beginning just north of Strasbourg (in the Bas-Rhin department) and ending just south of Mulhouse (in the Haut-Rhin).

Map of the Alsace AOC via https://www.inao.gouv.fr/

However, here’s a lesser-known fact: about 30 miles to the north of Strasbourg, there is a tiny exclave of the Alsace AOC. In the area surrounding the town of Wissembourg, we find a small cluster of obscure vineyards planted near the border (with some straddling the line) between France and Germany.

This tiny corner of the Alsace AOC covers just 5 communes of the Bas-Rhin department—Cléebourg, Oberhoffen, Riedseltz, Steinseltz, and Wissembourg—and measures just a few miles across and a few miles long.

According to the Wines of Alsace website, it is well worth the 30-mile train ride from Strasbourg to see this beautiful and unique region—the northernmost outpost of the Routes des vins d’Alsace. Once you arrive at either the Riedseltz or Wissembourg station, you can grab a car or a taxi and pay a visit to Cave Vinicole Cléebourg.

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According to the Cave Vinicole Cléebourg website, wine has been produced in the area since the 9th century BCE, beginning at Dominican Monastery in Wissembourg before spreading to Cléebourg and beyond. Despite a series of political upheavals, phylloxera, and devastation from the retreating armies after World War II, the area’s viticulture has managed to survive. These days, there are 190 members in the Cléebourg cooperative, producing a range of varietal wines and crémant d’Alsace as well as late harvest/noble late harvest wines (when conditions allow). Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Gewurztraminer, Muscat, Sylvaner, and Auxerrois are the main varieties.

The Cave Vinicole Cléebourg is home to the Confrérie des Vins des Quatre Bans. The Confrérie (brotherhood) is composed of wine lovers (both brothers and sisters) who are interested in promoting the wines of the area. All members—which range from beginners/novices up to the levels of enlightened brothers/sisters, ambassadors, and 17 members of the Grand Council—must pass a series of increasingly difficult wine tasting exams and participate in regional wine events. Each year, the Confrérie selects a particularly high-quality wine to bear the label of the society.

Photo of Château de Fleckenstein by Peter Schmenger, via Wikimedia Commons

After a tour of the winery, I suggest you take the 11-mile (18-km) drive to the Château de Fleckenstein, a hilltop, Romanesque castle first built in the 12th century. Portions of the castle—including some stairs and several under-ground rooms—were carved out of the sandstone bedrock. The castle is in ruins, but open for tourism and educational visits.

The town of Wissembourg is a good place for a home base. Located on the German border and surrounding the Lauter River, Wissembourg is built around a central canal (the Lauter Canal) and is home to an several impressive gothic buildings, including the Abbey of Saints-Pierre-et-Paul, the largest parish church in Alsace, exceeded only by the cathedral in Strasbourg. Just on the other side of the abbey’s garden, you can visit the canal-side Maison du sel Wissembourg—first built in 1488 for use as a hospital and later as a salt warehouse—known for its exceedingly steep (and undulating-from-age) roof.

Northern Alsace looks like an excellent spot for a low-key wine vacation, and for those looking for a bit more immersion into wine…the Duetsches Weintor (German wine gate, noting the southern end of the German Wine Route) in Schweigen-Rechtenbach is just 2 miles (3.3 km) away!

References/for more information:

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

The Outer Limits is my series of appreciative posts about small, obscure, or out-of-the-way wine regions.

Confusion Corner: the Montepulcianos

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Welcome to confusion corner, Montepulciano! Well-deserved! To wit: Montepulciano is a place (a town in Tuscany), a grape (a red variety), and the name of several wines. Let’s see if we can de-muddle some of the Montepulciano mayhem by taking them one by one.

Montepulciano—the town: Montepulciano is an ancient hilltop town located in Tuscany—about 43 miles (70 km) southeast of Siena. The town—once a Roman fort charged with guarding the main roads of the area—sits on a 1,985-foot- (605-m-) high limestone ridge. The town’s historic center is home of a range of Renaissance palaces (Palazzo Comunale, Palazzo Tarugi), a delightful town square (Piazza Grande), and more than one imposing place of worship (don’t miss the Santa Maria Assunta Cathedral). Beyond Montepulciano’s medieval walls lie rolling hills, vineyards, and cypress trees as far as the eye can see. Such towns are what Tuscan dreams are made of.

The Palazzo Comunale (Town Hall) in Piazza Grande, Montepulciano

The wines of Montepulciano (the town): Those vineyards surrounding the town of Montepulciano are mainly planted to Sangiovese—although here it goes by the name of Prugnolo Gentile. The most famous wine of the area—Vino Nobile de Montepulciano DOCG—is produced using a minimum of 70% Prugnolo Gentile. In addition, it often contains a smattering of other red grapes and maybe a dash or two (maximum 5%) Malvasia Bianca Lunga or other white grapes. Vino Nobile de Montepulciano DOCG requires a minimum of one year in oak and a total of two years of aging (measured from January 1 of the year following the harvest) before its release.

Rosso di Montepulciano DOC—a more modern, fruit-forward red wine of the region—is produced using the same grape varieties but only requires a few months of aging. With some exceptions, Rosso di Montepulciano DOC may be released on March 1 of the year following harvest. In April of 2020, the consorzio for Rosso di Montepulciano DOC sought to assuage some of the Montepulciano madness by requiring that the wine bear the term Toscana on the label along with the name of the wine.

Montepulciano: the grape

Montepulciano—the grape: The grape variety known as Montepulciano is most likely native to the area around Abruzzo. Montepulciano—widely planted across central Italy—is a prolific grape known to produce red wines of deep color and ample tannin. After Sangiovese, it is the second-most-widely planted red grape in Italy and as such, it makes sense that Montepulciano (the grape) is often used as a blending partner for Italy’s superstar Sangiovese.

On its own, Montepulciano can be made into medium-bodied, easy-drinking pizza wines with cherry-berry aromas and a good zing of acidity. However—particularly when grown on old vines and vinified with a touch of oak—Montepulciano can produce a serious, age-worthy wine redolent of red plum, black fruit (boysenberry, blackberry), herbs, and tar (sounds weird, but Syrah can show tar aromas as well).

Photo of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo by Agne27 via Wikimedia Commons

The wines of Montepulciano (the grape): The Montepulciano grape variety is used (in varying amounts) in over 50 DOC/DOCG wines of Italy. Offida Rosso DOCG, Rosso Conero DOC, and Terre Tollesi DOCG are among those that best showcase this grape.

However, the confusion corner sets in with the wines named for the grape itself: Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane DOCG. Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC, produced in a large swath of the Abruzzo province stretching along and inland from the Adriatic Sea, is one of Italy’s most widely produced and popular wines. Beloved for its fruity flavors, soft tannins, and delightfully inexpensive price point, it is an easy wine to love.

Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane DOCG—made only in the hilly, northwest section of the larger DOC area—is made with a minimum of 90% Montepulciano grapes; the remaining 10% may be Sangiovese (or more Montepulciano). The wine required a minimum of 2 years of aging (from November 1 of the harvest year). This two-year aging regiment must include at least one year in oak or chestnut and at least six months of bottle aging.  Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane DOCG is a uniquely opulent wine with intense flavors of fruit (dark cherries, red plum, spice (), and smoke.

TLDR: Montepulciano is a town in Tuscany; the wine known as Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG is made from Prugnolo Gentile (Sangiovese). Montepulciano—the red grape—is a specialty of central Italy and made into a wide range of wines; Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC is among the best known.

Any questions?

References/for more information:

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

Tidal Bay: Nova Scotia’s Signature Wine

Vineyards in Nova Scotia’s Gaspereau Valley/photo by Gavin Gangille via Wikimedia Commons

Canada’s Nova Scotia province—located on the Atlantic Coast and including several islands—is known for the Cabot Trail (hailed as one of the world’s most scenic drives), the Halifax Waterfront, Peggy’s Cove (a charming fishing village), whale watching, music festivals, and delicious lobster.

These days, the area is also known for its wine. More than 20 wineries are currently producing world-class wines in Nova Scotia—hailed as Canada’s smallest and coolest-climate wine region.

Nova Scotia produces a range of wines, reserving particular pride for a unique style of wine known as Tidal Bay. The name “Tidal Bay” is strictly regulated and reserved for still (non-sparkling) white wines produced from 100% Nova Scotia grapes. Tidal Bay wines are fresh and crisp in acidity, dry to off-dry, moderate in alcohol (11% abv is the maximum permitted), and highly aromatic. They are ideal to pair with the area’s abundant seafood dishes and are billed as Nova Scotia in a glass, reflecting the climate, terroir, and culture of the region.

The requirements for use of the name “Tidal Bay” (as defined by the Winery Association of Nova Scotia) include the following:

  • 100% Nova Scotia grapes
  • A minimum of 51% (combined) of the final blend must be comprised of primary grape varieties. These are:
    • L’Acadie Blanc (complex hybrid [Cascade X Seyve-Villard 14-287] created by Ollie A. Bradt of Ontario)
    • Seyval Blanc (complex, French-created hybrid)
    • Vidal (complex, French-created hybrid)
    • Geisenheim 318 (German hybrid [Riesling X Chancellor])
  • Secondary grape varieties—including Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Chasselas, Ortega, Siegfried, Osceola Muscat, Frontenac Gris, Frontenac Blanc, Petit Milo, and Cayuga—are optional, but may be included up to a (combined) total of 49% of the blend.
    • Other grapes grown in Nova Scotia (tertiary varieties) are permitted to be included in limited amounts (up to 15% of the blend).
  • A maximum of 2% residual sugar (although there are exceptions based on the wine’s acidity and overall taste profile)
  • Limited, minimal, or no skin contact
  • Little or no influence of new oak
  • The wine must be vintage-dated and approved by a five-person tasting panel 

Peggy’s Cove (Nova Scotia)

With the number of grapes (and potential blends) allowed in the final mix, every Tidal Bay wine has the potential to be unique. However, during my research (and tasting) I found the following aroma/flavor descriptors to be apt: peach, apricot, pear, green apple, citrus (orange, tangerine, lemon) candied ginger, mineral/minerality, mint, and flowers.

Outstanding producers of Tidal Bay include Benjamin Bridge, Domaine de Grand Pré, and Jōst Vineyards.

Nova Scotia produces a wide range of other cool-climate wines in addition to Tidal Bay. On your next road trip through this beautiful area, be sure and seek out the region’s sparkling wines, piquette, crisp white wines (Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling are standouts), icewine, and Cabernet Franc rosé. 

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About that name: The Bay of Fundy—one of the many natural wonders of Nova Scotia—is located between the Canadian province of New Brunswick and the island of Nova Scotia. The funnel-shaped bay is home to some of the highest tides on the face of the earth; the tidal surge can be as high as 43 feet (13 meters). In comparison, the worldwide average tidal range (height difference between high tide and low tide) is 3 feet and 3 inches (1 meter). The Bay of Fundy experiences two high tides a day, each about 12 hours and 26 minutes apart. With each high tide, 100 billion tons of seawater flow inland.

As the tide recedes, miles of ocean-front property makes itself available to hikers, picnickers, and bird watchers—every summer, the area is visited by 30,000 migrating sandpipers (and the folks who follow them). It’s no wonder Nova Scotia’s signature wine goes by the name “Tidal Bay.”

References/for more information:

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

The Outer Limits is my series of appreciative posts about small, obscure, or out-of-the-way wine regions.

The Rum Files: Bootleggers and Mythical Beasts

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Rum is a fascinating and diverse category of spirits. It goes by many nicknames—kill-devil, screech, and Nelson’s blood (to name a few). The rum brands are just as interesting—Skinny Pirate, Flipflop, Bumbu, Cargo Cult, and Dead Man’s Fingers all caught my eye.

Among the funny, irreverent, and outlandish rum brands, several are named for bootleggers or mythical beasts. Here are a few to watch out for:

The Rougaroux: The rougaroux is a big, scary, creature somewhat akin to a werewolf. The legend of the rougaroux centers around French Louisiana/Cajun Country.  The name rougaroux is thought to be a localized variation of the French words loup (“wolf”) and garou (“man”)—or loup-garou (“wolf-man”). The rougaroux is a shape-shifting beast with the body of a man and the head of a wolf. He prowls the swamps of Louisiana and preys on children who misbehave, and—as some like to believe—Catholics who forget their Lenten vows. Thankfully, well-behaved youngsters (and devoted Catholics) are of no interest to him. Click here to visit the website of Rougaroux Full Moon Dark Rum.

Bill McCoy in 1921 (Public Domain)

The Real McCoy: The term “the real McCoy” is typically used to mean  “the real thing” or “the genuine article.” The saying has a plethora of backstories and possible meanings. These date as far back as 1856, when the Scottish poet Robert Louis Stevenson wrote a letter that contained the phrase a drappie o’ the real MacKay. However, when it comes to the Real McCoy Rum, it’s all about Bill.

William “Bill” McCoy (1877–1948) was an American bootlegger, famous for being one of the first—and best—sea captains to sail to the Caribbean and return to the east coast of America with a hull full of whiskey, rum, and all other sorts of alcohol. Bill was an experienced, savvy businessman and the owner of several boats. Bill and his crew would sail to the Bahamas, load up  with liquor, and return to the east coast—always careful to stay three miles off shore, which at the time represented the international boundary. Unlike many of the other rum runners of the time, Bill was known to never dilute his spirits with juice, water, sugar, or other additives. As such, his products became known for their quality and purity, and were referred to as “the Real McCoy.” Click here to visit the website of The Real McCoy Rum.

Photo by Rama via Wikimedia Commons

The Lugger: The term lugger represents the type of boat that the legendary Jack “Ratt” Rattenbury (1778–1844) would have used in his many years as a smuggler. Jack smuggled a range of goods between France and England. His modus operandi was to sink tubs of contraband—including brandy, tea, tobacco and silk—off the English coast for later collection.

lugger is equipped with one or more four-cornered sails, known as lug sails. Luggers were widely used by bootleggers and other smugglers in the waters around England, Ireland, Scotland, and France from the mid-18th century onward. Luggers were prized for their speed and power—which often made them able to evade and outrun the authorities. Click here to visit the website of Jack Ratt Lugger Rum. 

Colossal octopus drawing by Pierre Denys de Montfort (via Wikimedia Commons)

The Kraken: The Kraken is a legendary creature of Norse mythology. The scariest thing about the kraken—often described as a giant squid- or octopus-like creature—is that it may well be based on real-life giant squid, which can grow to lengths of 40 feet or longer (ouch). This ocean-dwelling monster is reported to dwell off the coast of Greenland, Norway, Sweden, and other parts of the North Atlantic, often terrorizing ships and sailors. The kraken is often described in literature and lore—Alfred Tennyson wrote a poem called “the Kraken,” and kraken-like creatures appearance in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick as well as Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas. Click here to visit the website of Kraken Rum.

Here are a few more rum names I’d like to investigate in the future: La Hechicera, Admiral Rodney, Dead Man’s Fingers, and Holey Dollar. Any other suggestions?

References/for more information:

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

One Small Step for the EU, a Giant Leap for German Wine?

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All good wine students know that Germany famously has 13 Anbaugebiete (quality wine regions); each of which can produce Qualitätswein and Prädikatswein.  These are wines of the highest quality—with multiple layers of regulation and protection—classified in the EU as wines with a protected designation of origin (PDO). The 13 Anbaugebiete are all permitted to produce a wide range of wines, and each region’s product specification contains a long list of allowed grape varieties, wine styles, and wine-making techniques.

Well, good wine students of the world, hold on—because things are changing. Germany now has five PDOs defining small, specific areas within the larger Anbaugebiete. In addition, their rules dictate a list of approved grape varieties, limits on yield, and required/allowed/disallowed methods of production—just like a French-style AOC or an Italian DOCG. Welcome to the world, German PDOs.

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Here are some details concerning Germany’s new region-grape-and-style-specific PDOs:

Monzinger Niederberg (Nahe): This vineyard was registered as a PDO by the EU on December 13, 2018. Monzinger Niederberg PDO is approved for the Riesling grape only; specifically for wines with “fine apple and citrus fruit notes in their aroma and a distinct minerality.” The region specializes in dry wine (defined as having less than 25 g/L residual sugar/less than 18 g/L if total tartaric acid is below 7.2 g/L), but sweet wines are produced as well. PDO regulations specify that the wines must be produced using taste-neutral containers, but allows for the use of oak containers if the oak character in the finished wine is “discreet” or not discernible. The use of small, new oak barrels is specifically prohibited.

Bürgstädter Berg (Franken): Bürgstädter Berg PDO was registered by the EU on May 17, 2017. It allows for the production of white wine, rosé/weissherbst, red wine, and sparkling wine. The wines may be produced in a range of styles, including the “traditional but very rarely produced sweet wines—Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese, and Eiswein.” The Bürgstadter Berg PDO is located on a predominantly south-facing slope alongside the River Main. According to the documentation, the area within the Bürgstädter Berg PDO differs from the surrounding region by way of its variegated sandstone soils that contain “lower soil cohesion and the lower pH value than is usual in Franconian soils.” The preferred grape varieties for white wines are Riesling and Silvaner; other allowed grape varieties include Zweigelt, Frühburgunder, Weissburgunder, Silvaner, Spätburgunder, Müller Thurgau, Riesling, and Chardonnay.

Map of the Uhlen Roth Lay, Uhlen Laubach, and Uhlen Blaufüsser Lay PDOs via https://www.ble.de/DE

The following three PDOs—Uhlen Blaufüsser Lay, Uhlen Laubach, and Ulen Roth Lay—are all part of the larger Winninger Uhlen vineyard. Located in the Lower Mosel—just 5 miles/8 km from where the Mosel meets the Rhine—they are positioned next to each other (intertwined in some spots), on a series of south-facing terraces along the Mosel River. All three of these PDOs were registered on December 13, 2108:

Uhlen Blaufüsser Lay (Mosel): This region is approved for white wines, both still and sparkling. Riesling is the only grape variety permitted. The wines are described as having fruity notes (ripe autumn apples) as well as notes of violets and licorice—but it is the “slate minerals” and “cool metallic” aromas that the wine is best known for.  Some wine making practices (including the use of potassium sorbate, de-alcoholization, concentration via centrifuge or osmosis, sweetening with grape must, and the use of oak chips) are specifically prohibited.

Uhlen Laubach (Mosel): This PDO is approved for the same styles of wine (Riesling only, still and sparkling) as its neighbors. It also shares the same list of prohibited wine making practices. However, in addition to fruity aromas and the character of clean slate, the wines of the Uhlen Laubach PDO are described as smelling of “cool smoke and hazelnuts,” and as “generally fuller, softer, and with great depth of flavor.”

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Uhlen Roth Lay (Mosel): Like its neighbors, the Uhlen Roth Lay PDO is approved for Riesling only, which may be still or sparkling. The wines of the area are known to demonstrate fruity and aromas and notes of minerality. The region is unique for its sparse rainfall and climate, which features slightly higher temperatures than the surrounding areas.

Wait, there’s one more: A sixth appellation—Würzburger Stein-Berg, located in Franken—is at the “publication” stage of the EU approval process. The Würzburger Stein-Berg PDO application was accepted earlier this year and published in the Journal of the EU on April 17, 2020; it still needs that final step of EU registration. Update: the Würzburger Stein-Berg PDO was approved on November 24, 2020. 

Pictures or it didn’t happen: If you are finding all this a bit hard to believe, I feel you. As proof-positive, you can read the documentation—straight from the Official Journal of the EU—in the reference section below.

References/for more information:

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

Confusion Corner: Fleurie and Fleurieu

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Fleurie and Fleurieu…for years I thought they referred to the same place…you know—that delightful little hillside hamlet also known as “the Queen of Beaujolais.”

Right? Wrong. Even though the two words are differentiated by nothing but a tiny, final vowel…they could not be further apart. As in 9,975 miles (16,050 km) apart; like from France to Australia.

To clarify: Fleurie and Fleurieu are totally different spots, literally half-way across the world from each other. As they are both wine-producing regions, and official appellations in their respective countries, we find them smack in the middle of the confusion corner.

Let’s take a closer look at Fleurie (floo–ree) and Fleurieu (floo–ree–ah)…perhaps this will clear up the confusion!

Chapelle de la Madone, Fleurie, France

Fleurie: Fleurie AOC is one of the ten Crus of Beaujolais (France). It is located near the northern edge of the Beaujolais region, tucked between Moulin-à-Vent and Chiroubles. The area is nestled into a zone of steep hills, and the highest peak (at 1,400 feet/425 m) is home to the Chapelle of La Madone. The hillsides around the chapel—particularly those with a southeast-facing aspect—are home to the appellation’s finest vineyards. Fleruie is known for its pink granite soils, unique even in the granite-rich region of northern Beaujolais.

Like all Beaujolais Cru, the Fleurie AOC produces red wines based on the Gamay grape variety. Fleurie is considered one of the most delicate and elegant of the Crus—and is often described in floral terms such as iris, violet, and rose. Other typical descriptors include red fruit (strawberry, cranberry, red cherry, kirsch), blue fruit (blueberry, plum) and savory (mineral, black pepper).

Despite the fact that fleurie translates to flowery, the area is not named after the wine’s famously floral aromas. Rather, the area is named for a Roman legionnaire named Florus (sometimes written as Floricum) who, at one time, made his home among these hills. 

Vineyards in Fleurieu (McLaren Vale)

Fleurieu: The Fleurieu Zone is located on the coast of South Australia (south of the city of Adelaide). It is centered on the Fleurieu Peninsula—a bit of land that extends into the Great Australian Bight and defines the southern side of St. Vincent Gulf. The Fleurieu Zone (as a geographical indication) also includes Kangaroo Island, located about 11 miles/18 km west of the mainland.

The Fleurieu Zone is positioned at the 35th latitude, however, its location directly on the coast of the Indian Ocean means that the area enjoys a much cooler climate—typically defined as Mediterranean—as compared to South Australia’s more inland locations.  Shiraz is the leading grape variety here (as it is in much of South Australia), along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc.

Map of the Fleurieu Zone via WineAustralia and Google Maps

In terms of geographical indications, the Fleurieu Zone includes the following five regions: Currency Creek, McLaren Vale, Kangaroo Island, Langhorne Creek, and Southern Fleurie. Of these, McLaren Vale—located about 22 miles/35 km south of the city of Adelaide and known for Cabernet Sauvignon—is undoubtedly the most notable.

The Fleurieu Zone does have a bit of a French connection—it was named after Charles Pierre Claret de Fleurieu, a French hydrographer who worked along the coast of South Australia in the early 1800s.

TL/DR: Fleurie = Beaujolais Cru, Fleurieu = South Australia (Shiraz, Cab Sauv)

References/for more information:

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