Wine Travel Bucket List: Piedmont Color

Brunate Chapel

Wine lovers that travel to Piedmont looking for the colors are typically chasing the deep, brooding red of a glass of Barolo, or perhaps the red-and-gold leaves of a vineyard in autumn. While these are certainly worth traveling for, Piedmont also has some unique—albeit tiny—architectural gems that scream with character and color, and should make for a good side trip in the midst of any serious wine tasting tour!

Barolo’s Brunate Chapel: The Chapel of the Madonna delle Grazie (often referred to as the Capella della Brunate [Brunate Chapel] or the Capella del Barolo [Barolo Chapel]) was built in 1914 as a shelter for vineyard workers in case of heavy rain or hail. The chapel was originally frescoed by Giovanni Savio (1863–1950), who hailed from the nearly town of La Morra.

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The chapel, which is located in Le Brunate—one of the most important crus of the Barolo DOCG—was purchased by the Ceretto family in the early 1970s, along with the 6 hectares of the surrounding vineyards. When it was purchased, the chapel was nearly in ruins, showing the signs of years of neglect.

In 1997, the Ceretto family approached David Tremlett, an acclaimed English artist with a reputation for installation art and site-specific works (in addition to painting and sculpture) with the idea of renovating the structure. Tremlett loved the idea and chose to collaborate with his friend Sol LeWitt on the project. Sol LeWitt (1928–2007) was an American artist well-known for wall drawings, large-scale installations and conceptualism. For the Brunate Chapel, Tremlett worked on the warm, serene interior and LeWitt created the lively, colorful exterior.

As is easy to imagine from the appealing colors and scale of the building, the Brunate Chapel is one of the most recognized and visited spots in Barolo.

Chiesetta di Coazzolo

Asti’s Chiesetta di Coazzolo: La Chiesetta della Beata Maria Vergine del Carmine, affectionately known as the Chiesetta (little church) of Coazzolo, is located in the Asti DOCG area.

Nearly 20 years after completing the renovations of the Brunate Chapel, David Tremlett returned to Piedmont to repaint and rejuvenate the little church using wall drawings and acrylic paints. The colors of the Chiesetta—which include sienna, yellow, and olive green—are more natural in style and subtle than the bright bursts that decorate the Brunate Chapel. The restoration of the Chiesetta is the result of a joint venture between London’s Genillard gallery and Silvano Stella, the owner of the Coazzolo Castle.

References/for more information:

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

Everybody in the (Pyrazine) Pool!

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Most wine students have heard of pyrazine—methoxypyrazine to be exact—as the chemical partially responsible for the “freshly cut green grass” aroma found in Sauvignon Blanc, as well as a range of other herbaceous aromas—from green bell pepper to gooseberries to asparagus—found in various wines including Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Carmenère.

Pyrazines are legendary. The legend has been repeated countless times, and it goes something like this: “The scent of pyrazine is so strong; it can be detected at concentrations equal to five drops in an Olympic-sized swimming pool.”

I’ve heard this so many times, I decided to check it out. After all, so many oft-repeated facts about wine turn out to be just oft-repeated myths, as I am sure you know!

For starters, according to Jancis Robinson, et al in The Oxford Companion to Wine (third edition), the sensory threshold for the strongest form of methoxyprazine is 215 ng/L in white wine. The ng refers to nanograms, which equate to one billionth of a gram.

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As it turns out, after a bit of rudimentary calculations,* the sensory threshold for pyrazines is not exactly five drops in an Olympic sized swimming pool, it is closer to 11 drops—still a legendary amount.

Which leads us back to where we started: this stuff is sturdy.

In reality, what we refer to as pyrazines in wine are technically nitrogen-containing (organic) aroma compounds produced as a secondary by-product of amino acid metabolism. There are three main types, as applies to wine: Isobutyl-methoxypyrazine (IBMP), Secbutyl-methoxypyrazine (SBMP), and Isopropyl- methoxypyrazine (IPMP). IPMP appears to be the most abundant of the three, and is most-often implicated in the “asparagus” range of aromas. IBMP—which accounts for the 215 ng/L threshold— appears to be the strongest and is often detected as green bell pepper or gooseberry aromas.

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Pyrazines are, for the most part, created in the vineyard. They are initially produced during the early stage of fruit set as a defense/survival mechanism for the baby grapes (a mouthful of raw herb flavor is perhaps none too delectable to baby goats and wild boars). The level of pyrazines in the grapes can run amuck in cases of excess water or overly-dense canopies—particularly if the baby grapes spend too much time in the shade.

I happen to love herbaceous character in my wines, so as far as I am concerned, “bring on the pyrazines”! However, most wine lovers prefer their wines to be balanced, as opposed to the green-meanie style of wine that I adore.

Luckily, Mother Nature has her own ways of controlling pyrazines. For one, the level of pyrazine in grape berries typically drops as grapes approach ripeness. For another, increased sun exposure will sort of “burn them off.” On the other hand, cloudy days, cool climates, dense canopies, over-watering, and less-than-ripe grapes are a pyrazine’s best friend.

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Everybody in the (pyrazine) pool!

.*If we do the math—which in this case is admittedly non-scientific and making use of generalizations such as standardized water volume vs. weight—it might go as such:

  • For starters, there are 2,500,000 liters (2.5 mega-liters [2.5 million liters]) of water in an Olympic size swimming pool.
  • If we multiply 215 nanograms times 2.5 million, we see that 215 X 2,500,000 = 537,500,000 nanograms, or 0.537 grams.
  • If one teaspoon of water equals 4.93 grams, then 0.537 grams = 0.11 of a teaspoon.
  • If we use a typical culinary calculation of 98 drops in a teaspoon, 0.11 of a teaspoon = 10.78 drops.
  • Conclusion: It’s not exactly five drops in an Olympic sized swimming pool, but at just shy of 11 drops, it is still a legendary amount.

References/for more information:

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

Confusion Corner: Palate, Palette, Pallet, AOC Palette

Wooden Pallets

An artist might paint with a color palette, you might order a pallet of wine, and your palate might enjoy the wines of AOC Palette.

Sound fanciful? Well, all of the above could be true!

For starters—yes, this post is going to be a bit of a whine about word usage—but I hope my readers will realize that I do not present this information with a sneer. I need this post as much as anyone. So here goes:

If you finish an impressive project at work and are rewarded with a bonus, you might decide to purchase a pallet of wine. That’s a lot of wine. According to the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), the standard size of a wooden pallet is 48 inches by 40 inches. This standard wood pallet (theoretically) can hold 4,600 pounds—in other words, over 100 cases of wine or one adult male rhinoceros.

Artist’s Palette

If you are a painter and you paint with all the colors of the wind, or even just those on the board that you use to blend and hold your paints, you are painting with a certain color palette—blobs of which you are holding on the palette in your hands as you paint.

Those parts of your mouth that allow you to taste wine—including your tongue, taste buds, the roof of your mouth and the surrounding soft tissue —so precious to us wine lovers—collectively make up your palate. As you test and improve your wine-tasting skills, you are building your palate. If you get really good at blinding wines, you might become known—far and wide—for your impressive palate. You can also describe a wine in terms of its attack (first impressions), mid-palate (what registers as you hold the wine in your mouth), and the finish (what lingers after swallowing or spitting).

Building the Palate

As a wine lover, you might appreciate the wines of the Palette AOC. Palette is a small AOC tucked into the area south of the large Aix-en-Provence AOC, and along the northern edge of the Sainte-Victoire AOC (itself a sub-zone of the Côtes de Provence appellation). Two plots of vineyards—one on each side of the Arc River—make up the region. Palette is the smallest appellation in Provence, and is named after the tiny town of Palette.

The Palette AOC is approved for red, white, and rosé wines. The white wines must be dry (max 0.4% residual sugar) and contain at least 11.5% abv. The appellation boasts a long list of allowed grape varieties. For the white wines, the following principal varieties must comprise (singularly or combined) a minimum of 55% of the wine: Picardin, Clairette (Blanc or Rose), and Bourboulenc. Other allowed varieties include Colombard, Furmint, Grenache Blanc, Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, Piquepoul Blanc, Ugni Blanc, Ugni Rosé, and Terret Gris. This list of allowed grapes also includes a few obscurities, including  Panse Muscade, Panse du Roy René, and Pascal Blanc.

Photo of Château Simone Palette AOC rosé by Michal Osmenda via Wikimedia Commons

For the rosés of the AOC Palette, there is a mandatory minimum of 10% Mourvèdre. Another regulation states that between 50% and 80% of the wine be comprised of the region’s principal varieties that include Grenache and Cinsaut in addition to Mourvèdre. The remaining 20% may include any of the AOC’s accessory varieties, which include Brun Fourca, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan, Castet, Durif, Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, Muscat Hamburg, Petit Brun, Syrah, Téoulier, Terret Gris, and Tibouren. The white grapes may be present only to a maximum of 15% of the blend.  The rosé wines of Palette may contain up to 0.4% residual sugar, and are required to contain at least 11.5% abv.

The red wines are produced using the same slate of allowed grape varieties as the rosés; however, the white grapes are not approved for use in the red wines. The minimum abv for Palette Rogue is 11.5%, and the maximum allowed residual sugar is 0.3%. For the red wines, there is a mandatory minimum aging requirement of 18 months in wood.

The Palette AOC contains only about 100 acres (40 ha) of vines and just a few producers, including Château Simone and Château Henri Bonnaud.

References/for more information:

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

 

Confusion Corner: Claret, Clairet, Clairette

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It happens every time I teach a class on the wines of France. I mention that the term “claret” is an old-fashioned name, used by the British back-in-the-day to refer to red Bordeaux. Typically, I immediately get the following questions:

  • Is that the same as the grape used in the sparkling wines of the Rhône?
  • Isn’t that a rosé?
  • Shouldn’t that be pronounced “klar-AH”???

I like these questions, as they may indicate that:

  • The group is paying attention
  • The group has read the entire chapter on France, as they were requested to do (yeah!)
  • The group has a few sassy members

In the best of all possible words, all of the above are true (I appreciate sassy students).

In light of all this, I think that the clairet-claret-clairette topic is an excellent one for my “Confusion Corner” series. So here goes, let’s clarify this cluster!

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Claret: Claret (pronounced KLAR-eht in French and klerət in English) is an old-timey English term used to refer to the red wines of Bordeaux. Over time, it also morphed into use for a particular style of red wine defined loosely as higher-in-tannin or “drier” than red Burgundy. It is believed that the use of the term claret, based on the terms vin clar or vin clarum—meaning something akin to pale wine or clear wine— came about due to fact that in the early days of the wine trade, Bordeaux red was a much lighter wine than the deep reds of today’s Bordeaux.  These early Bordeaux reds were quite pale in color (similar in appearance to a “dark rosé” produced today).

In the official documents for the Bordeaux AOC—the Cahier des charges de l’appellation d’origine contrôlée Bordeaux—the term is mentioned in the following manner:  La mention “claret” est réservée aux vins rouges (google-translated as “The word ‘claret’ is reserved for red wines”). Note that the term “claret” is listed as a descriptive term, and that the official name of the wine is some variation of “Bordeaux AOC” (or one of the many other AOCs used for the red wines of Bordeaux).

The term claret is sometimes used, as a sort of proprietary name, on New World wines based on the red grapes of Bordeaux, as seen here on Becker Vineyards Texas Claret (a classic Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot).

Clairet: The term “clairet” is also considered a historical term, but in modern times it has a distinct definition as being a defined style of “dark rosé” Bordeaux AOC wine. The Cahier des Charges for the Bordeaux AOC even lists specific standards for Bordeaux Clairet for such particularities as residual sugar, volatile acidity, and total sulfur dioxide—and in some aspects they are clearly distinct from those required for those wines defined as “rosé” as well as “rouge.”  Bordeaux Clairet is typically fermented on the skins for anywhere from 24 to 48 hours.

On the official documents for the Bordeaux AOC— the Cahier des charges de l’appellation d’origine contrôlée Bordeaux— the term is mentioned in the following manner:  La mention “clairet” est réservée aux vins rosés foncés (google-translated as “The word ‘clairet’ is reserved for dark rosé wines”).

Clairette: If you guessed this thing is not like the others, you are absolutely right! Clairette (pronounced somewhat universally as KL-ERRehT) is a white vinifera grape, native to the south of France and used in a variety of wines throughout the Languedoc, Rhône, and Provence. Its most famous incarnation is quite possibly as the star of the sparkling wines of the Clairette de Die AOC, as well as (along with Muscat à Petits Grains) the slightly sweet, slightly fizzy Clairette de Die Méthode Dioise Ancestrale.  

Clairette is also one of the13 or 18 (depending on how you count them) grapes allowed in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC blend—which allows for both the typical Clairette Blanc version as well as its color-mutation-cousin, Clairette Rose.

Bonus clarification: Clarete (pronounced cla-re-te) is a Spanish term (also somewhat old-timey) used to describe dark rosé or light red wines (something between a rosado and a tinto). It has no “official” definition or appellation, but is a useful descriptive term.

References/for more information:

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

 

Five Fast Facts about Mencía

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Mencía is a red grape variety, mainly grown in northern Spain with additional plantings in central Portugal. It is known for producing nicely acidic, moderately tannic red wines.

If that is all that you know about Mencía, you are doing pretty well! However, if you’d like to learn a few more fascinating facts about Mencía, please read on!

#1: It is pronounced “Men-thee-ah.”

#2: It was once thought that Mencía was the same grape as—or closely related to—Cabernet Franc. However, modern DNA testing has proven that Mencía and Cabernet Franc are not particularly closely related. Mencía is, however, identical to a Portuguese grape known as Jaen—aka Jaen du Dão. It is assumed that Mencía is native to the north of Spain and spread from there to Portugal’s Dão Region—perhaps via pilgrims trekking home from Santiago de Compostela. However, it is also possible that it originated in the Dão and later made its way to Spain.

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#3: These days, Mencía is best-known as the main grape of Spain’s Bierzo DO (located in the region of Castilla y León), where it accounts for nearly 75% of the vine acreage. Mencía is also grown in Galicia (Spain) in the Valdeorras DO, Monterrei DO, and Ribeira Sacra DO. In Portugal, it is grown in the Dão, Lisboa, and Beira Interior Regions.

#4: In the not-too-distant past, Mencía was primarily grown in the fertile, rain-abundant plains and valleys of Portugal and Galicia. These plantings produced high yields, which were in turn used to produce large volumes of high-acid, fruity, quaffable wines often compared to certain lovable-but-not-serious versions of Beaujolais.  As these things usually go, there certainly were a handful of quality-minded producers all along, and the idea of ultra-high quality Mencía was fully realized when—in the 1990s—Alvaro Palacios came to town. Palacios, already famous for creating ultra-high-quality wines in Priorat, began to produce Bierzo DO wines from 40-to-60-year-old Mencía vines grown on the well-drained soils of the area’s hillsides. The resulting wines, now produced by Descendientes de J. Palacios, are rich, concentrated, serious wines (including some single-vineyard bottlings that can fetch prices of $500 a bottle or more). Other top producers of hillside-grown Mencía include Dominio de Tares, Casar de Burbia and Castro Ventosa (whose holdings include a pre-phylloxera Mencía vineyard planted on the only sandy soils to be found in Bierzo).

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#5: Quaffable wines produced from the Mencía grape variety will be pleasant enough and have a nice cherry-red color, good acidity, and moderate tannins as well as aromas of strawberry, raspberry, cherry, and pomegranate with some floral undertones. Lower-yield, higher-quality Mencía can show all of the above as well as hints of licorice, black pepper, and a whiff minerality—often described as a “gravel-like scent”. These wines can be deep red/violet in color, rich in meaty tannins, and as age-worthy as the finest Pinot Noir.

According to the latest figures, there are about 25,000 acres (10,100 ha) of Mencía in Spain, as well as about 7,000 acres (2,835 ha) in Portugal.

References/for further information:

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

Dolomite and the Dolomites

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Dolomite (which sounds to my ear like “dynamite”) is a loaded word with several meanings. The term may be used to refer to a mineral, a rock, a mountain range, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, or a region (loosely defined as an area stretching across the northern reaches of Trentino/Alto Adige, Veneto, Friuli (perhaps), and a small part of Austria as well).

Starting with the most basic use of the term—the mineral—dolomite is largely composed of calcium carbonate and magnesium. Dolomite (the mineral) is often found in long-buried sedimentary stones and bedrock. These stones are often known as dolostone or simply dolomite.

Sharp students of wine and/or geology may have recognized the previous mention of calcium carbonate and considered that dolomite (the stone) might be similar to limestone. This is true: dolomite and limestone are very similar, and form in the same manner—that is, via sedimentation in warm, calcium carbonate-rich, shallow waters. The main difference between the formation of limestone and dolomite is that dolomite contains more magnesium. Dolomite is sometimes even formed from limestone, as limestone is modified by magnesium-rich limewater. The resulting rock may be termed dolomite or dolomitc limestone.

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Dolomite (the stone) is famously found in several specific portions of the Italian Alps, and one such range—made up of 18 peaks reaching high above the surrounding valleys—is known as the Dolomites.

The Dolomites (the mountains) stretch across 350,000 acres (140,000 ha) and form a series of sheer walls, steep valleys, pinnacles, steeples, and cliffs. Fifteen of the Dolomite Mountain peaks are more than 10,000 feet (3,300 m) high and some of the sheer rock cliffs tower as much as 4,425 feet (1,500 m) higher than the surrounding countryside. The sheer rocks reflect the sunlight and glimmer in a range of pink, gold, and coral hues—contrasted by the forests and meadows below. This stunning natural beauty is part of the reason the area was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2009.

The Vigneti delle Dolomit IGT: Wine enthusiasts may remember seeing the term “dolomite” on a wine label hailing from Trentino, Alto Adige, or the northern reaches of Veneto (sometimes a portion of Friuli is included in the loop as well)—calling attention to the well-drained, alkaline, and mineral-rich soils of the area. There is even an geographical indication—Vigneti delle Dolomiti IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica)—named for the dolomites, covering the area and including parts of Trentino-Alto Adige and Veneto. As the German language is also widely spoken in this area, the Vignetti delle Dolomiti IGT is also known as the Weinberg Dolomiten.

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Wines produced under the Vigneti delle Dolomit IGT are made in many styles—including still and sparkling wines of red, white, and rosé—as well as passito (dried grape) and dessert wines (also of red, white, and rosé). A long list of grape varieties are allowed, including international superstars Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir). However, some of the more interesting and indigenous grapes of the area are cultivated here as well. These include Marzemino, Nosiola, and Teroldego, as described below:

  • Marzemino: Marzemino is a red grape, native to northern Italy. It is known for producing light-to-medium bodied wines with crisp acidity, dark color, and flavors of sour cherry, violets, plums, and herbs. It is often used in red blends, and may be used to produce a dried-grape, passito-style sweet wine. However, its leading claim to fame is that it was beloved by Mozart, and mentioned in his opera Don Giovanni: “Versa il vino! Eccellente Marzimino!” (Pour the wine, the excellent Marzemino)!
  • Teroldego: A darkly-hued red grape native to Trentino, Teroldego produces medium-to-full bodied red wines with intense color, moderate tannins, crisp acidity, and a hint of bitterness. Studies show it is related to Syrah, which helps to explain the typical flavors of sour cherry, licorice, hints of tar, almond and herbs. Oak-aged versions can be spicy and redolent of pine. The Teroldego Rotaliano DOC, located in the northern section of the Trentino province, is approved for the production of 100% Teroldego-based red or rosato (rosé) wines.
  • Nosiola: Nosiola is a golden-skinned white grape variety native to Trentino used to produce crisp, clean, and easy-drinking table wines as well as sweet (late-harvest, botrytis-affected, or passito) sweet wines (including Vin Santo). Dry wines tends to be fruity, floral, and herbal in tone, while sweet wines tend to show a nutty hazelnut character. This makes sense, as the name of the grape—Nosiola—is based on an Italian term for hazelnut: nocciola.

The vineyards of Trentino/Alto Adige, northern Veneto and Friuli contain abundant fragments of dolomite as well as the weathered remnants of the Alps, carried down to the vineyards via gravity, water, and other forces. So, while a springtime trip to the Dolomites sounds delightful, and nice glass of Marzemino or vino bianco from Trentino might be a good substitute (for now).

A shout-out to science: The Dolomites are named in honor of Dieudonné Dolomieu, an 18th-century French geologist who made the first scientific study of the geology of the region.

References/for more information:

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

Rendzina Soil and the Wokewine Mountains: the Robe GI

The historic Cape Dombey Obelisk in Robe, South Australia

Robe—one of the six wine regions located in South Australia’s Limestone Coast Zone—is named for the small township of Robe, located on the shores of Guichen Bay.  Robe was named after the fourth Governor of South Australia, Major Frederick Robe, who chose the site as a port in 1845.

The area—with its unspoiled, rugged coastline and multiple lakes—has a long history of aquaculture, agriculture, and tourism. Robe bills itself as “Australia’s Favorite Seaside Town” and is listed as one of the “Top 50 small towns in Australia.” Fishing, boating, hiking, camping, and sea-side conservation areas are a big deal in Robe.

As might be expected, the area enjoys a degree of fame for its seafood—particularly the lobster—but viticulture is a fairly new arrival to the area.

Photo of the seaside town of Robe by Kym Farnik via Wikimedia Commons

The area’s first vineyards were planted as recently as 1989, with the first commercial vineyards planted by Penfolds in 1994. Other (mostly independent) wineries followed suit and today you can find several wineries—including Karatta Wines, Woodsoak Wines, and Governor Robe Wines—in the area.  The Robe wine region, which stretches along the coast from the town of Robe to the town of Beachport in the south, was officially recognized as a Geographical Indication in 2006.

This coast-side location makes for a cool climate and resultant long ripening season. However, the area’s commercial vineyards are planted on the eastern (inland) side of the Wokewine Mountains, which provide a bit of a barrier to the cool ocean breezes. The mountains also provide a small degree of altitude—many vineyards are planted at elevations of 164 feet (50 m) to as high as 495 feet (51 m)—as well as some areas of northern exposure ideal for red grapes (remember, we are in the Southern Hemisphere so northern exposure = more sun). The many large lakes located between the mountains and the coast also help moderate the climate somewhat.

Map of the Robe GI via: Phylloxera and Grape Industry Board of South Australia

The area has a wide range of soil types, which includes the famous terra rosa found throughout much of the Limestone Coast Zone. Many vineyards are planted on rendzina soils, a specific type of darkly-colored clay-and-humus-rich terra rosa found mainly in mountainous regions.

Today, there are a total of 1,705 acres (690 ha) of vines planted in the Robe G.I. Of these, 72% are planted to red grapes, led by Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Pinot Noir, and Merlot (in that order). Of the 28% planted to white grapes, Chardonnay makes up the great majority, followed by Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, and Semillon.

Many of the grapes grown in the Robe area are used, somewhat anonymously, for wines labeled under the Limestone Coast, South Australia, or South Eastern Australia Geographical Indications. However, those bottled under the Robe G.I. are worth seeking out. If you find yourself in South Australia sometime soon, you’ll want to make sure to treat yourself to some of that Guichen Bay lobster and a bottle of Robe Chardonnay.

This is the sixth and final installation in our six-part series on Australia’s Limestone Coast. Click here for the first article, on the Mount Benson GIclick here for the article on Mount Gambier, here for the article on Coonawarra, here for the article on Wrattonbully, and here for the article on Padthaway. 

References/for more information:

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