Valpolicella—What’s in a Blend?

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

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

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

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

The basic blend of Valpolicella

The basic blend of Valpolicella

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References/for more information:

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

Confusion Corner: Verdelho and Verdejo

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

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

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

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

Photo of Rueda by Agne27, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo of Rueda by Agne27, via Wikimedia Commons

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

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

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

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

Verdelho in Portugal

Verdelho in Portugal

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

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

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

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

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

References/for more information:

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

Fuzzy Wuzzy was a Vine

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

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

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

Garnacha Pelut vineyards in Priorat

Garnacha Peluda vineyards in Priorat

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

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

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

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

Fuzzy-leafed lamb's ears

Fuzzy-leafed lamb’s ears

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

References/for further information

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

The Outer Limits: Italy’s Southernmost DOCs

Map of Sicily via Google Maps

Map of Sicily via Google Maps

The island of Sicily, located just to the west of Calabria (the “tip” of Italy’s boot) might not be the southernmost point in Italy (that award goes to the island of Lampedusa), but it’s pretty far south, and it is home to the two southernmost DOCs of Italy (they overlap, and it’s a tie): the Eloro DOC and the Noto DOC.

First things first: about that “southernmost” claim: the southernmost town (commune) I could find (via Google maps) located within the Eloro DOC and Noto DOCs is Portopalo di Capo Passero (which is itself located within the Province of Syracuse). Its latitude is 36° 41′N. For the record, that’s just a little bit farther south than the DOC of Pantelleria, which is often quoted as Italy’s southernmost DOC, yet sits at 36° 50′.

The land around these two DOCs is mostly a flat, coastal plain so the area can become quite warm. Only the northernmost reaches of the Noto DOC has any hills to speak of, but the breezes off the Mediterranean Sea provide a necessary cooling influence.

The archeological site of Helorus (photo in the public domain)

The archeological site of Helorus

The Eloro DOC is named after Helorus (Italian: Eloro), an archeological site located in the modern-day commune of Noto. Helorus was an ancient Greek (then Roman) city dating from late 8th century BC. Helorus was mentioned by Thucydides in his recounting the retreat of the Athenians “on the road leading to Helorus from Syracuse.” The once-fortified city had a theater (called the colisseo) and many buildings. Today, parts of the city’s foundations, some portions of the outer walls, and a single column atop a square pedestal are still intact.

Red and rosé wines are produced under the Eloro DOC. Both styles are produced using a minimum of 90% Nero d’Avola, Frappato, and Pignatello grapes; the other 10% is allowed to include any red grape approved for Sicily. Red wines only are produced in the subzone of Pachino, and must be a minimum of 80% Nero d’Avola, with the other 20% being % Frappato and/or Pignatello. The emphasis on Nero d’Avola makes sense as likely native home of the grape–the commune of Avola–is just a few miles away. The Eloro DOC was established in 1994.

The town of Noto at sunset

The town of Noto at sunset

Noto DOC is a new name for the area formerly known as the Moscato di Noto DOC, and a good deal of Moscato-based wine is still produced here. However, under the new title, red wines are produced as well. Among the many styles of Moscato di Noto (all made with 100% Moscato Bianco) are a varietal Moscato, a spumante, a liquoroso (fortified), and a dried-grape version known as Passito di Noto. The Moscato di Noto spumante is required to have at least 5% residual sugar and a minimum of 4 atm of pressure. The liquoroso (fortified) must be fermented to at least 6.5% abv before fortification takes place.

The Noto DOC also produces a rosso made with a required minimum of 65% Nero d’Avloa, as well as a varietal Nero d’Avola (with the typical 85% minimum requirement).

The area around the town of Noto was destroyed in an earthquake in 1693, so the town that one may visit today dates to the early 18th century. Many of the churches, walkways and buildings were designed by the Sicilian architect Rosario Gagliardi (1698–1762) who worked in what is now known as the Sicilian Baroque style. Among the most amazing sites of the town are Corso Vittorio Emanuele, a street which includes the Church of San Domenico, and the Fountain of Hercules. Noto is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Baroque Church of San Francesco in Noto

Baroque Church of San Francesco in Noto

As for the other extreme, it looks like the northernmost DOC in Italy is the Alto Adige DOC, which just barely nudges out the DOC of Valdadige – both are reaching up to 46° 40′N latitude. More on that later!

References/for more information:

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

 

Confusion Corner: Rully and Reuilly

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As I am sure most of my readers are well aware, there is a lot of confusion inherent to the study of wine. A lot of this has to do with the fact that it is just a huge amount of material, and that it covers so many disciplines from geography and botany to culture, chemistry, and cuisine.

But then there are those times when it just seems like the world is stacked against the serious student of wine. How, for instance, is one supposed to differentiate between Listrac and Lirac?  Ciron and Cérons? Shanxi and Shaanxi (are you kidding me)?

Today’s post will try to unravel just one tiny confusion corner of the wine world—in this case, Rully and Reuilly. For starters, Rully is in Burgundy, and Reuilly is in the Loire Valley. Let’s see what other stories these two regions have to tell.

Our Burgundian, Rully (pronounced ryoo-YEE) is one of the five villages in the Côte Chalonnaise that has AOC status (the others are Bouzeron, Givry, Mercurey, and Montagny). Rully AOC wines are produced in the commune of Rully as well as Chagny, its neighbor-to-the-north. The Rully AOC is located just southeast of Bouzeron and just northwest of Mercurey.

Château de Rully in the Côte Chalonnaise

Château de Rully in the Côte Chalonnaise

The Rully AOC produces both red and white wines and includes 23 premier cru vineyards. White wines are permitted to be made using either Chardonnay or Pinot Gris, but in practice they are almost exclusively Chardonnay. Red wines are produced from Pinot Noir, and may contain up to 15% Chardonnay or Pinot Gris (combined). The AOC currently has 558 acres (226 ha) planted to white grapes including 173 acres [70 ha] premier cru. Red grapevines cover acres 292 acres (118 ha) including 72 acres (29 ha) premier cru.

The commune of Rully is located just below the eastern side of a low-lying limestone ridge named La Montagne de la Folie. It comforts me a bit to learn that this name translates to “Mountain of Madness,” although apparently the name is not due to mental illness (caused by wine study) but refers to a very old legend telling that the villagers in the valley would often see flickering lights coming from high in the hills. They nicknamed these lights la folia (dance of the fairies).

The Montagne de la Folie is an extension of the limestone escarpment of the Côte de Beaune. It runs from north to south, in between the communes of Rully and Bouzeron. The best vineyards of the Rully AOC (and most of the premiers crus) are located on the eastern slopes of La Montagne de la Folie.

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Did I mention that the commune of Rully is located in the département of Saône-et-Loire? Is that confusing? (I think so.) Here’s some fun information to hopefully clear things up. The département of Saône-et-Loire is located in the region of Bourgogne-Franche-Comté (formerly known as simply Bourgogne). It lies between the two rivers after which it is named—the Saône and the Loire. The two rivers flow through the area in opposite directions, as the Loire flows north from its source in the Massif Central, and the Saône flows south from its source in the Vosges Mountains, until it joins the Rhône in the city of Lyon.

Reuilly (pronounced reuh-YEE), on the other hand, is an AOC located in the Eastern (or Upper) Loire Valley. Reuilly is located (along with the Quincy AOC) near the Cher River (a Loire tributary) in an area often called the Central Vineyards—which is a bit confusing in itself, as it refers not to the Central Loire (which would apply to Anjou, Touraine, and Samur) but the center of France. A bit further to the east (closer to the Loire itself), one finds the better-known areas of Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé, and Menetou-Salon (also considered part of the Central Vineyards of France).

The Reuilly AOC produces red, white, and rosé wines but is perhaps best-known for its crisp, dry, white wines made from 100% Sauvignon Blanc grapes. These wines are often described as having herbal, grassy, and citrus flavors and as such are inevitably often compared to the more famous wines produced in neighboring Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé.

The River Cher

The River Cher

The red wines of the Reuilly AOC are 100% Pinot Noir and tend to be light-bodied with aromas of cherries, raspberries, and dried flowers. Rosé wines are produced using Pinot Noir or Pinot Gris.

The Reuilly AOC is located quite a bit further inland than the majority of the other wine regions of the Loire, and as such experiences a much more continental-style climate. As a matter of fact, Reuilly is one of the driest and hottest areas in the Loire (even considering its neighbors in the Central Vineyards), so much so that this is quite often the first appellation in the Loire Valley to begin its harvest.

Hopefully, this clears up at least some of the confusion between Rully and Reuilly. However, if you happen to find yourself stuck in another wine confusion corner, let me know and I’ll try to straighten it out!

References/for further information:

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

The pH of it all

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When we talk about wine, we talk about acidity, and when describing wines, one of the typical ways to describe acidity in wine is to use the pH scale. Dedicated students of wine can easily quote 2.9 to 3.9 as the typical range of pH in wine.

I personally love the zip and zest of highly acidic wines and adore Mosel Riesling (the drier the better), New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, and even 100% Sicilian Grillo. I’ll take the tongue-curling antics of a wine with a pH of 2.9 any day.

But what exactly is pH? You probably already know that it is a scale runs from 0 to 14 and measures how acidic or basic a substance is. But what does that mean? To answer this question we need to dive into some science…we can start with chemistry and biology, and might just have to visit the physics department (and if we are going there, it better be worth it). So here we go!

About the p and the H: First things first—the term “pH” stands for “power of hydrogen.” The term was invented in 1909 by the Danish biochemist Søren Peter Lauritz Sørensen, so originally the “p” stood for potenz (the German word for power). The “H” (for us absolute beginners) is the element symbol for hydrogen, and the pH scale reflects the concentration and type of the hydrogen-based atoms in a solution. (Note: some references define the “p” in pH as “parts” or “potential.”)

What’s hydrogen got to do with it: Hydrogen is the common element to all acids. What determines whether a solution is acidic or basic is the form and degree of saturation of hydrogen ions.

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Define ions, please: To put it as simply as possible—ions are atoms or molecules that have lost or gained an electron over the course of their travels. In the case of hydrogen, this can occur when water splits apart.  If a hydrogen atom loses an electron, it becomes positively charged and is known as a hydrogen ion (H+). If a hydrogen atom gains an electron, it becomes negatively charged and is known as a hydroxide ion (OH).

Hydrogen ions: An acid is a molecule that can split apart in water and release hydrogen ions (thus, acidic solutions have measurable concentrations of hydrogen atoms). Bases are stronger in hydroxide ions. In neutral solutions, the two are roughly equal and they cancel each other out (neutralize each other).  The way that these hydrogen molecules react in water is the basis for the pH scale.

Deliver me from logarithms: The pH scale is logarithmic. Logarithms are multiples of ten; that means that for every full integer on the pH scale, the strength of the acid or base increases tenfold. Thus a pH of 2 is ten times more acidic than a pH of 3—and a pH of 2 is 100 times more acidic than a pH of 4. If this seems confusing, consider another logarithmic scale, the Richter Scale, where an earthquake measuring 7 is ten times stronger than a 6.

Liquid required: A substance has to be water-based in order to have a pH. Powders and oils (such as vegetable oil or olive oil) cannot be measured on the pH scale. There are, however, several other ways of measuring acidity.

The neutrality zone: A 7 on the pH scale is neither acidic nor basic, and considered neutral. Distilled water is generally neutral, but other types of water are not. An interesting (kind of gross) fact is that  human blood is very close to neutral (just slightly basic) and often has a pH of 7.35 to 7.45. Any deviation from this ideal blood pH can have devastating effects on one’s health.

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Just the basics: In the wine world we deal with levels of acidity, but it is interesting to understand the types of substances on the other end of the scale.  Here are a few common items and their basic pH levels:

  • 8: Baking soda, sea water
  • 9: Toothpaste
  • 10: Milk of Magnesia
  • 11: Ammonia
  • 12: Soapy water
  • 13: Oven cleaner
  • 14: Drain cleaner

The equation for pH: Never mind. If you are interested (and have a logarithmic calculator and know how to use it) click here.

References/for more information:

The Bubbly Professor (who has not formally studied chemistry or physics since college) is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net

The First-Ever AOC Goes to…

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The first-ever AOC goes to…Roquefort Cheese!  As a matter of fact, Roquefort Cheese was protected by a Parliamentary Decree in the year 1411 and as such, may be credited with starting the entire idea of terroir-based certification for agricultural products. Several centuries later, once the French government created the bureau of the Institut National des Appellations d’Origine (later called the Institut National de l’Origine et de la Qualité [INAO]), Roquefort Cheese was awarded the first-ever AOC in 1925.

I can hear you saying to yourselves, “but I thought this was a wine blog!” And indeed it is. But it’s always best to start with first things first, and it appears that  the concept of the AOC was first introduced for cheese—which seems apropos, as cheese is an icon of French gastronomy (and thus agriculture). There are now (by most counts) 36 AOC-designated French cheeses, and in the 1950s the concept was opened up to other types of products, which now include Le Puy green lentils, chicken from Bresse, and lavender essential oil from Haute-Provence.

Which leads us to another issue: What was the first French wine to be granted AOC status? Most people will say it was Châteauneuf-du-Pape. This is at least partially true; however, if we look at the rest of the story, it is more accurate to state that Châteauneuf-du-Pape was one of the first.

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Here are the true facts and figures about the first time an AOC was granted for wine: In 1935, the Comite’ National des Appellations d’Origin (CNAO) for wine and spirits was created (recall that a similar group had been created in the 1920s for cheese).

By early 1936, the CNAO had received and approved six applications for protected designations of origin for French wine. On May 15, 1936, French President Albert Lebrun signed the first six decrees for wine AOCs into law. The designations, published in the Official Journal on May 17, were (in order of their appearance in the journal) Arbois, Tavel, Cognac, Cassis, Monbazillac, and Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

As for the rest of the story concerning Châteauneuf-du-Pape, it goes back to 1894 when there was rampant fraud concerning the wines of the area. In response, the winegrowers of Châteauneuf-du-Pape formed a Syndicat Viticole presided over by the mayor of the town. The Syndicat worked for years and in 1919 managed to pass a law that defined the geographic boundaries of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine-producing region. This was one of the earliest geographical designations in France.

While it helped, the 1919 wine appellation law in Châteauneuf-du-Pape did not put a stop to the ongoing fraud,  and it was soon seen as too general and essentially limited to the question of geographical boundaries.

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By 1923, the winegrowers decided it was time to enforce more specific legislation in order to protect their appellation. A delegation of wine growers went to Château Fortia and asked its owner, Baron Le Roy (a lawyer and winegrower), to help. Soon thereafter, on October 4th, 1923, the first meeting of the Winegrowers Union of Châteauneuf-du-Pape took place, and Baron Le Roy was elected President.

The newly-formed Winegrowers Union met many times to codify and define all the conditions necessary to entitle wines to the use of the name of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  After presenting their case to the court in the Commune of Orange, the court found that there was no precedent for the legal definition of a wine, and assigned the case to a panel of experts. This panel was tasked with establishing the legal foundation for the “conditions of territorial origin and faithful, constant, and local traditions concerning the Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation.” After four years of deliberations, the panel of experts published their report, and on November 21, 1933 a law was passed by the Cour de Cassation (French court of last resort) that defined the geographic boundaries and production requirements of the wine known as Châteauneuf-du-Pape. It is believed that this was the first set of laws in all of France concerning not just geographic boundaries but also production parameters for a specific wine.

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So…was Châteauneuf-du-Pape the first AOC? Well, not exactly. There were five other AOCs established on the same day, and Arbois—with the first listing in the Journal—might want to claim the first spot for their own. However, Baron le Roy always insisted that his application on behalf of Châteauneuf-du-Pape was the first to be presented to the CNAO and the first to be accepted—so why not give it to him? What do you think?

References/for more information:

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