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

About bubblyprof
Wine Writer and Educator...a 20-year journey from Bristol Hotels to Le Cordon Bleu Schools and the Society of Wine Educators

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