Confusion Corner: Sercial, Cerceal, Cercial

Let’s face it. If you are reading about wine (specifically Spanish or Portuguese wine), and you encounter the term “Cerceal,” you are likely to assume it refers to an alternative spelling of the “Sercial” grape (best known as the leading grape of the driest styles of Madeira). At least…that is what I did, until I knew better.

As it turns out, they are two different varieties, although both white and both native to Portugal. And there’s more…another grape (unrelated) likes to go by the name “Cercial” (note the minor spelling difference). These grapes rightfully deserve their place in the Confusion Corner. Let’s see if we can clear this up…

Sercial: The Sercial grape variety is well-known as one of the leading grape varieties of the Madeira DOC. It is believed to be native to the Bucelas area (near Lisbon), where it was traditionally known as Esgana Cão—or dog strangler—based (one hopes) on its outrageously high levels of acidity.

It is believed that Esgana Cão was brought from the mainland to the island of Madeira, where the name Sercial caught on. Despite the fact that the grape’s claim to fame is based on its use in Madeira, the island region accounts for only 20 hectares/49 acres of the Sercial vineyards. The Portuguese mainland boasts about 70 hectares/173 acres of Sercial; much of it grown in the Douro where it is used in both White Port and dry (non-fortified) wines.

Sercial is not often found as a (non-fortified) varietal wine; but is typically used in blends. It is a late-ripening grape that has a yellow/green color when young, but ripens to a deep, golden hue. Sercial has an amazing ability to retain its acidity throughout its long growing season. The grape’s vibrant acidity is coupled with intense aromatics—including yellow fruit, white flowers, and a hint of almond—as well as an ability to age gracefully.

Sercial is not widely grown outside of Portugal. However, the amazing estate of Mas de Daumas Gassac (in France’s Languedoc) has a small plot (0.5 hectares/1.25 acres) of Sercial. In some years, the Sercial is used in the estate’s unique dry white wines; in others it is blended with Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains to produce a well-aged and well-oxidized dessert wine (vin de liqueur) known as Vin de Laurence and bottled under the Vin de France designation.

Also known as: in the Azores (Açores), Sercial is known as Arinto dos Açores. In the Minho, it is known as Esganoso. Esgana and Esgana Cão are also listed as synonyms in the Vitis International Variety Catalogue (VIVC).

Cerceal/Cerceal Branco: Cerceal Branco is believed to be a natural cross of Malvasia Fina (white) X Tinta Pereira (red)—this, according to the VIVC. However, other references cite it as a possible cross of Malvasia Fina X Sercial.

Cerceal Branco is a late-ripening, thick-skinned variety known to produce age-worthy wines with lively acidity. These wines are known for a subtle fruit character (focusing on citrus/grapefruit, lemon, and lime) while showing a good deal of savory character (what many people refer to as “earthy” or “mineral”). 

There are approximately 113 hectares/279 acres of Cerceal Branco in Portugal. A good majority of it is grown in the Douro, as well as the Dão. Smaller amounts are grown in the Bairrada, Tejo, and Alentejo DOCs. It is often used in white wine blends, including some sparkling wines. Typical blending partners include Bical and Encruzado (both native Portuguese white varieties). It may also be seen as a varietal wine; Quinta dos Roques produces a lively example (full of gorgeous fruit and mineral aromas) in the Dão DOC.

Also known as: Cercial (in Bairrada) or Cercial do Douro.

Cercial: Cercial is a totally different grape; believed to be related to one of Portugal’s most prolific red grapes: Castelão. Cercial is native to the Colares region, where it is known as Jampal. Cercial/Jampal is an allowed variety in more than a dozen Portuguese DOCs, and is grown in and around the regions of Colares, Lisboa, Beiras, and Tejo. The grape is known to produce high-qualty, aromatic white wines redolent of fruit and flowers. Despite its promise, there are currently just 106 hectares/262 acres of Cercial/Jampal in Portugal.

Wait, there’s one more—Sercialinho: Just to keep things interesting: Sercial, Cerceal, or Cercial should NOT be confused with Sercialinho. Sercialinho is a Vital X Alvarinho cross created in the Bairrada Region sometime in the 1950s. It is believed that there are about 9 hectares/22 acres of Sercialinho in Portugal, most of it planted in the Bairrada.

Sercialinho is reported to have high levels of acidity, potentially very high sugar, and aromas of green apple, pear, and honey—and some have even compared it to Riesling. Alas, it seems to lack complexity…but who knows what the future may hold for Sercialinho?

References/for more information:

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

Confusion Corner: The Cerasuolos

Two Italian wines use the term cerasuolo in their titles: Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG and Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo DOC. These two appellations consistently end up in the confusion corner, for obvious reasons.

The term cerasuolo is related to the Latin word cerasia—meaning cherry—and does indeed refer to some sort of cherry-like attribute. However, that in itself does not mean that these two wines are the similar in style.

To clear up any confusion, let’s take a closer look at the cerasuolos.

Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo DOC: This Abruzzo-based cerasuolo is a wine with a “cherry-pink” color; famous for being one of the few Italian appellations with a focus on rosato.  The required formula includes a minimum of 85% Montepulciano grapes—with the other 15% allowed to be comprised of any red grape allowed for cultivation in Abruzzo.

The color is described—via the disciplinare—as rosa ciliegia più o meno carico (“more or less intense cherry pink”). This characteristic color is produced via vinificate…in presenza della buccia per un limitato periodo di fermentazione, al fine di conferire al vino ottenuto il caratteristico colore rosa ciliegia (see the disciplinare, article 5, as posted below). Translation: “The grapes are to be vinified in the presence of the grape skins for a limited fermentation period to give the resulting wine its characteristic cherry pink color.”

The Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo DOC covers a large part of the Abruzzo province and co-exists (in the exact same geographic area) as the well-known Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC. The appellation rules require that most of the vines be planted at elevations of or 500 meters (1,640 ft) or lower. As such, the appellation includes the entire coastline and the coastal plains of Abruzzo before zigging and zagging through the interior of the region, hugging the lower-elevation valleys and foothills of the Apennines.

Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo was awarded its DOC in 2010; prior to this date these wines were bottled as a specific style of wine produced within the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo appellation (Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Cerasuolo DOC).

Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG: This cerasuolo is a wine with “cherry-like” aromas and a deep red color. Cerasuolo di Vittoria is famous as Sicily’s one-and-only DOCG.

The rules require this wine to be produced using 30% to 50% Frappato and 50% to 70% Nero d’Avola. The Frappato grapes are credited with giving the wine its distinctive cherry-strawberry aromas. Thin-skinned Frappato does not, however, bring much in terms of tannin or structure to the wine. These attributes are, however, well-provided by the Nero d’Avola. Nero d’Avola grapes are also largely responsible for the wine’s deep color, which is described as da rosso ciliegia a violaceo (“from cherry-red to purplish”) via the disciplinare.

The defined area for the production of Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG is located in the southeastern corner of the island of Sicily, encompassing the coast (and the city of Vittoria) and extending inland for almost 45 miles (70 km). The Vittoria DOC—which allows for the production of red blends as well as varietal bottlings of Nero d’Avola, Frappato, and Ansonica—occupies the exact same area as the Cerasuolo di Vottoria DOCG.

One more—Cerasuolo, Molise: Just to make it crowded in the confusion corner, Cerasuolo is also the name of a small town (hamlet) in Molise. Located within the commune of Filignano, this Cerasuolo is located right along the border between Molise and Lazio. Cerasuolo in Molise lies within a mountainous region of the Apennines and It is not really known as a wine capital, although it does lie within the (nearly) region-wide Molise DOC.  Rather, this Cerasuolo is super-small mountain town (around 300 buildings) located just outside of a large national park—the Parco Nazionale d’Abruzzo, Lazio, e Molise.  Click here for a dreamy, beautiful visual tour of Cerasuolo in Molise, via Michael Pacitti.

References/for more information:

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

Confusion Corner: Saint-Macaire

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Saint-Macaire: It’s a grape, it’s a place, it’s an appellation…but despite the name of that appellation—Côtes de Bordeaux-Saint-Macaire AOC—it is NOT one of the sub-zones of the Côtes de Bordeaux AOC. As such, Saint-Macaire is a perfect subject for Confusion Corner!

Let’s take a look at the many faces of Saint-Macaire:

It’s a grape: Saint-Macaire is a super-obscure red grape, believed to have originated somewhere in the area around Bordeaux. It was once-upon-a-time grown in small amounts on Bordeaux’s Right Bank and known for producing soft, fruity wines with a good snap of acidity and a deep red color. However, the grape was not widely re-planted in Bordeaux in the years following phylloxera and eventually, it was nearly forgotten.

Official statistics tell us that these days, only about 1 hectare of Saint-Macaire remains planted in all of France. It is not approved for use in any of the modern AOCs of Bordeaux—including its namesake, the Côtes de Bordeaux-Saint-Macaire AOC—but it may end up in the wines of the Atlantique IGP or a Vin de France.

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Outside of France, there are a few estates in California that grow Saint-Macaire—these include O’Shaunessy Estate Winery in Napa’s Howell Mountain AVA and Sonoma’s Hanna Winery. Due to its historic stature as a lost grape of Bordeaux, Saint-Macaire is included in the list of grapes approved to be used in Meritage—as defined by the Meritage Alliance—and once in a great while, I’ll find it listed on a Meritage label.

Australia’s Calabria Family Winery (formerly known Westend Estate) grows a few acres of Saint-Macaire in Victoria—and is believed to be the only estate in Australia growing the grape.

It’s a place: Occupying a 2-mile (3-km) stretch of the northern bank of the Garonne River in France’s Gironde Department, Saint-Macaire is a tiny commune (population: 1,196).  In addition to its vineyards (planted mainly to Muscadelle, Sauvignon Blanc, and Sémillon), the area’s claim to fame is the Château de Tardes, a Monument Historique (national heritage site) and castle dating from 13th century. The building was rebuilt—complete with a hexagon-shaped tower and spiral staircase—into a Renaissance-style mansion in the centuries that followed.

Photo of Château de Tardes by Henry Salomé via Wikimedia Commons

It’s an appellation: Nestled between the Garonne River and the surrounding Entre-Deux-Mers AOC, the Côtes de Bordeaux-Saint-Macaire AOC is located on the softly rolling (south-facing) hills found along the eastern edge of Bordeaux. The Côtes de Bordeaux-Saint-Macaire AOC is approved for the production of white wines only. Dry wines are allowed and are defined as having less than 4 g/L (0.04%) of residual sugar. However, the area is best-known for its sweet (moelleux) and even sweeter (liquoreux) versions of white wines. Produced using ultra-ripe grapes (often affected by botrytis or allowed to dry after harvest), the sweet wines of the area known for notes of ripe pear, toasted almonds, bees wax, tropical fruit, dried apricot, honey, and fig.

It is NOT one of the sub-zones of the Côtes de Bordeaux AOC: Despite the similarity in their names, the Côtes de Bordeaux-Saint-Macaire AOC is not a sub-zone of the Côtes de Bordeaux AOC. The Côtes de Bordeaux AOC, established in 2009, has five sub-zones—Francs, Cadillac, Castillon, Blaye, and Sainte Foy—all of which are located quite close to Saint-Macaire. Each of these subzones may append their name to the “Côtes de Bordeaux AOC” title; this means that the name of wine bottled under the Francs subzone (as an example), could be listed as “Francs—Côtes de Bordeaux AOC.” And thus, the confusion reigns.

However, Saint-Macaire has not joined the the club of the Côtes de Bordeaux AOC. One clear definition between the appellations is that the Côtes de Bordeaux AOC (and its five sub-zones) are all approved for the production of red wines, while the Côtes de Bordeaux-Saint-Macaire AOC is only approved for white wines. (Note: Three of the Côtes de Bordeaux subzones—Francs, Blaye, and Sainte Foy—may produce white wines in addition to reds.)

Map of the Côtes de Bordeaux-Saint-Macaire AOC via http://www.sweetbordeaux.com

Hopefully, this post cleared up some of the confusion regarding Saint-Macaire. It’s really quite simple: Saint-Macaire is a grape, a place, and an appellation—but it is not one of the sub-zones of the Côtes de Bordeaux AOC, despite sharing the good portion of a name and being located in a similar spot.

Any questions?

References/for more information:

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

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

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

Confusion Corner: Slovenia, Slavonia, Slovakia

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As a wine student, you’ve heard the terms…Slovenian Sivi Pinot and Slavonian Oak. You may also have heard that a tiny portion of the Tokaj region crosses the border of Hungary, extending into Slovakia.

You may have thought that these three terms—Slovenia, Slavonia, Slovakia—are so similar in spelling and pronunciation that they represent the exact same thing expressed in three similar languages. (I thought that for a very long time.) However, here’s the truth: these are three separate places in three distinct countries, and they each have their own fascinating story when it comes to wine.

So here goes:

Slovenia: Slovenia is one of the countries to emerge from the Kingdom of Yugoslavia (1918–1941)—later known as the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1945–1992). Others include Croatia (more on that later), Montenegro, Bosnia–Herzegovina, and Serbia. Slovenia is a mountainous country located just to the east of Italy’s Friuli Venezia Giulia region.  Slovenia has been a member of the European Union since 2004.

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Slovenia’s wine connection: Slovenia—located between Italy, Austria, Croatia, and Hungary—has a long history of viticulture and wine production. Many of Slovenia’s wine regions are located along the border with Italy, and could almost be considered “extensions” of the Italian areas; these include Slovenia’s Goriška Brda region that rests alongside Italy’s Collio Goriziano DOC, as well as Slovenia’s Kras region/Italy’s Carso DOC. Slovenia has close to 22,300 ha/55,100 acres of vineyards. Approximately 75% of the country’s output is white wine; leading white grapes include Riesling, Gewürztraminer (Traminec), Müller-Thurgau (Rizvanec), Pinot Gris (Sivi Pinot), Sauvignon Blanc, and Ribolla Gialla.

Slavonia: Slavonia is—along with Istria, Central Croatia, and Dalmatia—one of the four historical regions of Croatia. Croatia—one of the countries to emerge from the Kingdom of Yugoslavia (along with Slovenia)—became a member of the EU in 2013. The Slavonian region is located in the eastern (inland) section of Croatia; it borders Hungary (to the north), Serbia (to the east), and Bosnia–Herzegovina (to the south).

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Slavonia’s wine connection: Croatia has a long and well-documented history of wine production as well as international fame as the native home of the Crljenak Kaštelanski grape variety and its lineage (including Primitivo and Zinfandel). Croatia’s vineyards are divided roughly into two sections—Kontinentalna Hrvatska (inland, or continental Croatia) and Primorska Hrvatska (coastal Croatia)—and contain several EU-designated geographical indications.

However…the region of Slavonia is particularly famous for its oak. The next time you hear of a wine being aged in Slavonian oak barrels, please direct your thoughts to the lightly forested, inland area of northern Croatia. Slavonian oak—known for its compact fibers, tight grain, and sweet aromas—allows wine to undergo a long, slow oxidation in the barrel. Large barrels made from Slavonian oak are all the rage in Tuscany, Veneto, and Piedmont. The next time you enjoy Amarone, Chianti Classico, or Barolo, check the winemaker’s notes—it might have spent some time in Slavonian oak.

Slovakia: Along with the Czech Republic, Slovakia is one of the two countries to emerge from the sovereign state of Czechoslovakia, which lasted from 1918 (upon the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) to 1993 (when it peacefully dissolved into the two countries). Slovakia is a landlocked country tucked between Poland, Ukraine, Hungary (to the south), Austria, and the Czech Republic. Slovakia has been a member of the EU since 2004.

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Slovakia’s wine connection: Slovakia has over 20,000 ha/49,000 acres of vineyards. The country has 400 wineries and nine EU-designated protected (PDO) regions. The majority of the vineyards are located along the country’s western border (alongside Austria) and southern border (alongside Hungary).  Leading white grapes include Grüner Veltliner, Welschriesling, Müller-Thurgau, Riesling, and Pinot Gris; leading red grapes include Blaufränkisch, St. Laurent, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Pinot Noir. Outside of Europe, the wines of Slovakia are not (yet) very well-known; however, the area is famous for its production of Tokajská—a small portion of  Hungary’s famous (and historic) Tokaj-producing region extends northward into Slovak territory. When Hungary and Slovakia joined the European Union in the early 2000s, both countries agreed to abide by the same standards in viticulture, wine production and labeling for the wines labeled as Tokaji or Tokajská.

References/for more information:

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

Confusion Corner: Loir (not Loire)

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First things first: there is an actual Loir River and Loir Valley, and they are geographically close to—but not the same things as—the Loire River and the Loire Valley.

And yet, if you tell your friends you are going to the Loir Valley to taste Chenin Blanc, visit the gardens of the Prieuré de Vauboin, and tour the stunning Château du Lude—they would probably guess that you are going to the Loire Valley.

The Château du Lude in France’s Loir Valley. Photo credit: Manfred Heyde via Wikimedia Commons

Your destination, however, would be the valley of the Loir—a river that flows somewhat parallel to and about 20 miles/32 km north of the Loire River as it passes the city of Tours (and the wine regions of Touraine).

The Loir River flows—from its source just north of the town of Illiers-Combray—for a total of about 200 miles/322 km. Its waters eventually make their way into the Loire, and it is considered a third-order tributary of the larger river. Before joining the Loire, the Loir flows west/southwest for nearly 180 miles/290 km and eventually joins the Sarthe River just north of the city of Angers. From there, the Sarthe River joins the Mayenne River to form the Maine River, which flows south for a mere 7 miles/11.5 km before joining the Loire-with-an-e.   (Note: the Maine River of which we speak is a different Maine River than the more-famous Maine River [aka the Petite Maine] that flows northward through the region of Muscadet Sèvre et Maine.)

Three AOCs—considered part of the Loire Valley “family” of wine regions and often grouped together with the other regions of Touraine—are located along the Loir River. The easternmost—Coteaux du Vendômois AOC—surrounds the city of Vendôme; all three are located along a 40-mile/67-kilometer stretch of the Loir as it flows north of (and fairly parallel to) the Loire.

Graph of the Maine, Mayenne, Sarthe and Loir rivers in France by Mbursar via Wikimedia Commons

As befits the location, Chenin Blanc and Pineau d’Aunis (Chenin Noir) are the leading grape varieties planted along the Loir River. Here’s a bit more information about the AOCs and wines of the Loir (not Loire) Valley:

Coteaux du Vendômois AOC: The Coteaux du Vendômois AOC is approved for three styles of wine: red, white, and vin gris (a light-in-hue rosé made via direct press, thus avoiding skin contact). White wines are typically based on Chenin Blanc; Chardonnay is allowed as a secondary variety. Vin gris—considered the speciality of the region and also the most widely produced by volume—must be 100% Pineau d’Aunis (Chenin Noir). The reds are always a blend, requiring a minimum of 50% Pineau d’Aunis along with 10% to 40% Pinot Noir and 10% to 40% Cabernet Franc (Gamay is allowed [up to 20%] but not required).

Jasnières AOC: The Jasnières AOC (technically a sub-appellation of the Coteaux du Vendômois) is a small, white wine-only appellation. The first vineyards were planted here by Cistercian monks in the Middle Ages; centuries later the wines were beloved by Henry IV. Jasnières benefits from soil rich in tuffeau (a type of limestone) and clay, as well as south- and southwest-facing hillsides. All the wines produced under the Jasnières AOC are 100% Chenin Blanc, but the wines may be made in dry or sweet styles. Well-made Jasnières can be quite age-worthy; most producers suggest allowing the wines to age for at least five years; sweet versions may last for 12 years or even longer.

Château de Bazouges in the commune of Bazouges-sur-le-Loir (Photo credit: Manfred Heyde via Wikimedia Commons)

Coteaux du Loir AOC: The Coteaux du Loir AOC—located downriver from (and to the west of) the Coteaux du Vendômois and Jasnières—produces red, white, and rosé. The white wines are 100% Chenin Blanc and may be produced in a range of sweetness levels from dry to sweet (including some affected by botrytis). Many of the reds and rosés are 100% Pineau d’Aunis; however, they may also be produced as blends. Red wines must contain a minimum of 50% Pineau d’Aunis; the remainder is Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and/or Gamay.  Rosé blends must also include a majority of Pineau d’Aunis; the remainder may be comprised of Malbec, Gamay, and Grolleau Noir (a common component in many of the rosés produced in that other Loire Valley). The vineyards of the Coteaux du Loir AOC are protected, in part, by the magnificent Forest of Bercé (Foret de Bercé), located to the north and west of the region.

The vineyard area of the three Loir Valley AOCs combined totals just 700 acres/280 ha. Compare this to the 185,000 acres/75,000 ha of vineyards found throughout the Loire Valley region and it becomes crystal-clear that the Loir comprises just a tiny part of the Loire Valley wine story.

And yet, it seems worthwhile to know your Loir (without an e) from your Loire (with an e)—and to plan a trip to visit both!

References/for more information:

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

Confusion Corner: Blaye, Blaye, Blaye

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Tucked away in a sleepy corner off the right bank of the Gironde Estuary, you’ll find the town of Blaye. Blaye is a picture-postcard-perfect town rich in history and charm. Wine lovers, of course, will recognize the name Blaye as a small-but-impressive area for the production of Bordeaux wine. And that’s where the confusion begins. There are three appellations d’origine contrôlée (AOCs) that go by the name of Blaye: Blaye AOC, Côtes de Blaye AOC, and Côtes de Bordeaux–Blaye AOC They all share the exact same location and all three—of course—produce Bordeaux wine.

And yet and still, each of these three appellations comes with its own unique twist.  Here’s what we mean:

Blaye AOC: The Blaye AOC is approved to produce still (non-sparkling) dry red wines only. Blaye AOC may be produced from any of the six “typical” red Bordeaux varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec (known here as “Côt), Petit Verdot, and/or Carmenère. There are, however, some interesting parameters set to the assemblage (blend): at least 50% of the blend must consist of the three principal varieties of the appellation—Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. The other three grapes (Malbec/Côt, Petit Verdot, and Carmenère) may only be found in concentrations of less than 50% (combined).

Photo of vineyards in Blaye by Michael Clarke via Wikimedia Commons

Côtes de Blaye AOC: The Côtes de Blaye AOC produces still (non-sparkling) dry white wines only. This appellation could be considered a loveable misfit of Bordeaux, as the wines are required to be based on Colombard and/or Ugni Blanc. You read that right! As a matter of fact, the wine must be produced using 60% to 90% (combined) Ugni Blanc and/or Colombard. The remainder may consist of Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris, Sémillon, and/or Muscadelle.

Côtes de Bordeaux–Blaye AOC: The Blaye sub-region of the Côtes de Bordeaux AOC produces still (non-sparkling wines) in both dry red and dry white. This appellation was created in 2015 when the late, great Premieres Côtes de Blaye AOC was absorbed by the Côtes de Bordeaux AOC.

The regulations for the red wines are similar to—but not exactly the same—as those for the Blaye AOC. Côtes de Bordeaux–Blaye AOC Rogue must contain a minimum (combined) 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot; Carmenère has a maximum of 10%, and Petit Verdot and Carmenère combined may not exceed 15%.

The white wines of the Côtes de Bordeaux–Blaye AOC somewhat reflect the requirements for standard dry white Bordeaux wines and may contain any combination of Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris, Sémillon, and/or Muscadelle (although it is likely to be heavy on the Sauvignon Blanc). Colombard and Ugni Blanc, while allowed, must be kept to a (combined) maximum of 15%.

The red wines of the Blaye AOC and the Côtes de Bordeaux–Blaye AOC seem awfully similar, so it helps to keep in mind that the Côtes de Bordeaux is considered one of Bordeaux’s over-arching regional appellations, and as such it maintains somewhat looser standards than those required for the Blaye AOC, as seen in the following examples:

  • Minimum potential alcohol:
    • Blaye AOC: 12%
    • Côtes de Bordeaux–Blaye AOC Rogue: 11.5%
  • Maximum yield:
    • Blaye AOC: 48 hl/ha
    • Côtes de Bordeaux–Blaye AOC Rogue: 52 hl/ha

Any questions?

References/for more information:

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

Confusion Corner: Tuff, Tufa, Tuffeau

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Tuff, tufa, tuffeau: welcome to confusion corner.

These “three t’s” are all types of stone and/or soil. Two—tuff and tuffeau—are of particular interest to viticulture, while tufa is the odd man out.

Let’s take a closer look:

Tuff: Tuff (pronounced tuhf like the English word tough) is a type of volcanic soil; however, it is sometimes classified as a sedimentary soil—so let’s just say it is formed via both volcanism and sedimentation.

Tuff is created in several stages: first, molten lava blasts out of a volcano. Second, this lava cools and fragments as it floats through the air and (third), it eventually lands in a heap upon the ground. With time, these fragments—which include volcanic ash and bits of igneous rock—settle, condense, and cement together into a soft, porous stone.

Tuff soils inside the crater of Mount Vesuvius (photo credit: Simona Cerrato via Wikimedia Commons)

Tuff-based soils are found in Napa (Howell Mountain), Lake County (California), Madeira, Hungary (Tokaj), Alto Piemonte (Gattinara, Ghemme), Campania (Mount Vesuvius) and large swaths of Yellowstone Park.

Tuffeau: Tuffeau (pronounced too’-foo) is a specific type of limestone found in the Loire Valley. Tuffeau is fine-grained and very low density (about half the density of granite). Tuffeau is formed from the remnants of the sea floor (sediment, fossilized sea creatures, and sand) that covered the Loire Valley over 90 million years ago. Over the millennia, these particles became compressed to form a unique type of limestone. Tuffeau’s uniqueness is due to the presence of foraminifera (creatures with multi-chambered shells), and the (previously) shallow water that stood between 2 and 20 meters deep. Most other forms of limestone are formed under deeper waters.

The fortified wall at the 8th-centure Château de Loches, showing tuffeau blocks of various ages (photo credit: Valerius Tygart via Wikimedia Commons)

Weathered tuffeau, combined with sand, flint, and clay—as found in the Central Loire regions of Anjou, Saumur, Touraine—is an excellent vineyard soil. Tuffeau—also be known as Turonian Limestone (after the city of Tours)—is also famous as the building blocks of many of the gorgeous castles of the Loire.

Tufa: The words “tufa” (pronounced too’-fah) and “tuff” and commonly confused, and that’s ok for people having casual conversations about the ground beneath their feet. However, for geologists and wine geeks, there’s a big difference between the two. So here goes: tufa is a rare type of limestone created when calcium carbonate-saturated water releases carbon dioxide and precipitates a soft, calcium carbonate-based rock. Tufa is specifically formed in ambient-temperature water.

The best-known examples of tufa (in the fascinating form of tufa towers) can be found at Mono Lake, California. Tufa is not—to the best of my knowledge—a factor in vineyard soils.

Tufa deposits originating from hot springs are known as travertine—and that’s a whole other corner story.

References/for more information:

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

Confusion Corner: The Grecos

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There are at least 7 different grape varieties that go by the name “Greco.” One of those, Greco Bianco, stars in a sweet, copper-colored dessert wine known as “Greco di Bianco DOC.” Another—that we’ll call “just plain Greco”—produces a crisp, clean, dry white wine in the Greco di Tufo DOCG.

And then there are the red Greco varieties—including Greco Nero, Greco Nero di Sibari, and Greco Nero di Verbaicaro—not to be confused with the un-related Grechetto di Orvieto or Grechetto di Todi (aka Pignoletto, not to be confused with Pignolo).

Welcome to confusion corner, where (in this case) the confusion needs no further introduction. In this post, we’ll attempt to unravel the white varieties (and wines) of the Grecos.

First we’ll unravel the white grapes that go by the name Greco:

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Greco: While the name “Greco” certainly seems to imply that this aromatic white grape variety originally hails from Greece—and this has been suggested—however, it is possible that the grape is native to Western/Central Italy. There are several reasons to believe this theory, including the fact that (these days) a majority of the planet’s Greco is grown in Italy’s Campania region. Beyond Campania, Greco is grown in Puglia, Molise, Lazio, and even Tuscany. The Greco grape variety is allowed for use in several DOCs, scattered throughout Central and Southern Italy. These include the Vignanello DOC (Lazio), Vesuvio DOC (Campania), Capri DOC (Campania), Bianco di Pitigliano DC (Tuscany), the Gravina DOC (Puglia), and—most notably, Campania’s Greco di Tufo DOCG (more on Greco di Tufo later).

Wines produced using the Greco grape variety tend to be slightly aromatic, showing scents of citrus, apricot, white peach, fresh herbs, and a decided minerality. The color tends to be deep yellow to gold. The grape is a late-ripener making it ideal for Central Italy’s warm, Mediterranean climate

Noted (and confusing) synonyms for the Greco grape variety include Greco di Tufo, Greco del Vesuvio, Greco di Napoli, Asprinio, and Greco della Torre but NOT Greco Bianco.

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Greco Bianco: According to Jancis Robinson, et al in the book Wine Grapes, despite the constant confusion between the grapes, the Greco Bianco grape variety is NOT linked to, or even closely related to, the Greco variety (as discussed above). Greco Bianco, rather, is identical to (synonymous with) Pecorello Bianco. Both names are used in Calabria, where most Greco Bianco is found. The Greco Bianco grape variety is allowed for use in a smattering of DOC wines, including Melissa DOC, Terre Di Consenza DOC (Calabria), Frascati DOC and Frascati Superiore DOCG (Lazio), and Cirò DOC (Calabria). As Pecorello Bianco, it may be found in the wines of the Savuto DOC and the Donnici DOC (both of Calabria). Greco Bianco is often used in the production of late harvest/dessert wines, but may also be made in to dry wines with fruity, floral, and citrus aromas.

Greco Bianco di Gerace: Also known as Malvasia di Lipari, and often confused with Greco Bianco (even by the experts – so who knows).

Greco Bianco di Novara: Also known as Erbaluce.

Next, the wines:

Campania, Italy—with the town of Tufo highlighted (via Google Maps)

Greco di Tufo DOCG: First things first: Greco di Tufo is both a grape (synonymous with Greco) and an Italian DOCG wine region. Here, we are focusing on the wine. The Greco di Tufo region (located about 35 miles inland from Naples and about the same distance away from Mount Vesuvius) is named after the town of Tufo. The town—Tufo—is itself named after the “tuff” soil of the area, created when volcanic ash falls down and eventually consolidates into a sedimentary rock.

According to regulations, Greco di Tufo DOCG must be comprised of a minimum of 85% Greco, with the remaining 15% allowed to contain Coda di Volpe. Greco di Tufo DOCG is a highly regarded, dry white wine well-appreciated for its crisp acidity and aromas of citrus (lemon, mandarin orange), pears, peaches, almonds, fresh green herbs and distinctive minerality.

Greco di Tufo is one of the four DOCGs located in Campania; the other three are Fiano di Avellino DOCG, Aglianico del Taburno DOCG, and Taurasi DOCG.

Calabria, Italy—with the town of Bianco highlighted (via Google Maps)

Greco di Bianco DOC: Greco di Bianco DOC, located in the hills surrounding the coastal town of Bianco, is a copper-colored dessert wine produced from dried (passito) grapes. The grapes must be so concentrated as to have a potential of 17% abv and the resulting wine must be either amabile o dolce (semi-sweet to sweet, meaning basically a minimum of 1.5% RS and more likely at least 4.5% RS). The grapes must be at least 85% Greco Bianco (as opposed to just plain Greco), with the other 5% loosely defined as “white grapes allowed for production in Calabria.” Greco di Bianco DOC wines tend to be rich, velvety, and luscious with intense aromas of dried citrus peels, lemon curd, roasted almonds, and honey. These wines are typically aged for a minimum of one year; regulations do not allow its release before November 1 of the year following harvest. To recap: the name of the town is Bianco, the name of the grape is Greco Bianco, and the name of the wine is Greco di Bianco.  Any questions?

References/for more information:

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