Confusion Corner: Corbières, Cabardès, Cabrières

The corner of France known as the Languedoc currently contains no less than 21 appellations (protected designations of origin for wine/AOCs). A few of these AOCs also include a long list of sub-appellations, including the Languedoc AOC, home to 11 sub-appellations (better known as “geographic designations” and often referred to as “crus”).

That’s already confusing for a wine lover. It gets even more mind-boggling when we consider that three of them are named as follows: Corbières, Cabardès, and Cabrières. Read those again: Corbières, Cabardès, and Cabrières. Although they may sound alike (at least to my ear), they are indeed three different regions, and while I have them grouped firmly together in the part of my brain I call confusion corner, they all deserve a flashcard (or two) all on their own. Let’s see what those flashcards might say:

Corbières: The Corbières AOC—one of the biggest and best-known appellations of the Languedoc—is a large, somewhat-squared shaped region stretching nearly 37 miles/59 km across, from the coastal plain just south of the town of Narbonne into the foothills of the Pyrenees. The eastern/coastal area tends the be the warmest section, made so by the moderating influences of the Mediterranean Sea and two large lagoons—the Étang de Bages and the Étang de L’Ayrolle. The hillier areas—along the area’s southern and western edges—are cooler due to altitude and benefit from the diurnal temperature variations often enjoyed on hillside vineyards.

The Corbières AOC is home to over 2,000 commercial vineyards, covering as much as 33,000 acres/13,500 ha. Red wine is the superstar here; about 85% of the total production is red wine; the remainder consists of rosé (about 12% of the total) and white (3% of the total).

Cityscape of Narbonne

Red wines produced in the Corbières AOC are produced using the (somewhat) typical red grapes of the Languedoc, being based around Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah, Lladoner Pelut, and Carignan. Rosé is produced using the same base blend of grapes, but more often contains a bit of the accessory varieties (Piquepoul Noir, Grenache Gris, Terret Noir, and Cinsault) as well as a maximum 10% of the region’s white grapes. Both red wines and rosé must contain at least two grape varieties in the blend.

A long list of white grapes is allowed for use in the somewhat rare white wines of the Corbières AOC; these include Bourboulenc, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Macabeo, Roussanne, and Vermentino (among others).

Cabardès: The small-production Cabardès AOC is located just to the north of historic walled city of Carcassonne, just a few miles/kilometers to the northwest of Corbières.  Cabardès—situated to the north of the Aude River—is tucked into the foothills of the eastern edge of the Massif Central in a small mountain range known as the Montagne Noire (Black Mountains).

Carcassonne

The location of the Cabardès AOC places it somewhat at the crossroads of the Languedoc (to the east) and Southwestern France (to the west). These dueling influences are seen in the list of approved grapes available for use in the region’s wines. The wines—only red and rosé may be produced—required a minimum 40% (combined) Grenache and Syrah (typical Mediterranean varieties) as well as a minimum of 40% (combined) Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and/or Merlot (typical Atlantic or Bordeaux varieties).

Cabrières: Cabrières is one of the eleven subregions of the Languedoc AOC; as such, wines from the region may be labeled as “Languedoc–Cabrières AOC.” The appellation coincides with the commune of the same name, located along Hérault River (in the Hérault Department) about 50 miles/90 km northeast from Carcassonne. This area is located about 20 miles/32 km inland from the Mediterranean Sea and the Étang de Thau (Thau Lagoon). The village of Cabrières is located in a hilly area on the southwestern edge of the Massif Central within a small mountain range known as the Montagne Noire (Black Mountains); many of the prime vineyards are planted to south- or southeast-facing slopes.

Vineyards surrounding Carcassonne

The Languedoc–Cabrières AOC is approved for red and rosé wines only. Both styles of wine are made from the “typical” red grapes of the Languedoc, and must contain a minimum of two grape varieties, with no one grape comprising more than 65% of the blend. Red wines must contain a minimum 50% of Grenache and/or Syrah with the remainder comprised of Mourvèdre, Cinsault, and/or Carignan. Rosé is a bit more complicated, requiring a minimum of 30% Cinsault, a minimum of 20% Grenache, and a maximum Mourvèdre and/or Syrah. A long list of accessory varieties (including some white grapes, capped at 10%) is also allowed for the rosé.

Note: Rumor has it that the wine makers of Cabrières are in the process of applying to become a separate appellation (AOC). This should come as no surprise as former sub-appellations of the Languedoc AOC have been declared separate appellations several times in the past decade. Examples include Pic-Saint-Loup, La Clape, and Terrasses du Larzac. We shall see what the future holds for Cabrières!

References/for more information:

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

Confusion Corner: Sacy

This is undoubtedly one of the more obscure topics ever to be addressed in Confusion Corner, but nevertheless, it sparked my interest!

Sacy: it’s a grape, it’s a place, it’s a Premier Cru Village in Champagne!

Sacy the grape: Sacy is a rather nondescript white variety, believed to be one of the many offspring of Pinot X Gouis Blanc. It is a high-yield grape known for making lightly flavored, crisply acidic wines with aromas of white flowers, green apples, and yellow pears. Sacy is cultivated mainly in central and northern France—particularly in the Yonne and the surrounding areas between Burgundy and Paris. Plantings of Sacy have declined rather steadily since the 1950’s; while at one time there were close to 700 hectares/1,730 acres planted in France, these days the number is closer to 71 hectares/176 acres.

Sacy-the-grape is allowed to be used in just three of France’s 400-plus AOC wines: Crémant de Bourgogne, Coteaux Bourguignons, and Saint-Pourçain. It is, however, allowed in several of France’s PGI/Vin de Pays appellations, including the Vin de Pays de l’Ardèche, the Vin de Pays du Val de Loire, and the Vin de Pays des Comtés Rhodaniens.

In the Crémant de Bourgogne AOC, Sacy is allowed to be used in just about any amount, provided that at least 30% of the base wine is comprised of Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Noir (in any combination). In the Saint-Pourçain AOC, Sacy is required to comprise at least 20%—but no more than 40%—of the blend, which is dominated (50% to 80%) by Chardonnay.

Sacy can be used without limits in the Coteaux Bourguignons AOC, provided the vines were planted prior to July 31, 2009. One must—however—dig pretty deep in order to find out how Sacy is allowed to be used in the wines of the Coteaux Bourguignons AOC. This factoid is not listed in the “approved varieties” at the top of the appellation’s list of rules and regulations (the Cahier des Charges); but is rather tucked into the fine print of the document (specifically, in Article XI—Measures Transitoires). Domaine Gueguen, located in Chablis, is one of the few wineries to produce a 100% Sacy bottled under the Coteaux Bourguignons AOC.

For some reason, Sacy appears to have taken its name from a village in Champagne. The grape goes by several other names as well, including Aligoté Vert, Plant de Sacy, and Tressallier. Tressallier—a term derived from beyond the Allier—is the name used in the Saint-Pourçain AOC, which just happens to be located to the west of the Allier River.

Sacy the place: Sacy is a small town/commune/village (population: 375) located about an hour-and-a-half drive (heading east/northeast) from Paris. The best place to stay in town (imho) is the beautiful Château de Sacy—built in the mid-1850’s by Pierre Louis Gosset (one of the area’s most famous architects) and proudly standing as one of the few remaining residences built before WWI.

When you are in Sacy-the-small-town, you are smack-dab in the middle of the Champagne District—it is less than a 20-minute drive to Reims—so your obvious choice of activities will involve vineyard-wandering and touring wine estates. Champagne producers located in Sacy include Champagne Wafflart Briet, Blin-Dezautez Gérard, Damien Dumez, and Champagne Duménil. These can all easily be reached from the Château de Sacy (and each other) via taxi—or, if you are feeling fit, you could walk (round-trip, the loop is only about 2.6 km/1.6 miles).

Map of Sacy via Bing Maps

Sacy the Premier Cru Village in Champagne: Sacy (the small town/village) has the honor of being one of the 40-plus Premier Cru villages in Champagne, and one of 25 located in the Montagne de Reims. Sacy is surrounded on three sides by other Premier Cru Villages: Ville-Dommange to the north, Écueil to the south, and Bezannes to the west.

Keep in mind that—however disjointed it may seem…Sacy-the-grape is not allowed to be used in the wines of the Champagne-Sacy Premier Cru AOC (or any other wines of the Champagne District).

Other Sacys: The term “Sacy” is used in other contexts as well. It shows up in the name of a well-regarded Champagne Estate—Louis De Sacy Champagne—located in the town of Verzy (about 19 km/12 miles from Sacy). It may also refer to Antoine Issac Silvestre de Sacy (a French scholar and nobleman, 1758-1838); a Brazilian soccer player (full name: Gustavo Rossi); or as an acronym for “School Age Children and Youth.” Go Sacy!

References/for more information:

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

Confusion Corner: Ciron, Cérons, Créon

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Welcome to Confusion Corner, where we take on the befuddlements that lurk around the world of wine and spirits. Here’s a good one—Ciron, Cérons, and Créon: what are they, what do they mean, and why should we care?

To put it briefly, we are talking about a river, an appellation, and a town…all located within a few miles of one another in the southwestern reaches of Bordeaux. Let’s take a closer look!

Ciron—the River: The Ciron river arises at the edge of the Landes Plateau—close to the town of Lubbon—at an elevation of about 500 feet/152 m. From its source, the Ciron flows mainly north/northwest for 60 miles/97 km—across the vineyards of the Sauternes and Barsac AOCs—until it joins the Garonne River near the town of Langon.

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For most of its course, the river flows through a deeply forested, humid area and the tall trees lining its banks keep the waters of the Ciron cool—even in the summer.

The mingling of the cool waters of the Ciron with the warm waters of the Garonne creates the region’s famous morning mists. This fog meanders into the areas surrounding the two rivers, enveloping entire vineyards and becoming trapped in the lower-lying spots. This mist helps to create the ideal microclimate for the development of Botrytis cinerea—the “noble rot” that helps to concentrate the area’s grapes into the super-sweet, highly flavorful fruit used in the famous dessert wines of the area.

Cérons—the Appellation: The Cérons AOC—located along the Garonne River just to the north of Barsac—is approved for the production of sweet white wines. The wine is typically based on Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc grapes, although Sauvignon Gris and Muscadelle are allowed. The wine’s inherent sweetness (4.5% residual sugar minimum) is derived from the grapes themselves due to the mist-enhanced presence of botrytis and/or passerillage (allowing the grapes to over-ripen and partially dry out on the vine).

The Cérons appellation is named for the Ciron River—source of the botrytis-inducing mists of the region. The Ciron used to flow alongside the region’s southern border—however, over the centuries, the Ciron changed its course to the point that these days, the river flows to the south of Barsac.

The wines of the Cérons AOC tend to be lighter in flavor intensity—and perhaps less sweet—as compared to those of the adjacent Barsac and Sauternes AOCs. This is due—in part—to the specifics of the local terroir. The Cérons AOC is rather flat, meaning there are fewer low-lying areas to trap the mists rising off the river. In addition, the soils of Cérons are heavier in clay (with less gravel) than the areas to the south; this keeps the soil temperatures a bit higher and more stable, which speeds the dissipation of the morning fog.

Photo of the Eglise Notre-Dame de Créon by Ophelia2 via Wikimedia Commons

Créon—the Town: Créon is a small town (technically, a commune) located within the Entre-Deux-Mers AOC, just a few miles away from where the Ciron joins the Garonne. The commune is currently home to about 5,000 people as well as several wine producing estates and vineyards, including Château Baudac and Vignobles Quinney. After a few samples of the local white wine, visitors might want to check out the Eglise Notre-Dame de Créon—originally built in the 15th century and an official Monument Historique (national heritage site) of the Republic of France.

References/for more information:

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

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