Confusion Corner: Côte des Bar, Côtes de Barr, Clos de la Barre

In the world of French wine, there are several different places that go by the name Bar (or Barr or Barre).  They sound similar, they look alike (almost) on a wine label, but they are not at all the same. At least two are officially-designated appellations of origin; some are descriptive terms—well-accepted and widely used, but not granted any type of protected status under the law. Let’s take a look at three of these, spread out over Champagne, Burgundy, and Alsace—and collectively representing the three of the iconic styles of wine: red, white, and sparkling.  Let’s dig a bit deeper in the Côte des Bar in Champagne, the Côtes de Barr in Alsace, and the Clos de la Barre in Volnay. Do you know which is which?

Alsace–Côtes de Barr AOC: The Côtes de Barr is one of the 13 official sub-appellations—dénominations géographiques complémentaires—of the Alsace AOC. Some of the Alsace sub-appellations are fairly well known—serious students of wine will no doubt recognize Klevener de Heiligenstein, Ottrott, and Saint-Hippolyte—however, the Côtes de Barr remains somewhat obscure.

Located just south of the town of Heiligenstein and covering the entirety of the commune of Barr in the Bas-Rhin, the Côtes de Barr is sub-appellation is approved for white wines based on the Sylvaner grape variety only. Domaine Leipp-Leininger is a leading producer. Barr—despite its small population of 7,000—is considered one of the leading wine towns of the Bas-Rhin and is worth a tourist stop for its centuries-old half-timber houses, the Place de l’Hôtel de Ville (town square), Musée de la Folie Marco (museum housed in a 17th-century Alsatian villa), and the Chapel of Saint Martin.

In an eternal nod to the confusion of Confusion Corner, the commune of Barr is also home to the Alsace Grand Cru Kirchberg de Barr AOC. Named for the steep-sided slopes leading up to the Chapel of Saint Martin (the name Kirchberg is derived from hill of the church), the vineyards are largely planted to Gewurztraminer; although Riesling, Muscat, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Noir are represented as well. True wine nerds will recognize Kirchberg de Barr as one of the two Alsace Grands Crus recently approved for the production of Pinot Noir (red wine) under the Grand Cru label.

Map of the Côte des Bar via the Union des Maisons de Champagne

The Côte des Bar: While not an official sub-region, the Côte des Bar is one of the five informally grouped districts of Champagne and it is described on the appellation’s cahier des charges. This area—often referred to as the Aube, based on the area’s political department—is located well to the south of the other, more centralized vineyard areas of Champagne.

The Côte des Bar is named for two towns which are, in turn, named after the two main rivers—the Aube and the Seine—that run through the area. Bar-sur-Aube is located on the eastern side of the area, while Bar-sur-Seine is situated on the west. In the case of both of these towns, the name Bar is derived from an old Gallic term meaning summit or height.

The area is known for its band of Kimmeridgian soil (also seen in Chablis) as well as some outcroppings of Portlandian limestone. While all seven of the grapes of Champagne are grown in the Côte des Bar, a great majority—as much as 86% of the total vineyard acreage—is planted to Pinot Noir.

Volnay Clos de la Barre Premier Cru AOC: Clos de la Barre—barre being an Old French term meaning fence—is one of 29 designated Premier Cru vineyards located within the Volnay AOC. The Volnay AOC—including all 29 Premiers Crus—is only approved for red wine. The Clos de la Barre Premier Cru is a tiny appellation—totaling about 1.3 hectares/3.5 acres—situated just to the east of the village of Volnay. The vineyard is owned by one family and planted exclusively to Pinot Noir. These days, all the grapes are sold to Maison Louis Jadot, making them the sole producer of Volnay Clos de la Barre Premier Cru wines.

Note: for this article, I’ve only included mentions of the place-name Bar (or Barr or Barre) that are listed on an appellation’s Cahier des Charges. If there are more to be found, let us know!

References/for more information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…

Confusion Corner: Monte Carlo and Montecarlo

Monte Carlo and Montecarlo: they really have nothing in common. While both are named for the hill of Carlos (Charles), that’s where the similarities end. One is a posh, urban area on a glamorous riviera—and the other is an obscure wine region in the northwest of Tuscany.  And yet, the names alone qualify this topic for Confusion Corner. Let’s break this down:

Monte Carlo, the town: Monte Carlo is a small town (ward) and arguably the most famous region of the Principality of Monaco—that tiny sovereign micro-state located on the French Riviera, tucked between Provence and Liguria. You won’t find any wineries in this exclusive area of wall-to-wall hotels, casinos, and luxury residences, but the Champagne Lists at the Hôtel de Paris Monte Carlo and the Casino de Monte Carlo are impressive indeed.

Monte Carlo, Monaco at dusk

Monte Carlo (the town) is named for Charles Honoré Grimaldi. Also known as Charles III of Monaco, he was the founder of the town’s famous casino and served as the Prince of Monaco from June of 1856 until his death in 1889.

Montecarlo, the DOC: The Montecarlo DOC (established in 1969) is named after the comune of Montecarlo, located in the Province of Lucca (Tuscany). Montecarlo lies between Florence (31 miles/50 km) to the east and Lucca (about 7 miles/12 km to the west. The village dates back to 1333, when Charles IV (the namesake of the town and future Holy Roman Emperor) defeated the city of Pisa and freed the citizens of Lucca from Pisan rule.

In addition to its namesake, the Montecarlo DOC includes the municipalities of Altopascio, Capannori, and Porcari. It overlaps a small portion of the equally obscure Valdinievole DOC and shares its western boundary with the Colline Lucchesi DOC. The edge of the uber-famous Chianti DOCG is about 15 miles/24 km away.

Wine has been made in the area since antiquity; before the town took the name of Montecarlo it was known as Vivinaia—the Via del Vino—named for a well-traveled trade route that crossed the region’s hills. In the 1200s, Benedictine Monks produced a wine described as “clear, vermilion, pure and frank.” Several centuries later, the region provided wine to Duke Cosimo I De Medici, at whose court “the bunches of Montecarlo grapes and the Trebbiano of that community cheered the diners.” (Quotations via the disciplinare, linked below.)

In the late 1800s, the wines of the region were greatly influenced by a wine merchant known as Giulio Magnani who traveled to France and brought back vines from Bordeaux (including Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon), Burgundy (including Pinot Blanc/Bianco), and the Rhône (including Syrah and Roussanne). These grapes still play a role in the wines of the Montecarlo DOC.

  • The Montecarlo DOC is approved for a range of wines, including white wine, red wine, and vin santo (dried grape wine), made according to the following formulas:
    • Montecarlo Bianco: 30% to 60% Trebbiano Toscano; 40% to 70% must comprise at least three of the following grapes: Semillon, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Bianco, Vermentino, Sauvignon, and/or Roussanne. (Any remainder, up to 20%, may consist of any non-aromatic white variety allowed for use in Tuscany.)
    • Montecarlo Rosso: 50% to 75% Sangiovese; 15% to 40% Merlot, Syrah, and/or Canaiolo Nero; 10% to 30% Ciliegiolo, Colorino, Malvasia Nera, Cabernet Sauvignon, and/or Cabernet Franc. (Any remainder, up to 20%, may consist of any non-aromatic red or white variety allowed for use in Tuscany.)
    • Varietal wines may be produced using a minimum of 85% one of the following: Vermentino, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Syrah.
    • Vin Santo may be produced using any of the approved grape varieties; grapes must be air-dried, and the wine must be aged in caratelli (wooden vessels with a maximum capacity of 500 liters); vin santo may not be released until November 1 of the third year following the harvest.

Montecarlo, Tuscany: photo by Marco Ziero via Wikimedia Commons

If you visit Montecarlo, in between wine tastings you’ll want to visit the Church of Sant’Andrea (and its fifteenth-century frescoes) as well as the Fortezza di Montecarlo . The fortress is situated atop the highest point on the hill of Montecarlo and was once the site of numerous battles between the powerful cities of Florence, Lucca, and Pisa.

References/for more information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…

Confusion Corner: Cadillac

It’s a place! It’s a person! It’s a car! It’s two separate AOCs! Cadillac—a word with many meanings—is long overdue for an untangle here in the Confusion Corner.

Since this is a wine blog, we’ll start with the town and the wines of Cadillac. But hang on for a great story about a character who crowned himself the Sire of Cadillac, and how this relates to the automotive legend known as the Cadillac Sedan.

The town—Cadillac, France: Cadillac—population: 2,800— is a small town (commune) in Nouvelle-Aquitaine, France. The town has history: it was established in 1280 by Jean I de Grailly—a senior official of the Duchy of Gascony—in order to provide river access for the Château de Benauge. These days, the small town serves as an excellent home base or stop-over for a wine tour of Entre-Deux-Mers, the Médoc, and Graves; and you can visit the imposing Castle of the Dukes of Eperson (Château des ducs d’Épernon/Château de Cadillac) built in the 1500s. Along the way, you can visit the Château de Benauge (about 6 km/4 miles to the northeast).

Map of the Cadillac AOC via the INAO

The wines—the Cadillac AOC: The Cadillac AOC is located just to the east of some of Bordeaux’s most famous sweet wine-producing regions, including Sauternes, Barsac, and Cérons. The Cadillac AOC hugs the east bank of the Garonne River and is home to dozens of lakes, rivers, and streams—including the Estey de Rouquey, the Lac de Baurech, and the Ruisseau de l’Euille. All this flowing water creates a recurring layer of mists and fog— which settles into the nooks and crannies of the lowest-lying vineyards—and allows for the formation of botrytis cinerea on the vines. This in turn allows for the production of luscious, flavorful, sweet white wines—and, like many appellations that surround it, the Cadillac AOC is approved for sweet white wines only. The main grape variety of the Cadillac AOC is Sémillon; Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadelle, and Sauvignon Gris are allowed as well. The wines of the Cadillac AOC must contain a minimum of 51 g/L residual sugar; grapes may be affected by botrytis and/or air-dried after harvest (a process known as passerillage).

Map of the Côtes de Bordeaux AOC via the INAO

The wines—the Cadillac-Côtes de Bordeaux AOC: The entire area of the Cadillac AOC (as well as a small parcel extending from its northern edge) is included in another appellation, the Côtes de Bordeaux AOC. Cadillac is a sub-appellation of the larger Côtes de Bordeaux AOC, which encompasses four discontiguous plots of land (and five named sub-appellations) located to the east of the Garonne River and the Gironde Estuary. As if that weren’t confusing enough, the Cadillac-Côtes de Bordeaux AOC—is approved only for red wine. The allowed grape varieties mirror those used throughout most of Bordeaux and include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Carmenère, and Petit Verdot. (For serious wine students: the five sub-appellations of the Côtes de Bordeaux AOC are: Cadillac, Castillon, Sainte Foy, Francs, and Blaye.)

The man and the car: In 1683, a fascinating character named Antoine Laumet left his home in France and arrived at Port Royal—the then-capital of Acadia/New France (and modern-day Nova Scotia, Canada). Upon his arrival in North America, he declared himself Antoine de la Mothe, écuyer, sieur de Cadillac and embarked upon several decades worth of escapades, serving at various times as an explorer, cartographer, merchant, and officer of the French Navy. In 1701, he helped to establish Fort Pontchartrain du Détroit on the north bank of the Detroit River. The fort became part of the modern city of Detroit, Michigan.

For many generations, Laumet—under his assumed nickname, Cadillac— was hailed as a hero (or at least, a founding father of sorts). A French High School in Ontario was named after him, the Cadillac Line on the Montreal Metro bears his name, as does Cadillac Mountain in Maine. Cadillac—the famous American Car Brand, headquartered in Detroit—was indeed named after him, and the original crest of the Cadillac Brand was modeled after his self-created amorial bearings (“family” coat of arms).

Postscript—and now we know: It has come to light that Antoine Laumet/Mssr. Cadillac was not quite the hero he was once believed to be. It has been revealed that he frequently abused his power; was abrasive (to say the least); traded heavily in fur, alcohol, and other products to the detriment of the First Nations; and was most likely involved in some of the earliest instances of the slave trade in North America. Le sigh.

Photo of the Château de Cadillac by Fabien Lotte via Wikimedia Commons

References/for more information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…

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).


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…

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…

Confusion Corner: Ciron, Cérons, Créon


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.


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…

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…

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…

Confusion Corner: Saint-Macaire


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.


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

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…

Confusion Corner: the Montepulcianos


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…