Mind your Latitude: 40º North

We’ve looked at wine through the lens of grapes, places, soils, barrels, bottles, and stems…and for the next few weeks we’re taking a look at latitude. Today, we present: 40 degrees North!

Bairrada DOC: The Bairrada DOC is located in north/central Portugal, just inland from the Atlantic coast. The area grows a range of grapes and produces red, white, rosé, and sparkling wine. White wines are typically based on the Fernão Pires (Maria Gomes) grape, but may be produced from several other varieties as well, including Arinto (Pedernã), Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Rabo de Ovelha, and Verdelho.  Reds are produced using a minimum of 50% Baga. The Baga grape variety is well-known for its powerful tannin, great structure, dark color, and complex cherry-berry-plum-tobacco-coffee flavors. Some of Portugal’s best Baga-based red wines are produced in the Bairrada DOC.

Chengde, Hebei: Hebei is a province in eastern China, located on the Bohai Sea coast and surrounding the municipalities of Beijing and Tianjin. Hebei, whose name translates to “north of the river” is located north of the Yellow River. It is estimated that Hebei, together with its neighbor Tianjin, has over 50 wineries and over half of China’s total wine production. In the area’s vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon is the leading grape variety, followed by Chardonnay, Merlot, and Marselan. The China Great Wall Wine Company (the country’s largest producer, in terms of volume) and the Sino-French Demonstration Vineyard (Domaine Franco Chinois) are both located here.

Humboldt County, CA: Humboldt County—best known for Redwood National Park and the tallest trees on earth—occupies part of the northernmost reaches of California.  Viticulture is sparse—there are perhaps 60 acres currently planted to vine in all of Humboldt County—and yet a range of cool-climate grapes are grown here, including Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah, and Merlot.  The tiny Willow Creek AVA, one of the few to be found in the area, lies in the valley of the Trinity River surrounded by the rugged Klamath Mountains. The influence of the river makes the AVA slightly warmer than the surrounding areas. PS: The Willow Creek AVA of Humboldt County should not be confused with the Paso Robles Willow Creek District AVA (located 500 miles to the south).

Madrid: The Community of Madrid—located somewhat in the center of the country—is one of the autonomous communities of Spain. The city of Madrid—the capital city of Spain, full of world class art museums (the Prado, the Thyssen-Bornemisza, the Reina Sofía), historic squares (Plaza Mayor) and amazing parks (El Retiro)—lies within its borders. However, in the context of wine, we’re going to focus on the autonomía of Madrid and its very own DO wine region:  Vinos de Madrid DO.  Red, white, rosé, and sparkling wines are produced in the Vinos de Madrid DO, using a range of grapes including Viura, Torrontés, Parellada, Tinto Fino (Tempranillo), Garnacha Tinta, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah. The Vinos de Madrid DO is also approved for “sobremadre” wines produced via an extended maceration (up to 180 days) on the madre—that is, the grape skins and stalks. During this time period, the madre slowly sinks to the bottom of the vessel and lends a gentle clarification to the wine. Both red and white (orange) wines are produced via this process.

Marmara, Turkey: Turkey’s Marmara wine region (also known as the Thracian region) is situated in the north of the country, bordering the Marmara Sea (as well as the Black Sea and the Aegean).  The region can be quite humid, to say the least: it averages 73% humidity. The region typically has mild winters and warm summers, showing characteristics of both maritime and Mediterranean climates. A range of grapes are grown in the area, including international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Viognier. Native Turkish grapes such as Adakarası, Kalecik Karası, and Papazkarası are also planted. The region produces about 13.6% of the country’s wine.

Sardinia: Located about 150 miles (240km) off the west coast of Italy, Sardinia is one of the largest islands in the  Mediterranean Sea (second only to Sicily). Despite the fact that just a small portion of the island’s 9,300 square miles are dedicated to viticulture, a wide range of grape varieties are grown on Sardinia. These include including native Italian varieties (such as Monica, Torbato, and Nasco), French varieties (such as Cabernet Sauvignon), and those believed to be native to Spain (including Grenache and Carignan). Grenache is a bit of a local hero—starring in the well-known Cannonau di Sardegna DOC—as is Vermentino, which is made into several wines, including Vermentino di Gallura (the island’s only DOCG wine).

Slopes of Meliton PDO: TheSlopes of Meliton PDO is located on the Greek mainland in the region known as Halkidiki (Chaikidki). Haikidiki is often described as resembling “a hand with three fingers.” Vineyards of the Slopes of Meltion PDO are planted in terraces up Mount Meliton, starting at elevations of 328 feet (100 m) and continuing up as high as 1,150 feet (350 m).  A range of grapes, including both Greek and international varieties are planted here. The main wines produced under the rules of the PDO include dry whites (based on Athiri, Roditis, and Assyryiko) and dry reds produced with a minimum of 70% Limnio (often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Cabernet Franc). Domaine Porto Carras is the main producer.

Taurasi DOCG: Located in Italy’s Campania region about 30 miles inland from the city of Naples, the area around Taurasi has been known for its wine for a long time…since 800 BCE, according to some. These days, this ancient region is enjoying a newly-found popularity, thanks in large part to the efforts of Antonio Mastroberardino and his truly legendary 1968 vintage. Taurasi earned its DOCG status in 1993 and according to these standards it must be made using a minimum of 85% Aglianico. Taurasi tends to be a highly tannic red wine that comes into its own with a few years of age (perhaps 8 at least). Those that have the patience (and the cellar space) will be rewarded with a well-structured, complex wine with floral-fruity-flavors of sour cherry, raspberry, dried plum, dried herbs, licorice, and spice.

Warren Hills AVA: New Jersey might not be famous for wine production, but early American colonists successfully planted grapes and made wine here as early as 1767. These days, New Jersey boasts just over 50 bonded wineries and more than 1,500 acres (607 ha) of vineyards. The state contains four AVAs (one of these—Central Delaware Valley—is shared with Pennsylvania). The Warren Hills AVA, located in the rolling hills of the New York-New Jersey Highlands  is found in the northwest of the state, about 50 miles (80 km)  inland from Raritan Bay. The Warren Hills AVA currently has five wineries and just over 100 acres (40 ha) of vines. Many of the grapes grown here are cold hardy hybrids such as Vidal, Chambourcin, and Catawba; vinifera grapes including Cabernet Franc, Gewürztraminer, and Pinot Noir are grown as well—planted betwixt and between the area’s dairy farms and apple orchards.

Click here for our post: Mind your Latitude – 38º North

References/for more information:

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

Bergamot: Vermouth, Rosolio, and Crème Liqueur

.

A while back I posted an article about Bergamot—a citrus fruit begat of a lemon and a bitter orange, best-known for its intensely fruity-floral aroma and its use in Earl Grey tea. In this post, the story of Bergamot is continued as I discuss its not-too-common but always-welcome use in aromatized wines and flavored spirits…all of them delicious!

Vermouth—Vermouth is an aromatized wine flavored with the Artemisia (wormwood) herb, and most versions contain dozens of other botanical flavorings as well—often including cloves, cinnamon, quinine, citrus peel, cardamom, marjoram, chamomile, coriander, juniper berries, and ginger—but only rarely including bergamot. I researched dozens of vermouth websites, and while I found quite a few that admitted to the use of citrus fruit and citrus peels (particularly bitter oranges or Seville oranges), I only located a few that featured bergamot in their (publicized) formulas. Among these were Contratto Vermouth Bianco and Cocchi Savoy Dry Vermouth.

Contratto Vermouth Bianco discloses 28 of its 50 botanical ingredients—one of which is “bergamot orange”—the other 22 remain a secret. Its flavor is bright and balanced, just very-slightly bitter, with lots of green herb flavors and a citrus zing. I highly recommend its use in a 20th Century Cocktail (link via the Skurnik website).

And then there’s the Cocchi Savoy Dry Vermouth. Cocchi (along with Contratto) is one of the original brands of Italian Vermouth, and the company makes a wide range of wines, spirits, and aromatized wines—including an impressive range of vermouth and vermouth-related products. The Cocchi Savoy Dry Vermouth is a bit special—and not just because it is the only product that I could find on the website with a claim-to-bergamot-fame. This is a special-edition product; previously only available at the Savoy Hotel in London (these days, it’s also available for purchase online but with a “limited availability” advisory). This vermouth was crafted according to a recipe from the 1970’s and formulated specifically for use in the Savoy Hotel’s Dry Martini recipe. On its own, it has a unique herbal-and-citrus flavor. As for the martini, it’s a pretty specific recipe—and it might be worth the trip to London.

Old-fashioned Bergamot Liqueur—Briottet Crème de Bergamote: Liqueurs and cordials flavored with bergamot (fruit, peels, and/or oils) were popular in Italy and France during the 1800s, but few such products are produced today. As a matter of fact, you would be hard-pressed to even find mention of one in a modern liquor store or food-wine-and-spirits publication. However…Maison Briottet, a family-owned business founded in 1836 in the French city of Dijon, has kept bergamot spirits alive for the last hundred-or-so-years with a recipe for Crème de Bergamote. The firm, perhaps best-known for their Crème de Cassis de Dijon, produces a wide range of brandies, spirits, and liqueurs. The current managing directors, Vincent and Claire (representing the sixth generation), are also committed to the production of the bergamot liqueur beloved by Edmond Briottet, their great-great-grandfather.

According to the company website, Briottet Crème de Bergamote is flavored using just the zest of the bergamot fruit. This lends a “fresh somewhat lemony taste” that is also somewhat spicy and smooth. They recommend drinking it after dinner over ice, and suggest that it also makes an excellent flavoring for cakes, cookies, and other desserts.

Apparently, homemade bergamot liqueur is also a thing, and it is quite easy to find a do-it-yourself recipe online (I particularly liked this one, via the “Grow the Planet” blog).

The New Liqueur-on-the-Block—Italicus Rosolio di BergamottoItalicus is a fairly new product, launched by Giuseppe Gallo—a mixologist and all-things-spirits expert based in Italy—in 2016. However, the concept is old; and harkens back to a 15th Century Italian aperitivo flavored with rose petals known as rosolio. Rosolio was once very popular with the Royal House of Savoy, and produced all over Italy. However, with the passing of the generations (along with the rise and fall of nations), rosolio fell out of favor as vermouth and other types of bitters and amari grew in popularity. When crafting his Italicus liqueur, Gallo used the rosolio liqueurs of the past as his inspiration, but chose to make a less-sweet, more-complex beverage using bergamot and other flavorings.

The production of this amazing liqueur includes a step traditionally known as sfumatura, a slow process used to extract essential oils from citrus peels. The oil of bergamot is then macerated in Italian neutral spirits along with chamomile, yellow roses, cedro lemon (citron), gentian root, lavender, and other botanicals.

To my taste, Italicus falls somewhere on the liqueur-style-scale between the sweet-floral-cotton candy-yumminess of Saint Germain and the bracing-yet-delicious experience of a crisp, white vermouth. If I had to describe it I would start by saying that is has aromas of citrus (but is it lemon or lime), roses (both fresh and dry), fresh green herbs, and lavender. This is followed by crisp, refreshing flavors of ripe citrus (lemon and lime again, but also bitter orange)—bitter but balanced, and finally a clean, floral-scented, and lingering finish.

.

This liqueur is amazing on its own (over ice with a lemon twist) and is equally appealing in a simple spritz (with Prosecco or Champagne) or a Negroni Bianco (an amazing-sounding cocktail made with Italicus, gin, and dry vermouth). I also invented my own martini-like drink aligned to my personal liquor cabinet and taste involving a 2:1 combo of Potocki Polish Vodka and Italicus, shaken, strained, and served up with a twist of lemon (I’m still working on the name…maybe I’ll call it a Bergamartini or a Martinicus).

And then there’s this: I’m very impressed with Square One Organic Bergamot-flavored vodka. I’ll just let the creators of this heavenly spirit tell you all about it.

References/for more information:

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

 

Bergamot, Beverages, and Sweet Delights

Bergamot oranges

If you are a fan of Earl Grey Tea, the candy/confection known as Turkish Delight,or any number of dry, white vermouths…you might be a fan of Bergamot Oil. Bergamot oil is derived from the rind of Citrus bergamia fruit, otherwise known as bergamot, or the bergamot orange.

It is believed that bergamot is a hybrid of a type of lemon crossed with the bitter (Seville) orange. The resulting fruit may have been named after the city of Bergamo in Lombardy (Italy), where it was historically sold. Another theory states that it was named after the Turkish words bey armudu (“prince’s pear) or bey armut (“prince of pears”). The fruit itself has greenish-yellowish skin (depending on ripeness) and bitter pulp that also appears as a mix of yellow and green. The plant itself is an evergreen tree that can reach a height of about 10 to 12 feet (3 to 4 m) with dark, fleshy leaves. It blooms with highly aromatic, white flowers in the spring.

Calabria highlighted in the map of Italy

Calabria—the province of Reggio di Calabria to be precise—is the leading area for the production of oil of bergamot. The area, located on the very tip of the toe of Italy’s “boot,” grows 90% of all the bergamot oranges in the world, and the region has protected geographical indication status for its bergamot oil: Bergamotto di Reggio Calabria – olio essenziale PGI. These days, bergamot is also grown in France, Argentina, Morocco, Turkey, Brazil, and parts of Africa.

The aroma of Bergamot oil is often described using the following terms: lemony, citrus, grapefruit, floral, or spicy (nutmeg-cinnamon-anise). The flavor of the fruit itself is described as citric and acidic (but not quite as sour as a lemon), and bitter (somewhere between a grapefruit and a lime).

Earl Grey tea, as it has been known since the 1830s, was originally a type of black tea flavored with bergamot oil. (These days, there are versions made with many types of tea including green tea, oolong tea, and an herbal variation based on Rooibos). The name of the tea goes back to Charles Grey—the second Earl Grey, also known as Viscount Howick—who served as the Prime Minister of the UK from 1830 to 1834.

.

The flavored tea, gifted to the Earl, was supposedly created specifically to meld with the water of the area. It became wildly popular—Lady Grey loved to serve it at social and political gatherings—and has been produced in various incarnations ever since.

Earl Grey tea has made its way into a number of drinks and cocktails (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic) over the years. One long-lost (but not quite forgotten) tradition is known as a Moseley Tea Service (named after a suburb of South Birmingham). When your order a Moseley Tea Service, you get a drink made with a cup of Earl Grey tea (prepared however you like it) fortified a shot (or two) of gin.

A more recent innovation—a drink known variously as the London Fog, Manchester Fog, or Earl Grey Tea Latte—was invented in the early 2000s in Vancouver, BC (and imitated all over the world these days). The drink is made using a very strong potion of Earl Grey tea (such as one tea bag to ½ cup of hot water steeped for two to four minutes), steamed milk, and vanilla syrup. (Beware of the commercial use of the term “London Fog” as there are quite a few trademarks and copyrights lingering about.)

.

Bergamot is widely used in aromatized wines and liqueurs as a bittering and/or flavoring agent. Such products include Cocchi Dry Vermouth, Briottet Crème de Bergamot, and the new-liqueur-on-the-block, Italicus Rosolio di Bergamotto. These products are so interesting that they warrant their very own blog post.

Hard candy corner: The area around the French city of Nancy (in the Grand Est Region) produces a hard candy flavored with oil of Bergamot. These candies, which have PGI protection, are known as Bergamotes de Nancy PGI.

In addition to its culinary uses, bergamot oil is also quite useful within the realms of herbal medicine and aromatherapy. According to the dō Terra website, it has “both calming and uplifting abilities” and can “dissipate anxious feelings while simultaneously providing cleansing and purifying benefits.” (But be careful…it can cause the skin to be ultra-sensitive to sunlight.) The plants themselves have highly fragrant roots that can act as an insect repellant.

Confusion corner: A flowering, aromatic herb formally known as Monarda didyma also goes by the name Bergamot (in addition to scarlet beebalm and Oswego tea). The aroma of Monarda didyma is said to be familiar to Citrus bergamia, but there is no familial link between the two species.

References/for more information:

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

 

Mustard and Vine

.

Winter can be a dull time to visit a vineyard, especially if you have visions of leafy canopies heavy with fruit dancing in your head. However, in many parts of the wine making world—including the well-trod regions of Napa, Sonoma, and Burgundy—winter brings its own measure of delight in the form of a waving sea of yellow-gold blossoms: the dance of the mustard flowers.

Mustard and wine share an affinity on many levels—there is the delight of grilled chicken in mustard cream sauce paired with a crisp Chardonnay, for example—and the flagship of all mustards (Dijon, of course) is made with wine. The plants themselves—the mustard flowers and the grapevines—get along famously as well.

The vine: When used as a cover crop between rows of vines, mustard plants can provide the benefits of any cover crop such as protecting the soil from erosion, improving the ability of water to penetrate the soil, attracting beneficial insects, and increasing the organic matter in the soil.

.

Mustard plants have a few specific benefits as well. For one, they are very hardy—the seeds of the mustard plant can survive in the soil for up to 40 years, and spring to life after a late fall rain. Mustard plants also produce biofumigants (natural chemical agents) that suppress nematode (nasty little roundworm) populations. The plant also recycles and redistributes nitrogen in the soil, making it more accessible to the vines.

The mustard: About that famous mustard from Dijon…I was fascinated to learn that “Dijon Mustard” is not a legally protected name, nor an approved designation of origin. It seems that mustard from Dijon had been so widely used—and imitated, in the highest form of flattery—that by the time a geographical indication for Dijon was suggested (in 1937), it was determined that the term was being used for products made in Dijon as well as products made in the style of mustard made in Dijon. As such, the term had already entered into the lexicon as a generic term, and therefore there could be no protection for “Dijon Mustard.” This makes sense currently, as the last of the Dijon mustard manufacturers left the city of Dijon about ten years ago—and even then they were using some mustard seeds from Canada alongside those that were locally-grown.

However…there are plenty of mustard plants and lots of mustard production in the region of Burgundy surrounding the city of Dijon. There is even a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) for Moutarde de Bourgogne (Burgundy Mustard). The PGI was granted in 2008, but the Brotherhood of the Moutardiers-Vinaigriers of Bourgogne (Héritière de la Confrérie des Moutardiers-Vinaigriers), originally founded in Dijon, dates back to 1600.

The following regulations are included in the documents of the Moutarde de Bourgogne PGI:

  • The mustard seeds must be grown, harvested, and stored within the boundaries of the Burgundy region (most of it is grown in the eastern part of the Côte-d’Or department, with additional plantings in the far north of the area [around Yonne])
  • Two specific species of mustard are allowed: Brassica juncea, and Brassica nigra
  • The wine used to produce the mustard must be a Chardonnay or Aligoté from a Burgundy or Beaujolais PDO
  • It is descried as (via Google translate) “a strong or extra-strong mustard with white wine, light yellow in color with a thick, homogeneous and unctuous texture. It is characterized by a strong and typical smell of Burgundy white wine, an intense spiciness and a pronounced taste of Burgundy white wine.”
  • In addition to mustard seeds and wine, the mustard may contain sugar and spices, but it is not allowed to contain artificial colorings, thickeners, or mustard extracts

.

If you’d like to try the legendary Burgundy mustard and Burgundy white wine pairing for yourself, I suggest this delectable Mustard Roasted Chicken recipe from the Barefoot Contessa, which I would pair with a nice, casual white Burgundy such as a Saint-Véran, Pouilly-Fuissé, or white Beaujolais. I do recommend you sub-out the suggested Grey Poupon for an authentic Moutarde de Bourgogne (shhhh….don’t tell Ina).

References/for more information:

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

Dolomite and the Dolomites

.

Dolomite (which sounds to my ear like “dynamite”) is a loaded word with several meanings. The term may be used to refer to a mineral, a rock, a mountain range, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, or a region (loosely defined as an area stretching across the northern reaches of Trentino/Alto Adige, Veneto, Friuli (perhaps), and a small part of Austria as well).

Starting with the most basic use of the term—the mineral—dolomite is largely composed of calcium carbonate and magnesium. Dolomite (the mineral) is often found in long-buried sedimentary stones and bedrock. These stones are often known as dolostone or simply dolomite.

Sharp students of wine and/or geology may have recognized the previous mention of calcium carbonate and considered that dolomite (the stone) might be similar to limestone. This is true: dolomite and limestone are very similar, and form in the same manner—that is, via sedimentation in warm, calcium carbonate-rich, shallow waters. The main difference between the formation of limestone and dolomite is that dolomite contains more magnesium. Dolomite is sometimes even formed from limestone, as limestone is modified by magnesium-rich limewater. The resulting rock may be termed dolomite or dolomitc limestone.

.

Dolomite (the stone) is famously found in several specific portions of the Italian Alps, and one such range—made up of 18 peaks reaching high above the surrounding valleys—is known as the Dolomites.

The Dolomites (the mountains) stretch across 350,000 acres (140,000 ha) and form a series of sheer walls, steep valleys, pinnacles, steeples, and cliffs. Fifteen of the Dolomite Mountain peaks are more than 10,000 feet (3,300 m) high and some of the sheer rock cliffs tower as much as 4,425 feet (1,500 m) higher than the surrounding countryside. The sheer rocks reflect the sunlight and glimmer in a range of pink, gold, and coral hues—contrasted by the forests and meadows below. This stunning natural beauty is part of the reason the area was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2009.

The Vigneti delle Dolomit IGT: Wine enthusiasts may remember seeing the term “dolomite” on a wine label hailing from Trentino, Alto Adige, or the northern reaches of Veneto (sometimes a portion of Friuli is included in the loop as well)—calling attention to the well-drained, alkaline, and mineral-rich soils of the area. There is even an geographical indication—Vigneti delle Dolomiti IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica)—named for the dolomites, covering the area and including parts of Trentino-Alto Adige and Veneto. As the German language is also widely spoken in this area, the Vignetti delle Dolomiti IGT is also known as the Weinberg Dolomiten.

.

Wines produced under the Vigneti delle Dolomit IGT are made in many styles—including still and sparkling wines of red, white, and rosé—as well as passito (dried grape) and dessert wines (also of red, white, and rosé). A long list of grape varieties are allowed, including international superstars Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir). However, some of the more interesting and indigenous grapes of the area are cultivated here as well. These include Marzemino, Nosiola, and Teroldego, as described below:

  • Marzemino: Marzemino is a red grape, native to northern Italy. It is known for producing light-to-medium bodied wines with crisp acidity, dark color, and flavors of sour cherry, violets, plums, and herbs. It is often used in red blends, and may be used to produce a dried-grape, passito-style sweet wine. However, its leading claim to fame is that it was beloved by Mozart, and mentioned in his opera Don Giovanni: “Versa il vino! Eccellente Marzimino!” (Pour the wine, the excellent Marzemino)!
  • Teroldego: A darkly-hued red grape native to Trentino, Teroldego produces medium-to-full bodied red wines with intense color, moderate tannins, crisp acidity, and a hint of bitterness. Studies show it is related to Syrah, which helps to explain the typical flavors of sour cherry, licorice, hints of tar, almond and herbs. Oak-aged versions can be spicy and redolent of pine. The Teroldego Rotaliano DOC, located in the northern section of the Trentino province, is approved for the production of 100% Teroldego-based red or rosato (rosé) wines.
  • Nosiola: Nosiola is a golden-skinned white grape variety native to Trentino used to produce crisp, clean, and easy-drinking table wines as well as sweet (late-harvest, botrytis-affected, or passito) sweet wines (including Vin Santo). Dry wines tends to be fruity, floral, and herbal in tone, while sweet wines tend to show a nutty hazelnut character. This makes sense, as the name of the grape—Nosiola—is based on an Italian term for hazelnut: nocciola.

The vineyards of Trentino/Alto Adige, northern Veneto and Friuli contain abundant fragments of dolomite as well as the weathered remnants of the Alps, carried down to the vineyards via gravity, water, and other forces. So, while a springtime trip to the Dolomites sounds delightful, and nice glass of Marzemino or vino bianco from Trentino might be a good substitute (for now).

A shout-out to science: The Dolomites are named in honor of Dieudonné Dolomieu, an 18th-century French geologist who made the first scientific study of the geology of the region.

References/for more information:

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

Limestone Caves, Bent-Wing Bats, and Cabernet: the Wrattonbully GI

.

Wrattonbully, one of the six wine regions located in South Australia’s Limestone Coast Zone, is located between Coonawarra (to the south) and Padthaway (to the north). The eastern edge of the region forms a portion of the border between the states of South Australia and Victoria.

The Aboriginal population of Australia recognized the region’s potential and settled in the area long before the first European settlers arrived—mostly from Scotland—in 1842. A few decades later—in 1885—the first grapevines in the area (about five acres of Muscat) were planted by George McEwin. McEwin planted other fruit as well, and used the grapes and the fruit to make preserves under the brand name Glen Ewin Jams.

Map of the Limestone Coast Zone via: Phylloxera and Grape Industry Board of South Australia

It is believed that grapes for wine were first planted in 1969 by the Pender Family; soon thereafter John Greenshields of Koppamurra Vineyard followed suit.  These early vineyards were mainly Cabernet Sauvignon, with some Chardonnay and Shiraz.

A few decades later, large tracts of terra rosa soil (extending northward from Coonawarra, just to the south) were uncovered in the region and wine companies from all over Australia started investing—and planting—in Wrattonbully. Today, Wrattonbully has over 20 wine estates and 6,400 acres (2,590 ha) planted to vines. The region was officially recognized as a Geographical Indication in 2005.

Wrattonbully is largely red wine country; in fact, 86% of the current vineyards are planted to red grapes—led by Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, and Merlot (in that order). The remaining 14% of the vineyards are planted to white grapes—mostly Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, and Sauvignon Blanc.

Rolling hills dominate the region, which spans across a portion of South Australia’s Naracoorte Mountain Range. Many vineyards are planted at the hillside “sweet spot” mid-way up the slopes at altitudes ranging from 245 to 295 feet (75 to 95 m).

.

Located just 45 miles inland from the Great Australian Bight, Wrattonbully enjoys a mostly maritime climate—which allows for a long growing season—with some Mediterranean influences that keep the summers warm and dry.

Limestone caves are a feature of this region, including the Naracoorte Caves, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Naracoorte Caves—a complex of over 26 caves—are preserved within the Naracoorte Caves National Park. These caves contain the most complete fossil record of Australia’s past, spanning several ice ages, the arrival of humans in the area, and the extinction of Australia’s megafauna (large animals such as flightless birds and giant reptiles that lived after the extinction of the dinosaurs) roughly 60,000 years ago.

The first cave in the area to be discovered by Europeans was Blanche Cave, discovered in 1845. According to legend, a shepherd had gone in search of some missing sheep, and found them in the antechamber to the deep, stalactite and stalagmite-filled cave. Another cave—known as Bat Cave—provides one of only two breeding grounds for the Southern Bent-Wing Bat (and they all come home to roost every spring).

.

Guided tours of many of the caves located within Naracoorte National Park—including Victoria Fossil Cave, Alexandra Cave, and the Bat Cave—are available year-round. Guided “adventure caving” (meaning crawling around in the dark) is available at the Stick-Tomato Cave, the Wet Cave, and the Starburst Chamber of the Victoria Fossil Cave.

If you decide to visit the Naracoorte Caves—whether it be to watch the bats leave the cave at sunset, go crawling through a cave, or even just wander the fossil fields—you might want to make sure you have a nice bottle of Wrattonbully Cabernet waiting for you when you return, just in case you need to unwind a bit after all that adventure!

This is the fifth installation in our six-part series on Australia’s Limestone Coast. Click here for the first article, on the Mount Benson GIclick here for the article on Mount Gambier, here for the article on Coonawarra, and here for the article on Padthaway. 

References/for more information:

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

The Bight, the Cape, and the Bright Red Soil: The Mount Benson GI

Map of the Limestone Coast Zone via: Phylloxera and Grape Industry Board of South Australia

Mount Benson is a wine region located along Australia’s Limestone Coast. The area, which stretches for about nine miles alongside the ocean, attained its status as an official Geographical Indication in 1997.

The area has a mostly maritime climate—not surprising considering its rugged coastal location—and enjoys a long, cool growing season. Vines are planted at low elevations; with the vineyards closest to the shore planted at about 16 feet (5 m) above sea level and continuing inland through rolling hills that top out at 160 feet (50 m) of elevation.

In addition to Mount Benson itself—which is actually a 250 foot-high (77 m-high) hill—three interesting geographical features help to define the terroir and culture of the Mount Benson GI: the Great Australian Bight, Cape Jaffa, and terra rossa soils.

The Bright Red Soil: Portions of the Mount Benson GI are rich with terra rossa soil, which is much more famously part of the Coonawarra Region located about 65 miles to the east/southeast. There are many theories about the genesis of terra rossa, but it is typically found above a bedrock of limestone and believed to form as the bedrock decomposes. Briefly stated, as calcium carbonate in the limestone weathers, it mixes with clay and other soil particles and forms a series of layers on top of the bedrock. As the iron particles in the soil absorb oxygen (oxidize), they change color and lend a reddish hue to the soil.

Map of Australia by Norman Einstein via Wikimedia Commons

The Bight: The 9 mile- (15 km-) long coastline of the Mount Benson GI runs alongside a portion of the Great Australian Bight. (A bight is simply an open bay.) The Great Australian Bight basically runs along the entire south coast of Australia, making it one of the largest bights in the world. There are several dueling definitions of the parameters of the bight; however, in Australia (according to the Australian Hydrographic Service) it is considered to run for 720 miles/1,160 km from Cape Pasley, Western Australia, to Cape Carnot, South Australia.

The Cape: Cape Jaffa, located at the northwest corner of the Mount Benson GI,  is an area of headlands (a place characterized by rocky shores, steep sea cliffs, and breaking waves) located just south of Lacepede Bay. The headlands of Cape Jaffa extend along the coast for about 1.25 miles (2 km) and inland to Mount Benson. There is also a (very) small town and a marina known as Cape Jaffa.

The historic Cape Jaffa Lighthouse (now on display in Kingston)

More to our purposes is Cape Jaffa Wines.  Cape Jaffa produces a wide range of interesting wines, including varietally-labeled Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc and Shiraz produced with fruit from a variety of areas including Mount Benson, the Limestone Coast, and Wrattonbully (located inland from Mount Benson). Other wines include “Anna’s Blend”—named after winemaker Anna Hooper and consisting of barrel-fermented Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon alongside a splash of Gewurztraminer—as well as “Samphire Skin Contact White” fermented in a ceramic egg  with six months of skin contact. The Cape Jaffa cellar door is located just about six miles (9 km) from the sea.

Currently there are about 1,500 acres (600 ha) planted to vine in Mount Benson. The region is planted approximately 70% to red grapes, led by Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot; and 30% to white grapes led by Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Besides Cape Jaffa Wines, other wineries in the region include Cape Thomas Wines, Ralph Fowler Wines, Norfolk Rise Winery,  and Wangolina Wines. Mount Benson wines are apt to be difficult to find in the United States, so a trip to Australia might be in order.

References/for more information:

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