My Wild Goose Chase (for Raisins and Cheese)

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The joys of being a teacher—if you teach, you know what I mean. Even if you don’t teach, you most likely know what it is like to have someone disagree with you, argue with you, or dispute your version of the facts. Which is fine, which is life, which is freedom-of-speech-and-expression-and-it’s-all-good.

However, as a teacher, I never want to discount it if someone tells me I have the facts wrong. After all, that’s always a possibility—especially in the worlds of food, wine, and spirits in which I specialize. In this world, everything is always evolving. So over the course of the last few weeks, I have spent a good deal of time tracking down a few facts based on comments I’ve received via the blog and webinars—and I certainly learned a great deal!

My first adventure (shall we call it that?) can about from a blog post I wrote a while back about Gin de Mahón (which you might know by its brand name, Xoriguer). I am so glad I decided to write that post – I learned a lot about the product (which is now my favorite gin) and met some fascinating folks who contacted me with some background and opinions on the gin.

One particular email, however, turned me for a loop. This person claimed that there was absolutely no geographical indication for Gin de Mahón, and that it was a very common and widespread misconception, but that the only GI for Mahón was for cheese. Cheese?

photo of Queso Mahón Menorca by Ihourahane, via Wikimedia Commons

photo of Queso Mahón Menorca by Ihourahane, via Wikimedia Commons

First things first—a quick web search to the EU database confirmed that there is indeed a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) for Gin de Mahón. So my facts are straight. But it’s also true that there is a Denominación de Origen (DO) for cheese from Mahón (Mahón-Menorca DO).

In the spirit of “every situation offers an opportunity for learning,” I decided to find out a bit more about cheese from the Mahón-Menorca DO.

Mahón-Menorca DO is a cow’s milk cheese produced on the Spanish island of Menorca in the Balearic Islands. It is named after the port city of Mahón (just like the gin). The milk may come from the Friesian, Menorcan or Brown Swiss breed of cows, and may also include up to 5% milk from Menorcan sheep. There are actually two different styles, one know just as Mahón-Menorca—produced from pasteurized milk, and Artisan Mahón-Menorca—produced from raw milk. Either version may also be made in several styles, including tender (which has barely developed a rind and is cured for 21 to 60 days), semi-cured (which is firmer, with a soft orange rind and is cured for 3 to 5 months), and mature (which is firmer and flakey, sharp in flavor and aged for more than 5 months).

Cheese from the Mahón-Menorca DO is produced in small (between 5 and 9 cm high) pressed rounds of 1 to 4 kilos. It must be a whole-milk cheese of at least 38% milk fat. It should have a smooth, buttery flavor, a slightly salty taste and a bite of acidity. It may be served as a cheese course with fruit and nuts, in cheese sauce, served atop pan con tomate, or used in a range of recipes.

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My second wild goose chase adventure began with a webinar on the wines of southern Spain and started off innocently enough with the following statement, “there are two DOs for wine in the region of Málaga—the DO Málaga, which produces a wide range of wines based mainly on the Pedro Ximénez and  Moscatel de Alejandría grape varieties, but specializes in dried grape, aged, and fortified wines; and the DO Sierras de Málaga DO which features mainly dry wines from a wide range of allowed grape varieties.”

I thought I was off to a good start, but someone typed in the chat box and asked “What about the Pasas de Málaga DO?” I was pretty well thrown, as all of my research in the finest tomes on wine regions had not mentioned this particular appellation. My student, however, was adamant that I had missed a wine designation, so I agreed to investigate it further and follow up after class.

Later that day I set off on a research project to find out about the Pasas de Málaga DO. I checked in all the usual spots: the Oxford Companion to Wine (all three editions), the World Atlas of Wine, wine-searcher.com, Guild Somm—nothing. Onto a deeper search of the web, and—at long last, I came upon the website of the Consejo Regulador of the Málaga DO and sure enough, there are three DOs, including Pasas de Málaga. As the website is only in Spanish, it took me a while to decipher; however, in the end I discovered that there was indeed a Pasas de Málaga DO….for raisins. For eating.

But these are no ordinary raisins. According to regulations, Pasas de Málaga are produced using Muscat grapes; specifically the Moscatel de Málaga or Moscatel de Alejandría variety. They must be grown and dried in the regions of Axarquía or Manilva. They must be naturally sun-dried and be greater than 65° Brix, with a roundish shape and uniformly black color (as reddish or grey color would indicate early harvest or artificial drying).  They may be presented either in bunches or as individual raisins, with the conditions of drying (including the slope, awnings, dimensions and support of the drying platform, and allowed time) specifically defined for each type. Above all else, the raisins must have a proper sweet/acid balance (defined by brix and pH.), the proper texture (juicy and fleshy, not dry or inelastic), and the obvious aroma of Muscat grapes “reinforced by an intense retronasal aroma” (reforzado por un intenso aroma retronasal).

DOs for raisins and cheese are not unusual throughout the European Union; in addition to raisns, cheese, and hundreds of wines and sprits, Protected Designations of Origin (PDOs) exist for Sabina olive oil, Yorkshire rhubarb, Belgian butter, Traditional Balsamic vinegar, and Neapolitan Pizza. All of these products are fascinating and I’d love to research each and every one—even at the end of a wild good chase.

References/for more information:

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

Piquepoul: A Stinger or a Spider, a Beak or a Peak

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As many of you know, lately I’ve been taking a very, very deep dive into the grape varieties of the Rhône. More specifically, I’ve been diving for the grapes of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, in preparation for a mini-conference presentation. If it is part of the Châteauneuf 13 (or is it 18), I’ve studied it.*

One of the grapes I’ve been studying is Piquepoul. This is an interesting grape! For starters, while its most famous (and widely planted) incarnation is the white variety (blanc), there is also a PIquepoul Gris and a Piquepoul Noir. There are also a quite a few ways to spell the grape, all of them considered correct in certain places—such as Picpoul, Picpoule, Piquepout, and Piquepoule.

The leader if the Piquepoul pack is definitely the white version—Piquepoul Blanc. This grape has 4,000 documented acres (1,620 ha) in France and additional acreage in California. Most people would recognize this grape from the 100%-Piquepoul wine produced in the Languedoc’s Piquepoul de Pinet AOC. This is a popular wine for summer sipping, especially appreciated for its wide distribution and reasonable price point (ranging from around $10 to $15 a bottle). These light-bodied, high-acid wines are crisp, clean, and refreshing. Typical aromas and flavors of Piquepoul de Pinet include lemon, grapefruit, lime, peach, apricot, white flowers, yellow plum, and a hint of crunchiness or minerality.

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Piquepoul Noir is planted to about 200 acres (81 ha) in France, with about 7 acres in Spain. On its own, it tends to produce pale, acidic wines with oddly high levels of alcohol—in other words, it is not great on its own. However, it is very well suited to red blends and (in some cases) rosé. It’s an allowed variety (mostly in small amounts) in the Tavel, Vinsobres, Minervois, Gigondas, and Vacqueyras, and is allowed in the reds and rosés of the Luberon AOC—but only if planted before 1988.

The pink-skinned version, Picquepoul Gris, does not have any documented acreage in France (or elsewhere), and would be considered extinct save for a few cuttings and samples lurking in nurseries and university vineyards. Of course, being a color mutation, it might just decide to rise up one day in the middle of a vineyard somewhere. And it lives on in spirit, as Piquepoul Gris is still listed as an allowed variety in a few AOCs. Well, I could only find two AOCs that allowed Piquepoul Gris in their wines: Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Tavel, but surely there are plenty of vin de pays that have not yet kicked Piquepoul Gris out of the patch.

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As for the name Piquepoul, it has long been rumored to be based on the French word piquer, meaning “to sting,” and many people say that it is based on the Occitan term for “lip stinger.” Both versions of this “stinging” allusion relate back to the piquant acidity of the grape (and subsequent wine). However, it is now thought that while the term Piquepoul has a different background, the word piquer (to sting) is indeed the etymological root to a similar but separate grape variety (also grown throughout Southwest France) known as Picardan. Picardan, however, is also known as Araigan, and the name Araigan is thought to be based on the French word araigneé, meaning “spider’s web” and referring to the spider web-like hairs that grown on the underside of the leaves.

As for the meaning behind the grape known as Piquepoul, we need to consult a French botanist named Guy Lavignac and his book “Les Cépages du Sud Ouest—2000 Ans d’Histoire” (“The Grape Varieties of the Southwest – 2,000 Years of History [however, as far as I can tell, the book has not been translated in English]) Mr. Lavignac, a well-respected ampelographer, makes the claim the name Piquepoul is derived from the Oc dialect word for “peak” as in “mountain peak” or “place with a peak.” Alternatively, he believes it might refer to a “beak” as in a bird’s beak.

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There you have it: blanc, gris, and noir—all named after a stinger or a spider. Or was that a peak or a beak. I’ll take two glasses of Piquepoul de Pinet and think it over.

*There are thirteen grapes if you count varieties; and 18 if you add in the color mutations of Grenache, Piquepoul, and Clairette

References/for further information:

  • Lavignac, Guy. Les Cépages du Sud Ouest—2000 Ans d’Histoire. Paris, 2001: Roergue/INRA
  • Robinson, Jancis, Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz: Wine Grapes. New York, 2012: Harper Collins Publishers
  • Robinson, Jancis and Julia Harding: The Oxford Companion to Wine, 4th Edition. Oxford, 2015: The Oxford University Press
  • http://www.picpoul-de-pinet.com/en

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

What’s in a Blend? Terret Noir

Photo of Terret Noir by Vbecart, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo of Terret Noir by Vbecart, via Wikimedia Commons

The Terret variety is actually three grapes in one. Just as is the case with Pinot and Grenache, there are three color mutations (Noir, Gris, and Blanc) that are genetically identical and all go by the name “Terret.” The Terret varieties are sometimes called by the name Bourret, Tarret, Terret Chernyl, Terret du Pays, or Terret Bourret (say that three times fast).

Terret is believed to have originated in the Languedoc’s Hérault département (which now, administratively at least, belongs to the Occitanie Region of France). The grape has been referred in writing since as early as 1619, so its been around a while.

All three Terrets used to be quite widely planted throughout Southwest France, and for a while (beginning in the 1950s), Terret Gris was the most widely planted variety in the Languedoc. However, while some was used in the wines of the region, more of it was used in the production of vermouth and eau-de-vie. It’s popularity was also somewhat short-lived; from a high of just over 20,000 acres (8,100 ha) planted throughout France, there are now only around 250 acres (101 ha) of Terret Gris in France.

These days, Terret Blanc leads the trio in terms of acreage, with just over 3,500 acres (1,415 ha) in France (most of it sticking close to home in the Hérault département).  Terret Noir fares just a tad better than Terret Gris, with just over 460 acres (185 ha) in France these days.

It was Terret Noir that first drew my attention to the trio, as I am just beginning to research a seminar on the grapes from the list of 13 or 18 (depends-on-how-you-count-them) allowed in the famous wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  Terret Noir (but not its Blanc or Gris incarnations) is on the list. It does, however, appear near the bottom of list of allowed wines if they are listed alphabetically, and it is most likely near the bottom of the list in terms of actual usage as well.

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In addition to Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Terret Noir is allowed—in teeny-tiny proportions—in a number of AOCs scattered throughout the Rhône Valley and Languedoc. When stated, its allowance is typically limited to 10%. Likewise, you might find the name Terret Noir stuck in a long-list of stand-ins that are allowed to form a combined maximum of 20 or 25% of a particular wine. Nevertheless, one may find Terret Noir in a glass of Cassis Rouge, Rasteau (both the vin doux naturel and the unfortified red), Minervois, Beaumes-de-Venise, Terrasses du Larzac, Gingondas, Vinsobres, Côtes du Rhône and—perhaps most famously—Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

All three members of the Terret trio are quite vigorous, prone to mutation (duh) and known for high acidity. As Terret Noir is almost always used as a minor part of a blend, it is very difficult to find information on the specific organoleptic characteristics that it might bring to a wine. However, as I have said many a time when asked about an outlandish wine-related scheme (such as would you ever dry the grapes, destem them, re-stem them, re-hydrate them and then attempt carbonic maceration), I can only say “well, there is probably somebody in California that has tried it.”

As it turns out, there is somebody in California growing Terret Noir! This one lone winery—Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles—has about one-half of an acre of Terret Noir and has, for two years now,  produced a varietally-labeled Terret Noir. This project is very much in line with Tablas Creek’s close connection to Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Rhône Valley culture. Tablas Creek was the first estate in California to plant the grape. They have just released their second vintage—a 2014 Terret Noir.

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The winery (as stated on their website) intends to eventually use their Terret Noir grapes in their Rhône-style blends, but for now their varietal wine has much to teach us about the character of the grape.  We know that the grape is thin-skinned, and therefore it is no surprise that the varietal wine is pale in color, with a slight garnet hue. To quote the tasting notes provided by the winery, the wine has a “spicy, lifted nose of dried herbs and wild strawberries.”  The notes go on to say that it has persistence on the palate, with flavors of “crunchy red fruit like pomegranates and red currants, complex notes of black tea and dried roses.”

It sounds like Terret Noir would blend quite nicely in with the Grenaches, Syrahs, and Mourvèdres (as well as the over-a-dozen other grapes) of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

References/for further information:

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

 

The (Lucky) French Thirteen

Administrative map of the 13 (new as of 2016) regions of France

Administrative map of the 13 (new as of 2016) regions of France

It’s called territorial reform.

As a citizen of the world, you have no doubt heard by now that in January of this year (2016), after years of debate, the French government reduced the number of the administrative regions in Metropolitan France from 22 to 13. This “simplification” has been dubbed le big bang des régions by the French media.

Despite their original intent (and hopefully, eventual success) such changes tend to complicate things in the short term. In this regard, we wish the French well.

On a more selfish note, as a lifelong student of wine this means I need to re-do some of my flashcards. I’m in the process of doing just that, but for now I felt the need to make a quick survey of how these new administrative regions affect the study of French wines!

First, some quick good news: A lot of wine study deals in departments, and these have not changed. There are still 101 departments in France, which include: 94 on the mainland, 2 in Corsica, and 5 overseas territories (Guadeloupe, Martinique, French Guiana, Réunion, and Mayotte). Your studies of the Haut-Rhin, Gironde, and Lot-et-Garonne have not been in vain.

And for some more good news, the following administrative regions of France have not changed:

  • Bretagne (Brittany)
  • Centre (although the name has changed to Centre-Val de Loire)
  • Île-de-France
  • Pays de la Loire
  • Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur
The departments - thankfully, there have been no recent changes

The departments – thankfully, there have been no recent changes

That leaves seven newly-defined regions. Here goes:

Grand Est: The newly-formed Grand Est region comprises the former regions of Alsace, Champagne-Ardenne, and Lorraine. The capital city is Strasbourg. That’s right—the Alsace region (technically) is no more. However, the wine region is still referred to as Alsace, and if you look Alsace up in a (non-wine centric) dictionary or encyclopedia, it will define it along the lines of something like “a historic and cultural area of France.” Main wine areas in the Grand Est region include Champagne (parts of which cross over into the new Hauts-de-France region to the northwest), Alsace, Moselle AOC, and Côtes de Toul AOC.

Bourgogne-Franche Comté: This new region encompasses the former regions of Bourgogne (Burgundy) and Franche Comté. The capital city is Dijon. There is nothing too complicated about this region, it is merely the coupling of two former administrative areas into one, with a hyphenated name. Wine regions affected include Burgundy (even Chablis, Irancy, and Saint-Bris made the cut) and Jura. The vineyards of Beaujolais and the Savoie AOC are now partially in the region of Bourgogne-French Comté and partially in the new region to the south (Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes). The good news: the ideal pairing of white Burgundy and Comté cheese now consists of two sister products from the same region.

Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes: Like Bourgogne-Franche Comté, this newly-formed administrative region seems to be merely a late marriage (complete with hyphenated name) between two longtime neighbors. The capital city is Lyon. The main wine regions within the new region include all of the Northern Rhône Valley (from Côte Rotie in the north to Saint-Péray at the southern tip) and Grignan-les-Adhémar (of the Southern Rhône), parts of Beaujolais, and parts of the Savoie AOC.

Occitanie: This new region is made up of the former regions of Languedoc-Roussillon and Midi-Pyrénées.  The capital city is Toulouse. Just like long, lost Alsace, we will read things like “Languedoc is a former province of France. Its territory is now contained in the modern-day region of Occitanie in the south of France.” (Thank you, Wikipedia.) The Occitanie region contains all of the vineyards areas of Languedoc and Roussillon (we knew you well), as well as some of the AOCs of Southwest France, including Cahors, Floc de Gasconge, and Fronton.

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Nouvelle Aquitaine: This new region is comprised of the former regions of Aquitaine, Limousin, and Poitou-Charentes. The capital city is Bordeaux. This new area includes all of the vineyards and AOCs of Bordeaux (thank goodness), all of the Cognac-producing region and most of the Armagnac-producing areas (a portion of which stretches into Occitanie). Nouvelle Aquitaine also includes some AOCs of Southwest France, including Bergerac, Buzet, Côtes de Duras, and Monbazillac.

Normandie (Normandy): This area hasn’t changed too much; it just combines the former regions of Upper Normandy and Lower Normandy. This totally makes sense to me and seems like an actual simplification. The new capital city is Rouen. Wine production is not really a thing here, but the apple brandy (with its three Calvados AOCs) and the Camembert cheese is quite good.

Hauts-de-France: Named for this area’s location at the “top” (haut) of France, this new area comprises the two former regions of Nord-Pas-de-Calais and Picardy. The capital city is Lille. Not much wine production goes on in this northerly spot, aside from the fact that the official boundaries of the Champagne region extend ever-so-slightly into the Hauts-de-France’s Aisne department.

Click here for a pdf of the maps-of-france-used-in-this-post, including a blank map of the “New France.”

References/for more information:

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

A Little bit about the Lot

The town of Estaing on the Lot River

The town of Estaing on the Lot River

The Lot River has its source in south-central France, in a small mountain range known as the Cévennes. The Cévennes Range is part of, and sits alongside, the eastern edge of the much-larger Massif Central.

The highest mountain in the Cévennes is Mont Lozère, rising to 5,575 feet (1,700 m) above sea level.  It is here, on the side of Mont Lozère, that the Lot River begins its 300-mile (482 km) journey as a “winding blue ribbon” through the departments of Lozère, Aveyron, Cantal, Lot, and Lot-et-Garonne. Along this path, the Lot River flows through the AOC wine regions of Estaing, Entraygues-Le Fel, and Cahors before joining the Garonne for the final trip to the sea.

From its beginning in the Cévennes, the Lot River flows for about 60 miles alongside a plain known as L’Aubrac—named for the small town of Aubrac located on its western side. This high plateau extends almost 1,000 square miles, and was created by a series of volcanic eruptions that occurred over 6 million years ago. The plateau of L’Aubrac is somewhat defined by the Lot River; the Lot River itself forms the southern boundary, while the Truyère River defines the northern border.

On its journey across the Aubrac Plateau, the Lot River flows through the town of Estaing. Estaing is considered to be one of the most picturesque towns in all of France. Estaing is also the recipient of a rather new AOC, awarded in 2011. The wines of the Estaing AOC are red, white, or rosé, and typically dry (although off-dry styles are permitted).

The Valentre Bridge over the Lot River (Cahors)

The Valentre Bridge over the Lot River (Cahors)

The white wines of the Estaing AOC are based on a minimum of 50% Chenin Blanc and a minimum of 10% Mauzac; the remainder may include up to 25% Saint-Côme (a local grape also known as Rousselou). The red and rosé wines are based on Gamay, with Fer (Fer Servadou) required in the reds, and two accessory varieties (chosen from a long list of allowed, obscure varieties) required in the rosés.

The western boundary of the Aubrac Plateau is about ten miles upriver from Estaing, at the town of Entraygues-sur-Truyère.  Entraygues-sur-Truyère was founded where the Truyère River (a right tributary of the Lot) flows into the Lot River as it continues its journey down the eastern foothills of the Massif Central.

From Entraygues-sur-Truyère, the Lot River twists and turns for about 4 more miles before it reaches the town of Le Fel. Between these two towns you will find the terraced vineyards of the obscure yet delightful Entraygues-Le Fel AOC. This is a tiny AOC, consisting of about 50 acres in total.

Red, white, and rosé wines are produced here; they are mostly dry but off-dry styles are allowed as well. The white wines of the Entraygues-Le Fel AOC are based on a minimum of 90% Chenin Blanc; the remaining 10% may comprise either Mauzac or Saint-Côme. The red and rosé wines are blends, based on Fer, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon, plus small allowed amounts of Mouyssaguès and Négret de Banhars. No single grape may be more than 60% of the blend.

Panoramic view of Cahors, surrounded by the Lot River

Panoramic view of Cahors, surrounded by the Lot River

After leaving the town of Le Fel, the Lot River twists and turns through the hills, limestone plateaus, and valleys for about 70 more miles until it reaches the town of Cahors. Here, the Malbec-dominated vineyards of the Cahors AOC follow the twists and turns of the Lot River for over 25 miles. Cahors is a red wine-only AOC, producing the deep, dark, spicy wines known as the “Black Wine of Cahors.” Cahors AOC is produced using a minimum of 70% Malbec, with Tannat and Merlot allowed for the remainder.

The vineyards of Cahors are planted on two distinct soils; those closest to the river are planted on gravelly slopes, while those farther from the river are planted on the area’s limestone plateaus (known as the Causses). Wines produced using grapes planted on the limestone plateaus are known to be more tannic and austere, while grapes planted closer to the river produce wines that are fruitier and more approachable while young.

After the Lot River leaves the vineyards of Cahors behind, it continues to wind its way for another 60 miles before it reaches the town of Aiguillon. At Aiguillon (a commune of the aptly-named Lot-et-Garonne Department), the Lot River joins the Garonne River for its final journey through the vineyards of Bordeaux, into the Gironde Estuary, and finally out to sea.

Map of the Lot River by Lemen, via Wikimedia Commons

Map of the Lot River by Lemen, via Wikimedia Commons

References/for more information:

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

 

Meet the Bombinos

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It’s hard to not perk up when you hear the word Bombino. It’s just so cute, and you’re just not sure what you just heard. Did someone just call you a bimbo? A bambino? Or, better yet, a bombshell?

If the conversation revolved around wine, it’s likely that the word was used in reference to a rather obscure grape—or set of grapes—grown around southern Italy and most likely native to Puglia.

There are two Bombino grapes—Bombino Bianco and Bombino Nero—and they are apparently not twins, clones, or even that closely related. As with many things ampelographical, it is not yet certain how, or if, they are related. It is, however, possible that Bombino Bianco and Trebbiano Arbuzzese are either closely related or the same grape. Yet we do know (or think we know) where the name derives from—Bombino means “little bomb” and may refer to the roundish shape of the grape clusters.

Bombino Bianco is grown in moderate amounts throughout southern Italy, and also shows up in some of the regional  wines of central and northern Italy. In Puglia, Bombino Bianco is the star of the white wines of the San Severo DOC, where it is required to be between 40% and 60% of the blend (the other portion may be Trebbiano Bianco with a maximum of 15% other approved white varieties). In Abruzzo, it can be interchanged with Trebbiano Abruzzese or Trebbiano Toscano in the Trebbiano d’Abruzzo DOC.  (If you made it through that sentence with your cognition still intact you are a genius.)

In Lazio, Bombino Bianco goes by the name of Ottonese. In the wines of the Frascati DOC, it is allowed to make up a maximum of 35% in the Malvasia-based blend.  It may also be produced as a varietal wine under the Marino DOC.

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Farther north, in Emilia-Romagna, Bombino Bianco is required to be a minimum of 40–50% of the blend in the white wines of the Chardonnay-heavy (50–60%) Colli Romagna Centrale DOC, and may be produced as a varietal wine—under the name Pagadebit—under the Romagna DOC. (For the serious wine student growing wearing of this name-calling, a good fact-of-the-day is that the Romagna DOC was created in 2011 out of the now-defunct DOCs of Cagnina di Romagna, Pagadebit di Romagna, Romagna Albana Spumante, Sangiovese di Romagna, and Trebbiano di Romagna.)

Pagadebit (or Pagadebito) is another synonym for Bombino Bianco, and just might mean “debt-payer.” However, just to keep things interesting, some of the grapes known as Pagadebito in Emilia-Romagna might actually be a related variety known as Mostosa. And to keep things even more interesting, “debt-payer” is a common nick-name for a handful of high-yield, juicy grapes.

At last count, there were approximately 7,400 acres (3,000 ha) of Bombino Bianco grown in Italy. Some of it makes its way into vino (EU table wine) and IGT wines in addition to the DOCs discussed above. Germany also grows some Bombino Bianco, much of it used in the production of Sekt (German sparkling wine). While high-yield grapes are known to produce neutral-tasting wines, given a measure of care, Bombino Bianco can produced wines with aromas of citrus and tropical fruit, herbal notes, and even a hint of minerality.

Bombino Nero is far less complicated, and far less planted; at present Italy grows about 2,890 acres (1,700 ha) of Bombino Nero. Most of this is accounted for in Puglia, but some plantings are also found in Basilicata, Lazio, and on the island of Sardinia. While Bombino Nero seems to be native to Puglia, remember, it’s not exactly Bianco’s dark-skinned twin but is (maybe) an indeterminate relative of sorts.

Bombino Nero is allowed to be a maximum of 40% of the blend in the reds and rosés of Puglia’s Lizzano DOC. It’s also allowed to make up any amount of the blend in the rosato (rosé) and rosato spumante produced under the Castel del Monte DOC. Being a vigorous, late-ripening grape with excellent color and a strong slug of anthocyanins, it makes sense that it would be an excellent choice for rosé. Which leads me to the biggest bombshell to drop from the dark-skinned Bombino: it’s the majority grape variety (minimum 90%) allowed in a DOCG that is dedicated solely to rosé—the Castel del Monte Bombino Nero DOCG. This is a tiny DOCG, with just 40 acres (16 ha) of vineyards.

Castel del Monte Bombino Nero DOCG is the only DOCG dedicated solely to rosato in Italy. Boom.

References/for further information:

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

The Outer Limits: AOC Châteaumeillant

Vineyards in Châteaumeillant - Photo by Ameliris, via Wikimedia

Vineyards in Châteaumeillant – Photo by Ameliris, via Wikimedia

Tucked away into the southwestern corner of France’s Cher département, the Châteaumeillant AOC is located quite literally in the outer limits of the Loire Valley wine region. About 45 miles south of Quincy, it’s the last Loire Valley AOC on the road out of town.

The Châteaumeillant AOC is named after the town it surrounds  in the foothills of the Massif Central. The town of Châteaumeillant has about 2,000 residents. The AOC of the same name somewhat straddles the line between the Indre and Cher départments. It has been called the most central vineyard in France—and it does appear to rest firmly in the middle of the country.

Wine has been part of the local economy here since the fifth century BC, as proven by the discovery of over 300 amphora that were unearthed during a construction dig.

In the fifth century, the area was a Roman town named Mediolanum. Due to its location, Mediolanum was an important part of the wine trade and something of a way-station for Italian wines being sent to troops stationed in (what was then) western Gaul. Some time later, the area began growing grapes and producing wine.

The Châteaumeillant AOC is a small producer. There are currently just 173 acres (70 ha) dedicated to red wines and another 49 acres (20 ha) for rosé (vin gris). Red wines are made from a minimum of 40% Gamay with Pinot Noir allowed to fill in the rest. The pale vin gris (rosé) is made from the same basic formula, but also allows for a maximum of 15% Pinot Gris in the blend. Rumor has it that the appellation is going to steadily increase the minimum portion of Gamay until it reaches 60% sometime after the year 2027. White wines made primarily from Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are also produced in the region, but are labeled with Val de Loire IGP status.

Culan Castle

Culan Castle

Châteaumeillant became a vin délimité de qualité supérieure (the now-defunct VDQS category) in 1965 and was promoted to AOC status in 2010. There seem to be only around 10 wine estates in the area; noted producers include Domaine Roux, Domaine Goyer, and Domaine du Chaillot.

If you would like to visit Châteaumeillant, it’s about a two-and-a-half hour drive from Paris. Once there, you can see the ancient amphora of the region at the Archeological Museum of Chateaumeillant, tour Culan Castle (built in the 13th century), and visit the Chapitre d’Albret (dating from the 1500s). The region also has a variety of farms that produce some of the Loire Valley’s famous goat cheeses, which should be a great match with the vin gris of the AOC Châteaumeillant.

It sounds like a trip to the outer limits that you might enjoy!

References/for further information:

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