Valpolicella—What’s in a Blend?

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Valpolicella is one of the most beloved red wines of Italy. Produced in Veneto, it is renowned for its rich fruit aromas of black cherry and cranberry, its soft tannins, and its woodsy-spice-wild berry-bitter almond flavors.

Valpolicella is also a wine of many faces. It may be produced in normale, ripasso, amarone, and recioto versions; in superiore, riserva, and spumante styles, and in the Classico and Valpantena subzones.  That’s a lot of versions of Valpolicella!

But the good news for we perpetual students of wine is that all of the variations of Valpolicella require the exact same palate of grape varieties, and it’s fairly simple at that.

For starters, there are only two grapes that are required to be used in Valpolicella. They are Corvina and Rondinella. Corvina must be at least of 45% the blend and Rondinella must be present at a minimum of 5%. So that’s the legal baseline. Above and beyond that, 25% of the blend may be made from a long list of different grape varieties (defined as “red grapes suitable for cultivation in Verona”) with the caveat that no single accessory variety may comprise more than 10% of the total blend.

The basic blend of Valpolicella

The basic blend of Valpolicella

The most well-known of these permitted accessory grapes include Corvinone, Malvasia Nera, Refosco, Marzemino, Molilnara, Oseleta, and Croatina. We’ll discuss all of these (plus Corvina and Rondinella) in a bit more detail below:

King Corvina:  Corvina, which I call King Corvina, is considered to be the superior grape in Valpolicella blends, and may comprise anywhere from 45% to 95% of the total. This grape is also known as Corvina Veronese. The name may have come from the word corvo, meaning “crow” (in reference to the color of the berries) or from the local term cruina, meaning “unripe” (and referring to its late maturation). Corvina provides a light sour cherry flavor, fresh acidity, and a hint of bitter almond to the wines of Valpolicella.

Ruby Rondinella: Rondinella, which I call Ruby Rondinella, is included as part of the Valpolicella blend for its bright ruby-red color, and fruity, cherry-esque flavors. It must be at least 5% of the blend (and is permitted to be up to 30% of the total). Rondinella is the offspring of Corvina and is thought to be named for the term rondini (meaning “swallows”), in reference to the color of the berries.

Cousin Corvinone: I call the Corvinone grape Cousin Corvinone because it was previously believed to be a clone or mutation of Corvina (and thus, technically, the same grape). However, in 1993 (God bless DNA profiling) it was proven to be a distinct variety. After it was discovered to be its own grape, the disciplinare of the Valpolicella wines were updated to allow Corvinone to continue to be used in the wines. As such, it is now allowed to be substituted for up to 50% of the total amount of Corvina used in any given blend.

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Minor Molinara: Molinara freaks people out in reference to Valpolicella, and for good reason. It used to be a required part of the blend, and lots and lots of wine reference materials still state it as so. However, the rules were recently changed, and now Molinara is allowed but not required. The grape is now considered to be not-so-high quality, rather pale, and prone to oxidation (thus its demotion). However, some old-vine Molinara is grown in Veneto—specifically at the Masi, Carlo Boscaini, and Villa Bellini estates—and is used to produce some high-quality wines, some of which are bottled as a (very pale, almost rosé-like in appearance) varietal under the IGT Veronese.  There are reportedly only about 3,300 acres (1,350 ha) of Molinara in Veneto, and these days it definitely plays second fiddle to the Crovina/Rondinella team in Valpolicella. For this reason, I call it Minor Molinara —but Molinara is neither gone nor forgotten.

Obscure Oseleta: The Oseleta grape has been found to be very close to Corvina in terms of both DNA profiling and character. As such, it is an allowed grape in the Valpolicella mix, but it very rarely used. It was—once-upon-a-time—very close to extinction. Luckily, it was recovered beginning in the 1970s, primarily around the small village of Fasola-Pigozzo. Even today, Oseleta is grown in very small amounts (50 acres/20 ha) in the Valpolicella zone; as such, my nickname for the grape is Obscure Oseleta.

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Crazy Croatina: Croatina has earned the nickname Crazy Croatina due to its involvement in one of the craziest grape-name schemes in all of viticulture. See if you can follow this: Croatina is also known as Bonarda, but that is not Argentina’s Bonarda (which is actually Douce Noire). Valpolicella’s Coatina is also NOT Piedmont’s Bonarda (that would be Bonarda Piemontese). Croatina is rather the version of Bonarda that is also grown in  Oltrepò Pavese—however…never forget that there are at least six different grape varieties that sometimes go by the name Bonarda. Crazy. Croatina is actually an interesting little grape, grown sparingly but across a wide swath of northern Italy, and often compared to Nebbiolo in terms of color and character. The name of the grape is derived from the term “Croatian girl,” despite the fact that it is believed to be native to Lombardy.

What else is in a blend? Other grapes that are allowed as part of the Valpolicella blend include Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Merlot, and Teroldego. For a more complete list, see the website of the Consorzio Valpolicella.

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

Lake Garda and her Wines

The waterfront of the town of Torbole

The waterfront of the town of Torbole

It’s the lake of dreams. Lake Garda (Lago di Garda) is the largest lake in Italy, and a popular destination for travelers searching for deep blue transparent waters, wind-in-your-hair yachting, and la dolce vida the area is known for.

The rich and famous may head for the northern resorts towns of Riva del Garda and Torbole, while families and backpackers head for the farmhouses of Bardolino, Castelnuovo del Garda, or the fortified town of Sirmione in the south.

Formed by the movement of glaciers thousands of years ago, Lake Garda is tucked between the regions of Veneto, Trentino, and Lombardy. Its upper half, shaped somewhat like the handle of an axe, reaches into the Italian Alps, while the southern section, shaped like the blade of the axe, stretches down into an undulating plain. Such a shape is typical of a moraine (glacier-formed) valley.

Lake Garda from space - via NASA

Lake Garda from space – via NASA

The lake is 32 miles (51 km) long from north to south, and about 10 miles wide at its widest point.  In addition to lovely towns, ferry boats, orange orchards, and olive groves, the shores of Lake Garda are host to a variety of vineyards, which including several DOCs and one DOCG. These wines of Lake Garda are briefly discussed below, beginning in the northern end of the lake (tucked into Trentino), and following around the lake clockwise through Vento and ending up in Lombardy. These regions are overwhelmingly overlapping, interlocking, discontiguous, and straddling the boundary lines of cities, towns and regions–and this little article is but an overview. It might be a good time to book a trip to any (or all) of these lovely wine regions.

Valdadige DOC: The Valdadige DOC (also known as Etschtaler, particularly among the German-speaking denizens of the area) is the only DOC that stretches across parts of both the Trentino and Alto-Adige provinces. The DOC covers a wide range of wines—including white, red, rosé, still, semi-sparkling, varietal, and blend. A typical Valdadige Bianco DOC will be based on Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio, Riesling Italico, Muller Thurgau, or Chardonnay, with a range of other typical white grapes of the region also allowed. Valdadige Rosso or Rosato DOC is produced using a minimum of 50% Lambrusco a Foglia Frastagliata (Enantio) and/or Schiava (plus a plethora of allowed red varieties). Varietal versions of Pinot Grigio, Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay, and Schiava may also be produced. Frizzante wines may be either dry or semi-sweet, and may be produced from Pinot Bianco or Chardonnay.

Scaliger Castle in the town of Sirmione

Scaliger Castle in the town of Sirmione

Casteller DOC: The Casteller DOC covers a large area across the middle of the Trentino province and overlaps a portion of the larger Valdadige DOC at the north end of Lake Garda. Casteller is a red wine-only region known for soft red wines based on a minimum of 50% Merlot; the remainder may be filled in with Schiava (Grossa or Gentile), Lambrusco a Foglia Frastagliata (Enantio), Lagrein, or Teroldego.

Bardolino DOC (and her sisters): Veneto’s Bardolino is undoubtedly the most famous of the Lake Garda lakeside DOCs (and even includes a DOCG, the Bardolino Superiore DOCG). Bardolino produces mainly red wines and some rosé (a much-beloved Chiaretto) from a blend based on 35–80% Corvina Veronese grapes (a portion of which may be replaced by Corvinone). Small amounts of Rondinella are required, and small amounts of Molinara, Rossignola (Gropello), Barbera, Sangiovese, and Garganega are allowed. The Bardolino DOC allows for the production of many versions. Reds may be produced as a classico, novello, or classico novello in addition to the normale versions, and the chiaretto (rosé) may be released as normale, classico, or sparkling. Bardolino is known to be a medium-bodied, fresh-tasting red wine. The Crovina base lends delightful sour-cherry aromas and flavors in addition to floral, herbal, and ripe berry notes.  Novello versions have been compared to Beaujolais Nouveau and rosé versions are fresh, fruity, crisp and lively. I like to describe Bardolino Chiaretto like “red Bardolino with its shirt off.” I’ve never had the spumante version, but I’m on the lookout now.

Lake Garda and her wines mapsBianco di Custoza DOC: The Bianco di Custoza DOC, tucked below Lake Garda on her southwest side, is located within the Veneto region. The DOC overlaps with the Bardolino DOC quite a bit, but also extends past the boundaries of Bardolino a bit as well. Bianco di Custoza, sometimes simply called “Custoza,” is a white-wine only DOC, but does allow for sparkling wine, sweet wines made via the passito method, and a superiore version, in addition to the normale dry, still wines.

All of these versions of Bianco di Custoza may be made using the same palette of grape varieties–but from there things get a bit complicated. The basis of the wine starts out with at least 20% (and a maximum of 40%) Garganega. Next, it includes a minimum of 10% (and a maximum of 40%) Trebbiano Toscana (otherwise known as Ugni Blanc). Another 5% to 30% is an interesting grape known as Trebbianello, which is a local clone of the grape alternatively known as Tai or Friulano. Other grapes that are allowed in varying amounts include Bianca Fernanda (a local clone of Cortese), Malvasia, Riesling Italico, Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay, and Manzoni Bianco.

The waterfront of Salò, a town on the banks of Lake Garda in Lombardy

The waterfront of Salò, a town on the banks of Lake Garda in Lombardy

Lugana DOC: The Lugana DOC straddles the Lombardy–Veneto border at the southern edge of Lake Garda. The name Lugana is as picturesque as its surroundings; the word is derived from the Latin for “Lake in the Woods,” reflecting the dense woodlands that existed here not-so-long ago.  Lugana is a white wine-only DOC, producing wines in a range of styles from a minimum of 90% Trebbiano di Lugana grapes. The Trebbiano di Lugana variety is also known as Trebbiano di Soave, Turbiana, or Verdicchio Bianco. The DOC produces mainly fragrant, dry white wines (often compared to Soave in style), and also allows for superiore, riserva, late-harvest, and sparling versions.

Valtènesi DOC: Located in Lombardy’s Brescia province, the Valtènesi DOC produces both red and rosé (chiaretto) wines based on a minimum of 50% Groppello (Gentile and/or Mocasina). The remainder of the blend may include any of the red wines approved for use in Lombardy, with Sangiovese, Marzemino, and Barbera most often used. The Groppello grape is native to this area of northern Italy, and is grown in very small amounts, mainly in Lombardy and Veneto (where it may be known as Rossignola).

Garda DOC (and the rest of the Garda family): The Garda DOC extends along the western shore of Lake Garda (in Lombardy), and continues on to the Veneto side, overlapping portions of the Lugana, Bardolino, and Bianco di Custoza DOCs along the way. Two small portions on the Lombardy side overlap with smaller Garda DOCs: Garda Colli Mantovani DOC overlaps a small section at the southern end of the lake, and a small section near the northern edge overlaps with the Garda Bresciano DOC. All of these regions produce a wide range of wines, including red, white, rosé, sparkling and novello versions, from a range of grapes representing the typical varieties of the area.

References/for further information:

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

Merritt, Saint George, and Long: the Island AVAs

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Mountain, valley, gorge, coast, creek, district, ridge, hills, and lake. Do these words sound familiar? If you are a student of wine, they should, as together they help form the names of hundreds of AVAs. There are also a few oddball terms in the AVA mix–knob, neck, and kiln come to mind–but what about island AVAs?

As it turns out, there are exactly five AVAs with the term “island” in the name (including one “isle”). The winemaking world has some famous wines made on islands–Sicily, Sardinia, and all those Greek islands come to mind–but in the US, we’re not so much about island winemaking. Perhaps that 3,000 mile-wide solid mass of continent that makes up the majority of the country has something to do with it.

Three of the five island AVAs are quite familiar to students of wine: the Long Island AVA plus its subregions, the Hamptons–Long Island AVA and the North Fork of Long Island AVA.

The two other island AVAs– Merritt Island AVA and Isle Saint George AVA–are undoubtedly two of the most obscure wine regions in the United States. Read on to learn a little bit more about these fascinating obscurities: the little-known island AVAs of the USA.

Map of the Bass Islands by Norman Einstein, via Wikimedia Commons

Map of the Bass Islands by Norman Einstein, via Wikimedia Commons

Isle Saint George AVA: The Isle Saint George AVA is located in the state of Ohio on North Bass Island. North Bass Island is the northernmost of the three Bass islands, which are located in Lake Erie near the of the town of Sandusky, Ohio. North Bass Island measures about a mile and a half long and not quite that wide, for a total of about 688 acres in size. The entire island is within the boundaries of the Isle Saint George AVA, and about half of the island is covered with vines. The AVA is named after the town of Isle Saint George–the only town on the island–which at last count had about 20 residents. Most of the land on the island is owned by the state, including the vineyards, which are leased out to farmers.

The island enjoys a somewhat moderate, maritime climate. Due to the influence of a system of underground limestone caves, the island actually stays a bit warmer than the surrounding areas, and ground frost is delayed in the fall. Vineyards on the island are planted mainly to Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay, and a handful of American hybrids such as Catawba and Delaware. The island has a long history of winemaking beginning with German settlers who arrived in the 1800s.

Firelands Winery, located on the Ohio mainland, sources grapes from the Isle Saint George AVA as well as other islands in the Bass Island archipelago. Many of the wines produced by Firelands Winery are bottled under the Isle Saint George AVA.  The Isle Saint George AVA was approved in 1982.

The Sacramento River

The Sacramento River

Merritt Island AVA: Merritt Island is located in California’s Sacramento River Delta. It is surrounded on two sides by the Sacramento River, and on the other two by the Elk Slough and the Sutter Slough. (A “slough” is sometimes defined as a “stream,” but in many cases the word “swamp” is more descriptive.) Merritt Island AVA was approved as AVA in 1983; and later (in 1987) became a subregion of the larger Clarksville AVA.

The island is rather long and skinny, and shaped somewhat like a 6-mile by 1.5-mile oval. The island covers close to 5,000 acres, with about 435 planted to vines. As would be expected of a delta island, the land is very flat–the highest point reaches 14 feet above sea level–and very fertile with alluvial soils. There are currently four commercial vineyards on the island, planted mainly to Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay. Most of the grapes grown on Merritt Island make their way into California Blends, including (so we are told) the delectable Bogle Phantom.

Speaking of islands: The state of Hawaii contains what must be the most famous islands in the United States. Wine is produced in Hawaii, as it is in all 50 of the United States; however, there are no AVAs in Hawaii. As makes sense for a tropical island located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean at around 20° north latitude, most Hawaiian wineries produce wine from tropical fruit such as pineapple, mango, and guava. However, there are some high-elevation vineyards in Hawaii that grow the Symphony grape variety (a vinifera cross of Muscat of Alexandria and Grenache Gris).  Hawaiian wine has not yet made a splash on the mainland, but when in Hawaii, you might want to do as Hawaiians do and try some Hawaiian Symphony!

References/for more information:

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

Misfits of the Loire

Close-up of a window in Château de Chaumont (Chaumont-sur-Loire)

Close-up of a window in Château de Chaumont     (Chaumont-sur-Loire)

A good wine student can most likely give you an excellent overview of the wines of the Loire. Perhaps it would go something like this:

The Pays Nantais is the westernmost region of the Loire Valley. It is adjacent to the Atlantic Ocean and overall the coolest area of the Loire, focusing on dry white wines produced using the Melon de Bourgogne grape variety. The majority of the wine here is produced in one of the four AOCs bearing the name “Muscadet.”

Moving inland, the Anjou-Saumur region focuses on white wines, both still and sparkling and in various levels of sweetness, produced from Chenin Blanc. Still reds, still rosés, and some sparkling wines are also produced in Anjou-Saumur, primarily using the main red grapes of the area–Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Gamay and Côt (Malbec). Moving further east, the region of Touraine produces white wines using Chenin Blanc, but further inland as the soils and climate evolve, the focus moves to Sauvignon Blanc. Red wine and rosé is produced here as well. The easternmost region of the Loire, referred to as the Eastern Loire or Upper Loire, focuses on crisp whites made using Sauvignon Blanc; a few Pinot-Noir and Cabernet Franc-based reds are produced in the Eastern Loire as well.

Kitchen garden at the Château de Villandry

Kitchen garden at the Château de Villandry

So how did our wine student do? Pretty well, I would say. That’s a nice overview of the Loire!

However…if we want to dig a bit deeper, we will learn that the 300 mile-long Loire Valley wine region actually contains close to 50 AOCs and 5 IGPs, and among them over two dozen grape varieties are grown and made into Loire Valley wines.

Here are a few that I found that produce unique wines using grapes that are (somewhat) unusual for the Loire Valley. I like to call these wines “Misfits of the Loire” (in the most endearing use of the term, of course).

Cour-Cheverny AOC: The Cheverny AOC is tucked into the easternmost part of Touraine, just south of the Loire River. The subregion of Cour-Cheverny (named for a tiny commune with around 2,000 inhabitants) is, in turn, tucked into the southeast part of the Cheverny AOC. Here you’ll find the only Loire Valley plantings of the Romorantin grape variety (and, perhaps the only Romorantin vines left in France). The Cour-Cheverny AOC produces dry to off-dry wines.

Romorantin is a white grape variety closely related to Chardonnay–its parentage appears to the be same as Chardonnay (Pinot X Gouis Blanc) however, the “Pinot” in the case of Romorantin is not Pinot Noir (thought to be the parent of Chardonnay), but rather a rare Pinot mutation known as Pinot Fin Teinturier—making Romorantin and Chardonnay something akin to step-sisters whose fathers were fraternal twins (thank goodness we’re talking about grapes).

Panorama of Saumur

Panorama of Saumur

Cour-Cheverny was promoted to an AOC (from its former VDQS status) in 1993. It currently has just under 180 acres (73 ha) of vines, all planted to Romorantin. Dry wines produced in the Cour-Cheverny AOC tend to be light-bodied, crisply acidic, and lightly aromatic with aromas and flavors of citrus, green apple, and peach. Richer, off-dry wines–some of them lightly affected by botrytis–can have a waxy texture along with flavors of tropical fruit and honey.

Pouilly-sur-Loire AOC: The Pouilly-sur-Loire AOC actually occupies the same location as Pouilly-Fumé (which might be called its “much-more-famous brother”). As all good wine students know, Pouilly-Fumé produces crisp, dry, white wines from 100% Sauvignon Blanc grapes. The Pouilly-sur-Loire AOC, in contrast, produces dry white wines using 100% Chasselas–a grape mostly known for its (likely) origin near Lake Geneva as well as its widespread use in the wines of Switzerland. Chasselas is currently grown throughout France, although it is usually used for table grapes or grape juice. It is, however, an allowed grape in the Alsace AOC (albeit typically used in blends) and Vin de Savoie AOC. Known as Gutedel, it is also grown in small amounts in Germany and Austria.

Château d’Amboise (Indre-et-Loire)

Château d’Amboise (Indre-et-Loire)

The wines of Pouilly-sur-Loire AOC are the only AOC wines in the Loire allowed to use the Chasselas grape variety.  Pouilly-sur-Loire wines are somewhat rare, but Domaine Saget makes a version described on their website as “pale gold with hints of yellow, aromas of white fruit, plum, and almond; pure and crisp with mineral notes.”

Touraine Noble-Joué AOC: The Touraine Noble-Joué is a rosé-only AOC tucked in between two tributaries of the Loire River—the Cher and the Indre–just south of the town of Tours. Rosé-only AOCs are not uncommon in the Loire Valley–others include the AOCs of Rosé d’Anjou, Cabernet d’Anjou, Cabernet de Saumur and Rosé de Loire. However, the Touraine Noble-Joué AOC in unique in that it requires the wines to be produced using a blend of the “three Pinots” – and one of them is white.

The required blend for Touraine Noble-Joué AOC is as follows: a minimum of 40% Pinot Meunier, a minimum of 20% Pinot Gris, and at least 10% Pinot Noir. No other grapes are allowed.

Château de Chambord (Loir-et-Cher)

Château de Chambord (Loir-et-Cher)

The wines of the area also have a long and interesting history. It was a favorite of King Louis XI of the House of Valois, who ruled France from 1461 to 1483. However, as the town of Tours began to grow and spread into suburbs, the vineyards gave over to housing, roads, stores, and cafés. In 1975, primarily through the efforts of vigneron Jean-Jaques Pierru (of Jean-Jacques Sard Jérémie Pierru), the remaining 30 ha of vineyards in and around the town were saved, and the wine brought back into style.  Touraine Noble-Joué was awarded its AOC status in 2001.

Technically considered a vin gris (per the Cahier des Charges), Touraine Noble-Joué AOC has been described as pale, pinkish-grey in appearance with aromas of cherry and strawberry. The wine tends to be light-bodied and crisp with flavors of cherries, red plum, flowers, and berries; followed by a hint of minerality on the finish.

References:

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

Whole Lotta Ancellotta

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The Ancellotta grape is native to Italy’s Emilia-Romagna area and used in small amounts in some styles of Lambrusco. When I read that, I thought to myself, “Now there’s an obscure grape variety”!

As first impressions often are, I was wrong! Italy has over 11,000 acres of Ancellotta, and while that can’t compare to Sangiovese’s 200,000 acres, it certainly doesn’t place it at the bottom of the very long list of grapes grown in Italy.

The Ancellota grape is a vigorous red grape known for small, very dark berries. The high level of anthocyanins in the skins mean that this grape is often used, in small amounts, to add a punch of color to otherwise lightly hued red wines. This feature also means that the grape is sometimes used in concentrated musts used for coloration. Besides its color and structure, Ancellotta grapes are known for ripe red fruit flavors and aromas, such as plum, blackberry, and blueberry; as well as a spiciness characterized as “sweet spice” or “baking spices.”

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Ancellotta is perhaps best known as a minor allowed component of several styles of Lambrusco. It is allowed to be used up to 15% in the blend of Lambrusco Salamino di Santa Croce DOC and Lambrusco Mantovano DOC. It’s also allowed, up to 15% in Lambrusco di Modena DOC and Lambrusco di Reggiano DOC. In Colli di Scandiano e di Canossa DOC, it may be used in Lambrusco—but only those produced with a minimum of 85% of either the Lambrusco Montericco or Lambrusco Grasparossa variety.

But here’s where it gets interesting: did you know that Ancellotta is required to be at least 30% of the blend of Reggiano Rosso DOC? True fact! Plus, it is allowed to be up to 60% of the blend. So that’s where the 11,000 acres of Ancellotta are headed! The rest (40—70%) of the Reggiano Rosso DOC blend may be Cabernet Sauvignon, Fogarina, Malbo Gentile, Marzemino, Merlot, Sangiovese, or various members of the Lambrusco grape variety.

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The Ancellotta grape variety is also planted in Brazil where it is believed to cover at least 1,000 acres, mainly in the Serra Gaúcha area.  At the Don Guerino Winery in Alto Feliz, it is used in “Top Blend,” a gran reserva blended red wine, alongside Merlot, Teroldego, Tannat, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Don Guerino also produces a 100% varietal Ancellotta that has been described as having a deep intense color, aromas and flavors of plum, blackberry and spice; great structure, and ripe tannins.

Ancellotta is also grown in Switzerland. It is often used, in small amounts, for its color-enhancing quality in the Pinot Noir of the Valais region. It is also used in the blended wine known as Dôle. Dôle, which must contain a combined minimum of 85% Pinot Noir and/or Gamay, is considered to be among the finest wines of Switzerland. Other grapes used in Dôle may include Carminoir (a recent Cabernet Sauvignon X Pinot Noir cross), Merlot, Syrah, and—you guessed it—Ancellotta.

References:

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