Indiana Jones and the Grapes of Olmo

Photo of Dr. Harold Olmo via the Archives of UC Davis: http://news.ucdavis.edu/search/news_detail.lasso?id=8037

The other day I was doing some quick research on Ruby Cabernet. The first result (via Wikipedia, no less) introduced the grape as such: “Ruby Cabernet is a red Olmo grape variety…” As these things go, my interest quickly changed from the parentage of Ruby Cabernet to the Olmo grapes. It sounded familiar, yet only vaguely familiar.

The Olmo grapes it seems, are the creation of Dr. Harold Olmo, a former UC Davis professor with a long list of viticultural (and other) accomplishments. In total, Dr. Olmo served on the faculty of UC Davis for over 60 years, including 29 years as a Professor Emeritus.

Dr. Olmo began his studies and research at the University of California at Berkeley (he had a PhD in genetics), but moved to the Davis campus along with the rest of the University’s wine research program in the 1930’s. There he embarked on his grape breeding program, attempting to create grapes of great flavor and structure that could be grown in the warm, dry climate of California’s Central Valley.

Of the dozens of grapes he created, Dr. Olmo’s best-known grapes include the following:

  • Ruby Cabernet—a Cabernet Sauvignon X Carignan cross, often used for blends but also made into varietal wines, grown throughout Central California, Australia, South America, and South Africa
  • Emerald Riesling—a Riesling X Muscaelle cross bred for use in warm climates; it is grown in some parts of California and South Africa and is used quite extensively in Israel
  • Symphony—a Muscat of Alexandria X Grenache Gris cross, grown in some parts of California and used to produce slightly spicy white wines with citrus–peach–apricot aromas
  • Rubired—a hybrid of Tinto Cão (vinifera) and Alicante Ganzin (a vinifera X Vitis rupestris hybrid), Rubired is a teinturier with deeply-colored red juice used primarily in blends and fortified wines in California and Australia

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Dr. Olmo was known not only for his grape breeding program, but his swashbuckling adventures in pursuit of wild grapes, grape archaeology, and viticultural consultation.  These adventures included (as reported by his daughter, Jeanne-Marie Olmo, via an interview on Uncorked: The Blog), being arrested and jailed in a chicken coop (as a result of the death of a donkey), harvesting ancient vine seeds on the Iranian border, and attempting to deliver grape cuttings to the  ambassador of Afghanistan. These escapades earned him the nickname of “the Indiana Jones of Viticulture.”

Dr. Olmo created the first grape quarantine facility in California, allowing hundreds of European varieties to be imported into and planted securely in the United States—many people consider this his greatest contribution to California wine. Dr. Olmo also created an in-depth study of Chardonnay in California that resulted in an increase in California Chardonnay from less than 300 acres in the 1970’s to the powerhouse grape that it is today.

Dr. Olmo was a Guggenheim Fellow, a Fulbright Scholar, and received the Medal for Outstanding Contributions to World Viticulture by the Office of International de la Vigne et du Vin in 1965. He was a consultant to the United Nations for over twenty years and was named, in 2007, as an “Icon” in the Culinary Institute of America’s Vintners Hall of Fame. These are just a few of the dozens of national and international awards and recognition he received over his career. Dr. Olmo passed away in the middle of an afternoon nap on June 30, 2006. He was 96 years old, and the world of wine will never forget him.

References/for more information:

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

March of the Hybrids

Hybrid grape varieties—they are loved in Canada (Vidal) for icewine, in New York State (Cayuga) for sparkling wine, and in Texas (Blanc de Bois) for deflecting Pierce’s Disease.

In the European Union? Not so much. The EU has very little love for hybrid grapes, and only a handful of them are approved for use in quality wines—meaning they have made it onto the all-important Register of Approved Varieties. Ouch.

However….hybrid grapes are not entirely shunned in the vineyards of the EU. Here are three examples of hybrid grapes that marched right into the European Union where they were greeted with (somewhat) open arms.

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Baco Blanc: Baco Blanc is a hybrid of Folle Blanche (vinifera) X Noah (a seedling of Tyler—a natural riparia X labrusca hybrid discovered in Henry County, Kentucky—that for some spooky reason has a DNA profile identical to the Basque grape Hondarribi  Zuri). Baco Blanc was created in 1898 by François Baco, working in the Landes in southwest France, in response to the fact that Folle Blanche was not taking well to grafted rootstock.  The inventor actually named the grape Maurice Baco in honor of his late son, but the name Piquepoul du Gers was widely used in and around southwest France, leading to some confusion about the progeny of the grape. Baco Blanc is a light-skinned white grape with fairly neutral flavors and just a hint of the “foxy” shining through.

Baco Blanc’s claim to fame: Baco Blanc is one of the ten grapes authorized in the production of Armagnac, and is listed as an approved variety on all four of the decrets concerning the great brandy: Armagnac AOC, Armagnac-Ténarèze AOC, Bas Armagnac AOC, and Blanche Armagnac AOC. This makes Baco Blanc the only hybrid grape used in a French appellation d’origine controlee (AOC/PDO) product. Not bad.

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Regent: Regent (a red grape) was created in 1967 in Pfalz, Germany by a scientist named Gerhardt Alleweldt. Bred to be resistant to diseases of the fungus/rot/mildew variety, it is a hybrid of Diana (vinifera—Silvaner X Müller-Thurgau) X Chambourcin (itself already a complex French-American hybrid).  The grape was named after a famous diamond that once embellished the Crown of Louis XV (and now resides in the Louvre).

Regent’s claim to fame: Regent makes darn good wine. It ripens to high sugar levels, and can produce full-bodied wines with velvety tannins and aromas of red fruit (cherry, red currant, red plum). It’s so good that it often is described—in complimentary terms—as “vinifera-like” and “you can’t even tell it’s a hybrid.” Germany even managed to get it listed in the Register of Approved Varieties as a vinifera variety. There are currently over 5,000 acres (2,020 ha) planted in Germany, with additional plantings in Switzerland and England. In Belgium, it is an approved variety in the Côtes de Sambre et Meuse, Hageland, Haspengouw, and Heuvelland AOCs.

Rondo grapes photo credit: Dr. Joachim Schmid (Geisenheim University) via Wikimedia Commons

Rondo: Rondo, a red grape, is a hybrid of St. Laurent (vinifera) X Zarya Sevra (a Seyants Malengra X Vitis amurensis hybrid). Rumor has it that it was originally created in 1964 by Czech Professor Vilém Kraus, who later offered the grape to Dr. Helmut Becker of the Geisenheim Grape Breeding Institute—which explains why the grape is known as a German hybrid.

Rondo’s claim to fame: Rondo has been listed in the EU’s Register of Approved Varieties since 1997—interestingly enough, with the entry for “species” left blank (cue the theme to The Twilight Zone…) But all conspiracy theories aside, it seems that Rondo is a vigorous vine with excellent disease resistant, and as a bonus the grapes have red-colored flesh—making it a good blending partner for many cold-weather red grapes. It seems that despite its amurensis-linked heritage, the wines it produces are vinifera-enough in style to give it a spot on the roster.  Rondo is currently the number 4 red grape (by vineyard plantings) in England, and is planted in Germany (particularly in Baden and other areas near the southern portion of the country).

References/for more information

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

Marselan from Marseillan

Photo of Marselan Grapes by Vbecart Photography, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo of Marselan Grapes by Vbecart Photography, via Wikimedia Commons

I first heard of the grape variety Marselan while studying – for the first time – the wines of China. China, as you may have heard, recently became the world’s second-place country in terms of vineyard holdings – coming in on the list right after Spain, and before France. While many of China’s vineyards are dedicated to table grapes, wine grapes, including vinifera varieties, now account for at least 10% of the vines. Of the vinifera varieties grown, Cabernet Sauvignon dominates, followed by Carmenère, Merlot, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Shiraz, Gamay, Grenache, and Marselan.

There it was: Marselan – a grape variety I had never heard of before – so of course I had to investigate…

Marselan is a vinifera cross (Cabernet Sauvignon X Grenache) created in 1961 by French ampelographer Paul Truel. Truel was working in Montpellier, France at the Institut National de la Recherché Agronomique (INRA). His goal was to create a high yielding grape with large berries of at least moderate quality. Marselan produces grape berries of small-to-medium size, so the variety was shelved and not expected to have a future in commercial wine production.

However…by the 1990’s viticultural priorities had shifted, and disease resistance, particularly to threats such as powdery mildew and coulure, brought Marselan out of cold storage. The grape was approved by the French as a commercial variety in 1990 and in 2007 was approved by the TTB (United States) as a varietal wine name.

At its best, Marselan is said to combine the finesse and quality of Cabernet Sauvignon with the heat tolerance and high yield of Grenache. According to Jancis Robinson’s book “Wine Grapes,” varietal Marselan “tends to produce deeply colored and highly aromatic wines that have supple tannins and the potential to age.”

In addition to its plantings in China, Marselan is planted – albeit in small amounts – throughout the south of France. It is allowed to be up to 10% of the blend in the wines of the Côtes du Rhône AOC, and is produced as a varietal wine in the Languedoc. Small plantings may also be found in California, Argentina, Arizona, Spain, Uruguay, and Brazil.

The grape was named “Marselan” by its creator, in homage to the town of Marseillan, France. Marseillan is the home of the phylloxera-free vine collection of Domaine de Vassal, operated by the INRA. Domaine de Vassal provided the parent Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache vines from which the original Marselan was bred.

References:

  • Robinson, Jancis (et al): Wine Grapes. New York, 2012: Harper Collins Publishers
  • Robinson, Jancis and Harding, Julia: The Oxford Companion to Wine, 4rd Edition. Oxford, 2015: The Oxford University Press
  •  http://www.winechina.com/en/

White–ish: Albariza Soil

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Albariza, the word: According to Miriam-Webster.com, the word “albariza” is “borrowed from Spanish, a noun derivative from the feminine form of albarizo meaning “white-ish, or off-white.” Derived from the word albar (“white”) plus the attenuating (limiting) suffix –izo.

Albariza, the soil: According the Oxford Companion to Wine, albariza is “A local, Andalusian term for the white, chalky-looking soil typical of parts of the Jerez region of southern Spain. It appears dazzling white in summer, and has the characteristic of drying without caking, slowly releasing moisture to the vines during the growing season.”

Albariza, for wine lovers: If you are a wine lover, you probably already know a few things about albariza soil. Such as, it is a particularly fine conduit for the Palomino grape, and grows the grapes that become some of the finest examples of Fino Sherry – and other types of Sherry as well.   It is the main soil type found in the Jerez-Xérès-Sherry y Manzanilla de Sanlúcar de Barrameda DO, found in over 90% of the vineyards of the region.  This figure used to be much lower, but over the years inferior vineyards were replaced – either by other crops such as sunflowers, or other uses such as the harvesting of solar energy – leaving behind the high quality, albariza-rich vineyards to rule the area.

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Albariza is a unique soil, made up primarily of limestone rich in calcium carbonate that, according to geologists, is “almost chalk” – but it is still too young to be true chalk. Yet, to us mere mortals, calling it “chalk” is “close enough,” and you’ll find most people – even viticulturists – referring to albariza as a “chalky” soil. Clay and sand (silica) are found in smaller amounts; these components give its somewhat mottled “white-ish” appearance as opposed to pure, bright white.

The unique properties of the soil allow it to soak up rainfall – which typically occurs in Jerez in the winter – and absorb it like a sponge. Later, the upper levels of the soil “bake” into something of a hard crust or cap, trapping the water below. Over the long, hot, and dry Jerez summer, the trapped water is slowly released, nourishing the vines and making irrigation unnecessary.  The unique white-ish color of the soil also benefits the vines by reflecting sunlight back up to the vines, increasing the rate of photosynthesis.

All of the above might not be new information if you are already a wine enthusiast or dedicated student of wine – which is just fine because there is so much more to know about albariza. Read on for a few more fascinating facts about albariza:

  • The finished product...

    The finished product…

    Albariza soils are categorized according to the percentage of calcium carbonate-rich limestone in the soil. Alabarizone soil is mostly clay but contains about 10% limestone. Tosca soils have about 40% limestone, while lantejuela contains about 50%. Tajón has the most – up to 80% limestone, giving it the brightest white appearance. However, tajón soils are not ideal for vineyards, as the soil can become very hard, which can lead to chlorosis (a condition where leaves produce insufficient chlorophyll).

  • The ideal version of the soil for vineyards contains about 25% limestone at the surface, and 40-60% starting a few feet below the surface. Geologists, of course, have many more subsets and ways of looking at albariza, including the composition of the remainder of the soil components as well as specific minerals and nutrients.
  • The finest albariza soils are characteristically loose and easy to work; in geology speak this is described as being “friable.” This friability allows a vine’s root system to spread far and deep into the ground. Roots as long as 38 feet (12 meters) have been reported in layers of albariza soil which themselves reach a depth of 20 feet (6 meters).
  • To maximize the amount of rain water “captured” in the soil, the soil in albariza soils are often “banked up” to create reservoirs to capture rain. In spring, the soils are leveled out again.
  • Albariza soil can hold up to 34% of its weight in water.
  • Albariza is also found in parts of Penedès, where it produces grapes for exceptional Cava; and in Montilla-Moriles, where the vineyards are mostly planted to the Pedro Ximénez variety.

 References:

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

It’s Nice to be Needled

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It’s nice to be needled….as long as the “needles” are found in wine – and not, perhaps, in the hands of a phlebotomist, or an errant sewing needle finding its way into your thumb.

“Vino de aguja” is a good way to be needled. This Spanish term for a slightly sparkling wine can be translated as “needle wine.” It’s a pretty obscure term – you won’t find it in the Oxford Companion or The Wine Lover’s Companion; even a Google search will only yield a few hits.  However, keep digging and you’ll be able to figure out that aguja means “needle” in Spanish, and in the case of vino de aguja, refers to the prickly effect of the tiny bubbles.

The best information I could gather came from the websites of the wines that self-identified as vinos de aguja. One producer, Bodegas Pinord, located in Penedès, makes a range of wines, including some still wines, some sparklers (Cavas), and even some organic wines. Interestingly enough, the Spanish language version of their website refers to their “La Nansa” and “Reynal” product lines – which includes La Nansa Rosado, La Nansa Blanco, and a red, rosé, and soft white version of Reynal – as “Vinos de Aguja,” yet the English language version refers to them as “pearl wines” – which might partially explain the challenge in finding reliable information on this style of wine.

Photo via http://www.pinord.com/

Photo via pinord.com

In 1942, Bodegas Pinord was the first winery in Spain to make wines in the style of vino de aguja. The production method, which results in a semi-sparkling wine with a maximum of 2.5 bars of atmospheric pressure, is somewhat of a two-step single fermentation.  The grapes are pressed and fermentation is allowed to begin. When there is just enough sugar left in the must to create the desired style (in terms of sweetness) of wine and 2.5 atm  of bubbles, the wine is transferred to a closed tank, where it continues fermentation in a temperature-controlled and pressurized environment. The wine is then bulk clarified and bottled under pressure.

Their Reynal red and rosé are both produced from Tempranillo, while their Reynal soft white is a blend of Macabeo, Parellada, Xarel-lo. All of the Reynal wines have just under 2% residual sugar. The La Nansa wines have 0.8% residual sugar and are, thus, technically dry. The La Nansa blanco is made from Macabeo and Chardonnay, while the La Nansa rosé is a blend of Garnacha and Merlot.

Blanc Pescador, one of Spain’s top selling white wines is also a vino de aguja. Blanc Pescador is also produced in the two-step single fermentation method, and is made in the Empordà region of northeast Catalonia. This is the type of wine that you’ll likely be served –by the tumbler – in a restaurant or bar along Spain’s Mediterranean Coast.

Blanc Pescador is a dry wine made from a blend of Macabeo, Parellada, Xarel-lo. The winery also produces a “Blanc Premium” from Macabeo, Chardonnay, Garnacha Blanca and/or Sauvignon Blanc; and a Pescador Rosé using Trepat, Garnacha, and Merlot. These wines are produced by the large Grupo Perelada that produces a wide range of Spanish wines – including some serious Cavas, red wines of Empordà, and even a Marc de Cava (pomace brandy).

The following DOs are authorized to produce vino de aguja in Spain. The DOs define vine do aguja as “semi-sparkling” or as having 1-2.5 atms of pressure, and some use the term “Vi d’agulla.” I make no claims that this is a complete list; however, these are the regions that I was able to confirm:

  • In Catalonia: Catalonia DO, Terra Alta DO, Tarragona DO, Penedès DO, Plá de Bagés DO, Alella DO, Conca de Barberá DO, Empordà DO, Costers del Segre DO
  • In the Canary Islands: La Palma DO, Valle de Güímar DO, Abona DO
  • In Aragón: Cariñena DO, Calatayud DO
  • In Valencia: Utiel-Requena DO
  • In the Balearic Islands: Plà i Llevant DO
  • In Castilla-La Mancha: La Mancha DO

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

Five Fast Facts about Fritz

Zerigelt 1Fritz Zweigelt, that is – and the grape he created.

#1 – Zweigelt is the leading red grape of Austria. It is also planted in small amounts in Canada, in both Ontario and British Columbia. Zweigelt is the third most-planted grape of the Czech Republic, where is goes by the name Zweigeltrebe. A few wineries – including Wilridge Winery and Perennial Vintners – have some small plantings (a few acres or so) in Washington State.

#2 – Zweigelt is a cross of St. Laurent and Blaufränkisch/Lemberger created by Fritz Zweigelt in 1922. Fritz was working the Federal Institute for Viticulture and Pomology at Klosterneuburg, Austria at the time, which makes the Zweigelt grape a true native Austrian. It was made with the purpose of creating a red grape unique to Austria that could thrive in the cool climate, be disease-resistant, and create a red wine of medium to full body and flavor.

#3 – Dr. Zweigelt did a good job – the grape that bears his name is indeed cold-hardy, drought-resistant, and thrives in a variety of soils. It is fairly disease-resistant, but is susceptible to powdery mildew (that’s Oidium to you CSW students) and berry shrivel/grape wilt.

Zweigelt 2#4 – The name of the grape is pronounced “TSVYE-gelt” – and if you think that’s difficult to say, consider yourself lucky. The original name of the grape was Rotburger (the name of a town close to where the grape was created) but was later changed to honor its creator.  Zweigelt also goes by the name Blauer Zweigelt. By the way, don’t confuse the original name of Zweigelt – Rotburger – with the grape that goes by the name of Rotberger (who would – ha!). For the record – Rotberger (“berger with an e!”) is a white grape cross of Riesling X Trollinger.

5 – As with all wines, the characteristics of a good Zweigelt vary according to vineyard conditions and wine-making techniques. Cool-climate, unoaked versions from Austria’s northern reaches are typically violet-red in color, medium-bodied, and moderate in tannins with fruit-forward flavors favoring red and black cherry. As such, it is the most widely consumed red wine in the pubs, bars, and casual restaurants in and around Vienna. The warmer growing regions in the areas of Lower Austria (Niederösterreich) – particularly  Neusiedlersee – produce full-bodied, richer wines with firm tannins. Such wines are often oak-aged, resulting in flavors of red cherry, red plum, cinnamon, and black pepper.

References:

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

Five Fascinating Facets of Flor

Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana (producers of La Gitana Manzanilla) in Sanlúcar de Barrameda – photo by Caleteron via Wikimedia Commons

Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana (producers of La Gitana Manzanilla) in Sanlúcar de Barrameda – photo by Caleteron via Wikimedia Commons

Ok, I apologize for the gratuitous alliteration, but you have to admit…flor – the indigenous yeast cells that form a “veil” on the surface of certain types of Sherry as it ages – is fascinating. Flor (meaning “flower” in Spanish) is a subject that just seems to get more interesting the closer you look. As a matter of fact, I had a hard time limiting the information I found to just five facets!

#1: Flor is what separates the Finos from the Olorosos. Flor is a film-forming yeast (actually, several related strains of yeast) that is indigenous to the region around the Jerez-Xérès-Sherry DO. Flor is the main factor that causes the myriad types and styles of Sherry to divide roughly into three camps – Fino, Hybrid, and Oloroso – based on the extent of flor influence. Fino Sherries (such as those labeled as Fino or Manzanilla) are aged under the somewhat constant influence of flor. Oloroso Sherries (labeled as Oloroso or sometimes as Cream Sherry) are aged entirely without flor; while hybrids (such as Amontillado and Palo Cortado) are aged partially with flor and partially without.

#2: Flor is that “something in the air” in Jerez. Flor imparts its magic by finding its way from the air to the young base wines being prepared each year. The flor starts to develop in the base wines, and, after the wine is fortified – as long as the maximum level of alcohol remains around 15% by volume or less – and placed in a barrel, the yeast will reproduce and start to form a veil (velo in Spanish) that covers the surface of the wine in the barrel like a blanket.  The veil has been described as a waxy foam, about two centimeters thick; or as a light “cottony” film. The “blanket” formed by flor is sturdiest and palest in spring and autumn and turns rather thin and grey in summer and winter. Talia Baiocchi, in her new book “Sherry: The Wine Industry’s Best-Kept Secret” describes a thick film of flor as resembling a “1970s popcorn ceiling.”

Sherry barrel with transparent front to demonstrate the natural development of flor - Photo by El Pantera via Wikimedia Commons

Sherry barrel with transparent front to demonstrate the natural development of flor – Photo by El Pantera via Wikimedia Commons

#3: Flor protects the wine from oxidation in a variety of ways. The veil that is created via the action of flor protects the wine resting beneath it in a myriad of ways. For one, it simply forms a protective barrier between the wine in the barrel and the oxygen above it. In addition, the flor actually consumes some of the oxygen around it, as well as some of the alcohol, glycerol, and (if present) sugar. Thus, Fino Sherries tend to be pale in color, light in body, and bone-dry.

#4 – The collective effects of flor – referred to as “biological aging” – are amazing. The main benchmark for biological aging is considered to be the wine’s aroma. Simply put, contact with flor (both while it is alive, and after it expires and sinks to the bottom of the barrel as lees) may create up to 1,000 milligrams per liter of acetaldehyde in the wine. That is, according to Ruben Luyten of the blog Sherry Notes, more than twenty times the amount of acetaldehyde found in most table wines.  Acetaldehyde’s aromas have been described, variously, as rancid apple, apple cider, almond, hazelnut, and even straw or hay. The presence of flor will also lead to an increase of in other highly aromatic compounds, such as lactones and terpenes, which may add an array of aromas – from dried herbs to green walnuts, mushrooms, and baking spices – to the wine.

#5: Flor has some definitive preferences as to climate and conditions.  Flor can only survive in wine that has an alcohol level of somewhere below 15% abv – but that’s just the beginning of its ways. Flor also needs a good deal of humidity in the air, which explains why Fino Sherries thrive in certain areas, such as the cooler, coastal areas around Sanlúcar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa María, while Oloroso Sherries (which are aged without flor) thrive in the hotter, drier, more inland areas around Jerez. It is well-known that solera systems (and the buildings that surround them) are often at ground level (as opposed to an underground cellar) and built with high ceilings or even left partially open to the elements, so as to encourage air flow. It’s also rumored that bungs are left gently in place in Fino Soleras to encourage the movement of the humid air inside the barrels.

Flight of Fino Sherries at London’s Bar Pepito – Photo by Ewan Munro via Wikimedia Commons

Flight of Fino Sherries at London’s Bar Pepito – Photo by Ewan Munro via Wikimedia Commons

While wines produced “under a veil” are somewhat uncommon around the world, there are a few shining examples besides Fino Sherries. These include the Vin Jaune of France’s Côtes du Jura AOC, certain types of Tokaji, a “Vin de Voile” produced by Domaine Plageoles in France’s Gaillac region, and the “Condado Pálido” produced in Spain’s Condado de Huelva DO, among others.  While these wines undergo a similar style of biological aging, it is not certain that they use the same strain(s) of yeast as are found in Jerez-Xérès-Sherry, and, of course, each of these wines is made in its own conditions of climate-atmosphere-terroir. Thus, we can safely say that there’s nothing in the world quite like the flor of Jerez, the protective foam-blanket it creates, and the resulting Fino Sherry.

References: