Napa’s Neighbor

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In the southeast corner of the North Coast American Viticultural Area (AVA), the boundary lines of area extend just a few miles beyond Napa County to include about 30,000 acres of Solano County. Here you will find two AVAs—the Solano County Green Valley AVA and the Suisun Valley AVA—literally feet away and across a political boundary from the esteemed Napa Valley AVA. That has to be a bit like being the awkward little sister of a beauty queen, or the geeky big brother of a star football player. However you want to describe it, it has to be tough being Napa’s neighbor.

In the interest of shining some light into this corner of the wine world, here is a bit of information on the AVAs of Solano County, California:

Suisun Valley AVA:  The Suisun Valley AVA, located just to the south of Napa County, lies between the southern edge of the Vaca Mountains (to the east) and the Howell Mountains (also known as the St. George Mountains [to the west]). The AVA is about 8 miles long and three miles wide, covering about 15,000 acres—of which about 3,000 acres are planted to vine.

The Suisun Valley enjoys a relatively cool climate (it is classified as “Region III” under the Winkler Scale), but is significantly warmer at its northern edge. The southern end of the valley, adjacent to Suisun Bay, can be cooler by as many as 14 degrees (F) during the heat of the day. Suisun Bay itself forms the beginning of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, and is connected via the Carquinez Strait to San Pablo Bay (to the west).

The Suisun Valley was first recognized for the quality of its red wines, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah (Durif). These grapes are still widely grown in the area, which is now planted to more than 20 other grapes as well. These include Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel, Pinot Gris, Gamay, and Chenin Blanc.

There are just over a dozen wineries producing wine within the confines of the Suisun Valley AVA, and several dozen more that produce wine under the Suisun Valley appellation while located in adjacent counties. Sunset Cellars, the Vezér Family Vineyard, and Wooden Valley Winery are among the standouts.  The Vezér Family Vineyard calls the Suisun Valley “the Petite Sirah Capital of the World”— who can resist that?

Solano County Green Valley AVA: The Solano County Green Valley AVA (not to be confused with Sonoma’s Green Valley—the Green Valley of Russian River Valley AVA) is smaller and cooler than the Suisun Valley. Solano’s Green Valley AVA measures just about four miles long by one mile wide and has about 800 acres planted to vine.

Solano’s Green Valley AVA is located just to the south/south east of Napa, and enjoys a maritime climate due to its proximity to Suisun Bay. At last count, the area has just a few wineries—including GV Cellars and Rock Creek Vineyard—and just over a dozen independent grape growers.  The area is known for red varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Dolcetto, Zinfandel, and Petite Sirah, but a handful of other grapes (including Chenin Blanc and Pinot Gris) are grown here as well.

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Wine production in Solano County has a well-documented history. We know that an Australian by the name of John Volypka planted vines in the area as early as 1858 and was making wine by 1863. Others followed—Harry Schultz soon had a large winery, and by 1879 S.F. Jones had 90 acres of vines and produced 50,000 gallons of wine a year.

In 1952, Ben Volkhardt Jr. bought 80 acres of land in Green Valley. He planted peaches, pears, and grapes, but soon the business focused on grapes and wine. His son—Ben Volkhardt III—joined the business in 1974 and the two formed the Chateau de Leu winery—which survives to this day as GV Cellars (under different ownership).

Based on petitions filed by the Volkhardts, both the Suisun Valley and Solano Green Valley were awarded their AVA status in 1982, making them among the first wave of AVAs approved in California. The first AVA declared in California—in January of 1981—was their neighbor-to-the-north, the Napa Valley. Perhaps you’ve heard of it?

References/for more information:

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

The Melancholy Seewinkel

Lighthouse on Lake Neusiedl

For the title (and the rest of this article) to make any sense at all, I need to start this post with a quote, lifted directly from the website of the Neusiedllersee DAC Association  (or, as they like to call it, the Verein Neusiedlersee DAC):

“The Neusiedlersee vineyards are situated along the eastern shore of the Neusiedl Lake, ranging from the hills of the county capital, across the large wine growing community of Gols, over the flats of the Heideboden, down in to the melancholical Seewinkel.”

For those of us who are not too well-versed in the wines of Austria, let me break this down a bit:

  • Neusiedlersee is a politcal region as well as a DAC wine region located in the Austrian state of Burgenland.
  • One of the main geological features of the area is its namesake Lake Neusiedl—a large endorheic (closed-basin) lake that extends in a long, narrow swath between the  wine regions of Neusiedlersee and Leithaberg, and crosses over into the neighboring country of Hungary on its southern edge. The large water surface of the lake heats up in the summer and releases stored heat at night. Certain areas planted around the lake are conducive to the growth of botrytis, and the area is known for both dry, red wines and sweet, botrytis-affected white wines.
  • The vineyards of the Neusiedlersee are planted across an area of about 15 miles (25 km)—when measured from north to south—and are centered around the east side of the lake and extend slightly eastward from there.

  • Gols (located near the northern tip of the lake) is a town of about 4,000 people that is largely centered on wine in addition to lake-centric tourism (bird watching, lake excursions).
  • The Heideboden is a flat area located just to the south of Gols.  The name Heideboden does not show up on the wine map (or most other maps) as it is not an actual town or appellation, but is the traditional name given to the area between Lake Neusiedlersee and the Danube River.  Heideboden covers parts of both modern-day Austria and Hungary.
  • Seewinkel (which means lake [see] corner [winkel]) is the area located at the southern end of Lake Neusiedlersee, closest to the Hungarian border. The area has a unique microclimate due to the presence of many small lakes and ponds, and is well-known as a producer of botrytis-affected sweet white wines.  While grape varieties vary, Welschriesling is the focus. (The famous sweet-wine-producing town of Rust is just to the west, on the opposite side of the lake.)

Neusiedler See-Seewinkel National Park

The area of Seewinkle is well-known for its natural beauty which includes—in addition to vineyards—the Neusiedlersee-Seewinkle National Park that serves as both a park and a nature reserve. The park is unique in that it stretches across the borders of Austria and Hungary, where it is known as Fertő-Hanság National Park. Combined, these areas encompass the Fertö / Neusiedlersee Cultural Landscape, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2001. The park is famously home to over 340 species of birds and a landscape of sand dunes, reed beds, and shallow salt water ponds. Year-round activities include guided hikes, cycling, canoe excursions, photography classes and llama walks (yes, llama walks).

Once I figured out all of the above, I was still obsessed with why Seewinkel is described as “melancholy.” Hours of research failed to provide a solid answer, but I did find a few references to a certain melancholy beauty of the sunsets and a melancholy edge to the folk dances and traditional music of the area.

Reed Belt landscape in Neusiedler See-Seewinkel National Park

It certainly isn’t the wine!

Note:  The Neusiedlersee DAC is approved for Zweigelt-based red wines only, so the sweet wines of the area are labeled with Burgenland as their region-of-origin.

References/for more information:

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

 

The Outer Limits: the Châtillonnais

Map via http://www.bourgogne-wines.com (click to enlarge)

If you look at a detailed wine map of Burgundy, you’ll notice that Chablis is way off to the northwest—about 80 miles from the tip of the Côte de Nuits at Dijon, and completely located within the Yonne department.

If you keep looking, you’ll see that there is another batch of vineyards up there to the north, but this group is about 40 miles west of Chablis, and therefore a bit closer to Dijon. This is the Châtillonnais (not to be confused with the Chalonnaise, which is at the other end of Burgundy). The Châtillonnais is a group of vineyards clustered around the town of Châtillon-sur-Seine, located within the Côte-d’Or department, and very close to the Aube department (and the southern boundary of the Champagne region).

The Châtillonnais does not have its own AOC, but the vineyards here produce wine under the regional AOCs of Burgundy.

The area is particularly well-known for its Crémant de Bourgogne AOC. There are about 250 hectares (600 acres) of vines, mostly planted on limestone soils along south/southeast facing slopes, with many facing the Seine and Ource Rivers.  The area is mostly planted to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, with a small amount of Gamay and Aligoté as well. All of these grapes might make their way into the wines of the Crémant de Bourgogne or Bourgogne AOCs.

The area has a long history of wine production—at least 2,000 years. If you visit the area, you need to stop into the Museum of Pays Châtillonnais – Trésor de Vix. Here you’ll find what some people refer to as “the world’s largest tastevin,” however, take a deep breath because that description is not really giving the museum its due.

Remember, this vessel is over five feet tall!      Photo by Peter Northover (Oxford) via Wikimedia Commons

What you can actually find here—of great interest to wine lovers, I would think—is an artifact from 500 BC known as the Vix Krater. The Vix Krater, found in the town of Vix (about 6 km north of Châtillon-sur-Seine), is the largest known metal vessel from Western classical antiquity, at over 5 feet in height. It is believed that the vessel was used to mix water and wine which was then served to guests.

The Vix Krater is part of the burial mound of the Lady of Vix and was found alongside a great deal of jewelry and—amazingly—a large complex of two or three buildings now referred to as “the Palace of the Lady of Vix”.  The famous site was excavated beginning in 1953 by the French archaeologist René Joffroy.

Upon unearthing what is most definitely one of the world’s oldest and largest wine vessels, I certainly hope the team celebrated with several glasses of wine—perhaps even some of that delicious, locally-produced Crémant de Bourgogne!

References/for more information:

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

 

The Outer Limits: The Coteaux du Lyonnais AOC

Beware the style creep

To the south of Beaujolais, and to the north of the Rhône Valley, there’s a wine region. This region hugs the Saône and Rhône Rivers, and extends westward from the city of Lyon into the slopes of the Monts du Lyonnais.

This area, known as the Coteaux du Lyonnais, has been an AOC since 1984, and yet…it’s kind of on its own. The small AOC is not part of the larger Bourgogne AOC (located on its northern edge), nor part of any  of the Rhône Valley AOCs located just to the south. It is quite simply the Coteaux du Lyonnais AOC.

Seeing as the region is located just a stone’s throw away from Beaujolais, it makes sense that the wines of the Coteaux du Lyonnais are similar in style to those of Beaujolais. However, there does not seem to be any “style creep” northward from the also close-by Côte Rôtie. So be it.

The wines of the Coteaux du Lyonnais AOC include red, white, and rosé, all produced in a typical (dry, non-sparkling) style and as nouveau wines, which are allowed to be released on the third Thursday of November.

White wines are produced using Chardonnay, Aligoté, and/or Pinot Blanc, with Chardonnay being the dominant variety. The website of the Coteaux du Lyonnais AOC describes the Chardonnay of the region as producing wines that are rich and complex, with floral aromas and flavors of citrus and tropical fruit, while the Aligoté makes for a wine with citrus and mineral notes. Pinot Blanc, planted in about 30% of the vineyards, might be used in small amounts as a blending partner with either grape.

The Gamay grape is the only red grape allowed in the appellation—although the cahier des charges mentions that the Gamay de Bouze and Gamay de Chaudenay varieties (which are either mutations of or descendants of true Gamay, depending on who you ask) are limited in use to a combined maximum of 10% of the blend. The website of the Coteaux du Lyonnais AOC describes its red wines in this way, “the semi-carbonic vinification expresses its aroma through characteristic notes of red fruits, blackcurrant, strawberry, raspberry with spices, and licorice spikes.”

The Coteaux du Lyonnais AOC might not sound too terribly interesting to the world-weary wine student, and you might not feel immediately inspired to book a trip. But don’t forget that a little day trip out to the vineyards might be just the fresh-air jaunt you need in the middle of a vacation to Lyon, one of the most swoon-worthy of food-and-wine destinations. Lyon has been called “the gastronomic capital of the world,” and it couldn’t hurt to get some exercise, perhaps a little walk in the vineyards, between your late lunch at Bouchon Thomas (where they serve the “les grands classiques of Lyon with a twist of the Ardèche”) and your 9:00 dinner reservation at Paul Bocuse (three Michelin stars).

References/for more information:

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

The Outer Limits: Italy’s Southernmost DOCs

Map of Sicily via Google Maps

Map of Sicily via Google Maps

The island of Sicily, located just to the west of Calabria (the “tip” of Italy’s boot) might not be the southernmost point in Italy (that award goes to the island of Lampedusa), but it’s pretty far south, and it is home to the two southernmost DOCs of Italy (they overlap, and it’s a tie): the Eloro DOC and the Noto DOC.

First things first: about that “southernmost” claim: the southernmost town (commune) I could find (via Google maps) located within the Eloro DOC and Noto DOCs is Portopalo di Capo Passero (which is itself located within the Province of Syracuse). Its latitude is 36° 41′N. For the record, that’s just a little bit farther south than the DOC of Pantelleria, which is often quoted as Italy’s southernmost DOC, yet sits at 36° 50′.

The land around these two DOCs is mostly a flat, coastal plain so the area can become quite warm. Only the northernmost reaches of the Noto DOC has any hills to speak of, but the breezes off the Mediterranean Sea provide a necessary cooling influence.

The archeological site of Helorus (photo in the public domain)

The archeological site of Helorus

The Eloro DOC is named after Helorus (Italian: Eloro), an archeological site located in the modern-day commune of Noto. Helorus was an ancient Greek (then Roman) city dating from late 8th century BC. Helorus was mentioned by Thucydides in his recounting the retreat of the Athenians “on the road leading to Helorus from Syracuse.” The once-fortified city had a theater (called the colisseo) and many buildings. Today, parts of the city’s foundations, some portions of the outer walls, and a single column atop a square pedestal are still intact.

Red and rosé wines are produced under the Eloro DOC. Both styles are produced using a minimum of 90% Nero d’Avola, Frappato, and Pignatello grapes; the other 10% is allowed to include any red grape approved for Sicily. Red wines only are produced in the subzone of Pachino, and must be a minimum of 80% Nero d’Avola, with the other 20% being % Frappato and/or Pignatello. The emphasis on Nero d’Avola makes sense as likely native home of the grape–the commune of Avola–is just a few miles away. The Eloro DOC was established in 1994.

The town of Noto at sunset

The town of Noto at sunset

Noto DOC is a new name for the area formerly known as the Moscato di Noto DOC, and a good deal of Moscato-based wine is still produced here. However, under the new title, red wines are produced as well. Among the many styles of Moscato di Noto (all made with 100% Moscato Bianco) are a varietal Moscato, a spumante, a liquoroso (fortified), and a dried-grape version known as Passito di Noto. The Moscato di Noto spumante is required to have at least 5% residual sugar and a minimum of 4 atm of pressure. The liquoroso (fortified) must be fermented to at least 6.5% abv before fortification takes place.

The Noto DOC also produces a rosso made with a required minimum of 65% Nero d’Avloa, as well as a varietal Nero d’Avola (with the typical 85% minimum requirement).

The area around the town of Noto was destroyed in an earthquake in 1693, so the town that one may visit today dates to the early 18th century. Many of the churches, walkways and buildings were designed by the Sicilian architect Rosario Gagliardi (1698–1762) who worked in what is now known as the Sicilian Baroque style. Among the most amazing sites of the town are Corso Vittorio Emanuele, a street which includes the Church of San Domenico, and the Fountain of Hercules. Noto is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Baroque Church of San Francesco in Noto

Baroque Church of San Francesco in Noto

As for the other extreme, it looks like the northernmost DOC in Italy is the Alto Adige DOC, which just barely nudges out the DOC of Valdadige – both are reaching up to 46° 40′N latitude. More on that later!

References/for more information:

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

 

The Outer Limits: The Dordogne before Bordeaux

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The Dordogne River is well known as one of the three main waterways that flow through and handily divide the Bordeaux AOC into the areas of the Right Bank, Left Bank, and Entre-Deux-Mers. However, Bordeaux is only part of the story of the Dordogne River.

The sources of the Dordogne is found almost in the center of France—it’s just a bit too far south to call it the true center. In the mountains of the Massif Central, two small streams—the Dore and the Dogne—arise on the side of Puy de Sancy (Mount of the Cross), which at 6,184 feet (1,885 m) high is the highest mountain in the range. After a bit of meandering around, these two streams flow together and form the Dordogne River.

The upper valley of the Dordogne River is a series of deep gorges, cliffs, and lakes. The river then flows through the neighboring countryside, occasionally meeting small towns such as Lanobre (where you can visit the Château de Val [not a wine-producing Château but a well-preserved Gothic Castle]) and Bort-les-Orgues, where you can view the “Les Orgues” volcanic rock formation—which stretches over half a mile and resembles a series of 300 foot-high organ pipes, the result of cracks formed in cooling, prehistoric lava flows.

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About 50 miles later the river flows through the city of Argentat, a lovely town where medieval houses line the streets along the river. From Argentat, the river twists and turns for about another 100 miles, and just before the town of Lalinde, the Dordogne flows into the Bergerac/Cotes de Bergerac AOC.

The Bergerac AOC produces red, white, and rosé wines. Bergerac reds and rosés center on Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Merlot; also allowing for small amounts of Fer Servadou and Mérille. White wines are based on Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris, and Muscadelle; varying small amounts of Ugni Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Ondenc are also allowed. The Cotes de Bergerac AOC occupies the same area as the Bergerac AOC, and produces the same range of wines but with stricter standards for yield and must weight at harvest. The Cotes de Bergerac AOC also allows for a sweet white wine; whites in the Bergerac AOC must be dry.

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Tucked into the Bergerac AOC, and surrounding the actual town of Bergerac (and its famous statue of Cyrano), we find the Pécharmant AOC. The Pécharmant AOC produces dry red wines only, based on Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Malbec. Pécharmant is required to contain at least three varieties, and no one variety can exceed 65% of the blend.

Following the river just to the west of the Pécharmant AOC, we find two wine regions: Rosette to the north of the river, and Monbazillac to the south—both produce off-dry and sweet white wines. Rosette AOC must contain 2.5%–5.1% residual sugar and is a blend of at least two of the following grapes: Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris, Sémillon, and Muscadelle.

The Monbazillac AOC is famous for its sweet white wines that are often touted as something of a less expensive “version” of Sauternes. The grapes of the Monbazillac AOC include the principal varieties Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris, Sémillon, and Muscadelle; other allowed varieties include Chenin Blanc, Ondenc, and Ugni Blanc. There are few restrictions on the content of the blend, provided that at least 80% of the contents consist of the principal varieties. Monbazillac blanc must contain at least 4.5% residual sugar, and the most famous wine of the appellation—Monbazillac Sélection de Grains Nobles—must contain at least 8.5% residual sugar. Grapes used in Monbazillac AOC wines must be selectively hand-harvested and may be affected by botrytis, but this is not required.  While in Monbazillac, be sure and visit the Château Monbazillac which is a historic castle, a modern winery, and a contemporary arts center!

Map of the Dordogne River by Boerkevitz, via Wikimedia Commons

Map of the Dordogne River by Boerkevitz, via Wikimedia Commons

To the north of the Dordogne, about 15 miles west of the Rosette AOC (and onward through the surrounding Bergerac AOC), we find the Montravel AOC. The Montravel AOC produces both red and white wines that closely mirror the wines of nearby Bordeaux. White wines are based on a minimum of 25% Sémillon plus a minimum of 25% (combined) Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Gris; other allowed varieties include Muscadelle and Ondenc. The Haut-Montravel AOC produces sweet white wines (minimum 8.5% residual sugar) from the same blend. Red Montravel AOC is based on a required minimum of 50% Merlot and must include at least one other grape variety; allowed red grapes include Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec.

For about 15 miles, the Dordogne River forms the border between the wine regions of Bergerac and Montravel (on the north bank of the river) and Saint-Foy-de-Bordeaux (on the south bank). Just past Saint-Foy-de-Bordeaux, the Dordogne dips inside the Bordeaux AOC and creates the boundary line between Bordeaux’s Right Bank and Entre-Deux-Mers. Somewhere between the AOCs of Fronsac and Margaux, the Dordogne River joins the Garonne and together, as the Gironde Estuary, they make their way into the Atlantic Ocean.

Map credit: Cyril555, via Wikimedia Commons

Map credit: Cyril555, via Wikimedia Commons

References/for more information:

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

The Outer Limits: The Garonne before Bordeaux

The beginnings of the Garonne in Spain's Aran Valley

The beginnings of the Garonne in Spain’s Aran Valley

The Garonne River is well-known to wine lovers as one of the three major waterways of Bordeaux—as well it should be. But The Garonne’s journey through Bordeaux and into the Atlantic Ocean is just a part of the full story of the river, which actually flows for over 370 miles beginning in Spain. From its source in the Pyrenees Mountains of Spain, the river flows through the fourth largest city in France and touches the wine regions of Fronton, Saint-Sardos, Brulhois, Buzet, Côtes de Marmandais, and Bordeaux (among others). It’s quite the river.

The actual source of the Garonne is somewhat up for debate—depending upon how one defines the actual source of a river and even upon the season of the year. However, experts can agree that the source of the Garonne can be found in the Aran Valley (Val d’Aran) of Spain. The Aran Valley is located in the corner of Catalonia that borders Aragon. The source of the Garonne is located on the northern side of the Pyrenees, about 25 miles from the border of France.

As we follow the Garonne from its source in the Spanish Pyrenees Mountains, after about 125 miles it flows into Toulouse—famed for its unique architecture of pinkish terracotta buildings, earning it the nickname of la Ville Rose (“the Pink City”), as well as being the fourth-largest city in France (after Paris, Lyon, and Marseille). Toulouse might well be worth a stop. For those interested in science and industry, Toulouse is the center of the European aerospace industry, the headquarters of Airbus, and the home of the Galileo positioning system. Those more interested in tourism can visit two UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the Canal du Midi and the Basilica of St. Sernin—the latter being the largest remaining Romanesque building in Europe, and a historic stop on the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route.

View of the Church of Gesu in Toulouse

View of the Church of Gesu in Toulouse

Following the river for about 20 more miles, we arrive at the Fronton AOC. Fronton is one of the oldest wine-producing regions in France; vines were first planted here by the Romans. However, for a good part of modern history the wines of Fronton were at a distinct disadvantage when it came to trade; as they were heavily taxed as they passed through the port of Bordeaux. These days, the Fronton AOC produces hearty and rustic reds and rosés based on the Négrette grape variety. In both styles of wine, Négrette must be at least 40% of the blend (and is permitted to be the sole grape variety); the remainder of the blend may be made up of various red grapes allowed in various proportions, including Syrah, Malbec, Gamay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Cinsault and an interesting little red grape known as Fer. Fer, according to Jancis Robinson, is a somewhat “untamed” grape native to Southwest France that was domesticated from locally-growing wild vines. It is known as a highly tannic red grape, richly hued and aromatic that is widely grown throughout Southwest France. (Side note: the grape was likely named from the Latin word ferus meaning “wild” or “savage.”)

If we drive (or swim) across the Garonne River starting in Fronton, we will end up in the Saint-Sardos AOC. The Garonne skirts the eastern section of the boundaries of the AOC, and the sunny terraces along the river are rich in alluvial soil. The AOC produces reds and rosés. Both styles of wine must contain a minimum of 40% Syrah and 20% Tannat. Other allowed grapes include Cabernet Franc and Merlot.

Map of the Garonne by Boerkevit, via Wikimedia Commons

Map of the Garonne by Boerkevit, via Wikimedia Commons

If we follow the Garonne another 42 miles of so, we will arrive at the Brulhois AOC. Brulhois, whose name is derived from an old Gascon word meaning “wooded slopes,” is home to many types of agriculture and is thus a very small producer of wine (despite the excellent quality of the land). The Brulhois AOC produces both red and rosé wines based on red grape blends. Principal varieties are Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Tannat and must make up a (combined) minimum of 70% of the blend. Other allowed varieties include Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Fer-Servadou (the local name for Fer). Red wines must contain at least two varieties; rosé must contain at least three.

Another 20 miles upriver we arrive at the Buzet AOC. It is easy to see the influence of Bordeaux in the wines and grapes of Buzet; the area produces white, red, and rosé wines—all based on a range of grapes that include the Bordeaux varieties in with the grapes native to Southwest France. The white wines of the Buzet AOC allow for the use of Muscadelle, Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris, or Sémillon as principal grapes; the accessory varieties of Colombard, Petit Manseng and Gros Manseng may combine in a maximum of 10% of the blend.  The reds and rosés of the region are based on Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec or Merlot; a maximum of 10% may include Petit Verdot and Abouriou (combined). Abouriou is a red grape native to Southwest France, grown in very small amounts, and which tends to be low in acidity, highly tannic, deeply hued and somewhat spicy in flavor.

Next, after a drive of about 70 miles, we arrive at the city of Marmande and the Côtes de Marmandais AOC. The Côtes du Marmandais AOC, in my opinion, wins the prize as “most obscure” wine region in this trip along the Garonne. The Côtes du Marmandais, like Buzet, shares its palate of grape varieties with both Southwest France and Bordeaux. The AOC produces white, red, and rosé wines. The whites are based on Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Gris, and may contain a maximum (combined) 30% Sémillon and Muscadelle. Reds and rosés must contain a maximum combined 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot; up to 50% may comprise Abouriou, Malbec, Fer, Gamay, and Syrah.

The Pont de Pierre (Stone Bridge) over the Garonne in the city of Bordeaux

The Pont de Pierre (Stone Bridge) over the Garonne in the city of Bordeaux

About ten miles outside of Marmande, the Garonne crosses into the Gironde department and officially flows into the Bordeaux Wine Region. About 40 miles later, just beyond the city of Bordeaux, the Garonne River meets the Dordogne River at a spot known as the Bec d’Ambès. As most wine lovers know, the Garonne and the Dordogne flow together to the Gironde estuary which separates Bordeaux’s Left Bank from its Right Bank as it flows past some of the most revered vineyards in the world. After transversing about 62 miles of prime vineyard land the Gironde Estuary empties into the Atlantic Ocean at the Bay of Biscay; thus ending the journey of the Garonne.

References/for more information:

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