The Outer Limits: Cléebourg and the Quatre Bans

The Abbey of Saints-Pierre-et-Paul in Wissembourg

The wines of Alsace are among my favorites—rich Pinot Gris, snappy Riesling, the occasional white blend, an even more occasional Pinot Noir, and all of those delightful bubbles. Great wine, amazing food, incredible scenery—in my dreams, I retire in Alsace.

But back in the real world of wine studies, all good wine students need to know about the Vosges Mountains, the Rhine River, and the lay of the land in Alsace. For instance, nearly all of the 15,300 hectares/38,000 acres of vines planted within the Alsace AOC (including all 51 of the famous Grands Crus) are located along a 60-mile (96-km) swath of land beginning just north of Strasbourg (in the Bas-Rhin department) and ending just south of Mulhouse (in the Haut-Rhin).

Map of the Alsace AOC via https://www.inao.gouv.fr/

However, here’s a lesser-known fact: about 30 miles to the north of Strasbourg, there is a tiny exclave of the Alsace AOC. In the area surrounding the town of Wissembourg, we find a small cluster of obscure vineyards planted near the border (with some straddling the line) between France and Germany.

This tiny corner of the Alsace AOC covers just 5 communes of the Bas-Rhin department—Cléebourg, Oberhoffen, Riedseltz, Steinseltz, and Wissembourg—and measures just a few miles across and a few miles long.

According to the Wines of Alsace website, it is well worth the 30-mile train ride from Strasbourg to see this beautiful and unique region—the northernmost outpost of the Routes des vins d’Alsace. Once you arrive at either the Riedseltz or Wissembourg station, you can grab a car or a taxi and pay a visit to Cave Vinicole Cléebourg.

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According to the Cave Vinicole Cléebourg website, wine has been produced in the area since the 9th century BCE, beginning at Dominican Monastery in Wissembourg before spreading to Cléebourg and beyond. Despite a series of political upheavals, phylloxera, and devastation from the retreating armies after World War II, the area’s viticulture has managed to survive. These days, there are 190 members in the Cléebourg cooperative, producing a range of varietal wines and crémant d’Alsace as well as late harvest/noble late harvest wines (when conditions allow). Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Gewurztraminer, Muscat, Sylvaner, and Auxerrois are the main varieties.

The Cave Vinicole Cléebourg is home to the Confrérie des Vins des Quatre Bans. The Confrérie (brotherhood) is composed of wine lovers (both brothers and sisters) who are interested in promoting the wines of the area. All members—which range from beginners/novices up to the levels of enlightened brothers/sisters, ambassadors, and 17 members of the Grand Council—must pass a series of increasingly difficult wine tasting exams and participate in regional wine events. Each year, the Confrérie selects a particularly high-quality wine to bear the label of the society.

Photo of Château de Fleckenstein by Peter Schmenger, via Wikimedia Commons

After a tour of the winery, I suggest you take the 11-mile (18-km) drive to the Château de Fleckenstein, a hilltop, Romanesque castle first built in the 12th century. Portions of the castle—including some stairs and several under-ground rooms—were carved out of the sandstone bedrock. The castle is in ruins, but open for tourism and educational visits.

The town of Wissembourg is a good place for a home base. Located on the German border and surrounding the Lauter River, Wissembourg is built around a central canal (the Lauter Canal) and is home to an several impressive gothic buildings, including the Abbey of Saints-Pierre-et-Paul, the largest parish church in Alsace, exceeded only by the cathedral in Strasbourg. Just on the other side of the abbey’s garden, you can visit the canal-side Maison du sel Wissembourg—first built in 1488 for use as a hospital and later as a salt warehouse—known for its exceedingly steep (and undulating-from-age) roof.

Northern Alsace looks like an excellent spot for a low-key wine vacation, and for those looking for a bit more immersion into wine…the Duetsches Weintor (German wine gate, noting the southern end of the German Wine Route) in Schweigen-Rechtenbach is just 2 miles (3.3 km) away!

References/for more information:

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

The Outer Limits is my series of appreciative posts about small, obscure, or out-of-the-way wine regions.

Tidal Bay: Nova Scotia’s Signature Wine

Vineyards in Nova Scotia’s Gaspereau Valley/photo by Gavin Gangille via Wikimedia Commons

Canada’s Nova Scotia province—located on the Atlantic Coast and including several islands—is known for the Cabot Trail (hailed as one of the world’s most scenic drives), the Halifax Waterfront, Peggy’s Cove (a charming fishing village), whale watching, music festivals, and delicious lobster.

These days, the area is also known for its wine. More than 20 wineries are currently producing world-class wines in Nova Scotia—hailed as Canada’s smallest and coolest-climate wine region.

Nova Scotia produces a range of wines, reserving particular pride for a unique style of wine known as Tidal Bay. The name “Tidal Bay” is strictly regulated and reserved for still (non-sparkling) white wines produced from 100% Nova Scotia grapes. Tidal Bay wines are fresh and crisp in acidity, dry to off-dry, moderate in alcohol (11% abv is the maximum permitted), and highly aromatic. They are ideal to pair with the area’s abundant seafood dishes and are billed as Nova Scotia in a glass, reflecting the climate, terroir, and culture of the region.

The requirements for use of the name “Tidal Bay” (as defined by the Winery Association of Nova Scotia) include the following:

  • 100% Nova Scotia grapes
  • A minimum of 51% (combined) of the final blend must be comprised of primary grape varieties. These are:
    • L’Acadie Blanc (complex hybrid [Cascade X Seyve-Villard 14-287] created by Ollie A. Bradt of Ontario)
    • Seyval Blanc (complex, French-created hybrid)
    • Vidal (complex, French-created hybrid)
    • Geisenheim 318 (German hybrid [Riesling X Chancellor])
  • Secondary grape varieties—including Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Chasselas, Ortega, Siegfried, Osceola Muscat, Frontenac Gris, Frontenac Blanc, Petit Milo, and Cayuga—are optional, but may be included up to a (combined) total of 49% of the blend.
    • Other grapes grown in Nova Scotia (tertiary varieties) are permitted to be included in limited amounts (up to 15% of the blend).
  • A maximum of 2% residual sugar (although there are exceptions based on the wine’s acidity and overall taste profile)
  • Limited, minimal, or no skin contact
  • Little or no influence of new oak
  • The wine must be vintage-dated and approved by a five-person tasting panel 

Peggy’s Cove (Nova Scotia)

With the number of grapes (and potential blends) allowed in the final mix, every Tidal Bay wine has the potential to be unique. However, during my research (and tasting) I found the following aroma/flavor descriptors to be apt: peach, apricot, pear, green apple, citrus (orange, tangerine, lemon) candied ginger, mineral/minerality, mint, and flowers.

Outstanding producers of Tidal Bay include Benjamin Bridge, Domaine de Grand Pré, and Jōst Vineyards.

Nova Scotia produces a wide range of other cool-climate wines in addition to Tidal Bay. On your next road trip through this beautiful area, be sure and seek out the region’s sparkling wines, piquette, crisp white wines (Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling are standouts), icewine, and Cabernet Franc rosé. 

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About that name: The Bay of Fundy—one of the many natural wonders of Nova Scotia—is located between the Canadian province of New Brunswick and the island of Nova Scotia. The funnel-shaped bay is home to some of the highest tides on the face of the earth; the tidal surge can be as high as 43 feet (13 meters). In comparison, the worldwide average tidal range (height difference between high tide and low tide) is 3 feet and 3 inches (1 meter). The Bay of Fundy experiences two high tides a day, each about 12 hours and 26 minutes apart. With each high tide, 100 billion tons of seawater flow inland.

As the tide recedes, miles of ocean-front property makes itself available to hikers, picnickers, and bird watchers—every summer, the area is visited by 30,000 migrating sandpipers (and the folks who follow them). It’s no wonder Nova Scotia’s signature wine goes by the name “Tidal Bay.”

References/for more information:

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

The Outer Limits is my series of appreciative posts about small, obscure, or out-of-the-way wine regions.

The Outer Limits: Sizzano, Italy (pop. 1,452)

The Parish Church of Sizzano; photo by Alessandro Vechi (via Wikimedia Commons)

Located in the province of Novarra—about 50 miles (80 km) northwest of Turin—you’ll find the wine-producing comune of Sizzano (current population: 1,452).

Sizzano, one of the smallest DOCs of Piedmont—is tucked away in an area often referred to as Alto Piemonte. Wine lovers will recognize this term as it applies to a small strip of vineyards that includes the slightly-better-known Gattinara and Ghemme DOCGs—in addition to the equally-obscure DOCs of Fara, Lessona, and Boca. The Alto Piemonte is stretched alongside the Sesia River—a tributary of the Po— and set in the foothills of the Italian Alps (the alto in the name refers to its relatively high altitude).

This string of small towns was once planted with more than 40,000 hectares (98,000 acres) of vines and was among the most impressive producers of Nebbiolo-based red wines in Italy. However, beginning in the late 1800s, phylloxera took its toll. Later, a post-World War II population exodus—towards the new industrial jobs in the cities—completed the decimation of the area’s wine industry. At present, there are just over 600 hectares (1,500 acres) of vines in the entire region.

Of these, a mere 5 hectares/12 acres are located in Sizzano. The DOC—approved for only one type of wine—typically produces a mere 900 cases of wine a year from vineyards situated at a minimum of 200 meters/656 feet—and no more than 350 meters/1,150 feet—of altitude.

Location of the town of Sizzano within Piedmont; map via Google.com.maps

Sizzano DOC is a dry, tannic-yet-elegant red wine based on 50% to 70% Nebbiolo—here often referred to as Spanna. It may also contain up to 10% of the loosely-defined “non-aromatic red grapes suitable for cultivation in Piedmont.”

In addition to the Nebbiolo, 30% to 50% of the blend is required to be composed of Vespolina and/or Uva Rara grapes. Vespolina—a progeny of Nebbiolo— was once widely grown throughout Piedmont, but post-Phylloxera is mostly found in the Alto Piemonte as well as in Lombardy’s Oltrepò Pavese DOC (where it may be known as Ughetta).

Uva Rara—literally “rare grape”—is used in many appellations of Piedmont and Lombardy (albeit in small amounts) to soften Nebbiolo-based wines. The Uva Rara of Piedmont is also known as Bonarda Novarese; but is distinct from the much better-known and far more widely-planted Bonarda Piemontese.

The Sizzano DOC was approved in 1969, making this—along with Nebbiolo d’Alba and Barolo—one of the oldest DOCs in Piedmont. According to the disciplinare, the wines of the Sizzano DOC are “ruby red with garnet reflections” and have aromas of red fruit and violet flowers. As the entire DOC produces less than 1,000 cases of Sizzano a year, it may be necessary to travel to the Alto Piemonte in order to try some.

Road trip, anyone?

References/for more information:

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

The Outer Limits is my series of appreciative posts about small, obscure, or out-of-the-way wine regions.

The Outer Limits: Cagliari

Cagliari coastline

Cagliari is the capital city of the Italian island (region) of Sardegna (Sardinia). Located on the southern edge of the island, the city and its surrounding municipality (also known as Cagliari) are home to more than 430,000 people.

Cagliari is a modern city built on and around the ruins of an ancient civilization; people have lived and congregated here for over 5,000 years. There are many amazing sites to see for the traveling history buff: check out the spooky pre-historic chamber tombs of Domus de Janas, the Roman Amphitheatre of Cagliari, or the hilltop citadel Il Castell. Art lovers will want to make sure to leave time to visit the Galleria Comunale d’Arte di Cagliari —and anyone and everyone will want to spend some time on Poetto beach.

Foodies will have plenty to keep them occupied as well. In addition to the ridiculously abundant seafood, be sure and try the uniquely Sardinian Pane Carasau (a thin, crisp bread), fregola (a small, pearled pasta somewhat similar to couscous), and culurgiones (stuffed pasta similar to ravioli). Of course, you’ll want to eat as much Pecorino—a sheep’s milk cheese made in many regions of Italy, with a great deal produced in the area around Cagliari—as you possibly can.

Poetto Beach

And then there is the wine. The island of Sardegna produces a great deal of wine, much of it reflecting the 400-year Spanish rule that lasted until the 1700s. Sardegna boasts 18 PDO wines, including Cannonau di Sardegna DOC, Malvasia di Bosa DOC, and Vermentino di Gallura DOCG—the island’s only DOCG.

There is also a Cagliari DOC that encompasses the city and municipality of Cagliari as well as a good section of the island’s southern and western portions. A range of wines are produced under the auspices of the Cagliari DOC, including red wines based on the Monica grape, white wines using Moscato and/or Vermentino, and both still and sparkling wines based on Malvasia.

Cagliari also produces some unique wines based on unique grapes, such as Nasco (Nasco di Cagliari DOC), Girò (Girò di Cagliari DOC) and Nuragus (Nuragus di Cagliari DOC). It was the unfamiliar (to me) names of these grapes that caught my eye and inspired this post. You’ll find some information about these grapes and these wines below—hopefully you’ll find them as interesting as I did.

Photo by Fabio Ingrosso, via Wikimedia commons

Nuragus (Nuragus di Cagliari DOC): Nuragus is a white grape variety that—despite its seeming obscurity—is the second most widely-planted white grape on the island of Sardinia (after Vermentino). Wines produced using Nurugus tend to be somewhat neutral in aroma and character; however, the best (low-yield) versions can be crisp in acidity, somewhat bitter, and redolent of green apples and almonds. The Nuragus grape is used—blended with other white grapes—in up to 15 different IGP wines of Sardinia, and is often used in the production of vermouth.  The Nuragus di Cagliari DOC allows for the production of dry and sweet wines (based on a minimum of 85% Nuragus) in both still and sparkling version.

Nasco (Nasco di Cagliari DOC): Nasco, a white grape, is rumored to have been introduced to Sardinia via Spain (although there is as yet no solid evidence to confirm this). History tells us that the grape was once widely planted across the island, but the variety did not fare well post-phylloxera. These days,  Nasco is grown in very small amounts in and around Cagliari—reported plantings total just 423 acres/171 ha—and it is possible that it is not planted anywhere besides Sardinia.  The Nasco di Cagliari DOC allows for the production of dry wines, sweet wines, and fortified wines (which may be either dry or sweet). The grape—and its wines—are known for a musky aroma, as well as aromas and flavors of green herbs, dried flowers, honey, sweet spices, and apricots.

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Girò (Girò di Cagliari DOC): Girò is a cherry-scented red grape variety, also believed to have been introduced to Sardinia via Spain. It was widely grown throughout the island before phylloxera, but now is somewhat limited to the area around Cagliari. At last count, Sardinia had just over 1,300 acres (525 ha) of vines planted to Girò. The grape thrives in hot, dry climates—and such conditions will lead to high concentrations of sugar, but sometimes leads to low acidity.

The Girò di Cagliari DOC allows for the production of still (non-sparkling) red wines, both dry and sweet. Many Girò di Cagliari DOC wines are fortified, and post-harvest drying of the grapes is sometimes used to produce passito-style wines as well.

References/for more information:

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

The Outer Limits is my series of appreciative posts about small, obscure, or out-of-the-way wine regions.

The Outer Limits: 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 Outer Limits is my series of appreciative posts about small, obscure, or out-of-the-way wine regions.

The Melancholy Seewinkel (the Outer Limits)

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 is my series of appreciative posts about small, obscure, or out-of-the-way wine regions.

 

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 east 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 is my series of appreciative posts about small, obscure, or out-of-the-way wine regions.

 

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 is my series of appreciative posts about small, obscure, or out-of-the-way wine regions.

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 is my series of appreciative posts about small, obscure, or out-of-the-way wine regions.

 

The Outer Limits: Broke Fordwich

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Broke Fordwich. I don’t even know what to ask. Is it an animal, a vegetable, or a mineral? Is it a person, a place or a thing? God forbid it should ever show up on a wine exam, and yet there it is, staring at me from page 243 of the CSW Study Guide. Damn.

Before we go any further, here is the truth: Broke Fordwich is a place. It’s a wine region in Australia; actually, it is a subregion of the Hunter Valley Zone (and the Hunter Region) in New South Wales. The name is derived from two small towns: Broke (population 636) and Fordwich (just to the north of Broke, and apparently with an even smaller population).

Despite its homespun name, Broke Fordwich is not to be shunned as a wine region. It is a bit off-the-beaten-path, but in Winespeak we often refer to that as “authentic” or “less touristy.” The area itself uses the phrase “the tranquil side of the Hunter Valley.”

As for the location, it is important to first remember that Australian Geographical Indications range from largest to smallest as follows: State > Zone > Region > Subregion. Following along, we can find the Broke Fordwich Subregion within the State of New South Wales, the Hunter Valley Zone, and the Hunter Region (simplified as such: New South Wales > Hunter Valley > Hunter > Broke Fordwich.) The Hunter Region has two other Subregions, Pokolbin and the Upper Hunter Valley.

Photo of the Yellow Rock Escarpment by Sardaka, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo of the Yellow Rock Escarpment by Sardaka, via Wikimedia Commons

The website of Broke Fordwich (which is quite nice, and will make you want to plan a visit right now) describes the area’s location as “in the southwest corner of the mid Hunter Valley”. The area is quite beautiful, surrounded as it is by the Brokenback Mountain Range (part of the Great Dividing Range and NOT to be confused with Brokeback Mountain, which was supposedly in Wyoming). Local scenery includes views of Yellow Rock (a gorgeous escarpment) and the Wollemi Foothills.

The Broke Fordwich Subregion is tucked between the Upper Hunter Valley to the northwest and Pokolbin to the east. It geographic boundaries follow the catchment of Wollombi Brook (a tributary of the Hunter River), which flows from its source in the Brokenback Mountains/Great Dividing Range north through the towns of Broke and Fordwich.

Broke Fordwich became an official Geographical Indication in 1997. The basis for the boundaries include its unique soil, the climate-calming effects of the Wollombi Brook, and the rain shadow provided by the Brokenback Mountain Range which hugs (and partially encircles) the area to the west and south.

The Fordwich Sill, a stretch of red weathered volcanic clay running through the area, is one of the unique soil features of Broke Fordwich. This basalt- and iron-rich soil absorbs moisture quickly and releases it slowly; an excellent feature for this dry area that sits at a balmy 32.5 degrees south latitude. The red soils of the Fordwich Sill are ideal for Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and tend to produce grapes that are made into rich, soft-style wines. Other soils in the area include free-draining alluvial soils (heavy on the sand), which is widely planted to the area’s well-known Semillon and other white grapes.

Map of New South Wales via Wine Australia

Map of New South Wales via Wine Australia

Broke Fordwich is responsible for about 14% of the total wine production of the Hunter Valley Zone. Not surprisingly, the most widely planted grape of the area – responsible for at least 30% of vineyard acreage – is Semillon. Semillon is followed by Shiraz, Verdelho, Chardonnay, and Merlot. A smattering of other grapes, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Barbera, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, and Pinot Noir, among others, are also grown.

About that name: The town of Broke was founded in 1830 by Major Thomas Mitchell. Mitchell named the town in honor of his fellow Napoleonic War Veteran, Sir Charles Broke-Vere.

Confusion Corner: The terms “Hunter” and “Hunter Valley” are often used somewhat interchangeably, although technically the Hunter Valley is the larger zone which encompasses the Hunter Region. No one quite knows why the original decision was made to refer to the zone as “Hunter Valley” and the smaller region as “Hunter,” and it might not really matter: there’s very little difference between the outline of the Hunter Region and the only slightly larger Hunter Valley Zone. The region just shaves a little bit off of the edges on the western and northern boundaries, and excludes the area around the city of Newcastle on the coast.

References/for further information:

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

The Outer Limits is my series of appreciative posts about small, obscure, or out-of-the-way wine regions.