The Long Pour: Sidra de Asturias

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Apple cider and Perry (pear ciders) hold a dear spot in many European cultures: Normandy and Brittany are known for cider as well as apple brandy, the West Country of England prides itself on their unfiltered “scrumpy” cider, and a trip to Ireland is incomplete without a taste of Magners.

Spain is considered to have the longest continuous cider culture in Europe. Spain’s cider (sidra) production is centered in the regions of Asturias and Basque Country, located in the northern part of the country. The climate, cooled by ocean breezes and with decidedly more rainfall than much of the rest of Spain, makes for the ideal growing conditions for apples.

Asturias makes 80% of Spanish cider, produced by more than a hundred small producers with the help of over 250 growers. Sidra de Asturias was awarded denominación de origen (DO) status in 2003. According to the DO guidelines, the cider must be made exclusively with cider apples of specified varieties grown within the Principality of Asturias, and produced under strict quality controls.

There are currently three styles of sidra allowed to be produced under the Sidra de Asturias DO. They are:

  • Sidra Natural (Natural Cider): Natural cider is produced from any of the 22 approved cider apple varieties. The process begins with the harvest, grinding, and pressing of the apples to create juice. Next, the juice is allowed to ferment—typically in stainless steel, or perhaps in large chestnut barrels. The newly-fermented cider is then allowed to rest for a few months, after which it is typically decanted to remove some sediment. Sidra natural is fermented to near dryness and is unfiltered. Sidra natural benefits from a “long pour.”
  • Nueva Expresión (New Expression Cider): New expression cider is produced in a manner similar to natural cider; the difference being that new expression cider is filtered and stabilized before being bottled.
  • Sidra Natural Espumosa (Natural Sparkling Cider): Sparkling cider may be produced via the tank method or by a second fermentation in the bottle. These ciders are also fermented to dryness and can be classified as “brut” in style.

Sidra natural and other artisanal Spanish ciders benefit from aeration just before drinking; this helps to bring out the inherent complexities of the beverage as well as release some dissolved gas. This has given rise to a few colorful traditions, such as serving cider via a “long pour” with the bottle raised high above the server’s head, while the glass is held at arm’s reach below. This is termed escanciar la sidra, or “throwing the cider.”

Race of the pouring of sidra de Asturias in the town of Gijon

The long pour is serious stuff for sidra enthusiasts, and there are certain rules to achieving the perfect long pour. For starters, the glass is held with the thumb and forefinger, with the middle finger supporting the bottom of the glass (and the ring and pinky finger tucked away in the palm of the hand). The arm holding the glass must be stretched down straight with the glass held at the center of the body. The arm holding the bottle must be stretched straight and high above the head. When the bottle is tipped and the cider is poured, the stream of cider must find the glass while the glass stays still. It’s the responsibility of the cider-pourer to ensure that the cider foams.

The next time you are in Austurias, you’ll want to seek out a sidrería (cider house). It’s possible that your friendly neighborhood sidrería will serve nothing but cider, but it is also possible that they may serve a few pintxos and maybe even other types of drinks. If you visit in January, you can participate in the beginning of the txotx (pronounced “choach”) season. During txotx season, cider is served directly from the large wooden cask—actually, it is allowed to ‘shoot” in a very thin stream straight out of the barrel—while thirsty bar patrons take turns “catching” the cider in their glasses (held out at arm’s length).  Asturias sounds like a good place to be.

Well-known brands of Sidra de Asturias include J.R. Cabueñes, Herminio, Cortina, and Castañón.

References/for more information:

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

Twenty Feet from Stardom: the Vinous Version

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In 2013, an American documentary film was released by the name of “Twenty Feet from Stardom.” Directed by Morgan Neville, the film is a behind-the-scenes look at backup singers. These talented folks are a big part of the sound—and the success—of many the biggest stars of the music world, and yet most of us will never even know their names.

This post is my vinous version of the concept, meant to be an homage to some of those obscure, unknown wines that occupy the same stage—in terms of time and place—as some of the blockbuster, world-famous wines of the world…and yet they remain just out of the spotlight.

Curtefranca DOC: The Curtefanca DOC shares the stage with the sparkling wines of the Franciacorta DOCG. Franciacorta is Italy’s serious, traditional method sparkling wine produced from Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir), Chardonnay, and Pinot Bianco grapes. Starting with the 2017 vintage, you can add the Erbamat grape variety (a white grape) to that list as well. The Franciacorta DOC was originally established allowing for a range of allowed wines, including a sparkling wine known as Pinot di Franciacorta, in 1967. In 1995 the Franciacorta DOCG “broke away” as a sparkling wine-only designation, and at the same time the Terre di Franciacorta DOC was created as a separate classification for non-sparkling wines. Both designations occupy the exact same geographic area.

The Terre di Franciacorta DOC changed its name to the Curtefranca DOC in 2008. The name was changed, not surprisingly, as it was determined that there was too much confusion between the sparkling wines of the Franciacorta PDO and the still wines of the Terre di Franciacorta PDO.

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Here are a few interesting factoids about the wines of the Curtefranca DOC:

  • The appellation allows for both red and white wines.
  • White wines are based on a minimum of 50% Chardonnay, with the remaining allowed to be Pinot Bianco or Pinot Nero (vinified as a white wine).
  • Red wines are blends, requiring a minimum of 25% Merlot, a minimum of 20% Cabernet Franc and/or Carmenère, and a minimum of 10% (up to a maximum of 35%) Cabernet Sauvignon. There’s a slush fund of sorts, allowing for (but not requiring) up to 15% “other aromatic red grapes” suitable for production in Lombardy.

The use of the name “Franzacurta” or “Franzia Curta” in the region can be traced back to 1277, appearing in the municipal statute of the commune of Brescia in reference to an area south of Lake Iseo. The name “Corte Franca” has been used for a commune in the area since 1928.

Collioure AOC: The Collioure AOC, perched high atop the cliffs of France’s Pyrénées-Orientales (Roussillon) region overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, occupies the same geographic area as the Banyuls AOC. The famous wines of the Banyuls AOC are fortified vin doux naturel with a minimum of 4.5% residual sugar. The most famous version of Banyuls are the red wines requiring a minimum of 50% Grenache Noir, but blanc, amber, and rosé versions are produced as well. There is even a separate Banyuls Grand Cru AOC for the highest-quality wines; Banyuls Grand Cru must be made from a minimum of 75% Grenache Noir and requires at least 30 months of barrel aging.

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The Collioure AOC is approved for the non-fortified wines (red, white, and rosé) of the area. Here is some information on the wines:

  • Collioure whites are generally produced using Grenache Blanc or Grenache Gris, but are allowed to be produced using a range of grapes including Macabeu (Macabeo), Marsanne, Roussanne, Vermentino, Carignan Blanc and Malvoisie du Roussillon, as well as 15% (allowed maximum) Muscat.
  • Reds and rosés must include at least two grape varieties, which may include Grenache Noir, Mourvèdre, Syrah, Carignan, Cinsault, and Counoise. Rosé may also include a measure of Grenache Gris.
  • Collioure AOC wines must be dry, and have a maximum allowance of between 3 g/l and 4 g/l of residual sugar.

The Banyuls and Collioure AOCs are named after neighboring communes within the growing region.

There are more vineyards sitting twenty feet from stardom, including the Douro DOC (in the same place as the Porto DOC), the Coteaux Champenois AOC (sharing the stage with Champagne), and Moscadello di Montalcino (occupying the same space as Brunello di Montalcino). What are some of the others?

References/for more information:

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

 

WineGeo: Grès des Vosges

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The wines of Alsace are a white wine lover’s dream…dry, powerful Rieslings, spicy Pinot Gris, and aromatic Gewurztraminer are just a few of the amazing white wines that are produced in Alsace. (Shout out to the Pinot Noir for red wine lovers as well.)

The soils of Alsace are just as diverse; as a matter of fact, according to the website of Wines of Alsace, “The terroir of Alsace is a geologist’s dream…if you walk 100 feet in any direction, you’ll find a different soil composition, making Alsace a complex mosaic unlike any other wine region.”

Soils underlying the vineyards in Alsace range from the schist and granite of the higher elevations (extending into the Vosges Mountains) to the limestone and chalk of the lower slopes, to the clay and gravel of the valley floors. However, it is the unique, reddish-colored sandstone of Alsace—known as grès des Vosges—that inspired this post.

For starters, grès des Vosges (Vosges sandstone) runs in a large, horizontal swath through the Vosges, underneath a granite layer (from which it is derived) and atop a layer of coal. Grès des Vosges is a hard, compact sandstone composed mainly of quartz and feldspar. Its pink-reddish color is due to the presence of decomposing iron (iron oxide, as also seen in red soils such as terra rosa) that occurred as a result of the slow cooling of large masses of magma as it hardened into granite.

The process of the coloring of the sandstone is termed rubefaction. Much of the sandstone in the Vosges is still grey, and some is still undergoing the process of rebefaction (or rebéfaction as they say in French).

The Strasbourg Cathedral, widely considered to be among the finest examples of late Gothic architecture, is partially composed of grès des Vosges, which gives the building its pink-hued appearance. The Strasbourg Cathedral was the tallest building in the world from 1647 to 1874 (227 years). Today, it remains the sixth tallest church in the world and the tallest existing structure built entirely in the Middle Ages.

Carte topographique des Vosges by Boldair, via Wikimedia Commons

Grès des Vosges is considered a unique aspect of the Vosges Mountains and Alsace—so much so that it has earned Protected Geographical Indication status from the EU. It is also still in great demand as a building material, and as such there is also a trade organization, the Union des Producteurs de Grès des Vosges, built around promoting and protecting the stone.

And here I thought it was all about the wine.

References/for more information:

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

Salad, a Grotto, and DOC Wine: the Island of Capri

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A trip to the island of Capri should be a part of any dream trip to Italy. Located on the south side of the Gulf of Naples, the island may be reached via a 40-minute ferry ride from Naples or Sorrento. Once you arrive at the island’s Marina Grande, you can take a short bus ride or a scenic funicular up to the town of Capri, and then perhaps journey a bit further to the town of Anacapri.

Either way, you’ll want to take a long gaze at the coastline, lined as it is by the faraglioni—limestone crags also known as “sea stacks” that rise above the surface of the azure sea.

You’ll also want to join the throngs of tourists at the Grotto Azzurra (the Blue Grotto). It might be crowded, expensive, and kitschy—but it must be done! The Blue Grotto is a cave, formed over the millennia by the action of the sea, on the island’s coast. The opening to the cave is about 3 feet high by six feet wide, and can only be accessed when the sea is calm and the tide is low. It is worth the wait, however, because after you duck your head and your boat slips into the 165-foot long cave, the sunlight filtering through the seawater creates a blue reflection that bathes the cavern in a clear, blue light.

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After building up an appetite, you’ll need a good meal, and an Insalata Caprese (quite literally, the “salad of Capri”) sounds like the perfect first course. This is a simple salad of sliced fresh mozzarella di buffala, tomatoes, basil, and olive oil, made to resemble the colors of the Italian flag.  (There’s a recipe in the links below.) Insalata Caprese, they say, was invented in the early 20th century to show off the  abundant produce of the sunny island, to give a nod (via those colors) to patriotism for Italy, and to appease the growing numbers of important politicians and royalty (Hollywood and otherwise) who were visiting Capri in droves.

You’ll probably need a nice glass of white wine to go along with your lunch, and you are in luck, as the island produces a red and a white wine under the Capri DOC. With just two acres planted to vines, your lunch on Capri might be your only chance to ever taste these wines, so we suggest you try a glass of each.

The white wine produced in the Capri DOC is made from a minimum of 80% (combined) Falanghina and Greco. The Falanghina grape is one of the leading grapes of Campania, and plays a role in many of the DOC-based wines of the province. Falanghina-based wines tend to be high in acidity and show aromas of peaches, pears, apricots, almonds, and a bit of “leafiness” and minerality. The Greco grape variety is also widely grown in Campania (as well as several nearby regions such as Lazio, Puglia, and Molise). Wines made from Greco sound quite similar to those made from Falanghina, and have been described as having aromas of apricot, peach, citrus, fresh herbs, and a hint of minerality along with medium body, fresh acidity and a nice balance. Sounds like a Capri Bianco DOC would pair nicely with an Insalata Caprese.

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If your secondo of choice is some variation on pasta with tomato sauce, a glass of Capri Rosso DOC is a perfect accompaniment. Capri Rosso DOC is produced using a minimum of 80% Piedirosso.  The Piedirosso grape is likely native to Campania and is one of the most widely grown red grapes of the area (this, despite the fact that you probably never heard of it before).  Piedirosso is known for producing light-ish red wines with fruity flavors of plum, blackberry, and cherry, has a fresh bite of acidity and (not surprisingly) it’s often compared to those produced from Gamay.

One interesting tidbit about Piedirosso is its name which derives from “red feet.” I assumed that this referred to the red feet one might acquire while stomping around in a vat of freshly-picked Piedirosso grapes, but apparently it refers to the color and shape of the stalks that attached the bunches of grapes to the vine—they are three-pronged and thus resemble the claws of a pigeon, and around harvest time, they turn red.

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Wine making is an ancient but dying are on the island of Capri, but it is kept alive by a small but hardy troupe of winemakers keeping the dream alive. For some great insight into Capri and its wines, I suggest a visit to the Scala Fenicia Winery. If that’s not possible in the near future, you could always just visit their website.

References/for further information:

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

The Limone and Liquore of Sorrento

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Hugging the coastline just across the bay (and accessible by ferry) from Naples is the town of Sorrento. Sorrento is many-a-person’s touristy dream destination, and in real life it does not disappoint. While you are in Sorrento, be sure and tour the Duomo (Cathedral), visit the old town, drink coffee in the Piazza Tasso, take a day trip to the island of Capri, and drive along the coast to Amalfi. You can’t miss any of it.

Another thing you can’t miss in Sorrento is lemons. You can eat and drink lemons—as in lemon cake, spaghetti al limon, lemon gelato, and bruschetta rubbed with lemon, all washed down with limoncello (or lemonade for the kids). Italians will have a lemon slice dipped in sugar (peel and all) for a snack. Next, you can take a stroll through the lemon trees, planted in terraced groves, thriving in the tufo and limestone soil and abundant sunshine—as they have for centuries. And while shopping for souvenirs, stroll into a ceramics studio and find a big bowl or a pitcher decorated with pictures of lemons. You’ll want to remember these lemons for a long time.

The lemons grown in Sorrento are so unique that they have been award Protected Geographical Indicaton (Indicazione Geografica Protetta/IGP) status by the European Union, complete with a consortium (the Consorzio di Tutela del Limone di Sorrento IGP) to protect, promote, and market the Limone di Sorrento. According to the consortium’s guidelines, in order to qualify as a Limone di Sorrento IGP, the lemons must have the following attributes:

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    They are a “local ecotype” of the common lemon, aka Lemon of Massa, “Massese,” or “Oval of Sorrento”

  • They are grown in a geographically-delineated area of the Sorrento Peninsula that includes the districts of Massa Lubrense, Meta, Piano di Sorrento, Sant’Agnello, Sorrento, Vico Equense, and Capri.
  • They must be elliptical in shape with medium-large dimensions (weight not less than 85 grams [3 ounces]).
  • They must have a medium-thick peel and a citrine (pale-to-golden) yellow color over at least 50% of the surface.
  • They must be rich in essential oils and very fragrant, “very juicy” and with straw-colored yellow pulp.
  • The juice, characterized by an elevated acidity, must be rich in vitamin C and mineral salts.

To an American eye Limone di Sorrento might look kind of pale and funky…but these lemons are not chemically treated, colored, or dipped in wax. They are the real deal, they look natural, and they are a much sweeter lemon than those that most Americans are used to. While it’s a bit of a stretch, many people note that Limone di Sorrento are more like Meyer Lemons than the “supermarket” lemons (known as Eureka Lemons or Lisbon Lemons) that we get in the US.

And then there is the local limoncello. As a tourist in Italy, you are certain to remember the first time you had limoncello. Perhaps it was at an aperitivo (the Italian version of “happy hour” to stretch the definition a bit) or after a meal at a restaurant. Wherever or whenever it was, I am sure you will remember it.

Photo of Sorrento’s Marina Grande by Cutiekatie via Wikimedia

The limoncello produced in Sorrento has been awarded an IGP as well, known officially as Liquore di Limone di Sorrento IGP. The technical standards for Liquore di Limone di Sorrento include the following guidelines:

  • It must contain a minimum of 30% alcohol by volume.
  • It must be produced from a base of neutral spirits via by maceration with the peels of Limone di Sorrento IGP for a minimum of 48 hours.
  • It should be between 20% and 35% sugar by volume.
  • It must be produced within the Limone di Sorrento IGP cultivation zone.
  • It must contain a minimum of 250 g (by weight) of Limone di Sorrento PGI fruit or juice per liter of liquor.
  • No other colorings or flavorings (other than Sorrento Lemons) are allowed (but ascorbic acid may be added as a stabilizer).
  • It must be citrine yellow in color, and may be clear or opalescent.
  • The aroma and flavor must be characteristic of the Limone di Sorrento IGP.

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All of that is a bit heavy on the “technical” but doesn’t it still sound delicious? I’m thinking tonight is a good night for Pollo al Limone (as true Limone di Sorrento are hard to find outside of Italy, I’ll settle for using the recipe provided by the consorzio but substitute Meyer lemons [don’t hate me]) followed by some lemon cookies dipped in Liquore di Limone di Sorrento. Luckily, a true Liquore di Limone di Sorrento IGP can—these days—be found in good old Austin, Texas.

References/for more information:

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

The Spirits of Galicia

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If you visit Galicia (and you really should), you’ll probably want to stay in Santiago de Compostela. While you are there, you can backtrack along the final kilometers of the Camino de Santiago, and feel the amazement as the Cathedral—the final spot for so many who have traveled so far—comes into view.

You’ll definitely want to attend the mid-day Pilgrim’s Mass (where hopefully they will swing the botafumeiro—a gigantic incense burner, from the ceiling). After Mass, you might want to visit the Museum of the Galician People and the Galicia Contemporary Art Centre.

For dinner, wander around the old town and take your pick of the tapas bars. Be sure and sample the Caldo Galego, a traditional soup of potatoes, cabbage, and ham; and the Empanadas Galegas, which are typically baked into a large pie and cut into wedges. Treats for seafood lovers abound, but a plate of Pulpo Galego a la Ferira (octopus cooked whole and cut into bite-sized pieces) is the local favorite.

The next day, try to wake up early and take the train to Pontevedra. Once there, you’ll be in the heart of the Rías Baixas wine region and can easily visit several wineries with just a short drive, including my favorites Bodegas Martín Códax, Mar de Frades, and Bodegas Paco & Lola (where they make the famous “Polka Dot” Albariño).

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One more thing: don’t miss out on the unique spirits of Galicia, most of which are based on the left-overs (pomace) of the outstanding wine production in the area. The pomace brandy of the area is known Orujo. Orujo (named after the Spanish word for pomace) is actually produced all over Spain, but has a special significance in the north of Spain. The regional version is produced in almost all of the wine areas of Galicia and, known as Orujo de Galicia, has been awarded PGI status.

Production methods for Orujo de Galicia vary, but the use of copper pot stills is traditional. Orujo, similar to Italy’s famous and popular grappa, may be produced in households, but there are over 85 commercial producers of the spirit.

Like most pomace brandies, Orujo is typically made as a somewhat fiery, raw, and unaged spirit. However, an aged version, known  as Orujo envejecido (aged Orujo), is oak-aged for at least one year in barrels of 500-liter capacity or smaller (or two years in larger barrels).

Three other PGI spirits—Aguardiente de Hierbas de Galicia, Licor Café de Galicia, and Licor de Hierbas de Galicia—are also produced in the area.

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Aguardiente de Hierbas de Galicia PGI is a flavored spirit produced using Orujo de Galicia as the base spirit. It is created by soaking (macerating) a variety of herbs in the Orujo, by the re-distillation of the Orujo in the presence of herbs, or a combination of these procedures. According to the PGI regulations, Aguardiente de Hierbas de Galicia PGI must be produced using at least three different herbs or botanicals. Any herbs that are suitable for food may be used, but peppermint, chamomile, lemon verbena, rosemary, oregano, thyme, coriander, saffron, orange blossom, fennel, licorice, walnut, nutmeg and cinnamon are among the most widely used. Aguardiente de Hierbas de Galicia PGI usually has a clear, light-green color and must have no more than 100 g/L of sugar. A sweetened version, known as Licor de Hierbas de Galicia PGI, would be known in English as a liqueur.

Licor Café de Galicia PGI is produced using Orujo de Galicia as its spirit base, but neutral spirits are also allowed. This is a sweetened spirit (liqueur) flavored with roasted coffee beans. Licor Café de Galicia may be produced via maceration, re-distillation, or a combination of methods, and must contain a minimum of 100 g/L of sugar.

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In addition to being served straight, on the rocks, or in a variety of cocktails, Orujo de Galicia is used in a regional beverage known as queimada.  Queimada is made with orujo, sugar, lemon peel, cinnamon, and coffee beans. The ingredients are poured into a clay pot, set aflame, stirred until the blue flames die out, then ladled into ceramic cups. The sharing of queimada is accompanied by the recitation of an incantation (which is often described as a “spell” of protection against witches and things that go bump in the night). The sharing of the queimada is based on Celtic lore and considered a part of Galician tradition.

References/for more information:

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Outer Limits: AOC Châteaumeillant

Vineyards in Châteaumeillant - Photo by Ameliris, via Wikimedia

Vineyards in Châteaumeillant – Photo by Ameliris, via Wikimedia

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

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

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

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

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

Culan Castle

Culan Castle

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

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

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

References/for further information:

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