WineGeo: Grès des Vosges


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…

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


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.


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.


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.


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…

The Limone and Liquore of Sorrento


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:

  • .

    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.


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…

The Spirits of Galicia


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).


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.


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.


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…










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…

On Screech and Screechers

St. John's, Newfoundland

St. John’s, Newfoundland

There’s always some history there. In the case of Newfoundland screech, the history goes back to the 1700s when English colonies were first settled in the area now known as Newfoundland, Canada. By the 1800s, colonists in Newfoundland were engaged in the British Empire Trading System, shipping salt cod to the West Indies (primarily Jamaica) in exchange for rum. This dark, aged rum became the drink of choice for the settlers living in the cold, isolated area.

Fast forward to the twentieth century, and Canada is an independent country with a not-so-independent liquor industry. The individual provinces of Canada all have their own complicated relationships with the sale, distribution, and consumption of alcoholic beverages, with all the provinces except Alberta controlling the retail liquor sales.

In the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, the state took over control of the rum trade, including the bottling and the distribution of Caribbean rum. The rum was, fomost part bottled as it was received (and quite strong) in bottles labeled (uncreatively but informatively) as “Rum” or “Rhum.”


On the island of Newfoundland, on Canada’s cold Atlantic coast, the locally-bottled Caribbean rum continued to be a favorite drink of the locals. When American servicemen were stationed in Newfoundland during World War II, they took a liking to it as well.

Here is the story of how one of those American servicemen helped to give the rum its nickname (and current “official” name)–Screech. This story comes to us via the Newfoundland Screech website:

“As the story goes, a visiting American WWII serviceman downed the rum in one quick toss. His howls of distress caused a bystander to rush to his aid, roaring “What the cripes was that ungodly screech?” The taciturn Newf simply replied, “The screech?” ‘Tis the rum, me son.” As word of the incident spread more soldiers began trying this mysterious rum, adopting it as their favorite. Thus a legend was born.”

Screech is such a part of the Newfoundland culture that visitors can opt to become an “honorary Newfoundlander” through a ceremony known as a “screech-in.” Details on what constitutes a screech-in are sketchy and may vary by location, but in general, it proceeds like this: The ceremony must be officiated by a true resident of

Photo via

Photo via

Newfoundland, but it seems that any and all residents are qualified as such. Participants (outsiders who want to become honorary Newfoundlanders) are asked to stand and introduce themselves (and may–or may not be required to stand in a bucket of salt water while doing so). After the introduction, they are asked if they would like to become an honorary Newfoundlander, to which they must respond with a heart “Yes”! Then, holding a shot of screech, they are asked, “Are ye a screecher?” to which they respond “’Deed I is, me ol’ cock! And long may yer big jib draw!” (Translation: “Yes I am, my old friend, and may your sails always catch wind.”) In some instances, the ceremony ends with the newly-anointed Screech kissing a cod (or whatnot). All in good fun.

These days, Newfoundland Screech is popular all across Canada; it’s also available on the east coast of the United States. The Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corporation bottles three types of Screech–Screech Honey, Screech Spiced 100, and Screech Spiced–in addition to the original, labeled as “Famous Newfoundland Screech Rum.”

Newfoundland seems like a great place to visit, especially the capital city, St. John’s. George Street is the place to go if you’d like to participate in your own Screech-in. If you’d like to visit some wineries while you are there, according to the Wines of Canada website, there are four wineries on Newfoundland Island (one of which produces grape-based wines).

Rodrigues Markland Cottage Winery and Auk Island Winery produce fruit wines and brandies from local products such as plums, pears, raspberries, and cloudberries. SapWorld Winery makes fruit wines as well in addition to as well as a beverage produced from fermented birch sap (or nectar) locally known as “Spring Wine.”

I’m not sure how Newfoundland puppies feel about Newfoundland screech

I’m not sure how Newfoundland puppies feel about Newfoundland screech

The Duck Cover Cottage Winery has a true vineyard with over 1,800 vines. Seeing as Newfoundland sits between the 49th and 58th parallel on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, the challenges for viticulture are obvious. However, since 1992 the owners have been experimenting with a variety of cold-hardy vinifera and hybrid varieties, finding the most success with Pinot Noir, Gewürztraminer, Frontenac, and Delisle.

References/for more information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…

Greywacke (and Greywacke Jones)

Greywacke stones along the Haast River in New Zealand

Greywacke stones along the Haast River in New Zealand

Greywacke (pronounced “grey-wacky”) is a drab, grey stone—technically, a sedimentary rock–made up of layers of very hard, clay-based, muddy grey sandstone criss-crossed through with layers of argillite (a type of mudstone) and grains of quartz, feldspar, and other small rock and mineral fragments. The term Greywacke can refer to the entire rock (or boulder), the sandstone base of the rock, or—especially in the case of wine enthusiasts, a type of soil derived from the stone.

In case you are wondering how such a plain looking rock acquired such a crazy-sounding name, “wacke” is the German word for sandstone, and the term (Grauwacke) was first used to describe rocks located in the Harz Mountains of northern Germany.

Greywacke soils do well with viticulture. The clay-derived portion of the stone weathers into clay-based soil, which is appreciated for its abilities to remain cool, retain vine nutrients, and retain water. The rock and mineral fragments remain behind in Greywacke soil to counter the clay with coarse-grained gravel, providing aeration and drainage. And, of course, some of the rocks stay behind on the top of the soil, absorbing and releasing heat.

Greywacke boulders on Te Mata Peak (Hawke's Bay, New Zealand)

Greywacke boulders on Te Mata Peak (Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand)

This gravelly soil is most notably found in the vineyards of New Zealand; which makes sense as hard greywacke stone makes up a large part of the Southern Alps as well as the smaller mountain ranges of New Zealand’s North Island. The famous “Gimblett’s Gravels” soils of Hawkes Bay, as well as large swaths of Marlborough, Gisborne, Canterbury, and Nelson are all Greywacke-based. Greywacke is almost considered the “national stone” of New Zealand (or would be, if New Zealand ever decided to have a national rock, according to The Encyclopedia of New Zealand.) Click here for a map of Greywacke in New Zealand.

Fans of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (which I certainly am) will no doubt recognize the name Greywacke in terms of a New Zealand wine brand, produced by none other than Kevin Judd – the beloved original winemaker at Cloudy Bay. Kevin continues his string of winemaking successes at Greywacke, producing a range of wine including a delicious albeit typical “zesty” Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc as well as a native yeast-fermented, lees-aged, oak-influenced Sauvignon Blanc (“Wild Sauvignon”) that has become a staple at both my Sunday night dinners and my Intro to Wine Classes. Other Greywacke wines include Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Pinot Noir, and even a late-harvest Riesling—all delicious.

Detail of greywacke soil in Algarve, Portugal

Detail of greywacke soil in Algarve, Portugal

Greywacke bedrock and soils are found in many parts of the wine world, including the Algarve region of Portugal; Germany’s Mosel, Ahr, and Mittelrhein; the Western Cape of South Africa; California’s Russian River Valley; and the Barossa. The term “Greywacke” is used often in the context of wines and vineyards from all over the world, as well. Cosa Obra Wines in the Russian River Valley has a “Greywacke Vineyard” located within the Russian River Valley AVA, about where the Russian River makes it westward turn towards the Pacific Ocean. In Australia’s Barossa, Thorn-Clarke Winery, very much into the soils, produces a Shiraz labeled as “Shiraz on Cambrian Greywacke Soil.”

About that subtitle: There is a character named Greywacke Jones in “Slinky Malinki,” a children’s book by New Zealand author Lynley Dodd. Greywacke Jones is a mischievous cat who hangs out with his pals Slinky Malinki, Hairy Maclary, Butterball Brown, and the rest of the gang. So now you know.

References/for more information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…