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.

Orujo de Galicia PGI: A regional version of orujo—Orujo de Galicia, produced in almost all of the wine areas of 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:  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.

Licor de Hierbas de Galicia PGI: Licor de hierbas de Galicia is produced using a base of Orujo de Galicia, although neutral spirits are allowed as well. It must be bottled at a minimum of 20% abv and contain at least 100 g/L of sugar (making it technically a liqueur). The color ranges from straw yellow to light yellow-green. Licor de hierbas de Galicia must be flavored using at least three types of herbs, although many versions contain a dozen or more more.

Licor Café de Galicia PGI: 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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When in Galicia: 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

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

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.”

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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 screechrum.com

Photo via screechrum.com

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… missjane@prodigy.net

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 grey kitten who hangs out with her 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… missjane@prodigy.net

Lake Garda and her Wines

The waterfront of the town of Torbole

The waterfront of the town of Torbole

It’s the lake of dreams. Lake Garda (Lago di Garda) is the largest lake in Italy, and a popular destination for travelers searching for deep blue transparent waters, wind-in-your-hair yachting, and la dolce vida the area is known for.

The rich and famous may head for the northern resorts towns of Riva del Garda and Torbole, while families and backpackers head for the farmhouses of Bardolino, Castelnuovo del Garda, or the fortified town of Sirmione in the south.

Formed by the movement of glaciers thousands of years ago, Lake Garda is tucked between the regions of Veneto, Trentino, and Lombardy. Its upper half, shaped somewhat like the handle of an axe, reaches into the Italian Alps, while the southern section, shaped like the blade of the axe, stretches down into an undulating plain. Such a shape is typical of a moraine (glacier-formed) valley.

Lake Garda from space - via NASA

Lake Garda from space – via NASA

The lake is 32 miles (51 km) long from north to south, and about 10 miles wide at its widest point.  In addition to lovely towns, ferry boats, orange orchards, and olive groves, the shores of Lake Garda are host to a variety of vineyards, which including several DOCs and one DOCG. These wines of Lake Garda are briefly discussed below, beginning in the northern end of the lake (tucked into Trentino), and following around the lake clockwise through Vento and ending up in Lombardy. These regions are overwhelmingly overlapping, interlocking, discontiguous, and straddling the boundary lines of cities, towns and regions–and this little article is but an overview. It might be a good time to book a trip to any (or all) of these lovely wine regions.

Valdadige DOC: The Valdadige DOC (also known as Etschtaler, particularly among the German-speaking denizens of the area) is the only DOC that stretches across parts of both the Trentino and Alto-Adige provinces. The DOC covers a wide range of wines—including white, red, rosé, still, semi-sparkling, varietal, and blend. A typical Valdadige Bianco DOC will be based on Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio, Riesling Italico, Muller Thurgau, or Chardonnay, with a range of other typical white grapes of the region also allowed. Valdadige Rosso or Rosato DOC is produced using a minimum of 50% Lambrusco a Foglia Frastagliata (Enantio) and/or Schiava (plus a plethora of allowed red varieties). Varietal versions of Pinot Grigio, Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay, and Schiava may also be produced. Frizzante wines may be either dry or semi-sweet, and may be produced from Pinot Bianco or Chardonnay.

Scaliger Castle in the town of Sirmione

Scaliger Castle in the town of Sirmione

Casteller DOC: The Casteller DOC covers a large area across the middle of the Trentino province and overlaps a portion of the larger Valdadige DOC at the north end of Lake Garda. Casteller is a red wine-only region known for soft red wines based on a minimum of 50% Merlot; the remainder may be filled in with Schiava (Grossa or Gentile), Lambrusco a Foglia Frastagliata (Enantio), Lagrein, or Teroldego.

Bardolino DOC (and her sisters): Veneto’s Bardolino is undoubtedly the most famous of the Lake Garda lakeside DOCs (and even includes a DOCG, the Bardolino Superiore DOCG). Bardolino produces mainly red wines and some rosé (a much-beloved Chiaretto) from a blend based on 35–80% Corvina Veronese grapes (a portion of which may be replaced by Corvinone). Small amounts of Rondinella are required, and small amounts of Molinara, Rossignola (Gropello), Barbera, Sangiovese, and Garganega are allowed. The Bardolino DOC allows for the production of many versions. Reds may be produced as a classico, novello, or classico novello in addition to the normale versions, and the chiaretto (rosé) may be released as normale, classico, or sparkling. Bardolino is known to be a medium-bodied, fresh-tasting red wine. The Crovina base lends delightful sour-cherry aromas and flavors in addition to floral, herbal, and ripe berry notes.  Novello versions have been compared to Beaujolais Nouveau and rosé versions are fresh, fruity, crisp and lively. I like to describe Bardolino Chiaretto like “red Bardolino with its shirt off.” I’ve never had the spumante version, but I’m on the lookout now.

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Bianco di Custoza DOC: The Bianco di Custoza DOC, tucked below Lake Garda on her southwest side, is located within the Veneto region. The DOC overlaps with the Bardolino DOC quite a bit, but also extends past the boundaries of Bardolino a bit as well. Bianco di Custoza, sometimes simply called “Custoza,” is a white-wine only DOC, but does allow for sparkling wine, sweet wines made via the passito method, and a superiore version, in addition to the normale dry, still wines.

All of these versions of Bianco di Custoza may be made using the same palette of grape varieties–but from there things get a bit complicated. The basis of the wine starts out with at least 20% (and a maximum of 40%) Garganega. Next, it includes a minimum of 10% (and a maximum of 40%) Trebbiano Toscana (otherwise known as Ugni Blanc). Another 5% to 30% is an interesting grape known as Trebbianello, which is a local clone of the grape alternatively known as Tai or Friulano. Other grapes that are allowed in varying amounts include Bianca Fernanda (a local clone of Cortese), Malvasia, Riesling Italico, Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay, and Manzoni Bianco.

The waterfront of Salò, a town on the banks of Lake Garda in Lombardy

The waterfront of Salò, a town on the banks of Lake Garda in Lombardy

Lugana DOC: The Lugana DOC straddles the Lombardy–Veneto border at the southern edge of Lake Garda. The name Lugana is as picturesque as its surroundings; the word is derived from the Latin for “Lake in the Woods,” reflecting the dense woodlands that existed here not-so-long ago.  Lugana is a white wine-only DOC, producing wines in a range of styles from a minimum of 90% Trebbiano di Lugana grapes. The Trebbiano di Lugana variety is also known as Trebbiano di Soave, Turbiana, or Verdicchio Bianco. The DOC produces mainly fragrant, dry white wines (often compared to Soave in style), and also allows for superiore, riserva, late-harvest, and sparling versions.

Valtènesi DOC: Located in Lombardy’s Brescia province, the Valtènesi DOC produces both red and rosé (chiaretto) wines based on a minimum of 50% Groppello (Gentile and/or Mocasina). The remainder of the blend may include any of the red wines approved for use in Lombardy, with Sangiovese, Marzemino, and Barbera most often used. The Groppello grape is native to this area of northern Italy, and is grown in very small amounts, mainly in Lombardy and Veneto (where it may be known as Rossignola).

Garda DOC (and the rest of the Garda family): The Garda DOC extends along the western shore of Lake Garda (in Lombardy), and continues on to the Veneto side, overlapping portions of the Lugana, Bardolino, and Bianco di Custoza DOCs along the way. Two small portions on the Lombardy side overlap with smaller Garda DOCs: Garda Colli Mantovani DOC overlaps a small section at the southern end of the lake, and a small section near the northern edge overlaps with the Garda Bresciano DOC. All of these regions produce a wide range of wines, including red, white, rosé, sparkling and novello versions, from a range of grapes representing the typical varieties of the area.

References/for further information:

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

Merritt, Saint George, and Long: the Island AVAs

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Mountain, valley, gorge, coast, creek, district, ridge, hills, and lake. Do these words sound familiar? If you are a student of wine, they should, as together they help form the names of hundreds of AVAs. There are also a few oddball terms in the AVA mix–knob, neck, and kiln come to mind–but what about island AVAs?

As it turns out, there are exactly five AVAs with the term “island” in the name (including one “isle”). The winemaking world has some famous wines made on islands–Sicily, Sardinia, and all those Greek islands come to mind–but in the US, we’re not so much about island winemaking. Perhaps that 3,000 mile-wide solid mass of continent that makes up the majority of the country has something to do with it.

Three of the five island AVAs are quite familiar to students of wine: the Long Island AVA plus its subregions, the Hamptons–Long Island AVA and the North Fork of Long Island AVA.

The two other island AVAs– Merritt Island AVA and Isle Saint George AVA–are undoubtedly two of the most obscure wine regions in the United States. Read on to learn a little bit more about these fascinating obscurities: the little-known island AVAs of the USA.

Map of the Bass Islands by Norman Einstein, via Wikimedia Commons

Map of the Bass Islands by Norman Einstein, via Wikimedia Commons

Isle Saint George AVA: The Isle Saint George AVA is located in the state of Ohio on North Bass Island. North Bass Island is the northernmost of the three Bass islands, which are located in Lake Erie near the of the town of Sandusky, Ohio. North Bass Island measures about a mile and a half long and not quite that wide, for a total of about 688 acres in size. The entire island is within the boundaries of the Isle Saint George AVA, and about half of the island is covered with vines. The AVA is named after the town of Isle Saint George–the only town on the island–which at last count had about 20 residents. Most of the land on the island is owned by the state, including the vineyards, which are leased out to farmers.

The island enjoys a somewhat moderate, maritime climate. Due to the influence of a system of underground limestone caves, the island actually stays a bit warmer than the surrounding areas, and ground frost is delayed in the fall. Vineyards on the island are planted mainly to Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay, and a handful of American hybrids such as Catawba and Delaware. The island has a long history of winemaking beginning with German settlers who arrived in the 1800s.

Firelands Winery, located on the Ohio mainland, sources grapes from the Isle Saint George AVA as well as other islands in the Bass Island archipelago. Many of the wines produced by Firelands Winery are bottled under the Isle Saint George AVA.  The Isle Saint George AVA was approved in 1982.

The Sacramento River

The Sacramento River

Merritt Island AVA: Merritt Island is located in California’s Sacramento River Delta. It is surrounded on two sides by the Sacramento River, and on the other two by the Elk Slough and the Sutter Slough. (A “slough” is sometimes defined as a “stream,” but in many cases the word “swamp” is more descriptive.) Merritt Island AVA was approved as AVA in 1983; and later (in 1987) became a subregion of the larger Clarksville AVA.

The island is rather long and skinny, and shaped somewhat like a 6-mile by 1.5-mile oval. The island covers close to 5,000 acres, with about 435 planted to vines. As would be expected of a delta island, the land is very flat–the highest point reaches 14 feet above sea level–and very fertile with alluvial soils. There are currently four commercial vineyards on the island, planted mainly to Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay. Most of the grapes grown on Merritt Island make their way into California Blends, including (so we are told) the delectable Bogle Phantom.

Speaking of islands: The state of Hawaii contains what must be the most famous islands in the United States. Wine is produced in Hawaii, as it is in all 50 of the United States; however, there are no AVAs in Hawaii. As makes sense for a tropical island located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean at around 20° north latitude, most Hawaiian wineries produce wine from tropical fruit such as pineapple, mango, and guava. However, there are some high-elevation vineyards in Hawaii that grow the Symphony grape variety (a vinifera cross of Muscat of Alexandria and Grenache Gris).  Hawaiian wine has not yet made a splash on the mainland, but when in Hawaii, you might want to do as Hawaiians do and try some Hawaiian Symphony!

References/for more information:

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

Lübecker Rotspon: French Red Wine from…Germany?

The Holstentor

The Holstentor

The city of Lübeck, built along the Trave River, is one of Germany’s major ports. Located in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein, it borders the Baltic Sea. Beginning in the 1400s, it was a commercial center of the Hanseatic League, home to the confederation of merchant guilds, and a dominant force in Baltic maritime trade. Due to its history and its extensive collection of well-preserved examples of brick Gothic architecture, Lübeck is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A large brick building known as the Holstentor (Holstein Gate) is the symbol of the city. Built in 1464, the Holstentor was one of the four gates to the city, and is one of the relics of the original fortifications of the city that has survived from medieval times. Also of note are the Salzspeicher (salt storehouses)–six brick buildings on the Trave River that were built in the sixteenth century. The salt stored in the Salzpeicher, at the time a relatively rare commodity, was shipped from Lübeck to many ports in the Baltic region.

The city is full of quaint attractions including antique sailing vessels, puppet theaters, Lübeck Cathedral, the Lübecker Rathaus (town hall), and the home of Günter Wilhelm Grass. The town is particularly well-known for its marzipan, for which it holds a PGI (protected geographical indication) from the EU. The PGI for Lübecker Marzipan was awarded in 1996.

The Salzpeicher

The Salzpeicher

The town is also known for French wine. However, the French wine that Lübeck is known for is not just imported French wine that has made its way onto the wine lists of the better restaurants in town or into the cellars of the most well-to-do citizens. Lübeck has a very unique, quite historic, and undoubtedly obscure tradition of importing young red wines from Bordeaux by the barrel, aging them in the cellars of the city, bottling them, and branding them as “Lübecker Rotspon.”

The story of Lübecker Rotspon goes back to the thirteenth century, when the port city was a center of commercial trade under the Hanseatic League. The large wooden ships typical of the time were known as “Koggen,” many of which sailed to the west coast of France in order to purchase the red wines of Bordeaux. This trade took on a particular significance in 1530 when a merchant named Thomas Bugenhage imported a large quantity of Bordeaux red. Bugenhage gave the wines to his cellar master for storage and aging. It is said that he hoped that with age and maturity, the wine would cause people to be happy and sociable, instead of loud and boisterous.

It seems that the cool cellars and the northern climate of Lübeck was good for the wine, and by the 1800s the Bordeaux wine aged in the cellars of Lübeck had a reputation of its own. By this time, large quantities of red wine from Bordeaux were shipped to Lübeck for the sole purpose of being “refined and cultivated.” The fame of the wine was spread by a group of French Army officers in 1806, who (according to legend) claimed that the wines matured in the cellars of Lübeck were better than the wines cellared in Bordeaux.

The reputation of the red wine of Lübeck was helped a great bit by the writings of the poet and humorist Fritz Reuter (1810-1874). Reuter wrote popular stories of provincial German life, and was a great fan of the locally-aged red wine. It is believed that he came up with the name “rotspon,” coined from the local word “rot,” meaning red, and the word “spon,” meaning wooden chip. Put together the term “rotspon” referred to a red wine that had been stored in wood. Reuter’s stories and poems sang the praises of Lübecker Rotspon and soon the wine was known throughout Germany.

Several wine merchants in Lübeck still store, age, and bottle French wines as Lübecker Rotspon. These days, many different kinds of red wine are used to produce Rotspon, including wines from Burgundy, Bordeaux, and other areas of France.

If you happen to find yourself in Lübeck, don’t miss a tour of the Holstentor, and be sure to stop by the warehouses of the local wine merchants H.F. von Melle, Johannes Kemnitz, or Carl Tesdorpf to try a glass–or buy a case of two.

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*The term Lübecker Rotspon is considered a local trademark in Lübeck, but the name “rotspon” is sometimes used on other products as well. The name Lübecker Rotspon does not currently have official recognition as a PGI (protected geographic indication) or TSG (traditional speciality guaranteed) from the EU – but some folks are trying to change that.

References/for further information:

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

Of Saints and Satellites

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Saints and satellites help paint the story of Saint-Émilion

The Saint:

History tells of a Benedictine Monk named Émilion who lived in Brittany during the eighth century. He swore his loyalty to a count in southwest France and agreed to go with him and work in his household. Émilion was a baker and would often give some of his master’s bread to the poor. When the count found this out, he fired Émilion from his service and threw him out of his house.

Upon his ousting, Émilion vowed to spend the rest of his life in worship and solitude. He journeyed a ways up the Dordogne River and settled near an enormous piece of limestone rock. Émilion spent the next several years carving an underground cave out of the limestone, complete with a stone bed and chair carved into the wall. With time, it was said that Émilion was able to perform miracles, and people began to visit the hermit monk for healing. Faithful people soon developed into a following who lived with him, helping him carve out his cave. Émilion lived the rest of his days in the cave with his followers. He died in 787.

The Monolithic Church of Saint-Émilion

The Monolithic Church of Saint-Émilion

After his death successive generations of monks carried on with Émilion’s project and carved a vast network of underground caves and catacombs. The fame of the area, now known as the town of Saint-Émilion, grew and it became a major religious center. Many faithful passed through on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela. Some of these faithful remained and these followers are credited with the planting of vineyards and the growth of the region’s wine industry. With time, the tiny town of Saint-Émilion became a center of religious importance with a reputation for its excellent wine.

The Monolithic Church of Saint-Émilion was originally constructed in the early twelfth century from the same limestone rock where Émilion first dug his cave. The now-famous church stands watch over the 2,000 inhabitants of Saint-Émilion as well as the world-renowned vineyards that surround the town. Deep below the church–with its three naves, its gothic windows, and its 175-foot high bell tower–lies the original cave of Émilion, the hermit monk.

The Satellites:

Today the town of Saint-Émilion is a UNESCO World Heritage site with Romanesque ruins, religious monuments, and a maze of medieval streets. It is also one of the leading wine regions of the world, renowned for its red wines based on the Right Bank version of the Bordeaux blend–heavy on the Merlot, a good dose of Cabernet Franc, a sprinkle of Cabernet Sauvignon and filled out (perhaps) with tiny touches of Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Carmenère.

Statue of Saint-Émilion

Statue of Saint-Émilion

The four leading properties of the region–the Premier Grand Cru Classé A châteaux of Cheval Blanc, Angélus, Ausone, and Pavie–are known to wine students and wine lovers alike. (You may even be able to recite the 14 châteaux of the Grand Cru Classé-Classé B, and if you are really good, take a stab at the other 64 properties of the Grand Cru Classé.)

Surrounding this luscious region are several villages that produce deep, flavorful red wine similar in style and standards to those of Saint-Émilion itself. Four of these have earned the right to append the name of Saint-Émilion onto the name of their village in the labeling of their wines and are thus considered to the satellites of Saint-Émilion. These four satellites are the villages of Saint-Georges, Montagne, Puisseguin, and Lussac.

Saint-Georges-Saint-Émilion: Located directly to the north of Saint-Émilion, the Saint-Georges-Saint-Émilion AOC is the smallest of the four satellites and occupies a tiny spot along the edge of the Saint-Émilion region itself. The vineyards are planted to approximately 75% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. The village of Saint-Georges (often referred to as a hamlet) has a population of around 500 people and is part of the Montagne Commune. The wines produced from the vineyards of Saint-Georges are allowed to use either name (Saint-Georges or Montagne).

Montagne-Saint-Émilion: The Montagne-Saint-Émilion AOC literally surrounds the Saint-Georges region and lies along the remainder of the northern boundary of the Saint-Émilion AOC, which is itself–for the most part–defined by the path of the Barbanne River (La Barbanne). Montagne is the largest of the satellites of Saint-Émilion. The Montagne (the Butte de Calon) itself is the highest point on the Right Bank. The soils range from sand and clay in the north, to a central plateau of clay and limestone and limestone slopes in the south. Vineyards are believed to be planted to 75% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. The wines of Montagne-Saint-Émilion are known to be full-bodied and rich with supple tannins.

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Puisseguin-Saint-Émilion: The Puisseguin-Saint-Émilion AOC is located north of the border with Montage and east of Lussac. The town of Puisseguin (population: 861) is filled with ruins from Roman times, and takes its name from two words, “Puy” and “Seguin.” Puy is an old Celtic term for “the hill of powerful wine.” Seguin is the name of a Roman officer who served under Charlemagne and settled in the region around 800 AD. The terroir of Puisseguin is similar to that of the surrounding regions and contains a mix limestone, clay, alluvial gravel, and sandstone soils. The vineyards are reported to be planted to 80% Merlot, with the remainder mainly Cabernet Franc (and a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon). The wines of the region have been described a quite fruit-forward while young, with aromas and flavors of licorice, mint, and other herbs evolving as the wines reach 6 to 8 years of age.

Lussac-Saint-Émilion: The appellation of Lussac-Saint-Émilion is the northernmost of the satellites. The village of Lussac, named for a gentleman called Lucius or Lucaniacus who is credited with introducing viticulture to the area during Roman times, is so low-key that the tourist bureau lists a visit to the town of Saint-Émilion (5 miles away) as the top tourist activity. The topography of Lussac- Saint-Émilion is diverse; the south-east covered with slopes of clay and limestone, the north a mix of gravel, clay, and sand; while the west, a slightly elevated plateau, is mostly sandy gravel. Vineyards are reportedly planted 70% to Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc, leaving just 10% planted to Cabernet Sauvignon (with a rare sprinkling–perhaps–of Malbec, Carmenère, and Petit Verdot). The wines of Lussac-Saint-Émilion tend to be elegant, velvety, and generous and are often compared to those of Montage-Saint-Émilion–its neighbor to the south.

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The Lost Satellites: Between 1936 (when the AOCs for Saint-Émilion and its satellites were approved) and the 1970s, two other regions–Parsac and Sables–were allowed to append their names to that of the Saint-Émilion AOC. However, they are no more. Sometime in the 1970s, Parsac merged with Montagne, and Sables was annexed into the Saint-Émilion AOC.

Click here for an excellent handbook of the regions of Saint-Émilion (and the rest of the Right Bank as well), provided by the Union des Maisons de Bordeaux.

References/for further information:

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

The Murray, the Darling, and the Alps of Australia

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Murray Darling (as serious wine students certainly will know) is a wine region in Australia. Known primarily for Chardonnay but also widely planted with Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon, it is a big region–the second largest (by geographical area) in the country.

The Murray Darling wine region transcends political boundaries to an extent, as it straddles the borders of two states–Victoria and New South Wales. The New South Wales portion of the region is considered to be part of the Big Rivers viticultural zone–which makes total sense as it is named for the longest and the third longest rivers in Australia.

The longer of the two rivers–the Murray–is the longest river in Australia, clocking in at 1,558 miles (2,508 km) long. The source of the Murray is in the Australian Alps, and from there it flows down the western side of the mountains, twisting and turning across the inland plains and forming part of the border between the states of New South Wales and Victoria before it reaches the state of South Australia. From there, the Murray heads southward for almost 200 miles (315 km) before it joins the Southern Ocean (also known as the South Pacific Ocean) at Lake Alexandria.

Kosciuszko National Park, Australia

Kosciuszko National Park, Australia

Wait a minute–did she just say the Australian Alps? Yes, she did–and that’s the thing that led to this post. Before doing a bit of digging into the background of the Murray Darling region I had no idea that Australia had its own Alps.

The Australian Alps, it turns out, are part of the Great Dividing Range (now it starts to make sense). The Alps are the highest mountain range in Australia, and the only place in Australia that receives deep snow fall every year. Mount Kosciuszko, the highest point in Australia (7,310 feet/2,228 meters above sea level) is part of the Alps system. There is even a system of Alpine National Parks, understandably  a center for skiing and other mountain sports in Australia.

So–back to our rivers. The source of the Darling River is also in the Great Dividing Range, yet far to the north of the Murray in the northern portion of New South Wales. The Darling River, the third longest river in Australia, flows south-southwest across New South Wales to the border of the state of Victoria, where it joins the Murray.

The combined Murray-Darling catchment system provides irrigation for one seventh of Australia’s total landmass, including most of Victoria, New South Wales, southern Queensland, and parts of South Australia. This area is of great agricultural significance and has even earned the nickname of the “food bowl” of the nation. The agriculture output of the Murray-Darling Basin includes dairy, citrus, stone fruit, livestock, cotton, almonds, and over half of Australia’s cereal crops.

Of course, of great interest to me are the grapes, as a great majority of the wine regions of New South Wales and Victoria–as well as a portion of South Australia–fall under the water catchment of the Murray-Darling. The importance of these rivers (as well as the other rivers in the basin, which include the Lachlan and the Murrumbidgee) really cannot be overstated. We can thank these rivers for Hunter Valley Semillon, Mudgee Cabernet, Rutherglen Muscat, Heathcote Shiraz, and Murray Darling Chardonnay. Thank you!

References/For more information:

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

 

Misfits of the Loire

Close-up of a window in Château de Chaumont (Chaumont-sur-Loire)

Close-up of a window in Château de Chaumont     (Chaumont-sur-Loire)

A good wine student can most likely give you an excellent overview of the wines of the Loire. Perhaps it would go something like this:

The Pays Nantais is the westernmost region of the Loire Valley. It is adjacent to the Atlantic Ocean and overall the coolest area of the Loire, focusing on dry white wines produced using the Melon de Bourgogne grape variety. The majority of the wine here is produced in one of the four AOCs bearing the name “Muscadet.”

Moving inland, the Anjou-Saumur region focuses on white wines, both still and sparkling and in various levels of sweetness, produced from Chenin Blanc. Still reds, still rosés, and some sparkling wines are also produced in Anjou-Saumur, primarily using the main red grapes of the area–Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Gamay and Côt (Malbec). Moving further east, the region of Touraine produces white wines using Chenin Blanc, but further inland as the soils and climate evolve, the focus moves to Sauvignon Blanc. Red wine and rosé is produced here as well. The easternmost region of the Loire, referred to as the Eastern Loire or Upper Loire, focuses on crisp whites made using Sauvignon Blanc; a few Pinot-Noir and Cabernet Franc-based reds are produced in the Eastern Loire as well.

Kitchen garden at the Château de Villandry

Kitchen garden at the Château de Villandry

So how did our wine student do? Pretty well, I would say. That’s a nice overview of the Loire!

However…if we want to dig a bit deeper, we will learn that the 300 mile-long Loire Valley wine region actually contains close to 50 AOCs and 5 IGPs, and among them over two dozen grape varieties are grown and made into Loire Valley wines.

Here are a few that I found that produce unique wines using grapes that are (somewhat) unusual for the Loire Valley. I like to call these wines “Misfits of the Loire” (in the most endearing use of the term, of course).

Cour-Cheverny AOC: The Cheverny AOC is tucked into the easternmost part of Touraine, just south of the Loire River. The subregion of Cour-Cheverny (named for a tiny commune with around 2,000 inhabitants) is, in turn, tucked into the southeast part of the Cheverny AOC. Here you’ll find the only Loire Valley plantings of the Romorantin grape variety (and, perhaps the only Romorantin vines left in France). The Cour-Cheverny AOC produces dry to off-dry wines.

Romorantin is a white grape variety closely related to Chardonnay–its parentage appears to the be same as Chardonnay (Pinot X Gouis Blanc) however, the “Pinot” in the case of Romorantin is not Pinot Noir (thought to be the parent of Chardonnay), but rather a rare Pinot mutation known as Pinot Fin Teinturier—making Romorantin and Chardonnay something akin to step-sisters whose fathers were fraternal twins (thank goodness we’re talking about grapes).

Panorama of Saumur

Panorama of Saumur

Cour-Cheverny was promoted to an AOC (from its former VDQS status) in 1993. It currently has just under 180 acres (73 ha) of vines, all planted to Romorantin. Dry wines produced in the Cour-Cheverny AOC tend to be light-bodied, crisply acidic, and lightly aromatic with aromas and flavors of citrus, green apple, and peach. Richer, off-dry wines–some of them lightly affected by botrytis–can have a waxy texture along with flavors of tropical fruit and honey.

Pouilly-sur-Loire AOC: The Pouilly-sur-Loire AOC actually occupies the same location as Pouilly-Fumé (which might be called its “much-more-famous brother”). As all good wine students know, Pouilly-Fumé produces crisp, dry, white wines from 100% Sauvignon Blanc grapes. The Pouilly-sur-Loire AOC, in contrast, produces dry white wines using 100% Chasselas–a grape mostly known for its (likely) origin near Lake Geneva as well as its widespread use in the wines of Switzerland. Chasselas is currently grown throughout France, although it is usually used for table grapes or grape juice. It is, however, an allowed grape in the Alsace AOC (albeit typically used in blends) and Vin de Savoie AOC. Known as Gutedel, it is also grown in small amounts in Germany and Austria.

Château d’Amboise (Indre-et-Loire)

Château d’Amboise (Indre-et-Loire)

The wines of Pouilly-sur-Loire AOC are the only AOC wines in the Loire allowed to use the Chasselas grape variety.  Pouilly-sur-Loire wines are somewhat rare, but Domaine Saget makes a version described on their website as “pale gold with hints of yellow, aromas of white fruit, plum, and almond; pure and crisp with mineral notes.”

Touraine Noble-Joué AOC: The Touraine Noble-Joué is a rosé-only AOC tucked in between two tributaries of the Loire River—the Cher and the Indre–just south of the town of Tours. Rosé-only AOCs are not uncommon in the Loire Valley–others include the AOCs of Rosé d’Anjou, Cabernet d’Anjou, Cabernet de Saumur and Rosé de Loire. However, the Touraine Noble-Joué AOC in unique in that it requires the wines to be produced using a blend of the “three Pinots” – and one of them is white.

The required blend for Touraine Noble-Joué AOC is as follows: a minimum of 40% Pinot Meunier, a minimum of 20% Pinot Gris, and at least 10% Pinot Noir. No other grapes are allowed.

Château de Chambord (Loir-et-Cher)

Château de Chambord (Loir-et-Cher)

The wines of the area also have a long and interesting history. It was a favorite of King Louis XI of the House of Valois, who ruled France from 1461 to 1483. However, as the town of Tours began to grow and spread into suburbs, the vineyards gave over to housing, roads, stores, and cafés. In 1975, primarily through the efforts of vigneron Jean-Jaques Pierru (of Jean-Jacques Sard Jérémie Pierru), the remaining 30 ha of vineyards in and around the town were saved, and the wine brought back into style.  Touraine Noble-Joué was awarded its AOC status in 2001.

Technically considered a vin gris (per the Cahier des Charges), Touraine Noble-Joué AOC has been described as pale, pinkish-grey in appearance with aromas of cherry and strawberry. The wine tends to be light-bodied and crisp with flavors of cherries, red plum, flowers, and berries; followed by a hint of minerality on the finish.

References:

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