Fuzzy Wuzzy was a Vine

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One of the first things that a serious wine student will learn about Priorat is that it is one of the two DOCa regions in Spain, and that (its red version) is a hearty wine based around the Garnacha Tinta and Mazuelo (Carignan/Cariñena) grape varieties. Next, one might note the list of accessory varieties, which include some well-known international varieties (including Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Syrah, and Tempranillo) as well as a grape known as Garnacha Peluda.

There it is: Garnacha Peluda; otherwise known as Hairy Grenache. The name peluda seems to come from the French pelut and means furry.  How cute is that? The “hairy” part of the name refers to the small white hairs covering the underside of the leaf. Other terms used to describe this hirsutulous (botanical term for slightly hairy) characteristic include downy, wooly, fluffy, fleecy, and fuzzy. But they all mean the same thing: this leaf is hairy.

Garnacha Peluda, a mutation of Garnacha Tinta (aka Grenache Noir), is considered a unique variety and is often referred to as a downy-leafed variant of Grenache—which may make the inquiring mind wonder why a certain grapevine would mutate into such a form. The answer is that growing furry leaves is a biological adaptation. Biological adaptations are changes—structural (either morphological [able to be observed] or anatomical [internal]), physiological, or behavioral—that occur over many generations of plant or animal life in order to make the organism better suited to its environment and to improve its chances of survival.

Garnacha Pelut vineyards in Priorat

Garnacha Peluda vineyards in Priorat

The hairy-leafed variation of Grenache is a result of a morphological adaptation to hot, dry environments such as found in Priorat, as well as the Roussillon and Languedoc areas of southern France. (Note: in southern France, the grape is often called Lledoner [or Lladoner] Pelut.) The fuzzy layer protects the vine from water loss due to transpiration, helps shade the leaves, and reflects sunlight to help keep the plant cool. The hairy-leaf solution is one of several ways plants adapt to hot, dry environments. Others include small leaves, curled-up leaves, wax-coated leaves, woodsy stems, and green stems but no leaves.

Compared to its non-hairy cousin, Garnacha Peluda tends to produce wines that are lower in alcohol, lighter in color, and higher in acidity. The Garnacha Peluda grape is authorized for use in the following wines:

  • Recommended/Principle variety in: Terra Alta DO, Languedoc AOC (as Lledoner Pelut)
  • Accessory grape variety in: Empordà DO, Priorat DOCa, Terrasses du Larzac AOC (as Lledoner Pelut), Côtes du Roussillon and Côtes du Roussillon-Villages AOCs (also as Lledoner Pelut)

Vitis aestivalis varieties and native North American grapes native to the southwest, such as Mustang and Muscadine, are also likely to demonstrate the hairy-leafed adaptation. Many other plants have adopted this downy-leafed adaptation, including rosemary, sagebrush, oleander, buckthorn, magnolia or sycamore trees, potato, petunia, and lamb’s-ear.

Fuzzy-leafed lamb's ears

Fuzzy-leafed lamb’s ears

Another famous hairy-leafed vinifera grape is Pinot Meunier. As meunier means “miller” in French, the grape is so-named for the layer of white, downy hairs on the underside of the leaves, said to resemble grains of flour (as produced by the town miller at the local flour mill). But as we now know, it is all about that morphological plant adaptation.

References/for further information

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

The pH of it all

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When we talk about wine, we talk about acidity, and when describing wines, one of the typical ways to describe acidity in wine is to use the pH scale. Dedicated students of wine can easily quote 2.9 to 3.9 as the typical range of pH in wine.

I personally love the zip and zest of highly acidic wines and adore Mosel Riesling (the drier the better), New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, and even 100% Sicilian Grillo. I’ll take the tongue-curling antics of a wine with a pH of 2.9 any day.

But what exactly is pH? You probably already know that it is a scale runs from 0 to 14 and measures how acidic or basic a substance is. But what does that mean? To answer this question we need to dive into some science…we can start with chemistry and biology, and might just have to visit the physics department (and if we are going there, it better be worth it). So here we go!

About the p and the H: First things first—the term “pH” stands for “power of hydrogen.” The term was invented in 1909 by the Danish biochemist Søren Peter Lauritz Sørensen, so originally the “p” stood for potenz (the German word for power). The “H” (for us absolute beginners) is the element symbol for hydrogen, and the pH scale reflects the concentration and type of the hydrogen-based atoms in a solution. (Note: some references define the “p” in pH as “parts” or “potential.”)

What’s hydrogen got to do with it: Hydrogen is the common element to all acids. What determines whether a solution is acidic or basic is the form and degree of saturation of hydrogen ions.

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Define ions, please: To put it as simply as possible—ions are atoms or molecules that have lost or gained an electron over the course of their travels. In the case of hydrogen, this can occur when water splits apart.  If a hydrogen atom loses an electron, it becomes positively charged and is known as a hydrogen ion (H+). If a hydrogen atom gains an electron, it becomes negatively charged and is known as a hydroxide ion (OH).

Hydrogen ions: An acid is a molecule that can split apart in water and release hydrogen ions (thus, acidic solutions have measurable concentrations of hydrogen atoms). Bases are stronger in hydroxide ions. In neutral solutions, the two are roughly equal and they cancel each other out (neutralize each other).  The way that these hydrogen molecules react in water is the basis for the pH scale.

Deliver me from logarithms: The pH scale is logarithmic. Logarithms are multiples of ten; that means that for every full integer on the pH scale, the strength of the acid or base increases tenfold. Thus a pH of 2 is ten times more acidic than a pH of 3—and a pH of 2 is 100 times more acidic than a pH of 4. If this seems confusing, consider another logarithmic scale, the Richter Scale, where an earthquake measuring 7 is ten times stronger than a 6.

Liquid required: A substance has to be water-based in order to have a pH. Powders and oils (such as vegetable oil or olive oil) cannot be measured on the pH scale. There are, however, several other ways of measuring acidity.

The neutrality zone: A 7 on the pH scale is neither acidic nor basic, and considered neutral. Distilled water is generally neutral, but other types of water are not. An interesting (kind of gross) fact is that  human blood is very close to neutral (just slightly basic) and often has a pH of 7.35 to 7.45. Any deviation from this ideal blood pH can have devastating effects on one’s health.

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Just the basics: In the wine world we deal with levels of acidity, but it is interesting to understand the types of substances on the other end of the scale.  Here are a few common items and their basic pH levels:

  • 8: Baking soda, sea water
  • 9: Toothpaste
  • 10: Milk of Magnesia
  • 11: Ammonia
  • 12: Soapy water
  • 13: Oven cleaner
  • 14: Drain cleaner

The equation for pH: Never mind. If you are interested (and have a logarithmic calculator and know how to use it) click here.

References/for more information:

The Bubbly Professor (who has not formally studied chemistry or physics since college) is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net