Mind your Latitude: 30° South

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We’ve looked at wine through the lens of grapes, places, soils, barrels, bottles, and stems…and for the next few weeks we will be taking a look at latitude. Today, we present:  30 degrees South, as we begin our journey through the southern latitudes.

Elqui Valley: The Elqui Valley sits in Chile’s Coquimbo viticultural region—just south of the Atacama Desert. Traditionally, the Elqui Valley produced table grapes and grapes for Pisco (Chile’s grape-based brandy)—and Pisco production is still a very big deal here.

As would be expected, the Elqui Valley is warm, dry, and famous for its bright pure sunshine—and as such, is increasingly known for its Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Carmenère, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc. However, the valley between the Coast Range and the Andes is narrow-to-non-existent here, and the region’s vineyards reside at elevations up to 6,550 feet (2,000 m) above sea level, meaning that warm, clear days are followed by cool, crisp nights. The areas close to the Pacific Ocean (along the Elqui River) are producing cool-climate Syrah, which may soon become the best-known wine of the region.

The Elqui Valley—world-famous for its clear skies—is home to the Gabriela Mistral Dark Sky Sanctuary as well as a plethora of research observatories. This makes the Elqui Valley heaven for those looking to the skies—astro-tourists and astro-physicists alike.

Jáchal, San Juan: Argentina’s San Juan province sits between La Rioja (to the north and east) and Mendoza (to the south). San Juan is well-known as the second largest wine-producing province in the country (second, obviously, to Mendoza). The Jáchal sub-region—situated around the city of San José de Jáchal—is one of the northern-most wine -producing areas in the province, placing it firmly in the 30th parallel south. This is a picturesque, sparsely-populated area blessed by a series of mountain ridges as well as the fast-flowing Jáchal River and a spectacular canyon—the 100-foot (30 meter) Jáchal River Gorge. This economy of the area is focused on agriculture, and includes olives, onions, alfalfa, and quince in addition to wine. The vineyards of the Jáchal GI (approved in 2002) are focused on Torrontés Riojano, Muscat of Alexandria, Torrontés Sanjuanino and Bonarda (Douce Noir).

KwaZulu-Natal: Nearly all of South Africa’s wine hails from the Western Cape Geographical Unit, however, a few other areas around the country produce wine as well. KawZula-Natal, a province located on the eastern coast of the country, was approved as a Geographical Unit (GU) for wine production in 2005. Vitis vinifera has been planted in the area since the 1990s, with the first wine estate—Stables Wine Estate, founded by Tiny and Judy van Niekerk—founded soon thereafter.  Since these beginnings, a  few other wine estates, including Cathedral Peak Wine Estate and Highgate Wine Estate, have been established as well. These properties focus on Pinotage, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay, The KwaZula-Natal GU currently contains two wine-producing appellations: within it: Central Drakensburg District and Lions River District.

New England Australia: New England Australia is the northernmost wine region (geographical indication) in New South Wales. Actually, it is located along the northern border of the NSW, touching the boundary of Queensland (and the Granite Belt Wine Region). The New England Australia region sits along the western slopes of the Great Dividing Range and extends westward into the region known as New England Tablelands. Most of the vineyards reside at elevations between 1,300 and 3,300 feet (400–1,000 meters) above sea level, making this area slightly cooler than the Hunter Valley Zone located on low-lying ground (to the south and west). The New England Australia Region holds the title for the highest-elevation vineyard in Australia, located near Black Mountain at an altitude of 4,330 feet (1,320 meters). The leading grapes of New England Australia mimic those found in most Australian regions—including Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvingon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Merlot—but a few interesting varieties, including Verdelho, Petite Sirah, and Gewürztraminer are found here as well.

Northern Cape, South Africa: South Africa’s Northern Cape Geographical Unit (and province) lies just to the north of the Western Cape, and stretches as far north as 28°S. Vineyards are sparse in this typically hot and dry area; however, it does contain three wine-producing wards: Central Orange River, Hartswater, and Prieska. The best-known of these—Central Orange River—is also the northernmost, however, the climate is moderated by the presence of the Orange River itself. The Orange River has its origins in the Drakensberg Mountains in Lesotho, and flows (generally) west for over 1,300 miles (2,100 km) before emptying into the Atlantic Ocean. The majority of the vineyards in the Central Orange River ward are located about 250 miles (400 km) inland from the coast, and planted on gravelly, alluvial soils. Traditionally, the region has been planted to white wine grapes (some used for bulk wine), but red grapes—including Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinotage, and Shiraz—are on the rise.

Serra Gaúcha: Serra Gaúcha, considered one of the six main wine-producing regions of Brazil, is located in the state of Río Grande do Sul—Brazil’s southern-most state (sitting just to the north of Uruguay). Serra Gaúcha is the biggest (and most important) wine region of Brazil, producing over 85% of the wine grapes and quality wine made in Brazil. The modern era of wine production in the region dates back to at least 1875, when a wave of Italian immigrants brought their knowledge and love of viticulture to the region. Serra Gaúcha built its reputation on Italian varieties—including Bonarda, Moscato, and Trebbiano. These days, however, international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay are widely represented, and the area has become a leading producer of Brazilian sparling wine as well.

References/for more information:

Click here if you’d like to check out the rest of our “Mind Your Latitude” series. 

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

The Bubbly Professor’s Second Annual “I don’t Wanna Sudy on Christmas Eve” Wine Quiz

Study tonight? Who, me?

I know you probably don’t want to study today, tonight, or tommorow…but you also don’t want to lose your study rhythm! How about a nice compromise….the Bubbly Professor’s second annual “I don’t wanna study on Christmas Eve” quiz!

If you want to go for it, click here.

Happy Holidays to those that are celebrating, and best wishes to all!

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

Click here if you want to try last year’s “I don’t wanna study on Christmas” quiz.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Road trip, anyone?

References/for more information:

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

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

Confusion Corner: Blaye, Blaye, Blaye

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Tucked away in a sleepy corner off the right bank of the Gironde Estuary, you’ll find the town of Blaye. Blaye is a picture-postcard-perfect town rich in history and charm. Wine lovers, of course, will recognize the name Blaye as a small-but-impressive area for the production of Bordeaux wine. And that’s where the confusion begins. There are three appellations d’origine contrôlée (AOCs) that go by the name of Blaye: Blaye AOC, Côtes de Blaye AOC, and Côtes de Bordeaux–Blaye AOC They all share the exact same location and all three—of course—produce Bordeaux wine.

And yet and still, each of these three appellations comes with its own unique twist.  Here’s what we mean:

Blaye AOC: The Blaye AOC is approved to produce still (non-sparkling) dry red wines only. Blaye AOC may be produced from any of the six “typical” red Bordeaux varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec (known here as “Côt), Petit Verdot, and/or Carmenère. There are, however, some interesting parameters set to the assemblage (blend): at least 50% of the blend must consist of the three principal varieties of the appellation—Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. The other three grapes (Malbec/Côt, Petit Verdot, and Carmenère) may only be found in concentrations of less than 50% (combined).

Photo of vineyards in Blaye by Michael Clarke via Wikimedia Commons

Côtes de Blaye AOC: The Côtes de Blaye AOC produces still (non-sparkling) dry white wines only. This appellation could be considered a loveable misfit of Bordeaux, as the wines are required to be based on Colombard and/or Ugni Blanc. You read that right! As a matter of fact, the wine must be produced using 60% to 90% (combined) Ugni Blanc and/or Colombard. The remainder may consist of Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris, Sémillon, and/or Muscadelle.

Côtes de Bordeaux–Blaye AOC: The Blaye sub-region of the Côtes de Bordeaux AOC produces still (non-sparkling wines) in both dry red and dry white. This appellation was created in 2015 when the late, great Premieres Côtes de Blaye AOC was absorbed by the Côtes de Bordeaux AOC.

The regulations for the red wines are similar to—but not exactly the same—as those for the Blaye AOC. Côtes de Bordeaux–Blaye AOC Rogue must contain a minimum (combined) 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot; Carmenère has a maximum of 10%, and Petit Verdot and Carmenère combined may not exceed 15%.

The white wines of the Côtes de Bordeaux–Blaye AOC somewhat reflect the requirements for standard dry white Bordeaux wines and may contain any combination of Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris, Sémillon, and/or Muscadelle (although it is likely to be heavy on the Sauvignon Blanc). Colombard and Ugni Blanc, while allowed, must be kept to a (combined) maximum of 15%.

The red wines of the Blaye AOC and the Côtes de Bordeaux–Blaye AOC seem awfully similar, so it helps to keep in mind that the Côtes de Bordeaux is considered one of Bordeaux’s over-arching regional appellations, and as such it maintains somewhat looser standards than those required for the other AOCs, as seen in the following examples:

  • Blaye AOC: Minimum potential alcohol: 12%, maximum yield: 48 hl/ha
  • Côtes de Bordeaux–Blaye AOC Rogue: Minimum potential alcohol: 11.5%, maximum yield: 52 hl/ha

Any questions?

References/for more information:

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

Confusion Corner: Tuff, Tufa, Tuffeau

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Tuff, tufa, tuffeau: welcome to confusion corner.

These “three t’s” are all types of stone and/or soil. Two—tuff and tuffeau—are of particular interest to viticulture, while tufa is the odd man out.

Let’s take a closer look:

Tuff: Tuff (pronounced tuhf like the English word tough) is a type of volcanic soil; however, it is sometimes classified as a sedimentary soil—so let’s just say it is formed via both volcanism and sedimentation.

Tuff is created when molten lava blasts out of a volcano, cools and fragments as it floats through the air, and eventually lands in a heap upon the ground. With time, the fragments (including volcanic ash as well as bits of igneous rock) settle, condense, and cement together into a soft, porous stone.

Tuff soils inside the crater of Mount Vesuvius (photo credit: Simona Cerrato via Wikimedia Commons)

Tuff-based soils are found in Napa (Howell Mountain), Lake County (California), Madeira, Hungary (Tokaj), Alto Piemonte (Gattinara, Ghemme), Campania (Mount Vesuvius) and large swaths of Yellowstone Park.

Tuffeau: Tuffeau (pronounced too’-foo) is a local type of limestone found in the Loire Valley. Tuffeau is fine-grained and very low density (about half the density of granite). Tuffeau is formed from the remnants of the sea floor (sediment, fossilized sea creatures, and sand) that covered the Loire Valley over 90 million years ago. Over the millennia, these particles became compressed to form a unique type of limestone due to the presence of foraminifera (creatures with multi-chambered shells), and the (previously) shallow water that stood between 2 and 20 meters deep—other forms of limestone were formed under deeper waters.

The fortified wall at the 8th-centure Château de Loches, showing tuffeau blocks of various ages (photo credit: Valerius Tygart via Wikimedia Commons)

Weathered tuffeau, combined with sand, flint, and clay—as found in the Central Loire regions of Anjou, Saumur, Touraine—is an excellent vineyard soil. Tuffeau is equally famous for being the building blocks of many of the gorgeous castles of the Loire, and may also be known as Turonian Limestone (after the city of Tours).

Tufa: The words “tufa” (pronounced too’-fah) and “tuff” and commonly confused, and that’s ok for people having casual conversations about the ground beneath their feet. However, for geologists and wine geeks, there’s a big difference between the two (and, to make matters worse, tufa and tuffeau have more in common than tuff and tufa). So here goes: tufa is a rare is a rare type of limestone created when calcium carbonate-saturated water releases carbon dioxide and precipitates a soft, caclium-carbonate rock. Tufa is specifically formed in ambient-temperature water.

The best-known examples of tufa (in the fascinating form of tufa towers) can be found at Mono Lake, California. Tufa is not—to the best of my knowledge—a factor in vineyard soils.

Tufa deposits originating from hot springs are known as travertine—and that’s a whole other corner story.

References/for more information:

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

You can’t be First but you can be Nouveau

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Beaujolais Nouveau Day approaches!

That’s right…tomorrow (the third Thursday of November—in this case, November 21, 2019) is Beaujolais Nouveau release day—the day that wine snobs love to hate!

While Beaujolais Nouveau is often talked about, widely belittled, and perhaps seems a bit cliché, there is still a lot to learn (and appreciate) about this once-a-year, fresh-and-fruity, bright-cherry-red, chillable quaffer. As such, I offer five fast obscure facts about Beaujolais Nouveau:

#1—Beaujeu is party central: The Commune of Beaujeu is the place to be. There are over 120 Beaujolais Nouveau release parties held every year in the Beaujolais region. The best of these—Les Sarmentelles de Beaujeu—is a five-day festival held in Beaujeu, the historical capital (and namesake) of the Beaujolais region. The festivities of Les Sarmentelles include a Salon des Vin (Beaujolais wine-tasting extravaganza), induction of a new set of compagnons/compagnonnes into the Beaujolais Guild, an arts and crafts market, a gourmet market, banquets, lunch-time dances, concerts, torch-lit parades, and a tasting trail that takes you to all 12 areas of production. Rumor has it that the festival includes a Beaujolais wine tasting competition where the winner receives their weight in Beaujolais-Villages.

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#2—There’s more than one Gamay:  The famous Gamay Noir grape of Beaujolais fame has a red-fleshed country cousin known as Gamay Teinturier de Bouze. As one would expect from the use of the term “teinturier,” this grape has red juice and flesh (a rarity in the world of red wine grapes). Gamay Teinturier is believed to be either a mutation of Gamay Noir, or perhaps its offspring. Another grape—Gamay Teinturier de Chaudenay—is a mutation of Gamay Teinturier de Bouze;  both versions are allowed for use in the wines of the Beaujolais AOC as long as they are limited to a (combined) maximum of 10% of the final blend.

#3—Beaujolais Blanc need not apply: Beaujolais Nouveau may be the most famous wine of region, but several other styles of Beaujolais are produced as well. The best-of-the-bunch Beaujolais Crus may only be produced as red wines. The required assemblage of all ten Beaujolais Cru is as follows: a minimum of 85% Gamay, with an allowed 15% (combined) of Chardonnay, Aligoté, and/or Melon de Bourgogne. Beaujolais AOC (which includes those wines labeled as “Beaujolais-Villages AOC” as of 2011) may be produced in red or rosé (produced from a minimum of 85% Gamay with an allowed 15% [combined] Aligoté, Chardonnay, Melon de Bourgogne, Pinot Gris, and/or Pinot Noir) as well as white (100% Chardonnay). Only red or rosé wines, released under either the Beaujolais or Beaujolais-Villages AOC may be designed as nouveau—Beaujolais Blanc and Beaujolais Cru do not qualify.

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#4—There’s more than one Nouveau: In addition to Beaujolais, France has a list of about 50 wines that are allowed to be labeled as “Nouveau” and released on the third Thursday of November. These include those from the Anjou AOC, Muscadet AOC, and Mâcon-Villages AOC.

#5—You can’t be first but you can be next Nouveau: The nouveau wines of France are not the first wines of the harvest to be released in Europe. That title, it appears, goes to Italy and its rather long list of red wines—including Vittoria DOC, Rosso Piceno DOC, and Castel del Monte DOC—that are allowed to designated as “Rosso Novello” and released on October 30. Nouveau wine (in the Northern Hemisphere) can loosely be defined as wine that is allowed to be released in the same year in which it was harvested. Several European countries have their own versions of nouveau wine—including Portugal (Novo), Spain (Vendemia Inicial), and Austria (Heurige).

References/for more information:

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

Confusion Corner: The Grecos

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There are at least 7 different grape varieties that go by the name “Greco.” One of those, Greco Bianco, stars in a sweet, copper-colored dessert wine known as “Greco di Bianco DOC.” Another—that we’ll call “just plain Greco”—produces a crisp, clean, dry white wine in the Greco di Tufo DOCG.

And then there are the red Greco varieties—including Greco Nero, Greco Nero di Sibari, and Greco Nero di Verbaicaro—not to be confused with the un-related Grechetto di Orvieto or Grechetto di Todi (aka Pignoletto, not to be confused with Pignolo).

Welcome to confusion corner, where (in this case) the confusion needs no further introduction. In this post, we’ll attempt to unravel the white varieties (and wines) of the Grecos.

First we’ll unravel the white grapes that go by the name Greco:

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Greco: While the name “Greco” certainly seems to imply that this aromatic white grape variety originally hails from Greece—and this has been suggested—however, it is possible that the grape is native to Western/Central Italy. There are several reasons to believe this theory, including the fact that (these days) a majority of the planet’s Greco is grown in Italy’s Campania region. Beyond Campania, Greco is grown in Puglia, Molise, Lazio, and even Tuscany. The Greco grape variety is allowed for use in several DOCs, scattered throughout Central and Southern Italy. These include the Vignanello DOC (Lazio), Vesuvio DOC (Campania), Capri DOC (Campania), Bianco di Pitigliano DC (Tuscany), the Gravina DOC (Puglia), and—most notably, Campania’s Greco di Tufo DOCG (more on Greco di Tufo later).

Wines produced using the Greco grape variety tend to be slightly aromatic, showing scents of citrus, apricot, white peach, fresh herbs, and a decided minerality. The color tends to be deep yellow to gold. The grape is a late-ripener making it ideal for Central Italy’s warm, Mediterranean climate

Noted (and confusing) synonyms for the Greco grape variety include Greco di Tufo, Greco del Vesuvio, Greco di Napoli, Asprinio, and Greco della Torre but NOT Greco Bianco.

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Greco Bianco: According to Jancis Robinson, et al in the book Wine Grapes, despite the constant confusion between the grapes, the Greco Bianco grape variety is NOT linked to, or even closely related to, the Greco variety (as discussed above). Greco Bianco, rather, is identical to (synonymous with) Pecorello Bianco. Both names are used in Calabria, where most Greco Bianco is found. The Greco Bianco grape variety is allowed for use in a smattering of DOC wines, including Melissa DOC, Terre Di Consenza DOC (Calabria), Frascati DOC and Frascati Superiore DOCG (Lazio), and Cirò DOC (Calabria). As Pecorello Bianco, it may be found in the wines of the Savuto DOC and the Donnici DOC (both of Calabria). Greco Bianco is often used in the production of late harvest/dessert wines, but may also be made in to dry wines with fruity, floral, and citrus aromas.

Greco Bianco di Gerace: Also known as Malvasia di Lipari, and often confused with Greco Bianco (even by the experts – so who knows).

Greco Bianco di Novara: Also known as Erbaluce.

Next, the wines:

Campania, Italy—with the town of Tufo highlighted (via Google Maps)

Greco di Tufo DOCG: First things first: Greco di Tufo is both a grape (synonymous with Greco) and an Italian DOCG wine region. Here, we are focusing on the wine. The Greco di Tufo region (located about 35 miles inland from Naples and about the same distance away from Mount Vesuvius) is named after the town of Tufo. The town—Tufo—is itself named after the “tuff” soil of the area, created when volcanic ash falls down and eventually consolidates into a sedimentary rock.

According to regulations, Greco di Tufo DOCG must be comprised of a minimum of 85% Greco, with the remaining 15% allowed to contain Coda di Volpe. Greco di Tufo DOCG is a highly regarded, dry white wine well-appreciated for its crisp acidity and aromas of citrus (lemon, mandarin orange), pears, peaches, almonds, fresh green herbs and distinctive minerality.

Greco di Tufo is one of the four DOCGs located in Campania; the other three are Fiano di Avellino DOCG, Aglianico del Taburno DOCG, and Taurasi DOCG.

Calabria, Italy—with the town of Bianco highlighted (via Google Maps)

Greco di Bianco DOC: Greco di Bianco DOC, located in the hills surrounding the coastal town of Bianco, is a copper-colored dessert wine produced from dried (passito) grapes. The grapes must be so concentrated as to have a potential of 17% abv and the resulting wine must be either amabile o dolce (semi-sweet to sweet, meaning basically a minimum of 1.5% RS and more likely at least 4.5% RS). The grapes must be at least 85% Greco Bianco (as opposed to just plain Greco), with the other 5% loosely defined as “white grapes allowed for production in Calabria.” Greco di Bianco DOC wines tend to be rich, velvety, and luscious with intense aromas of dried citrus peels, lemon curd, roasted almonds, and honey. These wines are typically aged for a minimum of one year; regulations do not allow its release before November 1 of the year following harvest. To recap: the name of the town is Bianco, the name of the grape is Greco Bianco, and the name of the wine is Greco di Bianco.  Any questions?

References/for more information:

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