Wine Geo: The Allier

The Allier Department

There is a lot to love about the Allier: it’s a river…it’s a department…it’s the former Duchy of Bourbonnais!

It’s a department: The Allier is a department (political area similar to a county) situated smack-dab in the center of France, within the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region. Its namesake—the Allier Rive—flows through its center, while the Loire and Cher wind their way to the east and west. The main cites of the Allier Department include Moulins, Vichy, and Montluçon. Much of the Allier department is located on land that once-upon-a-time housed the Duchy of Bourbonnais, and inhabitants are sometimes referred to as Bourbonnais. In addition to over 500 castles, the Allier department is home to forests, ponds, woodlands, pastures, and vineyards. Notable products include Charroux Mustard, Charolais Beef, Tronçais Oak, and wine from the Saint-Pourçain AOC.

It’s a river (a left tributary of the Loire): The Allier River flows north for 262 miles/421 km from its source in the Massif Central to a point about 4 miles/6 km west of the city of Nevers, where it joins the Loire. The point where the Allier joins the Loire is about 26 miles/42 km south of Sancerre.

There are vineyards: The Allier River helps to define several of the wine regions of Central France, with the Saint-Pourçain AOC located right on the Allier River and completely within the Allier Department. The Côtes d’Auvergne AOC—located to the south of Saint-Pourçain in the Puy-de-Dôme Department—is also directly on the river. These two appellations are—quite literally—located very close to the geographic center of France and as such, are sometimes grouped together (with a few others) as the“appellations of Central France.”

For serious wine students only: the other appellations included in the “appellations of Central France” group include the Châteaumeillant, Côte Roannaise, and Côtes du Forez AOCs. Keep in mind that this is an informal grouping and there is no official appellation with a title referring to “Central France.”

There are forests and trees: Oak from the Tronçais Forest (Forêt de Tronçais)—located in the northwest quadrant of the Allier Department—is used to produce some of the most renowned oak barrels in the world. Interestingly, the Tronçais Forest is not part of the primeval (untouched) forest that once covered most of France but was planted in 1670 under the order of Jean Baptiste Colbert—a minister in the court of Louis XIV—to supply the French Navy. These days, the Tronçais Forest is considered one of the principal oak forests of Europe. The forest is largely planted to Sessile Oak (Quercus petraea). The ancient name for Sessile Oak was Tronce, from which the forest derives its name. Other trees in the Tronçais Forest include Scots Pine, Beech, Larch, and Common Oak (Quercus robur).

Sessile Oak trees thrive in high-density plantings, such as those found in the Tronçais Forest. In a high-density forest, the greater competition for water, sunlight, and nutrients causes the trees to grow slowly, with little space between the annual growth rings. This leads to oak (and oak barrels) with a tighter, smoother grain and a lighter transfer of oak-derived flavor to the wine.

References/for more information:

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

Confusion Corner: Sacy

This is undoubtedly one of the more obscure topics ever to be addressed in Confusion Corner, but nevertheless, it sparked my interest!

Sacy: it’s a grape, it’s a place, it’s a Premier Cru Village in Champagne!

Sacy the grape: Sacy is a rather nondescript white variety, believed to be one of the many offspring of Pinot X Gouis Blanc. It is a high-yield grape known for making lightly flavored, crisply acidic wines with aromas of white flowers, green apples, and yellow pears. Sacy is cultivated mainly in central and northern France—particularly in the Yonne and the surrounding areas between Burgundy and Paris. Plantings of Sacy have declined rather steadily since the 1950’s; while at one time there were close to 700 hectares/1,730 acres planted in France, these days the number is closer to 71 hectares/176 acres.

Sacy-the-grape is allowed to be used in just three of France’s 400-plus AOC wines: Crémant de Bourgogne, Coteaux Bourguignons, and Saint-Pourçain. It is, however, allowed in several of France’s PGI/Vin de Pays appellations, including the Vin de Pays de l’Ardèche, the Vin de Pays du Val de Loire, and the Vin de Pays des Comtés Rhodaniens.

In the Crémant de Bourgogne AOC, Sacy is allowed to be used in just about any amount, provided that at least 30% of the base wine is comprised of Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Noir (in any combination). In the Saint-Pourçain AOC, Sacy is required to comprise at least 20%—but no more than 40%—of the blend, which is dominated (50% to 80%) by Chardonnay.

Sacy can be used without limits in the Coteaux Bourguignons AOC, provided the vines were planted prior to July 31, 2009. One must—however—dig pretty deep in order to find out how Sacy is allowed to be used in the wines of the Coteaux Bourguignons AOC. This factoid is not listed in the “approved varieties” at the top of the appellation’s list of rules and regulations (the Cahier des Charges); but is rather tucked into the fine print of the document (specifically, in Article XI—Measures Transitoires). Domaine Gueguen, located in Chablis, is one of the few wineries to produce a 100% Sacy bottled under the Coteaux Bourguignons AOC.

For some reason, Sacy appears to have taken its name from a village in Champagne. The grape goes by several other names as well, including Aligoté Vert, Plant de Sacy, and Tressallier. Tressallier—a term derived from beyond the Allier—is the name used in the Saint-Pourçain AOC, which just happens to be located to the west of the Allier River.

Sacy the place: Sacy is a small town/commune/village (population: 375) located about an hour-and-a-half drive (heading east/northeast) from Paris. The best place to stay in town (imho) is the beautiful Château de Sacy—built in the mid-1850’s by Pierre Louis Gosset (one of the area’s most famous architects) and proudly standing as one of the few remaining residences built before WWI.

When you are in Sacy-the-small-town, you are smack-dab in the middle of the Champagne District—it is less than a 20-minute drive to Reims—so your obvious choice of activities will involve vineyard-wandering and touring wine estates. Champagne producers located in Sacy include Champagne Wafflart Briet, Blin-Dezautez Gérard, Damien Dumez, and Champagne Duménil. These can all easily be reached from the Château de Sacy (and each other) via taxi—or, if you are feeling fit, you could walk (round-trip, the loop is only about 2.6 km/1.6 miles).

Map of Sacy via Bing Maps

Sacy the Premier Cru Village in Champagne: Sacy (the small town/village) has the honor of being one of the 40-plus Premier Cru villages in Champagne, and one of 25 located in the Montagne de Reims. Sacy is surrounded on three sides by other Premier Cru Villages: Ville-Dommange to the north, Écueil to the south, and Bezannes to the west.

Keep in mind that—however disjointed it may seem…Sacy-the-grape is not allowed to be used in the wines of the Champagne-Sacy Premier Cru AOC (or any other wines of the Champagne District).

Other Sacys: The term “Sacy” is used in other contexts as well. It shows up in the name of a well-regarded Champagne Estate—Louis De Sacy Champagne—located in the town of Verzy (about 19 km/12 miles from Sacy). It may also refer to Antoine Issac Silvestre de Sacy (a French scholar and nobleman, 1758-1838); a Brazilian soccer player (full name: Gustavo Rossi); or as an acronym for “School Age Children and Youth.” Go Sacy!

References/for more information:

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

Five Fast Facts about the Anderson Valley AVA

Photo via the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association

The Anderson Valley—located in California’s Mendocino County—was established as an American Viticultural Area (AVA) in 1983. This was back when there were only about 30 regions so designated in the United States, as compared to the 250-plus AVAs that exist now.

Here are five fast facts about this tiny but fascinating stretch of California wine country.

The valley and the vines: The Anderson Valley AVA stretches for just over 15 miles/24 km along a narrow valley formed by Anderson Creek and the Navarro River. From north-to-south, it measures about one mile/1.6 km wide. As such, it forms a neat rectangle (with a bit of fluff on the western edge) tucked between the Mendocino Ridge AVA to the south and the Yorkville Highlands AVA to the southeast. The Anderson Valley AVA is one of the sub-regions of the larger Mendocino AVA.

The Anderson Valley AVA covers a total of 57,600 acres/23,310 ha; of these, 2,457 acres/994 ha are under vine. There are currently just over 90 commercial vineyards and 30 bonded wineries within its boundaries. Many wineries located nearby in Napa and Sonoma Counties produce wine using Anderson Valley fruit.

Base map via USGS:

Rivers, ridges, and rolling hills: In the Anderson Valley, the relatively flat (and fertile) valley floor occupies a fairly narrow path through the region. Beyond the valley, the area consists of rolling hills—interspersed with forests of Douglas Fir, California Laurel, and California Redwood Trees—and mountain ridges (topping out at about 2,500 feet/762 m above sea level) outlining the California Coast Range. The mountains and hills form a series of south-facing slopes, many of which are considered prime spots for viticulture.

No doubt about it, it’s a cool climate: The western edge of the Anderson Valley AVA—known to locals as the deep end—is located a mere 10 miles/16 km from the Pacific coast. From here, the low-lying, narrow valley is perfectly poised to capture the cool ocean breezes and funnel the early morning fog inland and upriver. Rain is often plentiful, although it can vary from year to year. The entire area can experience a diurnal temperature fluctuation of more than 50°F, and while daytime temperatures do sometimes reach as high as 100°F (38 °C) for a few days in the summertime, the average temperature for a given year is typically 53°F (12°C). As such, the Anderson Valley is one of the coolest of the cool-climate wine regions of California.

Map via the TTB AVA Explorer

Pinot Noir rules: According to a vineyards census published by the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association (AVWA), as of 2018 nearly 69% of the vineyards in the region are planted to Pinot Noir. The second most widely planted grape—at 21%—is Chardonnay, much of which makes its way into the area’s sparkling wines. Other leading grapes include Gewürztraminer (4%), Merlot (3%, mostly grown in the eastern, warmer part of the region), Pinot Gris (2%), and Riesling (1%).

Pinot Noir arrived in the region in 1971, when Husch Vineyards planted 2.5 acres of the heartbreak grape in a small hilltop vineyard now known as “the Knoll.” Other estates—including Navarro Vineyards, Lazy Creek Vineyards, and Greenwood Ridge Vineyards soon followed suit. Plantings of Pinot Noir have increased more than five-fold since the mid-1990s as the undeniable affinity between the terroir of the Anderson Valley and Pinot Noir was affirmed.

Anderson Valley Pinot Noir is known for its vibrant acidity and elegance as well as aromas and flavors of red and black fruit (raspberry, black cherry, cranberry, plum) backed up by herbal, savory, earthy, and floral notes. Leading producers of Anderson Valley Pinot Noir located within the AVA include Navarro Vineyards, Baxter Winery, and Domaine Anderson. Wineries located outside of the valley—including Williams Selyem, Littorai, Cakebread, Siduri, and Goldeneye (the Pinot Noir- focused offshoot of the Duckhorn Portfolio)—are also producing outstanding Pinot Noir using Anderson Valley fruit.

Specialists in sparkling wine: The Anderson Valley’s first sparkling wine—produced by Scharffenberger Cellars—was released in 1981. Handley Cellars (1983) and Navarro Vineyards (1988) soon followed with sparklers of their own. However, with the 1982 arrival of Roederer Estate—the California outpost of the Champagne Louis Roederer—and the 1988 release of Roederer Estate MV Brut Cuvée, the region’s reputation as a world-class producer of traditional method sparkling wines was sealed.

References/for more information:

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

Wine Geo: the Navarro River

Base map via USGS:

The Navarro River flows for just a short distance—about 28 miles/45 km in total—across Mendocino County. The beginning point, located in the foothills of California’s Coast Range, about one mile south of the town of Philo, is defined as the point where two creeks—Anderson Creek and Rancheria Creek—join to form the main stem of the Navarro River.

On its short journey to the Pacific Ocean, the Navarro River winds its way through the Anderson Valley, named by Walter Anderson, who settled near (what is now) the town of Boonville with his family in 1851. The Anderson Valley is a rich, cool-climate agricultural valley planted to vineyards—featuring Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, and Riesling—as well as over thirty bonded wineries. The Anderson Valley is also home to apple orchards, cideries, dairy farms, grazing land for sheep and goats, and breweries. California State Highway 128 cuts through the Anderson Valley—never too far from the river itself—from the town of Philo all the way to the river’s mouth at the Pacific Ocean.

Photo of Redwood Trees in the Navarro River Redwoods State Park by David Eppstein, via Wikimedia Commons

Just a few miles from its source, the Navarro River flows through Hendy Woods State Park. In this small area—tucked between vineyards, tasting rooms, and farms—you will find two small groves of old-growth coast redwoods. Named Big Hendy (covering 80 acres) and Little Hendy (covering 20 acres), and thanks to Joshua Hendy—a previous owner who stipulated that the property must always be protected from logging—these areas are known to contain some trees that are over 300 feet (91 m) tall and are estimated to be 1,000 years old.

If you continue your trek along the river, soon you will drive past the town of Navarro and leave the rolling fields of agriculture behind. At this point you will have entered the Navarro River Redwoods State Park. Here, you will be whisked into a narrow, 11-mile stretch of redwood forests known as the “Redwood Tunnel.”  Here, you can enjoy hiking, picnicking, swimming, kayaking, and canoeing (and even camping if you are so inclined).

Once you travel though the Redwood Tunnel you are just two miles from the coast. As you meet the Pacific Ocean, you have reached the end of Highway 128. At this point, if you are in the mood for a road trip, you’ve come to the right place—the end point of Highway 128 runs intersects with California Highway 1—portions of which are known as the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH)—and which can carry you across the Golden Gate Bridge, through Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, and all the way to Dana Point in Orange County.

Base map via the USGS

Prior to the arrival of European Settlers, the area around the Navarro River was inhabited by the Pomo people, who occupied nineteen known village sites. The Pomo people had a estimated population of 600 in 1855. European settlement in the area began in 1851; Walter Anderson (and family) as well as his two step-brothers, Issac and Henry Beeson, were among the first wave.

Wine students will no doubt know that the Navarro River flows through the Anderson Valley AVA—famous for cool-climate Pinot Noir and world class sparkling wine. Click here for a closer look at the Anderson Valley AVA and the vineyards planted in the watershed of the Navarro River.

References/for more information:

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

It’s Baffling…Bonarda (and Friends)

Bonarda is baffling. One grape—Bonarda Piemontese—may be considered the Original Bonarda or the True Bonarda…and yet there are quite a few other distinctly different grapes that (at least sometimes) go by the same name. These include Croatina, Douce Noir, and Uva Rara. Let’s take a closer look and try to unravel the mystery of Bonarda.

Bonarda Piemontese: Native to Italy’s Piedmont region, Bonarda Piemontese has been linked with the area around Turin since the 1790s. This heritage suggests that Bonarda Piemontese is the Original Bonarda and most likely the first grape to use the moniker.

Bonarda Piemontese is very sparsely planted—the latest statistics count just 540 acres/218 ha planted in Piedmont. The grape—typically used in red blends—is specifically mentioned and allowed for use in a few of the appellations of northwest Piedmont, including Colli Tortonesi DOC and Pinerolese DOC. (Several other Piedmont appellations allow for the use of Bonarda; but the regulations are unclear as to which specific version of Bonarda is intended.)

According to the Vitis International Variety Catalogue (VIVC), Bonarda Piemontese has up to 14 synonyms; of these, the ones that make the most sense include Bonarda di Asti, Bonarda di Chieri, and Bonarda Nero. In red blends, it is appreciated for its color, freshness, and ability to add a bit of softness to a wine otherwise full of edgy (often Nebbiolo-derived) tannin. If you ever happen to stumble across a varietal Bonarda Piemontese, you could expect to find a smooth, soft-tasting wine with floral aromas and fresh, fruity flavors.

Croatina (Bonarda Rovescala): Croatina is a dark-skinned red grape believed to be native to the Oltrepò Pavese area of Lombardy. It is here—in this area named after the town of Pavia across the Po—that the Croatina grape is often referred to as Bonarda Rovescala (after the tiny town of Rovescala), or simply Bonarda.

The name Croatina means Croatian Girl, and for many years it was assumed that the grape was native to the Primorska Hrvatska (Coastal Region) of Croatia. While it would have been a short trip indeed from Croatia to Northern Italy, it is now considered doubtful that the grape originated in Croatia.

What is known is that there are currently close to 8,100 acres/3,300 ha of Croatina grown throughout Northern Italy, where it is known to produce richly hued (purple/blue), mildly tannic wines with aromas of red cherry, blackberry, raspberry, and sweet spices.

Croatina is allowed for use in more than a dozen AOCs across Piedmont, Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna, and Veneto. These include Oltrepò Pavese DOC, Colli Tortonesi DOC, and Colline Novaresi DOC (among others). It is also used in the Bonarda dell’Oltrepò Pavese DOC, which is required to contain a minimum of 85% Croatina.

Douce Noire (Bonarda Argentina): Douce Noire is a minor French grape, believed to be native to the Savoie Region and still planted in small amounts in this mountainous area of eastern France. In other parts of France, it is more commonly referred to as Corbeau (meaning crow, and likely referring to its dark black color).

Douce Noire is also planted—under the name Charbono—in some parts of California, particularly in Napa where it was once a specialty of the Inglenook Winery. It is believed that the grape was originally brought to California by Italian immigrants who may have introduced it as Charbonneau (a name once used in eastern France).

It is, however, Argentina where Douce Noire really shines; at last count there were over 46,000 acres/19,000 ha of Douce Noire planted in Argentina—mainly in Mendoza and San Juan. In Argentina— where it is known as (you guessed it) Bonarda—Douce Noire is used to produce red blends and fruity, easy-to-drink reds and rosés typically available at a good (value) price. It is unclear how the name Bonarda came to be used in Argentina, but it is likely that when it first arrived, the grape was thought to be of Italian origin. It has been suggested that the grape be referred to as Bonarda Argentina to avoid (further) confusion.

Uva Rara (Bonarda Novarese): Uva Rara is thought to be native to northern Italy (Piedmont and Lombardy), where it currently accounts for 1,500 acres/600 ha of vines. The name translates to rare grape and is believed to refer to the small number of grapes in each bunch rather than rarity in use.

Uva Rara is typically used in red wine blends; it can soften the tannic edge of Nebbiolo and add color and depth to wines based on Barbera or Croatina. You may find a splash of Uva Rara in the wines of the Ghemme DOCG, Gattinara DOCG, Lessona DOC, or Oltrepò Pavese DOC (among others). In addition, it is allowed for use as a varietal wine in the Colline Novaresi DOC

While you are on the lookout of these wines, be alert…you may experience a sighting of Bonarda. If you’ve read this far, you should be not at all surprised to learn that in these parts, Uva Rara is sometimes referred to as Bonarda; specifically, Bonarda Novarese.

TL/DR: Croatina, Douce Noir, and Uva Rara are sometimes referred to as Bonarda; however, they are all distinct grape varieties and not identical to nor related to Bonarda Piemontese.

References/for more information:

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

Confusion Corner: Ciron, Cérons, Créon


Welcome to Confusion Corner, where we take on the befuddlements that lurk around the world of wine and spirits. Here’s a good one—Ciron, Cérons, and Créon: what are they, what do they mean, and why should we care?

To put it briefly, we are talking about a river, an appellation, and a town…all located within a few miles of one another in the southwestern reaches of Bordeaux. Let’s take a closer look!

Ciron—the River: The Ciron river arises at the edge of the Landes Plateau—close to the town of Lubbon—at an elevation of about 500 feet/152 m. From its source, the Ciron flows mainly north/northwest for 60 miles/97 km—across the vineyards of the Sauternes and Barsac AOCs—until it joins the Garonne River near the town of Langon.


For most of its course, the river flows through a deeply forested, humid area and the tall trees lining its banks keep the waters of the Ciron cool—even in the summer.

The mingling of the cool waters of the Ciron with the warm waters of the Garonne creates the region’s famous morning mists. This fog meanders into the areas surrounding the two rivers, enveloping entire vineyards and becoming trapped in the lower-lying spots. This mist helps to create the ideal microclimate for the development of Botrytis cinerea—the “noble rot” that helps to concentrate the area’s grapes into the super-sweet, highly flavorful fruit used in the famous dessert wines of the area.

Cérons—the Appellation: The Cérons AOC—located along the Garonne River just to the north of Barsac—is approved for the production of sweet white wines. The wine is typically based on Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc grapes, although Sauvignon Gris and Muscadelle are allowed. The wine’s inherent sweetness (4.5% residual sugar minimum) is derived from the grapes themselves due to the mist-enhanced presence of botrytis and/or passerillage (allowing the grapes to over-ripen and partially dry out on the vine).

The Cérons appellation is named for the Ciron River—source of the botrytis-inducing mists of the region. The Ciron used to flow alongside the region’s southern border—however, over the centuries, the Ciron changed its course to the point that these days, the river flows to the south of Barsac.

The wines of the Cérons AOC tend to be lighter in flavor intensity—and perhaps less sweet—as compared to those of the adjacent Barsac and Sauternes AOCs. This is due—in part—to the specifics of the local terroir. The Cérons AOC is rather flat, meaning there are fewer low-lying areas to trap the mists rising off the river. In addition, the soils of Cérons are heavier in clay (with less gravel) than the areas to the south; this keeps the soil temperatures a bit higher and more stable, which speeds the dissipation of the morning fog.

Photo of the Eglise Notre-Dame de Créon by Ophelia2 via Wikimedia Commons

Créon—the Town: Créon is a small town (technically, a commune) located within the Entre-Deux-Mers AOC, just a few miles away from where the Ciron joins the Garonne. The commune is currently home to about 5,000 people as well as several wine producing estates and vineyards, including Château Baudac and Vignobles Quinney. After a few samples of the local white wine, visitors might want to check out the Eglise Notre-Dame de Créon—originally built in the 15th century and an official Monument Historique (national heritage site) of the Republic of France.

References/for more information:

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

Five Fast Facts about the Minho River


The Minho River (known in Spain as the Miño, but widely recognized by the Portuguese name Minho) flows south/southwest across Galicia before twisting to the west and defining a portion of the border between Spain and Portugal. At 210 miles/340 km long, the Minho is the longest river in Galicia and the fourth longest on the Iberian Peninsula (following the Douro, Ebro, and Tagus).

The river helps to define several of Galicia’s wine regions as well as Portugal’s Vinho Verde DOC and is, therefore, particularly well-known to students of wine. Read on to discover five fast facts about the Minho!

#1: Pedregal de Irimia—a spot located a few miles (kilometers) east of the tiny town of Meira—is considered to the source of the Minho River. The spot—positioned within the Serra do Meira/Cantabrian Mountains—is very close to the area where the northern edge of the Galician Massif meets the eastern edge of the Cantabrian Mountains. Pedregal de Irimia sits at an elevation of about 2,400 feet/732 km above sea level. The ancient walled city of Lugo—often cited as the river’s source—is located about 45 miles/73 kilometers downriver from Pedregal de Irimia.

Map of the Minho River attributed to Norman Einstein via Wikimedia Commons

#2: About 17 miles/28 km south of the city of Lugo, the Minho River enters into—and slices through—the Ribeira Sacra DO. Here, the river Sil—once-upon-a-time a rich source of alluvial gold—flows into the Minho. The Sil flows southwest from León (Castilla y León) for about 140 miles/225 km until it joins the Minho in the Galician province of Ourense.

The Ribeira Sacra DO—whose name translates as Sacred Shore, most likely referencing the many churches and monasteries in the region—is known for reds and rosés based on the Mencía grape variety as well as white wines based on Godello. A rather long list of other varieties (including Garnacha Tinta, Albariño, Godello, Treixadura, Loureira, and Torrontés) are also allowed for use in the wines of the Ribeira Sacra DO.

#3: Just a few miles/kilometers after exiting Ribeira Sacra, the Minho flows into the Ribeiro DO. While this DO makes a small amount of Mencía-based red and rosé, white wines are the focus here and make up to 85% of the total production. The leading white grape varieties of the Ribeiro DO—used to create the crisp, fruity, and flavorful wines of the region—include Treixadura, Torrontés, Godello, Loureira, and Albariño.

#4: Passing through the eastern edge of the Ribeiro DO, the Minho River flows past the town of Cortegada and carves out the southern boundary of the Condado de Tea and O Rosal sub-regions of the Rías Baixas DO. These regions—characterized by terraced vineyards overlooking the banks of the river—are deservedly famous for their crisp, dry, fruity-and-floral white wines based on Albariño.

Wine Map of Galicia

#5: On its journey from to the Atlantic Ocean, the Minho River forms part of the border between Spain and Portugal. This part of the river’s journey begins just to the north of the town of Cevide—the northernmost spot in Portugal—and continues westward for about 50 miles/80 km to the sea. Here, the river defines the northern edge of Portugal’s Minho Vino Regional (regional/IGP) wine appellation as well as the Vinho Verde DOC. The Minho/Vinho Verde area is huge, extending as far south as the Douro River and halfway into the interior of the country. This is a lush, fertile area with a good deal of crops, fields, and agriculture of all kinds. Grapevines in the Minho are often trained up high pergolas—or even up and over trees, telephone poles, and fences. This practice makes excellent use of the available land and helps to protect the vines from the possibly harmful effects of the high humidity experienced throughout much of the region.

Vinho Verde is famous all over the world as an inexpensive, easy-drinking, widely accessible wine. While the name translates to green wine, the reference is to the wine’s flavor profile—the wine is meant to be consumed young, white it retains its crisp, fruity, and thirst-quenching style—and not its color (which can actually be red, white, or pink).

The Minho River reaches its final destination—the Atlantic Ocean—between the Spanish town of A Guarda and Portugal’s Caminha. This is the river’s widest point—it measures as much as mile/2 km across and at this stage is considered an estuary, complete with low-tide sand bars visible from either shore.

References/for more information:

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

(French) Wine from a Tropical Island: La Réunion


La Réunion (Reunion Island)—one of the five Départements d’Outre-Mer (Overseas Departments) of France—is located about 340 miles/550 km east of Madagascar and surrounded by the Indian Ocean. Considering its tropical-island vibe (as well as its position at 21°S latitude), it is easy to understand the fame of its locally-produced rum—which has been protected as a geographical indication—Rhum de la Réunion IGP—since 1989.

What is a bit more surprising is Vin de Cilaos—an esteemed wine produced from island-grown noble grape varieties such as Chenin Blanc, Pinot Noir, and Malbec.  Cilaos—located somewhat in the center of the island and home to 6,000 people—is one of the larger villages on La Réunion.

Vin de Cilaos can truthfully call itself a mountain wine, a high-elevation wine, and a volcanic wine. The village and its vineyards are situated in a volcanic caldera (crater) known as the Cirque de Cilaos at an elevation of 1,200 meters/3,940 feet above sea level.

Not surprisingly, Vin de Cilaos is—along with the wines from the Tahitian vineyards—one of the only French wines produced in the Southern Hemisphere. Vinifera grapes are believed to have been brought to the island in the year 1655, but most were wiped out by Phylloxera. In 1992, the Chai de Cilaos Cooperative was founded and planted over 6,000 vinifera vines—including Chenin Blanc, Pinot Noir, and Malbec—in the region. The first wine produced by the cooperative (in 1996) was a dry Chenin Blanc. Since then, other wines—including a red blend of Pinot Noir and Malbec—have followed suit. Alas, these wines are made in highly limited quantities, so if you want to try Vin de Cilaos…you’ll need to visit the island (not such a bad idea).

In addition to its fame as (French) wine-producing region, Cirque de Cilaos is a thermal spa retreat area renowned for its lentils, wildflowers, naturally sparkling water, hiking trails, and meticulous white linen embroidery—as carried on by the Maison de la Broderie de Cilaos (Cilaos Embroidery House).

Cirque de Cilaos

Grapes are grown in other parts of La Réunion as well, and a light red wine produced from Isabella grapes (a Vitis labrusca variety) is enjoyed locally. The Isabella grape variety was once-upon-a-time banned from the island, as it was believed that the wine—known as vin qui rend fou (‘wine that sends you mad’) drove people crazy. The ban was lifted in 2004.

Note: Wines from Cilaos were sometimes labeled as “Vin de Pays de Cilaos” up until 2009, when the EU disallowed the use of the title. The wines of Cilaos have never been awarded a French geographical indication, although there are rumors that an application is in process.

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

References/for more information:

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

Getting to Know Grolleau

You have  probably already met Grolleau, but you just don’t know it yet.

The Grolleau grape variety—more precisely known as Grolleau Noir, to differentiate it from its siblings/color mutations Grolleau Blanc and Grolleau Gris—is the third most widely planted red grape variety in France’s Loire Valley (after Cabernet Franc and Gamay). It has most likely made its way into your glass via a snappy rosé or creamy sparkling wine (either white or rosé) produced somewhere around Anjou, Saumur, or Touraine.

Grolleau—believed to one of the many descendants of Gouais Blanc—was first recognized as “Grolleau de Cinq-Mars” (in reference to the Central Loire Valley town of Cinq-Mars-le-Pile) in the early 1800s. It is also known to have been cultivated in the Charente Department of Southwest France around this same time, but it is assumed to be native to the Loire. The name may derive from the Old French grolle—meaning black crow—referencing the dark skin of the grapes.

Grolleau is appreciated for its reliable high yield, but this rampant fertility can pose a challenge. If left unchecked, the plant can produce huge crops of uninspiring grapes somewhat lacking in flavor and tannin—despite the lovely dark-skinned appearance of the grapes. Due to this tendency—coupled with the variety’s susceptibility to certain vine diseases—plantings of Grolleau have been declining over the last fifty years. In the 1950s, there were over 28,000 acres/11,000 ha of Grolleau planted in the Loire Valley; as of the last decade, there are just over 5,800 acres/2,350 ha (although the decline seems to have stabilized).

Nevertheless, Grolleau is widely used in the sparkling wines of the Loire Valley and persists as one of the leading grapes of region’s rosé. It is often the majority grape in the much beloved and slightly sweet wines of the Rosé d’Anjou AOC. Alas…this could be because Rosé d’Anjou is one of the few AOC wines of the region—and even the country—that allows for its use.

Grolleau-based wines tend to be high in acid, moderate in alcohol, and may show aromas/flavors of red fruit (strawberry, raspberry, cherry),  watermelon, citrus (lemon, tangerine), rose petals, and (some say) red candy.

Despite its dark reddish-black hue, the grape’s thin skins mean that Grolleau is rarely used to produce red wines. If you find one, it is likely to be labeled under an IGP—such as the Vin de Pays du Val de Loire— or a Vin de France designation. It might also be produced via carbonic maceration. (Fun fact: Grolleau is only allowed to be used in the red wines of ONE single AOC—the Anjou AOC—and even here it is limited to no more than 10% of the total blend.)

In the world of wine, one can always find the exception to the rule—and despite its penchant for bubbles and rosé, there are some serious red wines produced with Grolleau. Domaine Clau de Nel—located in Anjou—cultivates two hectares (about five acres) of 60-to-90-year-old Grolleau vines trained in gnarly, gobelet style and farmed biodynamically (Demeter Certification and all). The grapes are hand harvested, sorted in the field, and fermented with native yeasts. The resulting wine is placed in used French oak barrels and aged for at least 12 months in “ancient troglodyte cellars cut into the limestone hillside on the property.” The wine is then bottled—unfined and unfiltered. Jancis Robinson described this wine as having a “mid garnet color, a certain wildness on the nose” and as “possibly the most serious Grolleau I have ever tasted.”

Loire Valley AOCs that allow for Grolleau include the following:

  • Anjou AOC (allowed in sparkling wines; red wines may include a max. 10% Grolleau)
  • Coteaux du Loir AOC (allowed in rosé only, limited to a max of 30%)
  • Crémant de Loire AOC (no limits, but this is a bubbly-only appellation)
  • Rosé d’Anjou AOC (Grolleau is typically the majority grape, but Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Gamay, and Pineau d’Aunis/Chenin Noir are allowed as well)
  • Touraine AOC (allowed in sparkling wines and rosé only)
  • Saumur AOC (allowed in sparkling wines and rosé only)

References/for more information:

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

Confusion Corner: Sercial, Cerceal, Cercial

Let’s face it. If you are reading about wine (specifically Spanish or Portuguese wine), and you encounter the term “Cerceal,” you are likely to assume it refers to an alternative spelling of the “Sercial” grape (best known as the leading grape of the driest styles of Madeira). At least…that is what I did, until I knew better.

As it turns out, they are two different varieties, although both white and both native to Portugal. And there’s more…another grape (unrelated) likes to go by the name “Cercial” (note the minor spelling difference). These grapes rightfully deserve their place in the Confusion Corner. Let’s see if we can clear this up…

Sercial: The Sercial grape variety is well-known as one of the leading grape varieties of the Madeira DOC. It is believed to be native to the Bucelas area (near Lisbon), where it was traditionally known as Esgana Cão—or dog strangler—based (one hopes) on its outrageously high levels of acidity.

It is believed that Esgana Cão was brought from the mainland to the island of Madeira, where the name Sercial caught on. Despite the fact that the grape’s claim to fame is based on its use in Madeira, the island region accounts for only 20 hectares/49 acres of the Sercial vineyards. The Portuguese mainland boasts about 70 hectares/173 acres of Sercial; much of it grown in the Douro where it is used in both White Port and dry (non-fortified) wines.

Sercial is not often found as a (non-fortified) varietal wine; but is typically used in blends. It is a late-ripening grape that has a yellow/green color when young, but ripens to a deep, golden hue. Sercial has an amazing ability to retain its acidity throughout its long growing season. The grape’s vibrant acidity is coupled with intense aromatics—including yellow fruit, white flowers, and a hint of almond—as well as an ability to age gracefully.

Sercial is not widely grown outside of Portugal. However, the amazing estate of Mas de Daumas Gassac (in France’s Languedoc) has a small plot (0.5 hectares/1.25 acres) of Sercial. In some years, the Sercial is used in the estate’s unique dry white wines; in others it is blended with Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains to produce a well-aged and well-oxidized dessert wine (vin de liqueur) known as Vin de Laurence and bottled under the Vin de France designation.

Also known as: in the Azores (Açores), Sercial is known as Arinto dos Açores. In the Minho, it is known as Esganoso. Esgana and Esgana Cão are also listed as synonyms in the Vitis International Variety Catalogue (VIVC).

Cerceal/Cerceal Branco: Cerceal Branco is believed to be a natural cross of Malvasia Fina (white) X Tinta Pereira (red)—this, according to the VIVC. However, other references cite it as a possible cross of Malvasia Fina X Sercial.

Cerceal Branco is a late-ripening, thick-skinned variety known to produce age-worthy wines with lively acidity. These wines are known for a subtle fruit character (focusing on citrus/grapefruit, lemon, and lime) while showing a good deal of savory character (what many people refer to as “earthy” or “mineral”). 

There are approximately 113 hectares/279 acres of Cerceal Branco in Portugal. A good majority of it is grown in the Douro, as well as the Dão. Smaller amounts are grown in the Bairrada, Tejo, and Alentejo DOCs. It is often used in white wine blends, including some sparkling wines. Typical blending partners include Bical and Encruzado (both native Portuguese white varieties). It may also be seen as a varietal wine; Quinta dos Roques produces a lively example (full of gorgeous fruit and mineral aromas) in the Dão DOC.

Also known as: Cercial (in Bairrada) or Cercial do Douro.

Cercial: Cercial is a totally different grape; believed to be related to one of Portugal’s most prolific red grapes: Castelão. Cercial is native to the Colares region, where it is known as Jampal. Cercial/Jampal is an allowed variety in more than a dozen Portuguese DOCs, and is grown in and around the regions of Colares, Lisboa, Beiras, and Tejo. The grape is known to produce high-qualty, aromatic white wines redolent of fruit and flowers. Despite its promise, there are currently just 106 hectares/262 acres of Cercial/Jampal in Portugal.

Wait, there’s one more—Sercialinho: Just to keep things interesting: Sercial, Cerceal, or Cercial should NOT be confused with Sercialinho. Sercialinho is a Vital X Alvarinho cross created in the Bairrada Region sometime in the 1950s. It is believed that there are about 9 hectares/22 acres of Sercialinho in Portugal, most of it planted in the Bairrada.

Sercialinho is reported to have high levels of acidity, potentially very high sugar, and aromas of green apple, pear, and honey—and some have even compared it to Riesling. Alas, it seems to lack complexity…but who knows what the future may hold for Sercialinho?

References/for more information:

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