The Outer Limits: The Coteaux du Lyonnais AOC

Beware the style creep

To the south of Beaujolais, and to the north of the Rhône Valley, there’s a wine region. This region hugs the Saône and Rhône Rivers, and extends westward from the city of Lyon into the slopes of the Monts du Lyonnais.

This area, known as the Coteaux du Lyonnais, has been an AOC since 1984, and yet…it’s kind of on its own. The small AOC is not part of the larger Bourgogne AOC (located on its northern edge), nor part of any  of the Rhône Valley AOCs located just to the south. It is quite simply the Coteaux du Lyonnais AOC.

Seeing as the region is located just a stone’s throw away from Beaujolais, it makes sense that the wines of the Coteaux du Lyonnais are similar in style to those of Beaujolais. However, there does not seem to be any “style creep” northward from the also close-by Côte Rôtie. So be it.

The wines of the Coteaux du Lyonnais AOC include red, white, and rosé, all produced in a typical (dry, non-sparkling) style and as nouveau wines, which are allowed to be released on the third Thursday of November.

White wines are produced using Chardonnay, Aligoté, and/or Pinot Blanc, with Chardonnay being the dominant variety. The website of the Coteaux du Lyonnais AOC describes the Chardonnay of the region as producing wines that are rich and complex, with floral aromas and flavors of citrus and tropical fruit, while the Aligoté makes for a wine with citrus and mineral notes. Pinot Blanc, planted in about 30% of the vineyards, might be used in small amounts as a blending partner with either grape.

The Gamay grape is the only red grape allowed in the appellation—although the cahier des charges mentions that the Gamay de Bouze and Gamay de Chaudenay varieties (which are either mutations of or descendants of true Gamay, depending on who you ask) are limited in use to a combined maximum of 10% of the blend. The website of the Coteaux du Lyonnais AOC describes its red wines in this way, “the semi-carbonic vinification expresses its aroma through characteristic notes of red fruits, blackcurrant, strawberry, raspberry with spices, and licorice spikes.”

The Coteaux du Lyonnais AOC might not sound too terribly interesting to the world-weary wine student, and you might not feel immediately inspired to book a trip. But don’t forget that a little day trip out to the vineyards might be just the fresh-air jaunt you need in the middle of a vacation to Lyon, one of the most swoon-worthy of food-and-wine destinations. Lyon has been called “the gastronomic capital of the world,” and it couldn’t hurt to get some exercise, perhaps a little walk in the vineyards, between your late lunch at Bouchon Thomas (where they serve the “les grands classiques of Lyon with a twist of the Ardèche”) and your 9:00 dinner reservation at Paul Bocuse (three Michelin stars).

References/for more information:

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

Chasing Chasselas

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All of the grape varieties in France are chasing Chasselas—or ahead of Chasselas, or running side-by-side with Chasselas.

And you thought Chasselas was just an insignificant little grape that only Switzerland cares about. Think again.

Late last night while I was studying the Bordeaux Wine Guide published by the CIVB (Counseil Interprofessional du Vin de Bordeaux) I saw it right there on page 43: “In France the main families of grapes are defined (by typical time of ripening) according to the usual maturity date of Chasselas (the reference variety).”

I had to read it twice and call four of my wine friends to see if they had ever heard of Chasselas being France’s reference variety. No one had. As such, I did a bit of research.

The quick version is: it’s true.

Back in the 1800s, a French ampelographer named Victor Pulliat (1827-1896) created a classification of grape varieties—The Pulliat Classification—based on their typical ripening date in relation to the Chasselas Doré grape variety

The Pulliat Classification breaks down as follows:

  • Early-ripening grape varieties:  Ripen from eight to ten days ahead of Chasselas Doré
  • First-period grape varieties: Ripen at about the same time as Chasselas Doré
  • Second-period grape varieties: Ripen from 12 to 15 days after Chasselas Doré
  • Third-period grape varieties: Ripen from 16 to 30 days after Chasselas Doré
  • Late-ripening grapes: Typically ripen more than 31 days after Chasselas Doré

Chasselas grapes on day zero (?)

The Pulliat Classification seems like an interesting bit of history in the world of wine, but as I just learned, it is still used. These days, however, the Winkler Scale created by Maynard Amerine and A. J. Winkler of UC Davis—which measures ripening in terms of degree-days or heat summation—is in wider use. The Winkler Scale was designed in 1944 to be used in California but has since been used in many wine growing regions all over the world.

References/for further information:

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

WineGeo: Grès des Vosges

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The wines of Alsace are a white wine lover’s dream…dry, powerful Rieslings, spicy Pinot Gris, and aromatic Gewurztraminer are just a few of the amazing white wines that are produced in Alsace. (Shout out to the Pinot Noir for red wine lovers as well.)

The soils of Alsace are just as diverse; as a matter of fact, according to the website of Wines of Alsace, “The terroir of Alsace is a geologist’s dream…if you walk 100 feet in any direction, you’ll find a different soil composition, making Alsace a complex mosaic unlike any other wine region.”

Soils underlying the vineyards in Alsace range from the schist and granite of the higher elevations (extending into the Vosges Mountains) to the limestone and chalk of the lower slopes, to the clay and gravel of the valley floors. However, it is the unique, reddish-colored sandstone of Alsace—known as grès des Vosges—that inspired this post.

For starters, grès des Vosges (Vosges sandstone) runs in a large, horizontal swath through the Vosges, underneath a granite layer (from which it is derived) and atop a layer of coal. Grès des Vosges is a hard, compact sandstone composed mainly of quartz and feldspar. Its pink-reddish color is due to the presence of decomposing iron (iron oxide, as also seen in red soils such as terra rosa) that occurred as a result of the slow cooling of large masses of magma as it hardened into granite.

The process of the coloring of the sandstone is termed rubefaction. Much of the sandstone in the Vosges is still grey, and some is still undergoing the process of rebefaction (or rebéfaction as they say in French).

The Strasbourg Cathedral, widely considered to be among the finest examples of late Gothic architecture, is partially composed of grès des Vosges, which gives the building its pink-hued appearance. The Strasbourg Cathedral was the tallest building in the world from 1647 to 1874 (227 years). Today, it remains the sixth tallest church in the world and the tallest existing structure built entirely in the Middle Ages.

Carte topographique des Vosges by Boldair, via Wikimedia Commons

Grès des Vosges is considered a unique aspect of the Vosges Mountains and Alsace—so much so that it has earned Protected Geographical Indication status from the EU. It is also still in great demand as a building material, and as such there is also a trade organization, the Union des Producteurs de Grès des Vosges, built around promoting and protecting the stone.

And here I thought it was all about the wine.

References/for more information:

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

Confusion Corner: Lirac and Listrac

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I am back for another round of Confusion Corner! This is the fourth installment of the series in which I attempt to unravel some of the words, terms, and concepts of wine that have always confused me. After unraveling Verdelho from Verdejo, Rully from Reuilly, and Catalunya and Calatayud; this week I take on another tongue-twister: Lirac and Listrac.

First off, here is what these two things have in common: they are both AOC wine-producing regions in France, they are both well-established, and they are both primarily known for red wines (although the Lirac AOC produces whites and rosés as well). And then there are the differences…

First up—Listrac: One thing we need to get cleared up is that while it is very common to see the term Listrac used on its own; the actual name of this place is Listrac-Médoc. Listrac-Médoc is both the name of a commune (in the Gironde department) and an appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) wine-producing area of the Médoc.

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Listrac-Médoc sits on Bordeaux’s Left Bank, at about 45°N. Just a portion (1,650 acres/668 ha) of the commune is given over to viticulture, and those grapes that are present are surrounded by other crops, forests, and meadowlands. The vineyards of the Listrac-Médoc are located in an area known as the “limestone outcrops” and are a bit west of Gironde Estuary as well as a bit inland—away from the maritime influence and the mists of the river—and as such the area has a borderline continental climate. The area is often called “the roof of the Médoc” due to its slightly elevated perch—measured at 141 feet (43 m) above sea level.  The soil is more of a limestone/clay mix as compared to the gravelly soils of the surrounding areas, and as such the vines’ roots do not grow as deeply here are they do in the more prestigious vineyards located nearby areas.

The Listrac- Médoc AOC is approved for dry red wines only. The area is mainly planted to Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, with a small amount of Cabernet Franc and a tiny fraction of Petit Verdot and Malbec.  The wines produced in this area are known for being “tightly wound” while young, but powerful and rich with a few years of age.

And in the other (confusion) corner, we have the Lirac AOC. The commune of Lirac, located in the Gard Department, is one of the four communes included in the Lirac AOC (the others are Roquemaure, Saint-Geniès-de-Comolas, and Saint-Laurent-des-Arbres).

The Lirac AOC is situated on the western side of the Southern Rhône Valley, about 300 miles to the east of Listrac-Médoc (and a bit further south, as Lirac sits at about 44°N).  Red, white, and rosé wines may be produced under the Lirac AOC, and the majority of the output is red. However…the area is also known for its rosés  – which makes sense when you realized that Lirac’s neighbor-to-the-south is Tavel, and that the boundary between the two wine regions is the political boundary between two communes.

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Rosés from the Lirac AOC are based on a minimum of 80% Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah, or Mourvèdre. The other 20% is allowed to be white grapes or Carignan (although Carignan itself is limited to a maximum of 10%).

The red wines of the Lirac AOC are typically produced from a blend based on Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, and Cinsault. Lirac AOC rouge tends to be in the softer “Côtes du Rhône” style of red wines, but some producers are going for a bigger, bolder style of wine. Perhaps this is not surprising considered that the region’s neighbor-to-the-east is Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

The Lirac AOC also produces a small amount of white wine from the typical Rhône varieties—namely Bourboulenc, Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, and Clairette.

And there you have it. Listrac and Lirac—confused no more.

Next up in Confusion Corner, I attempt to unravel the Grecos (Greco di Tufo, Greco Bianco, Greco di Bianco). What do you think?

References/for further information:

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

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

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A trip to the island of Capri should be a part of any dream trip to Italy. Located on the south side of the Gulf of Naples, the island may be reached via a 40-minute ferry ride from Naples or Sorrento. Once you arrive at the island’s Marina Grande, you can take a short bus ride or a scenic funicular up to the town of Capri, and then perhaps journey a bit further to the town of Anacapri.

Either way, you’ll want to take a long gaze at the coastline, lined as it is by the faraglioni—limestone crags also known as “sea stacks” that rise above the surface of the azure sea.

You’ll also want to join the throngs of tourists at the Grotto Azzurra (the Blue Grotto). It might be crowded, expensive, and kitschy—but it must be done! The Blue Grotto is a cave, formed over the millennia by the action of the sea, on the island’s coast. The opening to the cave is about 3 feet high by six feet wide, and can only be accessed when the sea is calm and the tide is low. It is worth the wait, however, because after you duck your head and your boat slips into the 165-foot long cave, the sunlight filtering through the seawater creates a blue reflection that bathes the cavern in a clear, blue light.

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After building up an appetite, you’ll need a good meal, and an Insalata Caprese (quite literally, the “salad of Capri”) sounds like the perfect first course. This is a simple salad of sliced fresh mozzarella di buffala, tomatoes, basil, and olive oil, made to resemble the colors of the Italian flag.  (There’s a recipe in the links below.) Insalata Caprese, they say, was invented in the early 20th century to show off the  abundant produce of the sunny island, to give a nod (via those colors) to patriotism for Italy, and to appease the growing numbers of important politicians and royalty (Hollywood and otherwise) who were visiting Capri in droves.

You’ll probably need a nice glass of white wine to go along with your lunch, and you are in luck, as the island produces a red and a white wine under the Capri DOC. With just two acres planted to vines, your lunch on Capri might be your only chance to ever taste these wines, so we suggest you try a glass of each.

The white wine produced in the Capri DOC is made from a minimum of 80% (combined) Falanghina and Greco. The Falanghina grape is one of the leading grapes of Campania, and plays a role in many of the DOC-based wines of the province. Falanghina-based wines tend to be high in acidity and show aromas of peaches, pears, apricots, almonds, and a bit of “leafiness” and minerality. The Greco grape variety is also widely grown in Campania (as well as several nearby regions such as Lazio, Puglia, and Molise). Wines made from Greco sound quite similar to those made from Falanghina, and have been described as having aromas of apricot, peach, citrus, fresh herbs, and a hint of minerality along with medium body, fresh acidity and a nice balance. Sounds like a Capri Bianco DOC would pair nicely with an Insalata Caprese.

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If your secondo of choice is some variation on pasta with tomato sauce, a glass of Capri Rosso DOC is a perfect accompaniment. Capri Rosso DOC is produced using a minimum of 80% Piedirosso.  The Piedirosso grape is likely native to Campania and is one of the most widely grown red grapes of the area (this, despite the fact that you probably never heard of it before).  Piedirosso is known for producing light-ish red wines with fruity flavors of plum, blackberry, and cherry, has a fresh bite of acidity and (not surprisingly) it’s often compared to those produced from Gamay.

One interesting tidbit about Piedirosso is its name which derives from “red feet.” I assumed that this referred to the red feet one might acquire while stomping around in a vat of freshly-picked Piedirosso grapes, but apparently it refers to the color and shape of the stalks that attached the bunches of grapes to the vine—they are three-pronged and thus resemble the claws of a pigeon, and around harvest time, they turn red.

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Wine making is an ancient but dying are on the island of Capri, but it is kept alive by a small but hardy troupe of winemakers keeping the dream alive. For some great insight into Capri and its wines, I suggest a visit to the Scala Fenicia Winery. If that’s not possible in the near future, you could always just visit their website.

References/for further information:

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

The Limone and Liquore of Sorrento

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Hugging the coastline just across the bay (and accessible by ferry) from Naples is the town of Sorrento. Sorrento is many-a-person’s touristy dream destination, and in real life it does not disappoint. While you are in Sorrento, be sure and tour the Duomo (Cathedral), visit the old town, drink coffee in the Piazza Tasso, take a day trip to the island of Capri, and drive along the coast to Amalfi. You can’t miss any of it.

Another thing you can’t miss in Sorrento is lemons. You can eat and drink lemons—as in lemon cake, spaghetti al limon, lemon gelato, and bruschetta rubbed with lemon, all washed down with limoncello (or lemonade for the kids). Italians will have a lemon slice dipped in sugar (peel and all) for a snack. Next, you can take a stroll through the lemon trees, planted in terraced groves, thriving in the tufo and limestone soil and abundant sunshine—as they have for centuries. And while shopping for souvenirs, stroll into a ceramics studio and find a big bowl or a pitcher decorated with pictures of lemons. You’ll want to remember these lemons for a long time.

The lemons grown in Sorrento are so unique that they have been award Protected Geographical Indicaton (Indicazione Geografica Protetta/IGP) status by the European Union, complete with a consortium (the Consorzio di Tutela del Limone di Sorrento IGP) to protect, promote, and market the Limone di Sorrento. According to the consortium’s guidelines, in order to qualify as a Limone di Sorrento IGP, the lemons must have the following attributes:

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    They are a “local ecotype” of the common lemon, aka Lemon of Massa, “Massese,” or “Oval of Sorrento”

  • They are grown in a geographically-delineated area of the Sorrento Peninsula that includes the districts of Massa Lubrense, Meta, Piano di Sorrento, Sant’Agnello, Sorrento, Vico Equense, and Capri.
  • They must be elliptical in shape with medium-large dimensions (weight not less than 85 grams [3 ounces]).
  • They must have a medium-thick peel and a citrine (pale-to-golden) yellow color over at least 50% of the surface.
  • They must be rich in essential oils and very fragrant, “very juicy” and with straw-colored yellow pulp.
  • The juice, characterized by an elevated acidity, must be rich in vitamin C and mineral salts.

To an American eye Limone di Sorrento might look kind of pale and funky…but these lemons are not chemically treated, colored, or dipped in wax. They are the real deal, they look natural, and they are a much sweeter lemon than those that most Americans are used to. While it’s a bit of a stretch, many people note that Limone di Sorrento are more like Meyer Lemons than the “supermarket” lemons (known as Eureka Lemons or Lisbon Lemons) that we get in the US.

And then there is the local limoncello. As a tourist in Italy, you are certain to remember the first time you had limoncello. Perhaps it was at an aperitivo (the Italian version of “happy hour” to stretch the definition a bit) or after a meal at a restaurant. Wherever or whenever it was, I am sure you will remember it.

Photo of Sorrento’s Marina Grande by Cutiekatie via Wikimedia

The limoncello produced in Sorrento has been awarded an IGP as well, known officially as Liquore di Limone di Sorrento IGP. The technical standards for Liquore di Limone di Sorrento include the following guidelines:

  • It must contain a minimum of 30% alcohol by volume.
  • It must be produced from a base of neutral spirits via by maceration with the peels of Limone di Sorrento IGP for a minimum of 48 hours.
  • It should be between 20% and 35% sugar by volume.
  • It must be produced within the Limone di Sorrento IGP cultivation zone.
  • It must contain a minimum of 250 g (by weight) of Limone di Sorrento PGI fruit or juice per liter of liquor.
  • No other colorings or flavorings (other than Sorrento Lemons) are allowed (but ascorbic acid may be added as a stabilizer).
  • It must be citrine yellow in color, and may be clear or opalescent.
  • The aroma and flavor must be characteristic of the Limone di Sorrento IGP.

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All of that is a bit heavy on the “technical” but doesn’t it still sound delicious? I’m thinking tonight is a good night for Pollo al Limone (as true Limone di Sorrento are hard to find outside of Italy, I’ll settle for using the recipe provided by the consorzio but substitute Meyer lemons [don’t hate me]) followed by some lemon cookies dipped in Liquore di Limone di Sorrento. Luckily, a true Liquore di Limone di Sorrento IGP can—these days—be found in good old Austin, Texas.

References/for more information:

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

Confusion Corner: Catalunya and Calatayud

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I am back for another round of Confusion Corner! In case you missed the first two installments, in this series I attempt to unravel some of the words, terms, and concepts of wine that have always confused me. So far I’ve unraveled Verdelho from Verdejo and Rully from Reuilly. This week I have another tongue-twister, and one that has eluded me for a long time: Catalunya and Calatayud.

First of all, here is what the two things have in common (besides the fact that the words look and sound alike): They are both areas in northern Spain, and they are both DOs. They both produce a range of wines (including red, white, rosado, fortified, and sparkling) from a long list of allowed and authorized grape varieties. However, that’s pretty much where the similarities end.

First up—Catalunya: Catalunya is the Catalan name for the Spanish region also known as Catalonia (in English) and Cataluña (in Spanish). It is one of Spain’s 19 autonomies (17 autonomous communities plus 2 autonomous cities), and is the only one of the autonomies to have a DO that covers the entire region.

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Catalunya is located in the extreme northeast of Spain, and shares its northern border with France and the tiny Principality of Andorra, along the Pyrenees Mountains. To the east, the area has a long coastline that borders the Mediterranean Sea; and the western boundary is shared with the autonomous community of Aragon. Valencia is to the south. Not surprisingly, the climate on the coast is Mediterranean, while inland areas share the warm, arid climate of much of the rest of Spain.

Catalunya is an absolute paradise for travelers—whether wine-related or not. The capital and largest city is Barcelona, an ideal vacation spot for those interested in art, architecture, gastronomy, history, beaches, Catalan culture, or shopping—what more could you want? For those interested in wine tourism, San Sadurní d’Anoia—the birthplace and “spiritual home” of Cava—is a very short drive from Barcelona, and dozens of Cava producers and tasting rooms are open to the public. If you don’t mind a slightly longer drive and some winding roads, you can visit Priorat, Alella, or Tarragona as well.

The Catalunya DO, approved in 1999, is authorized for the following types of wine: white (using an allowed 14 grape varieties but dominated by Garnacha Blanca), rosé (rosat in the Catalan language and generally based on Garnacha), red (from a list of over a dozen approved varieties but generally made using Garnahca, Monastrell [Mourvèdre] and Tempranillo [known here as Ul de Llebre]), vino de licor (fortified wines), and vine de aguya (slightly sparkling wines).

Santa Maria del Mar in Barcelona

Santa Maria del Mar in Barcelona

Wine bottled under the Catalunya DO is typically produced using grapes grown in the areas betwixt and between the 11 DOs of the region, or produced from a mix of grapes grown within the smaller DOs. The DOs of Catalunya include some very prestigious appellations (such as Priorat DOCa), some very famous areas (such as [parts of] the Cava DO and the Penedès DO), as well as some lesser-known regions (such as the Empordà, Alella, and Costers del Segre DOs).

And now for Calatayud: Calatayud is a DO located in the southwest corner of the autonomous community of Aragon. The wine region is named after the city of Calatayud (population around 20,000). Calatayud is an old city, strategically located between the Central Meseta of Spain and the Ebro River Valley. The modern city dates from around 700 CE and is famous for its many surviving examples of Mudéjar (Moorish) architecture.

The Calatayud DO area is almost completely surrounded by the mountains of the Sistema Ibérico—and as such has a hot, arid climate, like much of inland Spain. However, the area also has some elevation with many vineyards planted on south-facing hillsides—some of which reach as high as 2,600 feet (800 m). This elevation, as well as a system of criss-crossing rivers, provides some relief to the heat.

Detail of the Santa Maria Church in Calatayud

Detail of the Santa Maria Church in Calatayud

Many different styles of wines are allowed under the Calatayud DO (approved in 1990), including red, white, rosé, fortified, lightly sparkling, and fully sparkling. Garnacha is the main red grape variety, along with Tempranillo, Mazuela (otherwise known as Carignan, and named after the region of Cariñena, Calatayud’s neighbor-to-the-east), and Bobal—along with a smattering of international varieties. White grapes (and wines) make up a relatively small proportion of the area’s output and include plantings of Macabeo (aka Viura), Malvasia, and Chardonnay.

Some interesting styles of wine that are specifically defined by the Calatayud DO include Viñas Viejas (old vine) wines which must be made from vineyards that are at least 35 years old, and Calatayud Superior, which must be produced from a minimum of 85% Garnacha Tinta from vineyards that are a minimum of 50 years old.

References/for more information:

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