Wine Geo: Anatomy of a (Wine) River

Rivers are a big deal to wine students. Rivers define regional and national borders; carve out valleys, gorges, and ravines; provide water for irrigation; move and mold the soil; and moderate the climate (to name just a few of their tricks).

Being a wine geo nerd, I thought it would be interesting to take a closer look at the anatomy of a river, with a nod to a few of the many wine regions defined by their river(s).  As such, here is a quick dive into the anatomy of a river, from head (source) to tail (delta):

The Headwaters: The beginning, or source, of a river is known as its headwaters. Headwaters can be formed from a small trickle bubbling up from an underground stream, an outlet from a lake or pond, an area fed by melting mountain snow, or a place where several small streams flow together.

Upstream/Downstream: If you want to head upriver you need to point in the direction of the river’s source (headwaters). If you are heading downriver, you are paddling towards the river’s mouth (end). An area described as “upper” will be closer to the source of a river than a “lower” area. (This is often confusing, as we tend to think of upper or lower in terms of elevation.)

It is quite common for wine regions to be named in part due to their position on a river.  Some examples include Oberösterreich/Niederösterreich (Upper Austria/Lower Austria), the Lower Long Tom (proposed AVA), and the Upper Goulburn GI (Victoria, Australia).

The Riverbank: The area right next to the river is called the riverbank—or (in more scientific terms) the riparian zone. The banks of a river are typically fertile areas, frequently replenished by areal flooding. However, in the world of wine some of the prime river-adjacent areas are located on elevated plateaus above the river or on steep hillsides leading down to the river. Spain has several appellations named after riverbanks (riberas); these include the Ribera del Duero DO, the Ribera del Guadiana DO, and the Ribera del Júcar DO. 

The Tributaries: A tributary is a river the feeds into a (typically larger) river rather than reaching its end in an ocean or lake. Many of the world’s most impressive rivers gain most of their water from their tributaries. For example, France’s Loire River is fed by close to 80 smaller rivers, including the Sèvre, the Maine, the Allier, the Sarthe, the Loir, and the Cher. Tributaries are sometimes referred by as left-bank or right-bank tributaries. The terms refer to the location of the tributary as one is looking downstream (facing the mouth/end, rather than the source/beginning of the river). 

Several well-known wine regions are named for the tributaries of famous rivers. These include Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine AOC (the Sèvre and the Maine are both left-bank tributaries of the Loire) and the Saar Grosslage (named after a right-bank tributary of the Mosel).

The Delta: The end of a river—where it meets an ocean, lake, or wetland—is known as its mouth or delta. As it reaches its end, a river typically slows and spreads out into a wide area. As this occurs, the river is no longer able to carry large amount of sediment and it leaves behind deposits of rich soil.

For this reason, the deltas of the world often coincide with centers of civilization (such as Lower Egypt’s Nile Delta) and/or fertile nesting grounds for birds and other wildlife (such as the Guadalupe Delta Wildlife Management Area of southern Texas).  In the United States, the Mississippi Delta AVA (located partially on the delta of the Mississippi River in parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee) is a center for enological research specializing in native North American grapes.

If a river ends at the sea, it forms an estuary—an area where saltwater mixes with fresh water—as it heads into the ocean. Spain’s famous Rías Baixas DO is named after a series of drowned river estuaries (the upper rías).

References/for more information:

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

Spotlight: Re-write (Tips for Transforming your Mangled, Messy Notes into an Awesome Study Tool)

In all my years of teaching, I have found that the students who claim to have “studied really hard” and yet fail to reach their goals have one thing in common: they did not take notes. They may have re-read the text a thousand times, dried up a hundred highlighters, and listened to a year’s worth of podcasts—but they did not take notes.

Here at the Bubbly Professor, we believe strongly in the power of notes. It starts with a proper reading of the textbook (ideally before you attend a class or webinar on the subject matter)—and taking written notes.

In this article, we’d like to offer up a few ideas on another best practice: the re-write. Used properly, a re-write (or three) can transform your notes—even if they started out as a mangled mess of scribbles—into a streamlined study tool.

For starters, here are a few basic pointers:

  • Read over your notes two or three times before you attempt your first re-write. This will certainly give you a head start with memorization, but the real goal here is to ensure that you understand the context and see the “big picture” surrounding the information.
  • Use a fresh, designated notebook or file for your re-writes. You should expect this notebook or file to be highly useful during your revision.
  • Rewriting is not the same thing as re-copying. Your notes should be transformed in the re-writing process, and this will take some effort. This is especially important if you have made the mistake of taking liner notes—meaning you’ve copied something from the book or something that your instructor said basically word-for-word.

Idea #1: Create a Shrinking Outline: The first step in creating a shrinking outline is to re-write your notes into outline form—your first outline. Start by identifying the key concept in a section of your notes and—using the key concept as your section header—add the supporting details. Make sure that you paraphrase the pertinent information in clear, simple terms and in your own words.

Study this outline for a few days (or weeks, or whatever your timeline allows), and then create your second outline. Shrink this outline so that it includes just the key concepts and eliminates the supporting details. When studying from this outline, use active recall to fill in the supporting details. Refer back to the first outline to judge your progress.

Your third (and perhaps final) shrinking outline should contain just a list of prompts or key words. This final outline might remind you of the process of creating a deck of flash cards (and once completed, it may be used in the same way). Use this outline for self-testing, once again referring back to your first outline to make sure you’re capturing all the information that you want to learn.

Idea #2: Create Cloze Exercises: Don’t be frightened off by the obscure terminology: a cloze exercise is just a fill-in-the-blank exercise. (The terminology is believed to have been derived from the law of closure, as used in Gestalt Theory.)

Despite the weird-sounding name, cloze exercises can easily be created via a re-write—and they are an excellent study tool.

To create cloze exercises, follow the steps outlined above to create your first set of outlined notes (alternatively, you could start with your messy, mangled notes if they are clear enough). Re-write your notes or your outline leaving out the key words or phrases that you’d like to commit to memory. Put the answers on a separate page. If you are typing your notes, create a new file and blank out the key words; your original file can serve as the answer key.

Here are a few examples:

  • The main grape of the Chianti DOCG is _______________________; which must comprise a minimum ________________ of the finished wine.
  • The only EU country to have an AOC-designated rum is _______________; the name of this product is __________________.

One of the reasons that fill-in-blank notes are so effective is that they allow you to use the awesome power of the active recall study technique.

TL/DR: Please take notes. Re-write them effectively. Use them for revision. They can—and should—be one of your best study tools!

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

Confusion Corner: Saint-Macaire

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Saint-Macaire: It’s a grape, it’s a place, it’s an appellation…but despite the name of that appellation—Côtes de Bordeaux-Saint-Macaire AOC—it is NOT one of the sub-zones of the Côtes de Bordeaux AOC. As such, Saint-Macaire is a perfect subject for Confusion Corner!

Let’s take a look at the many faces of Saint-Macaire:

It’s a grape: Saint-Macaire is a super-obscure red grape, believed to have originated somewhere in the area around Bordeaux. It was once-upon-a-time grown in small amounts on Bordeaux’s Right Bank and known for producing soft, fruity wines with a good snap of acidity and a deep red color. However, the grape was not widely re-planted in Bordeaux in the years following phylloxera and eventually, it was nearly forgotten.

Official statistics tell us that these days, only about 1 hectare of Saint-Macaire remains planted in all of France. It is not approved for use in any of the modern AOCs of Bordeaux—including its namesake, the Côtes de Bordeaux-Saint-Macaire AOC—but it may end up in the wines of the Atlantique IGP or a Vin de France.

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Outside of France, there are a few estates in California that grow Saint-Macaire—these include O’Shaunessy Estate Winery in Napa’s Howell Mountain AVA and Sonoma’s Hanna Winery. Due to its historic stature as a lost grape of Bordeaux, Saint-Macaire is included in the list of grapes approved to be used in Meritage—as defined by the Meritage Alliance—and once in a great while, I’ll find it listed on a Meritage label.

Australia’s Calabria Family Winery (formerly known Westend Estate) grows a few acres of Saint-Macaire in Victoria—and is believed to be the only estate in Australia growing the grape.

It’s a place: Occupying a 2-mile (3-km) stretch of the northern bank of the Garonne River in France’s Gironde Department, Saint-Macaire is a tiny commune (population: 1,196).  In addition to its vineyards (planted mainly to Muscadelle, Sauvignon Blanc, and Sémillon), the area’s claim to fame is the Château de Tardes, a Monument Historique (national heritage site) and castle dating from 13th century. The building was rebuilt—complete with a hexagon-shaped tower and spiral staircase—into a Renaissance-style mansion in the centuries that followed.

Photo of Château de Tardes by Henry Salomé via Wikimedia Commons

It’s an appellation: Nestled between the Garonne River and the surrounding Entre-Deux-Mers AOC, the Côtes de Bordeaux-Saint-Macaire AOC is located on the softly rolling (south-facing) hills found along the eastern edge of Bordeaux. The Côtes de Bordeaux-Saint-Macaire AOC is approved for the production of white wines only. Dry wines are allowed and are defined as having less than 4 g/L (0.04%) of residual sugar. However, the area is best-known for its sweet (moelleux) and even sweeter (liquoreux) versions of white wines. Produced using ultra-ripe grapes (often affected by botrytis or allowed to dry after harvest), the sweet wines of the area known for notes of ripe pear, toasted almonds, bees wax, tropical fruit, dried apricot, honey, and fig.

It is NOT one of the sub-zones of the Côtes de Bordeaux AOC: Despite the similarity in their names, the Côtes de Bordeaux-Saint-Macaire AOC is not a sub-zone of the Côtes de Bordeaux AOC. The Côtes de Bordeaux AOC, established in 2009, has five sub-zones—Francs, Cadillac, Castillon, Blaye, and Sainte Foy—all of which are located quite close to Saint-Macaire. Each of these subzones may append their name to the “Côtes de Bordeaux AOC” title; this means that the name of wine bottled under the Francs subzone (as an example), could be listed as “Francs—Côtes de Bordeaux AOC.” And thus, the confusion reigns.

However, Saint-Macaire has not joined the the club of the Côtes de Bordeaux AOC. One clear definition between the appellations is that the Côtes de Bordeaux AOC (and its five sub-zones) are all approved for the production of red wines, while the Côtes de Bordeaux-Saint-Macaire AOC is only approved for white wines. (Note: Three of the Côtes de Bordeaux subzones—Francs, Blaye, and Sainte Foy—may produce white wines in addition to reds.)

Map of the Côtes de Bordeaux-Saint-Macaire AOC via http://www.sweetbordeaux.com

Hopefully, this post cleared up some of the confusion regarding Saint-Macaire. It’s really quite simple: Saint-Macaire is a grape, a place, and an appellation—but it is not one of the sub-zones of the Côtes de Bordeaux AOC, despite sharing the good portion of a name and being located in a similar spot.

Any questions?

References/for more information:

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

Zonda, Diablo, Nor’wester, Chinook: The Foehn Winds of Wine

Advanced students of wine can name them: the Zonda winds of Argentina, New Zealand’s Nor’westers, California’s Diablo, and the wild Chinook winds of Oregon. These are foehn winds—warm and dry, sometimes fierce and hot—that periodically rush down the leeward side of a mountain range after the air has dropped its rain on the windward side and climbed up and over the peaks.

Other areas in the wine-producing world that are affected by foehn winds include Alsace, the Jurançon (Southwest France), Switzerland, Washington State, northwest Italy, Catalonia, Lisboa (Portugal), Cotnari (Romania), Valencia, and Málaga. To simplify the concept, think of it this way: any place that benefits from a rain shadow provided by a large mountain (or mountain range) can also be in the line of fire for the foehn.

The well-known Zonda wind of Argentina, experienced most acutely in Mendoza, La Rioja, and San Juan—where the Andes reach their highest peaks—is the perfect, illustrative example. It all begins with the cool, humid breezes off the Pacific Ocean that head towards Chile, coming in from the west. As they reach the shore, they drift inland along Chile’s numerous river valleys, allowing the fog and cool air to penetrate inland. Eventually, the air mass bumps up against the Andes and begins to drift higher and higher.

As the air lifts, it expands and cools. Clouds begin to form as the air becomes laden with water vapor. As the clouds become saturated, the moisture condenses, and it begins to rain or snow. This activity allows for the release of latent heat, and by the time the air mass reaches the peak of the mountain it is cool and dry.

Above the mountains, the wind can be bounced about by mountain air waves—changes in the air flow sometimes referred to by the frankly terrifying name the turbulent vortex—and flung downward, assisted by variations in air pressure.

As the air rolls downhill, it quickly warms up, assisted by the warmth on the ground and the sunshine on the leeward side of the mountains.  Further downslope, the increase in air pressure coaxes even more heat into the air and by the time it reaches the foot of the mountains, it is warm, dry, and ready to roll.

Foehn winds can be beneficial to vineyards; a nice, warm breeze can reduce the risk of mold- or fungi-related vine diseases, and otherwise help keep a vineyard healthy and dry. However, In the extreme, a foehn wind can shake, rattle, and roll a vine enough to cause physical damage. If the wind lasts for more than a few days (which is not unusual), the vineyard’s human inhabitants often complain of nervousness, headache, difficulty sleeping, and irritability.

Another good reason to keep your eye on the weather!

Note: Foehn winds were first studied in the European Alps, and are often referred term as föhn winds, after the original German.

References/for more information:

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

Make it Meaningful to Make it Memorable (ft. The Chianti Seven)

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As a wine student, you have most likely memorized the seven subzones of the Chianti DOCG—and somewhere along the way, you got it through your head that Chianti Classico does its own thing and is NOT one of the seven. For your next trick, you probably learned where to find each subzone on the map.

Or…at least that is the way my studies progressed. I was well-armed with flashcards, wine maps, and a power point slide with seven distinct bullets—one for each of the not-so-famous subzones of the Chianti DOCG.

Despite endless repetition, I had a hard time memorizing the seven subzones of Chianti (much less locating them all on a map). My mistake, of course, was trying to memorize a list of terms without any meaning or familiarity behind them. However, once I learned each area’s “back story,” memorizing the terms—and locating them on the map—was a breeze!

The moral of my story is: make it meaningful to make it memorable. Your brain loves (and finds it easy to remember) information that is ripe with narrative and meaning. Your brain hates (and tends to forget) lists of words, terms, or sounds that lack context.

Here is some of what I learned about the subzones of Chianti, many years ago. I still remember it to this day.  

Cityscape of Florence with the Arno River in the foreground

Four of the seven subzones are grouped around the city of Florence, so we will start there:

Colli Fiorentini:  This area—translated as and encompassing the hills around Florence—surrounds the southern edge of the city of Florence. This is one of the northernmost areas of the Chianti DOCG. The vineyards of Colli Fiorentini are generally planted on the south-facing slopes of the rolling hills of the area; and may reach as high as 1,000 m (300 ft). The zone also includes some low-lying land in the valleys of the Pesa and Arno Rivers. This is one of the lesser known of the Chianti sub-regions, and much of the wine produced from the Colli Fiorentini vineyards ends up being served—by the glass or carafe—in the cafes and restaurants of Florence.

Montalbano: This subzone is named for the Montalbano Hills—a low chain of hills located to the north/northwest of the city of Florence. The Montalbano zone—located towards the northern end of the Chianti DOCG—overlaps the Carmignano DOCG. Vines used for Chianti Montalbano tend to be planted on the western side of the hills (where the soil is more sandstone), while the Carmignano DOCG is located on the eastern side of the zone—where the soil is richer in limestone. As such, wines labeled under the Chianti-Montalbano DOCG tend to be lighter and fruitier in style than those produced in some of the more inland areas. This region famously includes the town of Vinci—where Leonardo di Vinci once lived.

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Montespertoli:  Montespertoli is the newest of Chianti’s official subzones, having been designated as such in 1997. Before that, it was part of the Colli Fiorentini region. Named for the town of Montespertoli—located about 12 miles/20 km southeast of the historic center of Florence—this is the smallest of the chianti subzones in terms of acreage. The area is known for its rolling hills, well-drained limestone soils, and abundant sunshine—all of which help to produce well-ripened grapes and lush, balanced wines.

Rufina:  Rufina—undoubtedly the most famous of the Chianti subzones—is located in the foothills of the Apennines, east of the city of Florence. Rufina overlaps the Pomino DOC and is differentiated from most of the rest of the Chianti DOCG by its inland location. Likewise, Rufina experiences more continental influences on its climate and can claim some of the region’s highest elevations: vineyards here are planted as high as 1,600 ft /500 meters (higher than the average of the rest of the region, including Chianti Classico at 1,000 ft/300 meters). The high elevation of the area’s vineyards lend an excellent diurnal temperature fluctuation, and the area’s limestone-and-clay soils strike the ideal balance between excellent drainage and just enough water retention (making this area particularly drought-resistant).

  • The dueling republics of Florence and Siena famously solved their border dispute via a race between two knights on horseback, who each set off from their respective towns at the first crow of the rooster. The hungry black rooster of Republic of Florence famously arose before dawn, allowing most of the disputed land to be awarded before Florence. In honor of this event, the black rooster has been the symbol of the Consorzio of Chianti Classico since 1924. The rooster on our graphic map thus serves to remind us of Florence to the north, and Siena to the south.

Three of the seven subzones of the Chianti DOCG are located further afield from Florence:

View over the city of Siena

Colli Senesi: The Colli Senesi subzone—located in the southern reaches of the Chianti region and spread out over three noncontiguous areas—is tucked into the hills surrounding the city of Siena. The area is considered one of the most prestigious of the seven subzones, which makes a lot of sense considering that it overlaps Montalcino, Montepulciano, and San Gimignano. It even has stricter standards than some of its kin, in a sense. For instance, wines of the Chianti DOCG require a minimum of 70% Sangiovese in the mix; in Colli Senesi, the minimum is raised to 75%. It also requires a higher level of alcohol (13% minimum abv) for its Riserva wines; Chianti DOCG and the other six subzones require just 12% or 12.5%.

Colli Aretini: The Colli Aretini zone is named for the hills of Arezzo. Arezzo—one of the 9 provinces of Tuscany—is located in the eastern part of Tuscany. The Colli Aretini encompasses the valley of the River Arno at the point where the river moves from its southerly course and takes a loop-de-loop turn to head north and west on its way to the city of Florence. This river valley keeps the region cool, as it allows the moderating influence of the Mediterranean Sea to penetrate inland. The zone does include some elevation—as high as 1,000 ft/300 meters in spots—on the hills that rise out of the Arno valley floor. The Chianti Aretini subzone is not particularly well-known; much of the vineyards of the area produce fruit destined to be included in wines labeled as Chianti DOCG.

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Colline Pisane:  The Colline Pisane—the hills around Pisa—zone is located just south of the city of Pisa. This region is unique in that it is closer to the Mediterranean Se—and on a lower set of hillsides—than the rest of the Chianti region. It is also somewhat of an outlier—literally—in that there some distance between Colline Pisane and the rest of the Chianti subzones, all of which are connected. The area’s unique location (and terroir) helps to make the wines of the Colline Pisane quite distinctive. They are often described as lighter and softer than most, with a ruby-red color, floral (violet) aromas, and a distinctively fruity (as opposed to earthy) character— especially when young.

Note: In addition to the concept that making information meaningful makes it memorable, this post demonstrates chunking—a key principle of education and learning that I find particularly applicable to the study of maps and geography. More on that later!

References/for more information:

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

The Bubbly Professor’s third annual “I don’t Wanna Study on Christmas Eve” Wine Quiz

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

It’s so dang hard to study on Christmas…

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

Best Practices for Practice Tests

It happens at least once a month. A frustrated test-taker sends me their regrets—they have failed the exam! And they just cannot understand how-on-earth-they-could-have-failed-when-they-scored-100-on-all-the-practice-tests!

First—I feel your pain, failed test taker. This is no fun at all—and as a teacher I feel I have failed a bit myself. But…I know where this conversation is going. I have seen it many times before. So, I pick up the phone and let them vent a bit, and then gingerly ask: “So, that practice test you scored 100 on…how many times did you take it?” This is inevitably followed by something like this: “I took it TEN TIMES!”

Enough said. I get it, you took the practice test over-and-over again until you scored 100. That is an excellent way to learn some content (active retrieval and spaced repetition and all). However, if you take the same test ten times, you are NOT assessing your readiness for test day. 

There are several different ways to take advantage of practice tests, and you should decide which you intend to use before you dive right in. Consider these three distinct uses:

  • To assess how well you know the content: Taking a practice test can let you know how well you know the material and can provide a basis for planning the rest of your studies. In this case, you can take a practice test towards the beginning of your studies—or at a convenient mid-point—and use your results to inform the areas that you should focus on as you create and implement your study plan. 
  • To use as an item bank for study content: After you take a practice test, go back and revisit the questions you missed. However, do not just memorize the answers. That will only help you on test day (or in real life) if you encounter the same questions with similar options. Instead, strive to understand the content as well as its context and really learn it. If the original question was a true/false question—make sure you can explain why it was true or false. If the original question was a multiple-choice question, try to learn not only the correct answer—but why it was correct, and why each distractor (incorrect option) was NOT correct.
  • To assess your readiness for test day: To make use of this valuable option, you need to practice a bit of self-control as this will only work if you can approach a practice test under simulated exam conditions. This means—first and foremost—that you are taking a specific practice test for the first time, sight unseen. It also means that you use the same timeline parameters as defined for the actual test, and (unless it is an open-book or open-note exam), that you do not have any books, notes, maps, or cheat sheets in view. You can further mimic the testing environment by sitting at a desk or table, keeping the noise level low, dressing as you would for the actual exam, and trying your best to avoid interruptions (a “do not disturb” sign on the door might be in order—if you can swing it).

Once more, for effect: Practice test results will NOT assess your readiness for test day if you have previously taken the exact same exam (although, as described earlier, this is a valid way to study content).  It is a good thing to score a 100 on a practice test when your previous score was 60—it proves that you mastered previously unknown content. However, if you want to assess your readiness for test day…start with a new exam. 

Here are a few other benefits of using practice tests:

  • Using practice tests can help to ease your exam anxiety.  Scoring in the 90s-plus on practice tests and quizzes can boost your confidence and help keep you calm on exam day.
  • Using practice exams can also help increase your mental endurance; testing can be surprisingly exhausting. Using practice tests (especially in simulated exam conditions) can give you an excellent understanding of how you will perform under extended periods of mental focus. If you have a difficult time remaining alert towards the end of an hour or two, this is a good indication that your study plan should include some flexing of your mental endurance—think of it as building up your test-taking muscles.
  • More good news: taking practice tests that use the same format as the actual exam (multiple-choice, short answer, true/false, essay) is likely to improve your score on the final test—no matter what combination of the three approaches (discussed above) that you use. This is due to a phenomenon known as Transfer-Appropriate Processing. Put simply, this means that we are more likely to remember (retrieve) information in the same manner in which it was encoded.

Practice tests can and should be part of your study plan. Taking practice quizzes and exams is a highly effective method of active learning—just be clear on how you are using them and how you are interpreting your results.

P.S. One final caveat: consider the source. Make sure you are using a quality product. I won’t name names, but I have seen a whole lotta so-called practice tests and quizzes floating around the internet that amount to little more than “the blind leading the blind.” Ideally, seek out a set of practice tests created by subject matter experts based on the course content and the format of the actual exam. If you are taking a class—ask your instructor!

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

The Bubbly Professor Tackles Topography

Topography: the study of the surface of the earth and how it creates the underlying foundation of a landscape. Sounds like a long, boring chapter in Geography 101.

However, to students of wine and spirits, topography is destiny. Studying the paths of rivers can help us understand the wine and spirits regions through which they pass. Climate, a major determinant in what grapes grow where, can be inferred from terrain and latitude. Current events—whether they be political, cultural, or changes in wine laws—are easier to understand if you understand the physical geography of a region. Physical geography can even determine the boundaries of a region, a country, or a kingdom.

So—to put it bluntly—I have been studying a lot of topography of late. So much so that I made a list of all the landforms, waterways, and winds I have studied (as witnessed by the sloppy reams of notes that surround me and the two-foot stack of new flashcards at my feet).

The list that follows is a short-hand cheat sheet I created to try to transform this mess into some kind of taxonomy. You can download a pdf version of the list here (The Bubbly Professor Tackles Topographyr Tackles Topography) or check it out below.

  • France
    • Land: Western Alps, Massif Central, Vosges Mountains, Pyrenees, Auvergne Mountains, Jura Mountains, Morvan Massif, Mont Blanc
    • Water: Rhône River, Moselle River, Rhine River, Loire River, Cher River, Charente River, Garonne River, Dordogne River, Gironde River (Estuary), Seine River, Marne River, Hérault River, Saône River, Aube River, Atlantic Ocean, Bay of Biscay, Mediterranean Sea, English Channel
    • Wind: Gulf Stream, Mistral, Tramontane 
  • Italy
    • Land: Italian Alps, Apennines, Dolomites, Mount Etna, Mount Vesuvius, Mont Blanc
    • Water: Arno River, Po River, Tiber River, Tanaro River, Adige River, Piave River, Tagliamento River, Sesia River, Lake Garda, Lake Como, Mediterranean Sea, Gulf of Venice
    • Wind: Sirocco winds, Grecale Winds 
  • Spain:
    • Land: Pyrenees, Meseta Central, Picos de Europa, Sierra Nevada, Cantabrian Mountains, Sistema Ibérico, Montes de Toledo, Sierra de Gredos, Sierra de Guadaramma, Sistema Penibértico, Canary Islands, Balearic Islands
    • Water: Ebro River, Duero River, Tagus River, Guadiana River, Guadalquivir River, Rías Baixas, Rías Altas, Atlantic Ocean, Bay of Biscay, Gulf of Cadiz, Mediterranean Sea
    • Wind: Garbinada Winds, Cierzo Winds, Levante, Poniente
  • Portugal
    • Land: Serra da Estrela, Montes de Toledo, Sintra Mountain, Azores, Madeira Island
    • Water: Minho River, Douro River, Tagus (Tejo) River, Guadiana River, Sado River, Mondego River, Ave River, Gulf of Cadiz, Atlantic Ocean
    • Wind: Portugal Current
  • Austria
    • Land: Central Alps, Pannonian Basin, Bohemian Forest
    • Water: Danube River, Lake Neusiedl (Neuisiedlsee)
    • Wind: Alpine Föhn (Nordföhn,  Südföhn)
  • Germany
    • Land: Black Forest, German/Bavarian Alps, Ore Mountains, Haardt Hills
    • Water: Rhine River, Mosel River, Saar River, Ahr River, Saale River, Unstrut River, Main River, Neckar River, Elbe River, Lake Constance (Bodensee)
    • Wind: Alpine Föhn (Nordföhn,  Südföhn), Böhmwind (Bohemian Wind) 
  • California/North Coast
    • Land: Coastal Mountains, Mayacamas Range, Vaca Range, Klamath Mountains, Diablo Range
    • Water: Napa River, Russian River, Dry Creek, Sonoma Creek, Navarro River, Lake Berryessa, Clear Lake, Lake Sonoma, San Pablo Bay/San Francisco Bay, Pacific Ocean, Sacramento River
    • Wind: Petaluma Gap, Chalk Hill Gap, Diablo Winds (named for Mount Diablo) 
  • California/Central Coast, Central Valley and Southern California
    • Land: Gabilan Mountains, Santa Cruz Mountains, Santa Lucia Range, Inner Coast Range, Diablo Range, Sierra Nevada, San Gabriel Mountains, San Bernardino Mountains
    • Water: Nacimento River, Lake Nacimento, Salinas River, Santa Ynez River, San Francisco Bay, Monterey Bay, Pacific Ocean, Sacramento River, San Joaquin River, Los Angeles River, Arroyo Seco, San Gabriel River, San Diego River, Santa Margarita River
    • Wind: Santa Ana Winds, Salinas River Valley Winds, Sacramento Delta Breezes, Templeton Gap, Sundowner, Norte Winds
  • Oregon
    • Land: Cascade Mountains, Coastal Range, Mount Hood, Mount Jefferson, Klamath Mountains
    • Water: Willamette River, Rogue River, Applegate River, Umpqua River, Illinois River, Columbia River, Snake River, Walla Walla River
    • Wind: Van Duzer Corridor, Coastal Winds, Coho (Gorge) Winds 
  • Washington State
    • Land: Cascade Mountains, Coastal Range, Mount Rainier, Mount Saint Helens
    • Water: Columbia River, Walla Walla River, Yakima River, Snake River, Puget Sound, Pacific Ocean
  • New York
    • Land: Niagara Escarpment, Adirondacks, Catskill Mountains, Appalachian Mountains, Hudson Highlands
    • Water: Finger Lakes, Lake Erie, Hudson River, Lake Ontario, Lake Champlain, Long Island Sound, Peconic Bay, Atlantic Ocean
  • Canada/British Columbia
    • Land: Coast Mountains, Cascade Mountains, Canadian Rockies, Alberta Plateau, Gulf Islands, Vancouver Island
    • Water: Columbia River, Okanagan River, Fraser River, Kootenay River, Pacific Ocean
    • Wind: Chinook (dry foehn wind, the “snow-eater”), Squamish (Arctic Outflow)
  • Canada/Ontario
    • Land: Niagara Escarpment, Prince Edward Island, Midwestern Canadian Shield, Boreal Forests
    • Water: Niagara River, Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, Saint Lawrence River, Pacific Ocean
  • South Africa
    • Land: Cape Fold Mountains, Cape Flats, Drakensberg, Simonsberg, Great Escarpment
    • Water: Orange River, Breede River, Erste River, Oliphants River, Berg River, Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean, Walker Bay
    • Wind: Benguela Current, Cape Doctor, Berg Wind (katabatic/descending winds)
  • New Zealand
    • Land: Southern Alps, Mount Cook, Volcanic Plateau (North Island), Mount Taranaki, Canterbury Plain, Moeraki Boulders, Marlborough Sounds, Fiordland, Piopiotahi (Milford Sound)
    • Water: Waikato River, Lake Taupo, Waitaki River, Poverty Bay, Bay of Plenty, Cook Strait, Franz Josef Glacier, Fox Glacier, Tasman Sea, Pacific Ocean
    • Wind: Canterbury Northwester, Roaring 40’s, The Barber (Grey District, West Coast)
  • Australia
    • Land: Great Dividing Range, Australian Alps, Peterman Ranges, Great Victoria Desert, Nullarbor Plain, Great Sandy Desert, Darling Range, Madonel Ranges, Tasmania, Great Barrier Reef
    • Water: Murrumbidgee River, Murray River, Darling River, Lachlan River, Flinders River, Gascoyne River Goulburn River, Yarra River, Great Australian Bight, Bass Strait, Spencer Gulf, Pacific Ocean, Indian Ocean, Tasman Sea
    • Wind: Albany Doctor, Brickfielder Wind, Freemantle Doctor, Roaring 40’s, Southerly Buster
  • Argentina
    • Land: Andes Mountains, Mount Aconcagua, Altiplano (Andean Plateau), Puna De Atacama (Atacama Plateau), Las Pampas (Argentine Plains), Tierra del Fuego, Falkland Islands
    • Water: Neuquén River, Río Negro, Chubut River, Mendoza River, Tupungato River, Jáchal River, Tunuyán River, San Juan River, Colorado River, Río de la Plata, Iguazu Falls, Atlantic Ocean
    • Wind: Zonda, Sudestada
  • Chile
    • Land: Andes Mountains, Ojos Del Salado, Coastal Range (Coastal Cordillera), Central Valley (Intermediate Depression), Atacama Desert, Los Lagos, Chilean Archipelagos/Tierra del Fuego, Chiloé Island, Isla Grande
    • Water: Rapel River, Cachapoal River, Colchagua River, Aconcagua River, Copiapó River, Huasco River, Elqui River, Choapa River, Maipo River, Straits of Magellan, Pacific Ocean
    • Wind: Humboldt Current, Viento Puelche

Please note: this list does not claim to include every landform and waterway that is important to the regions included, nor do I believe that it contains everything that is important in the context of wine and spirits studies. It does, however, represent those items that I came across while studying physical geography for wine and spirits theory classes or exams. I also included a few items that were interesting enough to (imho) be important to understanding a certain region, even if they do not have any direct impact on wine or spirits agriculture or production.

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

The Toughest Wine Theory Question in the World? (les Notres Dames)

Notre-Dame de Paris (2015)

I think I may just have stumbled upon one of the toughest wine theory questions in the world. Here goes: Name all the French wines that have a “Notre Dame” sub-appellation.

How many did you get? If asked this question yesterday, I am quite sure I would have only come up with one: Bourgogne-La Chapelle Notre-Dame AOC.

However, for some reason I became intrigued with the name, and after some research I discovered two more (and I may have missed some; if so, let me know in the comments below).

So, with a tip of the hat to the great cathedrals, chapels, and universities of the world that take the name of Our Lady, here are the three wines of Notre Dame. 

Bourgogne-La Chapelle Notre-Dame AOC: The Burgundy Region is known for its web-like system of overlapping, scattered, and nested appellations. Critics call this system confusing; proponents prefer to call it complex…like the wines.

Even at its most basic, generic level of geographical indication—the area-wide Bourgogne AOC—the region is complex. Theoretically, a Bourgogne AOC wine may contain grapes grown anywhere within the region—and this includes Chablis, the Côte d’Or, the Côte Chalonnaise, the Mâconnais, and Beaujolais. Allowed in red, white, and rosé, Bourgogne AOC wines may be produced as still (non-sparkling) wines based on Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, or Pinot Noir, with other grapes—Pinot Gris, Gamay, and César—allowed in limited amounts, but only if grown in certain places.

In addition, the Bourgogne AOC has no less than 14 geographically defined subzones, many of which carry their own specific standards (as to yield, density, and minimum must weights, for example). The most interesting of the 14 subzones, for our question du jour, is Bourgogne–La Chapelle Notre-Dame AOC.

The tiny (5 acre/2 ha) La Chapelle Notre-Dame subzone is located in the commune of Ladoix-Serrigny (near the northern edge of the Côte de Beaune). The region sits at the bottom of the hill of Corton, just below the vines of the Corton Grand Cru (and overlapping the single-vineyard Ladoix Premier Cru (there’s that mash-up again). The vineyard overlooks the town of Ladoix-Serrigny and takes its name from the nearby Chapelle Notre Dame du Chemin. 

Puy Notre-Dame: photo by AnnyB via Wikimedia Commons

Saumur-Puy Notre-Dame AOC: The Saumur AOC—covering a sizable area in the central Loire Valley—is approved for a range of wine types and styles, including Chenin Blanc-based whites and Cabernet Franc-based reds. However, a significant amount of the appellation’s production (and lots of the attention) is focused on the region’s high-quality, traditional-method sparkling wines—Saumur Mousseux. The area is also home to some renowned red wines, such as the Cabernet-Franc based wines of the Saumur-Champigny AOC (tucked into the northwest corner of the larger Saumur AOC, just south of the Loire River).

The Puy Notre-Dame sub-appellation covers most of the larger region, save for the area designated as the Saumur-Champigny AOC and a few other outposts. The Saumur-Puy Notre-Dame AOC is named for the commune of Puy Notre-Dame (sometimes referred to as Le Puy; and built around the hill of Puy. The Saumur-Puy Notre-Dame AOC is approved for Cabernet France-based red wines only, and has stricter standards (as for yield, viticultural practices, and aging) than those for the red wines produced under the larger Saumur AOC.

The village church of Puy Notre Dame purportedly houses a wristband once worn by the Virgin Mary and has served as a way station for pilgrims traveling to Santiago de Compostela on the Camino Francés.

Photo of Sanctuaire Notre-Dame des Anges by Christian Pinatel de Salvator, via Wikimedia Commons

Côtes de Provence-Notre-Dame des Anges AOC: The Côtes de Provence AOC is ground zero for Provençal rosé. Although red and white wines are approved for production, nearly 90% of production is rosé.

Rosé made in the Côtes de Provence AOC must contain at least two grape varieties—typically Cinsault, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah, and/or Tibouren. 

Covering close to 50,000 acres/20,000 ha—and encompassing almost the entire eastern half of the region—the Côtes de Provence AOC is the largest appellation in Provence. The terrain is understandably varied, ranging from the rolling hills in the north, limestone ridges, low coastal mountains, and the coastal plain. In 2019, an area located somewhat in the center of the Var Département—known as Notre-Dame des Anges—was approved as the fifth sub-appellation of the Côtes de Provence AOC.

The Côtes de Provence-Notre-Dame des Anges AOC surrounds the Massif des Maures—a low mountain range that cuts (west to east) across the center of the Var department. The AOC is named for the Sanctuaire Notre-Dame des Anges—a catholic church and pilgrimage site at the top of one of the Massif’s highest peaks.

Bonus Points—French cider also has a Notre-Dame connection: Within the Pays d’Auge AOC—centered around the Calvados department and approved to produce dry-to-off-dry, frizzante apple cider—there are 22 sub-appellations. Two of these—Notre-Dame-deLivaye and Notre-Dame-d’Estrées—are communes named for Our Lady. 

References/for more information:

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

Who ya gonna call? Those bastards!

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Who are all these bastards? The Vitis International Variety Catalogue (VIVC) lists no less than 38 wine grape variety names that begin with some form of the term bastardo. These include Bastardo Branca, Bastaro do Douro, Bastardo dos Frades de Bolinio, Bastardos Saperavi, and Bastardo Castico. They are mostly red varieties (32/38 are red), and hail from many different countries—Spain, Portugal, France, Georgia, Ukraine, and South Africa.

Some of these 38 bastardos are synonyms for other, better-known grape varieties—such as Bastardo Espanhol = Tinta de Lisboa, Bastardo Negro = Alfrochiero, and Bastardo Nero = Graciano.

No less than five of our Bastardos—including Bastardo do Castello, Bastardo do Douro, and Bastardo Preto—are listed in the VIVC catalog as synonyms for Trousseau. Trousseau is also the name cross-referenced with the entry for Bastardo in Wine Grapes by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding, and José Vouillamoz. So, with that ultra-impressive source, I am going to find out a bit more about this bastard by learning about the grape variety otherwise known as Trousseau.

Trousseau is a red grape variety and one of the two grapes indigenous to the Jura region of eastern France—the other is Poulsard, also a red variety.  Trousseau only occupies about 5% of the vineyard land in the Jura, but is authorized as a principal grape variety in many Jura appellations, including the Arbois, Crémant du Jura, Macvin du Jura, and Côtes du Jura AOCs.

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Trousseau is planted in several regions across Spain, including Galicia and Asturias (where it may be known as Verdejo Negro). It is approved for use in the Ribeira Sacra and Valdeorras DOs (under the name Merenzao), and is grown in other regions throughout the north of Spain as well.

Portugal has more than 3,000 acres/1,200 ha of Trousseau/Bastardo and as such is the leading country in terms of plantings. Much of Portugal’s Trousseau is grown in the Douro, where it is often found in field blends (mixed vineyards) and winds up being used in the production of Port. Plantings are also found in the Dão, Beiras, and on the island of Madeira. Bastardo is the typical name used for the grape in Portugal, and appears to be the birthplace of the colorful name.

Trousseau is early-budding, early-ripening, somewhat disease-prone, and susceptible to botrytis. It needs a lot of sunshine to fully ripen and can lack color intensity if under-ripe or over-cropped. As such, it’s a bit difficult in the vineyard.

When its good, Trousseau produces delightful wines with aromas of dark, red-and-black berries, orange peel, black pepper, fresh herbs, a hint of earthiness, and a distinct minerality. The grape can potentially reach high levels of sugar while retaining a crisp acidity and has been known to produce a flavorful rosé.

We may never know who the original bastardo was. According to Jancis Robinson, et al, in Wine Grapes, the name was first recorded long ago—in 1531, to be exact,—in a treatise entitled Description of the Terroir Around Lamego written by Portuguese a writer named Rui Fernandes.

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Fun facts about Trousseau:

  • The name Trousseau may be a reference to the Old French word trusse, meaning “a bundle;” it could be said that the grapes appear “bundled up.” Or…it may be a reference to the French word troussé, meaning “trussed;” this could be a reference to the shape of the bunches.
  • Trousseau is not the same grape as Tressot—a red grape from France’s Yonne department—even though they are often confused (and despite the similarity of the names).
  • A white (pink-skinned) mutation of Trousseau known as Trousseau Gris is grown in a few areas—mostly in the Jura region of France—and was known, once-upon-a-time in California, as Gray Riesling.
  • In the New World, Trousseau has recently been identified in an old vineyard in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley AVA. Several wine growers in Oregon—in the Umpqua and Willamette Valley AVAs—have begun planting it as well.

References/for more information: 

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