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Deconstructing Llicorella

PrioratThis morning I set about to research the wine region of Priorat for a blog post.  I already knew the basics of the region, such as the fact that it is one of Spain’s two DOCa wines, the main grape variety is Garnacha Tinta, and the area came to international attention in the 1990s.

Wikipedia (I know, not the best reference but in this case, just a starting point) also had this to say, “The area is characterized by its unique terroir of black slate and quartz soil known locally as Llicorella.” I already knew that the soil in Priorat is mainly Llicorella…at least I knew the word, and could have guessed it correctly on a multiple choice test.  But being in a Monday sort of contemplative mood, I wondered if I really understood Llicorella.  Of course, I didn’t. So I set about to deconstruct Llicorella.

First of all…just what exactly is slate? Slate is a fine-grained, foliated, homogeneous metamorphic rock derived from sedimentary rock composed of clay or volcanic ash. It is the finest grained foliated metamorphic rock.

Slate...a Metamorphic Rock

Slate…a Metamorphic Rock

Metamorphic Rock? Metamorphic rocks are created from the transformation of existing rock types.  Metamorphism means “change in form.” Rocks under the earth’s surface change form by being subjected to heat, generally temperatures from 300° – 400°F, which can cause both physical and chemical changes in the rock itself.

Sedimentary Rock? Sedimentary rocks are formed by the solution of mineral and organic particles within bodies of water. Sedimentation is the name for several different processes that cause mineral particles and organic particles to settle and accumulate first into a dissolved solution and later into sediment.  Sediment is then transported to dry land by water, wind, or glaciers, or is left behind when the bodies of water dry up.  With time, the slushy sediment hardens into rock. Sandstone is probably the most well-known sedimentary rock.

Clay? Clay is a very fine-grained soil type made up of very fine minerals such as aluminium phyllosilicates, iron, magnesium, and a bunch of other chemicals I have never heard of. The minerals that make up clay soil are the result of weathering…the breakdown of rocks, soils, and minerals through contact with air, water, and living creatures.

Licorella

Llicorella

Volcanic Ash? Volcanic ash is made up of pieces of pulverized rock, minerals, and volcanic glass that are created during volcanic eruptions. Pieces of ash must be less than 2 mm in diameter – larger fragments are referred to as cinders or blocks. At least this one I can understand!

Foliated? There are two types of metamorphic rocks:  foliated rocks and non-foliated rocks.  Foliated metamorphic rocks, such as schist and slate, have a “layered” appearance that has been produced by exposure to heat and directed pressure.  Non-foliated metamorphic rocks such as marble and quartz do not have the “layered” appearance.

And what is quartz? Quartz is the second most abundant mineral in the Earth’s continental crust, after feldspar. There are many different varieties of quartz, several of which are semi-precious gemstones. Quartz is the most common element of sand and sandstone and is used in glassmaking.  Quartz is almost immune to weathering and is a component of granite and other igneous rocks.

Aha- that’s why sand is coarse (quartz doesn’t “weather”) and clay is fine (its made up of materials that do weather or “breakdown”).

I think I’ll stop there. But for those of you who are curious, igneous rocks are rocks that are formed by the cooling and solidification of lava or magma. Granite and obsidian are igneous rocks.

So now, when someone says, “Llicorella is a unique soil made up of black slate and quartz,” what do you know?

Vineyard in PrioratSources (in addition to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Priorat_(DOQ)):

http://geology.com/

http://www.quartzpage.de/index.html

http://www.mineralszone.com/

http://www.turismepriorat.org/en

http://www.in-spain.info/top20/spanish-white-wine-priorat.htm

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

Old World, New World – The “Secret Weapon” of Blind Tasting

Beaujolais...Totally Old World

Beaujolais…Totally Old World

Whew!!  Preparing this CWE Preview is really taking over my life…but it has led to some interesting blog posts as well (or so I’d like to believe…)

Today while starting to write my study tips and design my presentation about the Varietal/Appellation Identification portion (aka the “Blind Tasting,” which is actually a semi-blind tasting) of the CWE Exam, I began to consolidate all of my notes about what constitutes the “Old World” style as opposed to the “New World” style.

While it almost pains me to make sure generalities about wine (really, what in what other field could we get away with spouting such obvious prejudice?), I thought I’d share my notes with you, in the hopes that either you can benefit from it – or, if you totally disagree – could enjoy letting me know why I’m wrong! Here goes:

Old World, New World – The “Secret Weapon” of Blind Tasting

This technique helps you identifty a wine’s place of origin – or at least narrow it down – based on some basic style parameters.

In a nutshell:  the prevailing style of “Old World” wines is subtle, while the prevailing style of “New World” wines is bold. The root causes of these stylistic differences include vine growing conditions, including climate and soil quality; old world tradition vs. new world innovation; the styles of the local cuisines; and the concept of old world terrior-driven wines vs. new world fruit-driven wines.

In an even smaller nutshell, the “Old World” of wine is Europe and includes France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Hungary, Croatia, Austria, Bulgaria, and Romania.  The “New World” of wine includes The United States, Canada, Australia, Chile, Argentina, New Zealand, and South Africa.

Old World Wines:

  • Are subtle, elegant, and refined.
  • Are earthy, and terrior-driven, and crafted to reflect the character of the vineyard.
  • Are so expressive of the character of the “place” that they are frequently named after the area of origin, as opposed to the grape variety.
  • Are crafted to support and complement the local cuisine.
  • Are accepted as a part of daily life to be enjoyed with every meal, and therefore tend to be lighter in body and alcohol.
  • Are protected and regulated by Europe’s vast system of wine regulations.
  • Are based on the trial-and-error experience of countless generations that developed the ideal combination of grapes, viticultural practices, and wine making techniques that yield a particular wine style.
  • Have established reputations and market recognition.

 

Artesa Winery - Totally Gorgeous

Artesa Winery – Totally Gorgeous

New World Wines:

  • Are bold, lush, and opulent.
  • Are fruit-driven, fruit-forward, and often named after the grape variety.
  • Are crafted to complement the bold flavors of New World Cuisines.
  • Are driven by research, experimentation, and innovation.
  • Have very little regulatory limitations compared to the Old World (we’re the wild wild west…)
  • Have little in the way of tradition to dictate styles.
  • Are still struggling with the concept of what grapes grow best in which areas.
  • Often make the choice of grape variety based on market-driven as opposed to terrior-driven forces.
  • Are often expressions of the winemaker’s unique style.
  • Have been accused of being  “splashy” in order to garner market attention (how else can you explain “Cat’s Pee on a Gooseberry Bush?”)

When it comes to Asia, while grape-based winemaking is certainly a new industry in many part of Asia, the roots, while rather obscure, go back a long way. The wine world can’t really decide how to label this up-and-coming wine powerhouse. Some are calling Asia the “New New World,” some are calling it the “Third Wine World,” and some think we should just stick to  calling it “Asia.”

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

What do Lentils, Honey, and Hay have in Common?

Hay BalesSo…what do lentils, honey, and hay have in common?  How about we throw in chicken, lavender oil, and walnuts?  Any ideas?  Ok…lets add 43 types of Cheese and 376 styles of wine.  Now you get it, right???

All of these products are Appellation d’Origine Protégée, or AOP-protected products from France. (Formerly known as or Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, or AOC-protected products, which is still in use, along with the updated, all-EU version AOP .  Got that?)

All of you wine people out there know all about AOC laws, how confusing they can be to wine newbies, how every European Country has it own version (DOC, DO, OPAP and so forth) and how very recently the EU attempted to bring all 27 (soon to be 28) member countries under the same umbrella by creating the all-inclusive umbrella of the AOP.  Or we know just enough to get by!

A recent textbook editing assignment (about 2 months worth) has led me to be a bit more of an AOP/AOC expert than I care to be, but I must admit I have learned an awful lot along the way.  Did you know, for instance, that France currently has 43 AOP Cheeses?  Roquefort, they say, is the stinky cheese that started it all, centuries ago.  It seems that In 1411 King Charles VI (known as “The Beloved” in his youth and “The Mad” as Lentils-le-puy-en-velayhe got older) granted a monopoly for the ripening of the region’s sheep’s milk cheese to the people of Roquefort-sur-Soulzono.  To this day, according to AOP laws, only those cheeses aged in the natural Combalou caves of  Roquefort-sur-Soulzon may bear the name Roquefort.

The AOP Lentils, Lentils-le-Puy-en-Velay, I actually know from my chef days.  Widely referred to as “French Green Lentils” these AOP lentils are in great demand all over the world due to their high protein content,  unique flavor, and ease of cooking.  All of these qualities derive from the thin soil of the town of Lu-Puy-en-Velay in the south-central France.

About that AOP Hay…Foin de Crau is an AOP designated Hay from the La Crau Region of Provence.  This is special hay due to the diversity of the grasslands where it grows, its rich mineral content, its digestibility and good flavor.  Admit it:  that doesn’t sound that much different from a wine description. If you would like, you can buy some Foin de Crau  here.

The AOP honey, Miel de Sapin de Vosges, sounds amazing.  If ever there was a product produced by buzzing little insects that deserves the protection of the French government, this is it.  “Sapin” is actually a type of fir tree that grow in the Vosges Mountain region of eastern France.  This dark brown, luscious honey is sometimes called “Silver Fir Honey,” and while there are several AOP honeys, this type is produced only in the Vosges.

Wine Bottles on SideMy AOC/AOP research revealed some fascinating information on wine, as well.  For starters, there is a database called e-Bacchus that lists the current regulatory status of all the wines in the EU…from PDO to PGI and using traditional terms as well.  According to e-Bacchus, there are exactly 376 PDO wines in France.  Click here for a PDF of List of French AOP from E-Bacchus .  That should keep you busy for a while.

If you would like to research Walnuts from Périgord, Lavender Oil from Haute-Provence, Chickens from Bresse or any of the thousands of other AOP-protected items in the EU, just click here for the database.  Just make sure you have plenty of free time.  This is very interesting stuff.

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

A New Branch of the Chianti Family Tree?

Tree Use for ChiantiNews Flash!

Last month (February 17, 2013 to be exact), the Chianti Classico Consorzio approved the creation of a new top-tier classification of Chianti Classico DOCG wines to be known as “Gran Selezione.”  The term is expected to be approved by the Ministry of Agriculture, and if so, will be a quality level “above” Chianti Classico Riserva. 

It is estimated that approximately 7% of the production of Chianti Classico will be eligible for the  designation.  The first wines eligible to display the term on their label will be those from the 2010 vintage.

If you’ve been following my study guide on the wines of the Veneto (or even if you’ve been following Italian wines at all) you know that Italian wines are already surrounded by a jungle of regulatory and legislative classifications.  Luckily, this in no way affects how delicious, delightful, and affordable they can be!

In the interest of “keeping it simple.” here is a quick look at how this new branch of the Chianti family tree fits in with its brothers and sisters:

Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG:

  • Must be produced from 100% estate-grown fruit
  • Minimum 30 months of aging  
  • Is intended to acknowledge vineyard-specific wines
  • Will represent approximately 7% of the production of Chianti Classico

chianti classico gallo neroChianti Classico Riserva DOCG:

  • Minimum 24 months of aging
  • Minimum 12.5% abv

Chianti Classico DOCG:

  • Minimum 12 months of aging
  • Minimum 12% abv

All versions of Chianti Classico must be a minimum of 80% Sangiovese, produced from grapes grown within the 100-square miles of the designated Chianti Classico region.  Up to 10% Canaiolo may used, along with up to 15% other varieties, of which Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Merlot are often used.  Yields are limited to 3 tons per acre.

Sangiovese in TuscanyBy the way, not everyone is thrilled about this new development.  A quick websearch on “New Chianti Classification” revealed a wide range of opinions up to and including disgust(!), bewilderment(!), and we are not amused(!).  Of course, many people also think it is a great idea, intended to showcase and honor the highest level of production of the region.  We will be watching how this plays out in the future!

My Source (in Italian): http://www.aisitalia.it/chianti-classico-gran-selezione.aspx

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

If you think there is a Bubbly Professor Tuscany Quiz in your future…you are correct!

 

The Best of the Veneto: The DOCG’s

At last count, The Veneto has 14 DOCG’s.  Read on to learn more about them! 

Drying grapes for AmaroneAmarone della Valpolicella:  Amarone della Valpolicella received its DOCG in 2009.  Amarone is a well-known version of Valpolicella made using the partially dried grape process known as apassimento.  The grapes used for Amarone must be dried until December 1st following the harvest.  The wine must also be aged for two years from the 1st of January following the vintage.  (Riserva versions must be aged 4 years from November 1st of the vintage year.)  The minimum alcohol percentage of Amarone della Valpolicella is 14%. While technically considered a dry wine, small amounts of residual sugar are allowed; the amount allowed is in proportion to the amount of alcohol with higher alcohol wines allowed slightly larger amounts of R.S. Interesting factoid:  Along with the 2009 DOCG decree, Molinara is no longer a required component of Amarone della Valpolicella, although it may be used in small amounts for blending.  

Recioto della Valpolicella:  Like Amarone, Recioto della Valpolicella received its DOCG in 2009.  Also like Amarone, Recioto is made from well-ripened grapes that are left to dry following the harvest.  The grapes for Recioto must be dried until January 1st following the harvest – one month longer than for Amarone.  Unlike Amarone, which is fermented dry (or near-dry), fermentation is arrested in a Recioto at about 12% alcohol, leaving a good deal of residual sugar.  Recioto della Valpolicella is a rich, highly extracted, sweet wine with a velvety texture.  Only a tiny amount of Recioto della Valpolicella is produced each year; about 2% of the total production of Valpolicella is made into Recioto. 

Veneto WinerySoave Superiore: The Soave Superiore DOCG was created in 2002 to differentiate some of the large, productive region’s highest quality wines.  As in a typical Soave, the Soave Superiore blend is based on 70% Garganega. Other white varieties, including Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay, Verdicchio, Friulano, Cortese, Riesling Italico and Serprina (aka Glera) are allowed in varying degrees to fill up the remaining 30%.  Soave Superiore must have a minimum alcohol level of at least 11.5% as opposed to 10.5% for “regular” Soave DOC wines; yields are stricter as well.

The geographic area of the new Soave Superiore DOCG includes the vineyards that were previously the Soave Classico zone as well as some hillside vineyards beyond the original Classico zone.  The wines grown in this new part of the zone may be labeled as Soave Colli Scaligeri Superiore DOCG, a name referring to the Scaligieri family, Lords of Verona, who were once owners of the region.

Recioto di Soave:  Recioto di Soave received its DOCG in 1998.  This is a sweet white wine from the typical Soave blend based on Garganega, produced in the passito style.  

Recioto di Gambellara:  Gambellara is well known for its dry white wines made from Garganega, Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay and Verdicchio.  Located about 8 miles east of Soave, comparisons are inevitable; Gambellara is often thought of the “poor cousin” to Soave. However, the passito-produced, sweet version known as Recioto di Gambellara is highly regarded and received DOCG status in 2008.  Alas, Recioto di Gambellara is produced in very small quantities and is rarely seen in America.  Interesting factoid:  The region also produces Vin Santo di Gambellara. It seems a trip in is order.  

MontelviniColli Asolani (aka Asolo Prosecco):  In 2009 and 2010, along with the change of the name of the Prosecco grape variety to Glera and an expansion of the boundaries of the Prosecco zone, DOCG’s were awarded to two sub-regions within the Prosecco DOC.  The Colli Asolani region extends for about five miles along a ridge of gently rolling hills between the towns of Cornuda and Asolo.  The finest vineyards in the Colli Asolani are planted on the southern slopes of the hills, which provide maximum sun exposure, a gentle sloping grade, loose soils, and excellent drainage. 

Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene:  If you are a Prosecco lover (and they are legion), you are undoubtedly already familiar with the communes of Conegliano and Valdobbiadance, long considered the finest areas within the Prosecco DOC.  In 2009, along with the expansion of the Prosecco DOC and several other changes, the authorities made it “official” by awarding the Communes (and 13 other towns and villages) a DOCG under the umbrella of “Conegliano Valdobbiadene.”  Similar to labeling pracitices before the DOCG was granted,  a wine can use either commune name (or both) on the label.  Wines that are produced from the vineyards within the San Pietro di Barbossa area (east of the commune of Valdobbiadene) can also add the term “Superiore di Cartizze” on the label. 

Colli di Conegliano: While Conegliano is best known for Prosecco, the region does produce still wines as well.  A small area west of the town itself, known as Colli di Conegliano DOC since 1993, has a tradition of producing still wines, including red, white, and passito versions.

As of 2011, some of the region’s best wines were elevated to the status of Colli di Conegliano DOCG.  Red DOCG wines can be made from the Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Marzemino, Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso, and Incrocio Manzoni grape varieties.  Reds must be aged in wood for at least six months, one year for the riserva version.  White wines with Colli di Conegliano DOCG status must be made from 33% Incrocio Manzoni and a balance of either Chardonnay or Pinot Bianco.  Sauvignon Blanc and Riesing are allowed, in a combined maximum of 10%. There is no aging requirement for the white wines, except that the earliest allowed release date is May 1st following the harvest.  

Montello Rosso: The Montello wine region,  towards the Northern portion of the Veneto, covers an 8-mile swath from Cornuda to Castelcucco, and includes at least 16 villages in between.  This area was inducted into the world of Italy’s DOC’s in 2011 and Montello Rosso was immediately elevated to DOCG status. Montello Rosso wines are made from a Bordeaux-inspired blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Carmenere.

BardolinoBardolino Superiore:  Bardolino Superiore was granted DOCG status in 2001, and unlike some of the new DOCG’s with rather complicated regulations, still refers to a typcial Bardolino, which must be made in the dry style, and with the added requirement of at least one year of aging.

Friularo di Bagnoli:  The Friularo di Bagnoli DOCG, another new addition to the DOCG world, is located in the southern half of the Padua province. The DOCG covers red wines made from the indigenous Friularo variety, also known as Raboso. The Raboso grape ripens late and thrives in the cold weather that creeps into the area around November.  The term “Friularo” might even have come from the latin term for cold, “Frigus” (in Venetian “Frigoearo”).  The Friularo di Bagnoli DOCG makes dry red wines, riserva wines, late harvest (vendemmia tardiva) wines harvested after Novmber 11, and wines in the passito style. 

Piave Malanotte (aka Malanotte del Piave):   The entire Piave zone, first granted DOC status in 1963,  is the largest viticultural region in the Veneto, covering more than 50 communes in the area between Treviso and Vincenza.

The Piave Malanotte DOCG was granted a separate DOC and immediately elevated to DOCG in 2011.  Piave Malanotte dares to produce red wines in this region dominated by white wines and bubbly. Piave Malanotte must be made from at least 95% Raboso, although this may be divided between Raboso Piave (considered the superior version) and Raboso Veronese, which may account for no more than 30% of the finished blend.  This DOCG has some very strict standards.  Any wine bearing the Piave Malanotte DOCG label must be aged for at least three years before release, and 15- 30% of the grapes must under go the appassimento drying process until at least December 8th following the vintage.  For these reasons, Piave Malanotte is among the most expensive wines of the Veneto.

Lison:  Lison is a new DOCG for white wines made from the Tai (formerly Tocai) grape variety.  Lison was, until recently, part of the Lison-Pramaggiore DOC.  The Lison-Pramaggiore DOC produces a variety of wines including varietals, rosso blends, bianco blends, and sparkling wines based on both indigenous grapes and international varieties.  In 2010 the region of Lison was split off from the Lison-Pramaggiore DOC,  and was elevated to DOCG status for white wines only.

The geographical boundaries of the Lison DOCG actually cross over from the eastern Veneto into the western portion of Fruili-Veneiza Guilia, making it the only DOCG in Italy to be shared by more than one political region.  

Colli Euganei Fior d’Arancio:  The Colli Euganei hills, located just south of the town of Padua, are named for the semi-mythical Euganei people who lived in the area before the arrival of the Veneti and the Roman Empire.  The hills themselves are of volcanic origin making the soil uniquely rich in minerals. The Colli Euganei DOC was established in 1969 and makes (at last count) at least 12 different wines, including red blends, white blends, varietals and sparkling wines. Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, Cabernet Franc, and Tai are widely grown here, as is the Glera grape variety, which goes by the local name of Serprina.

But enough about the DOC.  In 2011, a sweet, sparkling wine made from the Fior d’Arancia grape was singled out for elevation to DOCG status. The Fior d’Arnacia grape variety, whose name can be translated to “orange blossom” is known elsewhere are Orange Muscat or Muscat Fleur d’Oranger.  A sweet, sparkling wine made from Muscat…who would have thought?  

Good Luck with your studies!

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

How to Pass the CSW: How Well do You Know France?

map france citiesI love maps, because they make me dream of travel!  Someone once said “maps are the foreplay to travel.”  I don’t know where I heard that, so I can’t credit the source, but it’s a great line and I wish I had said it first!

Being a wine person, maps also make me dream of wine – or have nightmares about the study of wine.

I think we would all agree that understanding a region’s geography sets the groundwork for really understanding their wines. Note that I said “really understanding” and not just memorizing lists of rivers, towns, and grapes.  If you are a regular reader of The Bubbly Professor you know that in my classes, I try to  emphasize learning – emphasizing understanding, context, and meaning – as opposed to just “memorizing factoids” or “trying to pass a test.”

In an attempt to help those of you who are studying – and hopefully, really learning – about wine for the CSW Exam or other wine certification, I’ve put together a fun (?) map exercise for France.  I’ll give you a blank map and you get to fill in the rest!

If you take some time to do this exercise, trust me, doing some research and referencing a good map will go a long way to your understanding of the geography of France.  However, the act of actually drawing in the towns, rivers, mountain ranges and wine regions on the map takes this activity from passive learning (looking at someone else’s work) to active (drawing it yourself) and turns it into a “whole brain learning” experience.  Trust me, this exercise will increase your retention and understanding of the geography of France, laying the groundwork for understanding the geography of the wines produced there. Note that I did not say it would be fast or easy, but I guarantee it will be a worthwhile way to spend an evening.  (Perhaps a good swap for a night of watching re-runs of Mad Men???)

BeaujolaisIf you dare, click here to download the So You Think You Know France Exercise.  Enjoy the study session, and let’s see just how much we know – or have yet to learn – about the geography of France!

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

Bubbly Disclaimer:  This is my own personal advice and should not be considered as “official” advice from any school or organization. I hope the materials here on The Bubbly Prof help you out with your wine studies, and that you are successful in your certification endeavors.  Cheers!

How to Pass the CSW: “Do I Need to Study the Maps?”

world map backgroundBeing the Bubbly Professor, I get lots of emails asking the question, “How do I study for the CSW?”  Usually people that contact me have been studying a while – thankfully – and have many more specific questions as well.  Since I have spent so much time answering these questions on a one-on-one basis, I figured it was time for a new series of posts:  “How to Pass the CSW!” 

I really should call this series “How to Study for the CSW” but somehow “How to Pass…” just seemed like more fun.  So stay tuned as I try to address these questions one by one.

“Do I need to study the maps?”  Yes. 

“Do I need to know everything on the maps?”  This is one of the most common lines of questioning I receive.  It’s like people don’t want to have to study the maps.  However, let me make it perfectly clear:  Yes, you need to study the maps.  Yes, you need to know everything on the maps.

Hold on, it’s about to get even better, because imho, if a wine region is listed on a map, someone up at SWE thinks it is important, and you should also know what types of wine they produce there, including the grape varieties and any tidbits about terroir or production methods that are noted in the text of the CSW Study Guide.  You should also know where the region is located in relation to other wine regions, as well as the rivers, mountain ranges, and cities that surround it.  If any specific geographical information is including in the text, you might need to know that as well!

Here are a few examples of what I mean:

Queenstown, New Zealand

Queenstown, New Zealand

New Zealand is located 1,200 miles east of Australia.

Napa County lies north of San Pablo Bay.

Chile is almost 3,000 miles long and barely 100 miles wide in most spots.

These bits of information are what I call “factoids.”  Factoids are seemingly random pieces of information and can be baffling to study – if all you are trying to do is memorize them.  A factoid such as “New Zealand is located 1,200 miles east of Australia” seems trivial – unless you put it in context.  So please don’t try to just memorize random factoids.  You will get bored and shut down; you might as well try to memorize a series of non-sequential numbers.  More importantly:  The brain just isn’t good at it. 

What the brain is very good at doing, however, is learning meaning, context, and stories.  The New Zealand/Australia factoid makes perfect sense, and is pretty memorable, when put in context.  We could weave the factoid into a story such as:

“Many people studying for the CSW lump the wines of Australia and New Zealand together and call it something like “wines from down under.”  However, the two land masses are separated by 1,200 miles of ocean – they are about as close together as San Diego and Dallas. Australia and New Zealand have more distance between them than Tuscany and the Mosel.   

Uluru (Ayers Rock), Australia

Uluru (Ayers Rock), Australia

This means that the climates of Australia and New Zealand have little in common except the name of the nearest ocean.  Australia is hot and dry and only hospitable to grapes in certain regions along the coastlines or clustered around the Great Dividing Range.  New Zealand has a maritime climate, and is even cooler than one might imagine due to the fact that most of the country lies within 50 miles of the frigid South Pacific Ocean.

This huge distance also means that New Zealand is quite isolated, considering that Australia is its closest neighbor. To the south, there’s nothing but ice – Antarctica is the only continent south of New Zealand. Chile, its closest neighbor to the east, is over 5,000 miles away.   Seeing as how sheep outnumber people in New Zealand, this isolation makes for some interesting challenges, particularly when it comes to mobilizing a non-existent labor force for harvest.

That’s what you need to learn from the maps. Does it make sense? Sure does.  Is it a good story?  Hell yeah.  Will you remember it?  Just try not to.

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

Bubbly Disclaimer:  This is my own personal advice and should not be considered as “official” advice from any school or organization. I hope the materials here on The Bubbly Prof help you out with your wine studies, and that you are successful in your certification endeavors.  Cheers!

Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Grenache

grenacheThe Soundbyte:  Grenache (technically Grenache Noir) might just be the most popular “wing man” in the world of wine.  By that I mean that while Grenache is certainly capable of starring in varietal wines, it is one of the world’s most popular partners in a red wine blend.

In Spain, Grenache is often blended with Tempranillo, Cinsault, and a host of other grapes.  Grenache is one of the three amigos (Grenache-Syrah- Mourvèdre) of the Rhône Blend (otherwise known as G-S-M), while also playing a part in some of the more complex (ie., 13-grapes-or-even-more) wines of the Rhône.   Grenache is also made into dessert and fortified wines, and makes a world-class rosé.

Typical Attributes of a Grenache-based Wine:

  • A typical varietal wine made with Grenache might be described as soft on the palate, relatively high in alcohol and with aromas of spice and berries.
  • The texture of Grenache has been described as “rustic” or “fleshy”.
  • The grape tends to be thin-skinned and low in both color and tannin, however, these factors can vary depending on vineyard conditions and winemaking; some Grenache packs a powerful tannic punch.
  • In addition to varietals, Grenache is used in fortified wines, dessert wines, and delightful rosés; but its most common incarnation is as the backbone of hearty red blends.

Typical Aromas of a Grenache Based Wine:

grenache grapesFruity:  Blackberry, Blueberry, Strawberry, Cranberry, Currant, Cherry, Raisin, Plum

Spicy:  Black Pepper, Menthol, Licorice

Earthy:  Wet Earth, Leather, Forest Floor, Bramble, Tobacco, Smoke, Leather

Floral:  Roses, Dried Rose Petals, Violet

Oak-Derived:  Chocolate, Mocha, Cocoa, Vanilla, Sweet Wood

Where The Best Grenache is Grown:

  • In France’s Rhône Valley, especially the Southern Rhône, where it is the super star grape of Châteauneuf-du-Pape , Gigondas, and Rasteau. Typically, it plays a leading role in the blended red wines of the Southern Rhône.
  • The grape is part of the blend that is used to produce many delightful rosés throughout the Southern Rhône, including Lirac and Tavel.
  • Also in France, Grenache is grown in Provence, Rouissillon, Languedoc, Minervois, Fitou, and Corbières. It is also the leading variety of certain fortified wines in produced in Banyuls and Maury.
  • In Spain, where it is among the most widely planted red grapes in the country, the grape is called “Garnacha”.  Garnacha is main variety in Pirorat and Campo de Borja; and plays a role in the wines of Rioja, Navarra,  Somontano, Catalonia, and La Mancha.
  • Australia, where it makes some awesome varietals, including my favorite, d’Arenberg’s McLaren Vale “The Custodian” Grenache.
  • California, where it has historically been grown in San Joaquin Valley and is now produced in many other regions such as Santa Barbara and Paso Robles.
  • Washington State is also getting into Grenache.
  • Several regions throughout the south of Italy, particularly Sardinia, where it stars in the wine known as Cannonau di Sardegna.

grenache foodFood Affinities – Base Ingredients:

  • Beef, Lamb, Veal, Venison, Pork, Hard Cheeses

Food Affinities – Bridge Ingredients:

  • Simple, rustic dishes, Grilled Foods
  • Tomatoes, Sun-dried Tomatoes, Tomato Sauces
  • Onions, Garlic, Mushrooms, Eggplant, Fennel, Roasted Bell Peppers
  • Green Olives, Black Olives, Capers, Green Peppercorns, Black Pepper
  • Rosemary, Thyme, Bay Leaf

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

 

Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Sémillon

35-Semillon-grapesThe Soundbyte:  Sémillon is a golden-skinned white wine grape known primarily for its close association with Sauvignon Blanc, as in the Sauvignon/Sémillon blends of White Bordeaux and its many imitators worldwide.  Sémillon is increasingly seen as a stand-alone varietal, particularly in the Hunter Valley Region of Australia, where it seems to have found its “second home.”  Sémillon has a well-documented susceptibility to Botrytis, and is often made into dessert wines.  It is the most widely planted white wine grape in Bordeaux, particularly in Sauternes.  Fans of Sémillon like to brag that the most famous dessert wine of all, Château d’Yquem, is 80% Sémillon.

Typical Attributes of a Sémillon Based Wine:

  • The grapes are hardy in the vineyard and relatively easy to culitivate.  They are fairly resistant to disease, but as luck would have it, are quite susceptible to Botrytis.
  • Sémillon tends to have moderate acidity, which is most likely why it became the world’s best blending partner for Sauvignon Blanc, which tends to scream with acidity.
  • Sémillon tends to have good extract, and a rich, “oily” texture or weight,  sometimes referred to as  “waxy”.
  • Varietal wines tend to have medium to high levels of alcohol.
  • Sémillon tends to be low on aromatics when made into a varietal, which is another reason why it does so well with the intensely aromatic Sauvignon Blanc. 
  • It has been described as rather “bland” in its youth, but is one of the rare white wines that can transform with age.  Older versions can take on a hazelnut, toasty richness. Oak aging also helps create a more complex wine, and, along with  malolactic fermentation can encourage aromas of butter, cream, vanilla and smoke.
  • An interesting wine-tasting term that is often used to describe Sémillon is “lanolin,” which is actually a substance found in wool and used in cosmetics (!).  In “WineSpeak” the term refers to a smooth, creamy impression that might be considered to opposite of “tart” or “sharp”. 

semillon bottlesTypical Aromas of a Semillon Based Wine:

Fruity:  Apple, Pear,  Lemon, Nectarine, Grapefruit, Melon, Fig, Date  

Spicy:  Saffron, Vanilla, Dried Herb

Vegetal:  Green Grass, Asparagus, Bell Pepper 

Botrytis Affected Versions:  Apricot, Dried Apricot, Quince, Peach, Honey, Pineapple, Vanilla, Butterscotch, Curry

Oaked Versions:  Vanilla, Sweet Wood, Toast, Smoke, Oak, Coconut

Where The Best Sémillon is Grown:

  • The Southwest of France, particularly Bordeaux, where it most likley has its native home.  Sémillon is the most widely planted white grape in Bordeaux, particularly in Sauternes where it may claim up to 80% of the vineyard property.  Of course, it shares the white Bordeaux blend with Sauvignon Blanc and sometimes a dash of Muscadelle, so it has remained somewhat out of the spotlight. But be sure…Sémillon rules the white Bordeaux world.
  • Australia’s Hunter Valley, which has become Sémillon’s adopted home in much the same way that Malbec has taken to Mendoza. Hunter Valley is well-known for being a leading producer of 100% varietal Sémillon.
  • In other parts of Australia, Sémillon is used as a blending partner for Chardonnay as well as in Bordeaux-inspired Sémillon-Sauvignon Blends.
  • The Côtes de Gascogne, a Vin de Pays produced in the Armagnac region, is heavily planted to Sémillon.
  • The Loire Valley has a smattering of Sémillon, as does Portugal, Israel, Argentina, Chile, California, Washington State, New Zealand, and South Africa.

semillonFood Affinities – Base Ingredients:

  • Roast Chicken with Herbs!
  • Seafood of all kinds…try Classic French Steamed Mussels
  • Poultry, Duck, Veal, Pork…

Food Affinities – Bridge Ingredients:

  • Corn, Pumpkin, Squash, Polenta
  • Coconut, Apples, Pears, Pineapple
  • Nutmeg, Saffron
  • Hazelnuts, Cashews, Walnuts, Pecans
  • Bacon, Mushrooms, Sweet Onions, Garlic
  • Lemon and Grapefruit make excellent flavor bridges, but try not to overdo it on the acidity (remember, this is a low-acid wine)
  • Tarragon, Basil, Thyme, Lemongrass, Basil, Rosemary, Fresh herbs of all kinds 
  • Butter, Brown Butter, Cream, Sour Cream, Olive Oil

If your Sémillon-based wine is more “Sauvignon” than “Sémillon” – check out the food pairing advice on the Cheat Sheet for Sauvignon Blanc.

If your Sémillon is botrytis-affected, it will go well with sweet dishes made with honey, cream, apricots, apples, and pears—in addition to pairing beautifully with savory dishes such as blue cheese and foie gras! 

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

missjane@prodigy.net