The Winds of Wine: Le Mistral

Van Gogh's "Starry Night"

Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”

Convinced that it comes in multiples of 3 days, residents of Provence will tell you that the Mistral Wind blows for 3, 6, 9 or 12 days.  Referred to as “Le Sacre Mistral,” it is blamed for headaches, edginess, and the bad behavior of husbands, pets, and children. They swear it is what drove Vincent Van Gogh to chop off his own ear.

The Mistral is a cold, dry, regional wind that occurs each time there is an area of high pressure in the Bay of Biscay accompanied by an area of low pressure around the Gulf of Genoa.  It occurs mainly during the winter and spring, but it can happen at any time during the year. Its cooling effect is perhaps most welcome in the summer, but during the winter it can chill one to the bones.

Roaring in from the north, the strong wind accelerates as it passes through the southern Rhône Valley, funneling between the Ardeche Mountains the low Alps before it heads out to the gulf. Marseilles and St. Tropez often take the full brunt of this cold, strong wind as it finally reaches the Map of the Mistral Windssea and continues its trek to influence the weather in North Africa, Sicily, and all across the Mediterranean.

In the Rhône Valley and Provence, the regularity and force of the mistral causes trees to grow leaning to the south. Vines are often kept low to the ground, their thick and sturdy branches developing a permanent south-facing bow. The rows of Cypress and Poplar trees typical of the region provide shelter from the dry force of the wind.

The Mistral, despite its ferocity, can nevertheless be beneficial to the vineyards in its path. The mistral blows the clouds from the sky and heralds the arrival of sunny weather. When the Mistral blows during the warm parts of the growing season it cools down the vines, helping the grapes to retain acidity through the hot summers. The dryness of the wind keeps the grapes free from humidity and mold, and has earned it the nickname mange-fange, or “mud-eater.”

450px-Bell_Tower_La_Cadiere_d'Azur_Provence_FranceMany wine makers believe that Le Mistral causes substantial evaporation in the grapes, concentrating sugar, acidity, and flavors.  And when the wind finally slows down, it is followed by days of clear, bright sunshine, enabling the grapes to ripen and ripen and ripen….

The name of the Mistral is traced to the Provencal word for “Masterly” and it certainly has had such an effect on life in Provence.  Old farmhouses were built facing south, with sturdy north walls devoid of windows.  The bell towers of the churches in the region are often topped by open iron frameworks, which allow the wind to pass through.

There was even once a law that stated that anyone who claims to have gone mad on account of the Mistral may be pardoned of their crime.  Sacre Mistral!

For more information on “the winds of wine,” see our posts on The Zonda and The Roaring 40’s.

Post written by Jane A. Nickles, CWE (your SWE Blog Administrator) bevspecialist@societyofwineeducators.org

 

 

Coro Mendocino

Point Arena Lighthouse, Mendocino, California

Point Arena Lighthouse, Mendocino, California

Mendocino County is known for many things, including its often mentioned “official #1 cash crop,” the Skunk Train, and the Point Arena Lighthouse. We wine lovers also apprciate its 13 AVAs (two more pending), it sparkling wines, and the Café Beaujolais.

But did you know that Mendocino County is also home to the only “Regional-Identity” wine program in the United States? In an approach somewhat similar to that of many European appellations, any wine producer in Mendocino County can produce the wine, known as “Coro Mendocino,” provided they follow the rules.

According to the Coro Mendocino website, “Coro means ‘chorus’ in Italian and Spanish and is reflective of the collaborative spirit of Mendocino County’s winemakers, our distinctive voices heard together in harmony–in accord.”

The rules – and there are many – include basing the wine on the Zinfandel grape variety.  Zinfandel must be between 40% and 70% of the blend, and no other grape variety can take a dominant role.  The other grapes in the blend can include the following varieties, as long as they do not overpower the Zinfandel:  Syrah, Petite Sirah, Carignane, Sangiovese, Grenache, Dolcetto, Charbono, Barbera, and Primitivo. There is also a 10% “free play” provision that states that 10% of the blend may be from any vinifera variety.

Coro Mendocino LabelsAll grapes in the blend must be 100% Mendocino fruit and the wine must be produced at a bonded Mendocino County Winery.  The wine must be aged for one year in barrel, followed by one year in bottle.  Along with a fairly detailed list of production parameters and labeling requirements, the wine must pass the strict review of the Coro Mendocino selection panel and review process.

Coro Mendocino has been produced every year since 2001. The 2010 version, set to be released on June 22, 2013, has a total of ten producers, including Brutocao, Claudia Springs, Fetzer, Golden, Mendocino Vineyards, McFadden, McNab Ridge, Parducci, Philo Ridge, and Ray’s Station. Tickets to the release party are almost sold out…but if you hurry, you might be able to grab a pair.  There will be a lovely dinner, and you know the wine will be great!

For more information:

 

Gimblett Gravels, via Aerial Topdressing

The Auster Agricola

The Auster Agricola

It’s amazing the things the study of wine can lead you to.  Do you know what “aerial topdressing is?” Neither did I, until I set about to research some of the more unique wines of New Zealand for SWE’s “Wines in the Dessert” event last May. It turns out that aerial topdressing is an agricultural application that uses aircraft to spread fertilizers over farmland.  The practice was developed in New Zealand in the 1940’s. A special plane known as “The Auster Agricola” was designed specifically for the new industry, which was quickly adopted elsewhere, although it remains a New Zealand specialty.

It turns out aerial topdressing is the reason that Gimblett Gravels, one of the most unique wine terroirs in the new world, came to be.  You know there’s a story there!

The story begins in 1980, in the Hawke’s Bay Region of New Zealand.  Hawke’s Bay, being at the east end of one of the widest portions of the islands of New Zealand, is one of the warmest sections of the country and for that reason is one of the few places where red grapes (other than Pinot Noir) can fully ripen. Due to its geography, the area gets less rain, and more sun than other areas of the country.

Within the Hawke’s Bay Region, the forgotten area down at the end of Gimblett Road was considered to be the poorest, least productive land in the area; too infertile even to use to graze sheep, so nobody dared plant a thing.  The area instead was given over to warehouses, strip malls, an army firing range, and a concrete company that used the area to mine for gravel.

Gimblett GravelsChris Pask, a local businessman, owned a few vineyards in the Hawke’s Bay Region but often had difficulty getting his Cabernet Sauvignon to fully ripen.  Coincidentally, Chris’ day job, aerial topdressing, had him flying over the area near the end of Gimblett Road every day.  One day, as he looked down on the dry, dusty wasteland, he had a crazy idea that maybe his grapes would have a chance of ripening if planted there.

In 1981, risking ridicule, he bought nearly 100 acres at the end of Gimblett Road and planted Cabernet Sauvignon.  His first wine from these newly planted vines,  produced with the 1985 vintage, was released to wide acclaim.  Assured that he wasn’t crazy, Pask proceeded to buy more vineyard land and plant more grapes, including Malbec, Syrah, Viognier, and Sauvignon Blanc in addition to Cabernet Sauvignon.

Despite Pask’s initial success, it was no easy task getting the region zoned for viticulture and wine making.  As a matter of fact, it was not until 1992 that all the legal battles were won, enabling wine making facilities and full-scale viticulture to come to the area.  As one can well imagine, a land stampede soon followed as companies such as Babich and Villa Maria set up shop.  Malls gave way to Merlot, warehouses became wineries, and the concrete company at the end of Gimblett Road gave up their gravel dreams and sold their land to a winery. The Gimblett Gravels Winegrowing District now has almost 2,000 acres of vineyards.

Gimlett gravels SoilThe Gimblett Gravels region is strictly determined by its soil.  The unique gravelly soils of the region are the result of a huge flood on the Old Ngaruroro River in the 1860’s.  Due to the heat retention of the gravelly soil, Gimblett Gravels is warmer during the day in summer and autumn than the surrounding areas of Hawke’s Bay. The evenings are also warmer due to the heat retention of the stony ground. It is this extra heat that allows red grapes, including Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot, to ripen so well here, and puts Gimblett Gravels among the world’s best terroirs for growing fine wine.

For more information:

Post written by Jane A. Nickles, CWE (your SWE Blog Administrator)

Water and Wine: Clear Lake, Lake County

Lake County VineyardsLake County, California, has some mighty impressive wine country neighbors.   The region shares its borders with Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino; collectively the four regions make up the North Coast Regional AVA, a relatively neat  if somewhat irregular “rectangle” north of San Francisco.

Located at the intersection of the Vaca and Mayacamas Mountains, Lake County is only 10 miles from Calistoga, yet the drive along the winding roads takes an hour. The namesake lake of the region, Clear Lake, is the largest freshwater body of water in the state of California. The presence of this lake buffers the temperature and provides great diurnal temperature swings, which promotes good acid retention in the grapes grown in the area.  Surrounded by rollings hills and (hopefully) inactive volcanoes, the diverse volcanic soils provide excellent drainage througout the region.

Before Prohibition, Lake County accounted for more grapes than Napa, but with no rail service, it wasn’t able to recover after repeal the way other areas of California did. Cheap land values sparked resurgence in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and now the area is producing award-winning wines and has nearly 8,500 acres planted with vines, with continued growth anticipated.

The average elevation of Lake County’s vineyards is 1,500 feet, with some reaching up to 3,000 feet above sea level. The high elevation coupled with good air quality (the purest in California, according to the Environmental Protection Agency) maximizes the solar potential, resulting in higher levels of ultraviolet light. Consequently, the grapes develop thick skins, with high levels of anthocyanins, polyphenols, and tannins and low levels of pyrazines. This low-pyrazine producing  attribute made Clear Lake a popular region for growing Sauvignon Blanc, which until the region’s recent resurgence was the most widely grown grape in the region.

Lake County Wineries

Lake County has five designated AVAs:

  • Benmore Valley AVA was named for Benjamin Moore, a 19th century cattle rustler.  This area is cooler than the surrounding areas.  As there are currently no wineries located in the Benmore Valley AVA; grapes grown here are sourced by several local wineries.
  • Half of the area in the Clear Lake AVA is taken up by the lake itself.  The lake moderates the temperature of the vineyards in the area, minimizing the diurnal temperature swings as compared to the surrounding regions.
  • The High Valley AVA is located in the eastern part of the county at elevations ranging from 1,600 feet to 3,000 feet above sea level.
  • The rolling hills of the Red Hills Lake Country AVA lie along the southwestern shores of Clear Lake, at the foot of Mount Konocti, an extinct volcano.
  • Established in 1981, the Guenoc Valley AVA was the first AVA granted to an area with just a single winery. Geologically, Guenoc Valley is a small inland valley extending from upper Napa County.

Cabernet Sauvignon is currently the most widely planted grape in Lake County, followed by Merlot at a distant second, as well as Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel, and Chardonnay. Petite Sirah, while not being one of the most widely planted grapes in the area, does exceedingly well here…fans of P.S. should keep their eyes open for award-winning wines from Lake County!

To learn more about Lake County Wines:  http://www.lakecountywineries.org/

Lake County Winegrape Growers’ Association:  http://www.lakecountywinegrape.org/lcwc/

Salta: The Highest and the Lowest

Salta VineyardsThe Salta wine region, in the far north of Argentina, is a wine region of extremes.  Starting at around 24°S latitude, the area is the same distance from the equator as Baja California, Key West, and Riyadh.  Viticulture in this low latitude is made possible by another extreme, as Salta is home to the highest altitude vineyards in the world.

Interestingly enough, these two extremes seem to work well together, as the heat that would be expected from the low latitude is balanced by the cool temperatures expected in high altitudes.  The combination makes this region uniquely well suited for producing quality wine. The rain shadow of the Andes keeps the region dry while providing meltwater from the snowy peaks for irrigation. The diurnal temperature swing here is also extreme; in the summer, day time temperatures can soar up to 100°F and down to 55°F that same night.  This wide fluctuation allows the grapes to gain sugar ripeness in the day, while holding onto is acidity at night.

Salta is a small region, with less than 5,000 acres under vine, and accordingly produces just a tiny percentage of Argentina’s wine.  However, the region has an excellent reputation for high quality.  There are two main sub-regions of Salta, each with its own unique terroir and specialty.

Map of SaltaThe largest subregion, Cafayate, is home to over 70% of the vineyards in Salta.  The vineyards here range in altitude from 5,000 to 7,000 feet above sea level.  Cafayate is well-known for high-quality Torrontés as well as Malbec, and is beginning to be planted to Chardonnay, Tannat, and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Cafayate is located within the scenic Colcchaquí Valley (Valles Calchaquíes), a tourist region well-known for its diverse colors, scenic beauty, and wide range of terrain from high mountain dessert to sub-tropical forests.

Starting at an altitude of 7,000 feet and climbing, the region of Molinos surrounds the town of the same name. It is here that you will find the highest altitude vineyards in the world.  Pre-phylloxera Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon were brought here from France in 1854 and some of these vines still thrive.

Bodega Colomé, one of the oldest wineries in Argentina, was founded here in 1831. After searching for years for the perfect spot to produce Argentine wine, Donald and Ursula Hess of the Hess Collection purchased the property in 2001.

colome reservaBodega Colomé has four vineyards, all of them fairly close to the sun.  The La Brava Vineyard, located in Cafayate, sits at 5,741 feet.  The Colomé Vineyard, surrounding the winery in Molinos, begins at 7,545 feet.   The El Arenal vineyard, a relatively young vineyard planted to Malbec, begins at an elevation of 8,858 feet.   The highest vineyard in the world, Altura Maxima, is here in the Molinos subregion, and sits at an altitude of 10,206 feet.

The flagship wine, Colomé Reserva Malbec, is produced from the oldest pre-phylloxera vines on the estate.  These vines range from 60 to 150 years old. If you think you can handle the high altitude, Bodega Colomé welcomes guests to its vineyards at the top of the world, complete with a visitor center, world-class restaurant and art gallery.

Bodega Colomé:   http://www.bodegacolome.com/

Map of Salta via Wines of Argentina:   http://winesofargentina.org/en

To be fair:  Bolivia also claims to have the highest vineyards in the world…rest assured we will investigate soon!

Klevener de Heiligenstein and the Alsace Eleven

5.10-Klevener-1441-ZvardonThe grape known as Klevener de Heiligenstein is an enigma. It is an allowed grape in the Alsace AOC, but can only be grown in certain places.  It has nothing to do with Klevner, as Pinot Blanc is often called in many places, including Alsace.  In Germany and Italy, Klevener de Heiligenstein is often called Traminer. However, Klevener de Heiligenstein should not be confused with Gewurztraminer, even though the two grapes appear identical while on the vine and they produce similar wines. Got that?

So, now that we are clear on what Klevener de Heiligenstein is NOT, let’s talk about what it is.

Klevener de Heiligenstein is a pink-skinned grape variety that is also known as Savagnin Rose or Traminer.  In Alsace, the grape is also called Rotedel or Edelrose. There are currently about 240 acres of Klevener de Heiligenstein planted in Alsace, where it is made into a concentrated wine of good acidity with a characteristic hint of bitterness on the finish.  While not overly aromatic, the wines are often described as similar to Gewurztraminer in terms of a slight spiciness and a rich texture.

It is known that the grape was originally brought to the town of Heiligenstein in 1742 by the mayor of the town, Erhard Wantz. It is believed that the cuttings Mayor Wantz Klevener 1742possessed came from vineyards planted near the Italian Alps in Lombardy.  Mayor Wantz was a big fan of the grape, and petitioned Le conseil des Echevins de Strasbourg for permission to plant the grape in the region. He won the right to plant his grapes, and soon the wines were well received and even earning higher prices than other wines of the region.

In 1971, the Klevener de Heiligenstein grape was approved for use in Alsace AOC wines.  However, it is the only grape in Alsace that has geographic restrictions placed on it. As such, it is only allowed to be used by specified vineyards in the village of Heiligenstein and four of its neighbors, including Bourgheim, Gertwiller, Goxwiller, and Obernain.  A grandfather clause allows specific vineyards outside of these regions to use the grapes in AOC wines until 2021; however, outside of the 5 approved villages, plantings or re-plantings are no longer allowed.

KlevenerAmpelographer Pierre Galet claims that Klevener de Heiligenstein is a pink-berried mutation of Savagnin that traveled to Alsace, Germany, and other parts of Central Europe.  But here’s where the story gets interesting…Savagnin Rose, aka Traminer, aka Klevener de Heiligenstein, apparently, somewhere along the way, went through a secondary mutation that became Gewurztraminer.  It makes sense, as Gewurz is often thought to be the musqué, or highly aromatic, version of Traminer.

The Alsace 11: The curiosity known as Klevener de Heiligenstein is often referred to as the “phantom” grape of Alsace.    The other 10 grapes of Alsace, as every serious wine student should know, are Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, Sylvaner, Muscat, Chasselas, Auxerrois, and Chardonnay.  Chardonnay is also something of an outlier, as it may only be used in Crémant d’Alsace AOC – the sparkling wines of the region.

Rosé for the Sun King

Rose de RiceysBefore Louis XIV, known as “The Sun King,” sipped Champagne at Versailles, he became a fan of a rare wine – a still rosé of Pinot Noir known as Rosé de Riceys– produced in the Champagne region.

Louis XIV is said to have discovered this aromatic and lightly tannic rosé when a group of workers from the village of Riceys-Haut arrived at the construction site of the Palace of Versailles, bringing a supply of their local rosé along with them.  The King was a big fan of Provence rosé, so he asked to try a bottle. (Well, he probably demanded it, but we’ll pretend he asked.) The King liked the wine so much that he soon dispatched the workers back to Les Riceys to bring back more Rosé de Riceys for the royal court.

This unusual, non-sparkling pink wine, produced within just a few miles of Burgundy, is officially part of the Champagne region.  The wine comes from a tiny spot called Les Riceys.  Les Riceys is made up of three close-knit villages named Riceys-Haut, Riceys Haute-Rive, and Riceys-Bas. Wine has been produced in this region since the 1100’s, made by the Cistercian Monks living at the nearby Abbey of Molesme.  The monks  selected the particular south-facing slopes where the grapes are grown as one of the few spots in the whole of the chilly Champagne region with enough sun and heat to ripen Pinot Noir to the point where it can be turned into this aromatic, brightly colored rosé. 

Making rose de riceysThe AOC regulations for Rosé de Riceys are among the strictest in France for a rosé wine, with the goal of keeping the tradition started by the monks at the Abbey of Molesme alive.  The wine is produced using the saignée method of vinification, and the grapes must be picked at a minimum ripeness of 10° Baumé from vines that are at least 12 years old.  The minimum ripeness standard is not always possible to reach, particularly in cooler years.  If the ripeness standard cannot be met, Rosé de Riceys will not be produced that year and the grapes will be used in the production of the region’s other wine, Champagne.  

This tiny appellation has only about 70 acres planted to Pinot Noir designated for Rosé de Riceys. No more than 20 producers make the wine, with an annual total output usually about 70,000 bottles a year. The wine is hard to find, even in Paris (perhaps even at Versailles), so aficionados of the wine drive to the edge of the Champagne region every spring to buy their year’s supply.

Mr HoriotThe Rosé de Riceys AOC was approved in 1947.  However, there was a time not too long ago when the wine was almost lost for good.  It was the 1970’s, and Champagne production was running high.  Champagne was more popular than ever, and growers were making a good living selling their grapes to the large Champagne houses.  In addition, for a few years in a row, the weather wasn’t cooperating enough to sufficiently ripen the grapes to make Rosé de Riceys.  For a few years in a row,  nobody wanted to produce Rosé de Riceys.  However, according to INAO regulations, if a certain type of wine is not produced for five consecutive years, the AOC will cease to exist. 

Pierre and Jules Horiot, 12th-generation proprietors of Horiot Père & Fils, were not about to let that happen! Despite being producers of Champagne as well as rosé,  they strived to keep their part of French wine history alive and continued to produce Rosé de Riceys, even when it would have been much more profitable to  turn their Pinot Noir into Champagne. In time, the other vignerons of the region joined in the fight to save the historical Rosé from ruin, and today this tiny region tucked into the far southern corner of Champagne still makes a rosé fit for a king – if he can find it!

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Elderflowers, Moodiness, and Saint Germain

16567356_s[1]In Victorian England, ladies complaining of night sweats, headaches, or “moodiness” would often be given a glass of Elderflower Cordial.  Elderflowers were readily available, growing wild all over Europe, where they prefer sunny and dry locations, such as the foothills of the French Alps. The flowers are 100% edible, and have been appreciated for both their medicinal and culinary properties since Roman times!

The tradition of creating an Elderflower Cordial by steeping bunches of the freshly picked elderflowers with sugar and water goes back a long way, and is alive and well in modern day Paris.

St. Germain, produced since 1884, is an Elderflower liqueur produced in France.  As the story goes, the delicate elderflowers bloom for just a few short weeks every spring.  At the first sign of the blossoms, a small army of gatherers take to their bicycles and harvest the delicate flowers, transporting them via bicycle down from the hills to the St. Germain facility.

st-germain-liqueur-lgThe fresh flowers are immediately set to macerate, as they can lose their freshness in just a few short days. Knowing what we know about liqueurs, we can assume that the delicate flowers are infused in water before being mixed with sugar and spirits; however the producers of St. Germain choose to keep their exact production process a family secret.

In the spirit of journalistic integrity, the home office staff of SWE recently held a tasting of St. Germain. Here is our collective tasting note:

“Aromas of ripe pears, warm honey, luscious lychee, and a faint shadow of floral perfume and dried herbs.  Semi-sweet in taste with no rough edges, save for a playful bite of alcohol. Rich, luscious, and delicious.  Tropical fruit flavors followed by citrus, vanilla, and anise. Vaguely floral, with a lingering lemon peel finish.  Feels like sitting in a lemon grove as the sun sets, while rummaging through a box of old love letters, antique photos, and dried bouquets.”

elderflower_cordial-4959While St. Germain is delicious on its own, it has broad appeal as a flavoring for cocktails as well. Here’s a recipe for a “White Cosmopolitan” cocktail, featuring St. Germain. Try it for yourself and see….

White Cosmopolitan

  • 1 oz. Vodka
  • ½ oz. St. Germain
  • 3 Tablespoons White Cranberry Juice
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh Lime Juice

Shake well with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.

 

In case you are wondering about the namesake of the liqueur, the historical character known as St. Germain is quite interesting.  There are many versions of his story, but one thing that appears to be a fact is that The Comte de Saint Germain, who was born in 1712 and died in 1784, was StGermain1784the son of Francis II Rákóczi, the Prince of Transylvania.  The wild stories surrounding St. Germain begin with the fact that Prince Francis openly claimed that his only son had passed away at the age of four; it was later learned that this was done in order to protect his son against persecution from the Hapsburg Dynasty. On his deathbed, the Prince revealed the true identity of his son. 

The Comte de Saint Germain, despite keeping his true royal identity a secret for much of his life, was fabulously wealthy, well educated, and enjoyed a good deal of prominence in the European high society of his time.  He was also, however, known for making up wild stories about himself, most likely to keep people guessing as to his true identity.  At times, he would claim to be 500 years old, to be the re-incarnation of William Shakespeare, to be a prophet, and to own a casket full of jewels. The story about the casket full of jewels may have well been true, as he was known to lavish a bevy of courtly ladies, include Madame Pompadour, with jewels and pearls. 

To this day, stories are told of the legendary abilities of St. Germain as an alchemist, a prophet, an enlightened master, and a sorcerer.

Who knows how much of the stories are true?  History does tell us that he was a close friend of King Louis XV, who kept him so close by his side at the palace in Versailles as to arose the jealously of other members of the royal court.  Let’s drink to that!

 

For more information and lots more recipes…. http://www.stgermain.fr/index2.php

 

 

The Forgotten Grapes of Champagne

Forgotten Grapes of champagneEvery good wine student knows the three main grapes of Champagne – repeat after me, “Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier.” And yet, there are more!  While the three well-known varieties are far and away the most planted in the region, the Champagne AOC actually has seven grapes approved for the use in the famous bubbly.  The other approved grapes include Arbane, Petit Meslier, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Gris.

The Champagne House of Aubry is an interesting part of this story, and their story is how I first came upon this information.  It seems that back in 1986, the owners, Philippe and Pierre Aubry, started to think about how they could create a special wine to celebrate the producer’s 200 year anniversary, to be celebrated in 1991.  They got the idea to create a wine that would reflect the wines that were being made in the region in the 1770’s, when the business began. 

After extensive research, they discovered that many of the grapes that were grown in the Champagne region at the time were almost  forgotten, and in some cases, verging on extinction.  They located the grapes, and planted Arbanne, Petit Meslier, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Gris. While the grapevines were not mature enough to harvest for their bicentennial champagne pupitresvintage, they did begin harvesting their “forgotten” grapes in 1993 and by 1994 were able to harvest all 7 grape varieties.  The cuvee they created in 1994 is named “Le Nombre d’Or,” meaning “The Golden Number, ” representing the 7 grapes of the Champagne Region.

Arbane is a white wine grape variety that was historically planted in the Aube region of Champagne.  It is now very rare; its plantings in the entirety of France add up to less than one hectare (2.5 acres).  The Champagne House Moutard-Diligent makes a 100% Arbane Champagne called Vieilles-Vignes as well as a Cuvée 6 Cépages that includes Arbanne as well as Pinot Blanc and Petit Meslier.   

pinot blancPetit Meslier, a white variety, is a close relative of Chardonnay, being the result of a cross between Gouais Blanc (one of the ”parents” of Chardonnay) and Savagnin. While the grape is extremely rare, it used to be widely planted in Champagne due to its ability to retain a good deal of acidity even in the region’s warmer areas.  There does seem to be some growing interest in the grape, as plantings have recently increased from 4 to 20 hectares in France.  Irvine Wines, in Australia’s Eden Valley, has planted a small amount as well.

Pinot Blanc, another mutation of Pinot Noir, was historically widely grown in both Burgundy and Champagne. It is grown in tiny amounts in the Champagne region, where it is likely to be referred to as “Blanc Vrai.”  In principle, it may still be grown in small amounts in Burgundy, but we won’t say that too loud, and no one is stepping up to confirm the suspicion!  I did find several Champagnes that use Pinot Blanc in the mix, including Champagne Tassin’s Brut Cuvée Elegance, which states that it is made from 50% Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc, 50% Pinot Noir.  

Pinot Gris is most likely native to Burgundy, and is thought to be a clone, mutation, or at least a close relative of Pinot Noir.  Along with Pinot Noir it spread from Burgundy, and was widely grown in the Champagne region back in the 18th century Drappier_Quatuor_bottle_shotunder the name “Fromenteau.” Eventually, plantings in Champagne dwindled as the grape was found to be very low yield and unreliable. I found just a few references to Pinot Gris vineyards on the dozens of Champagne Producers’ websites I researched, and only three  wines that claimed Pinot Gris in the makeup, all of the them claiming to be made from the “7 grapes.”  At least from this vantage point, it seems like Pinot Gris might be the most obscure Champagne grape of all.   

The House of Drappier produces a Champagne called “Quattuor.” Quattuor features Petit Meslier, along with Arbanne, Pinot Blanc (here called Blanc Vrai) and Chardonnay in equal amounts.  The wine is described as fruity, floral, and delicate, and is dedicated “To The Forgotten Grapes of Champagne.”

Post written by Jane A. Nickles, CWE (your SWE Blog Administrator) bevspecialist@societyofwineeducators.org

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German Wine Laws: Revised, Reviewed, and Re-learned

Germany RiverHave you ever felt that German wine terminology, with its Geisenheimer Rothenberg and its Amtliche Prüfungsnummer is a bit confusing?

If so, hang on, because it just got a bit more interesting. In keeping with the EU wine blueprint, German wine law was recently reformed for the first time since the last set of major revisions in 1971.  These latest changes occurred in 2009, and now wines are divided into three broad categories, with all kinds of loops and squiggles betwixt and between.

Many of these terms will look and sound familiar to serious students of wine.  But if you happen to be studying for a certification (or any other reason) look closely…there are some significant changes, particularly in the names of the categories.

The new levels of the classification hierarchy for all wines, in ascending order of quality are: 

  • Wein:  This category, previously referred to as tafelwein or table wine, is used for basic wine. There are very few guarantees of quality at this level and most wein is made for the domestic market. These wines may be enriched or chaptalized to increase the final alcohol level of the wine. Some of the wine available at this level is imported bulk wine, mostly from Italy. In order to use the term “Deutscher Wein” the wine must be 100 percent German in origin.
  • ggA – Geschützte Geographische Angabe:  This category contains what used to be referred to as “landwein” or “country wine.” These wines correspond to the PDI category in the overall EU scheme and are not considered “quality” wines, but are a step up from the basic wein category.  At this level, the grapes must be slightly riper than those for wein (half a percent more potential alcohol); Germanyhowever, chaptalization is still permitted. A minimum of 85% of the grapes must be grown in Germany in one of the designated landwein regions, with the particular region specified on the label.
  • gU – Geschützte Ursprungsbezeichnung:  This new designation has two sub-categories, and  includes those wines previously covered by the  Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete (QbA) and  Qualitätswein mit Prädikat (QmP) categories. All of these wines are PDO wines. They must carry a place name on the label, with 100% of the grapes from the named region.  The terms Qualitätswein (QbA) and Prädikatswein (QmP) will continue to be used.

The subcategories of gU (Geschützte Ursprungsbezeichnung) are as follows:  

  •  Qualitätswein (Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete or “QbA”) is the lower level of the two gU categories. These wines are defined as “quality wine from a designated region.”  These wines represent the largest proportion of German wine output. Qualitätswein wine must come from one of thirteen Anbaugebiete (specified winegrowing regions), be made with one of the approved grape varieties, and reach sufficient ripeness for recognition as a quality wine. Chaptalization is, however, permitted for this category.
  • Germany Steep VineyardsPrädikatswein is the highest quality level designation.  These wines may be defined as “quality wine with attributes.”  Prädikatswein must be produced from grapes grown within the same thirteen Anbaugebiete as the Qualitätswein. These wines may NOT be chaptalized.

To make matters just a bit more complicated, wines at the Prädikatswein level, have another element in their name which indicates the level of the ripeness of the grapes at harvest.  Luckily, these terms have not changed, but just as a refresher, here they are:

  • Kabinett: light- to medium-bodied wines made from grapes with the lowest ripeness level of the prädikate. These wines average 7 to 10 percent alcohol.
  • Spätlese (“late harvest”): wines of additional ripeness made from grapes harvested after a designated picking date. With the extra ripening time, the grapes develop more intense flavors and aromas than Kabinett.
  • Auslese (“selected harvest”): wines made from grapes that have stayed on the vine long enough to have a required level of sugar. The wines can be intense in bouquet and taste, and they have a potential alcohol level in excess of 14 percent.
  • Beerenauslese (BA; “selected berries”): rich, sweet dessert wines made from individually harvested berries, which are sweeter than Auslese and which may also be affected by the honeyed influence of botrytis, known in German as Edelfäule.
  • Eiswein (“ice wine”): wines made from frozen grapes harvested at a BA level of ripeness or higher. Having already become overripe from staying on the vine as late as January, these grapes are harvested after they freeze in the vineyard. They are crushed immediately, and much of the water in the berries is discarded as ice, leaving grape must with a very high sugar level (see chapter 5).
  • Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA; “selected dried berries”): wines from individually picked berries that are overripe to the point of being raisins and are often further shriveled by botrytis. TBAs are considered to be among the world’s greatest dessert wines.

It’s all about the sugar:  In the post-1971 wine regulations, historically renowned vineyards and other aspects of terroir have been largely ignored in favor of classifying wines by grape ripeness.  This priority makes a good deal of sense in the cool-climate vineyards of Germany, where ripeness is never guaranteed, and when it is achieved, it is given the honor it is due.

But terroir is not to be forgotten: Some top-notch wine producers in Germany draw attention to their unique and diverse terroir through the efforts of the VDP.  The VDP, “Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweingűter” was founded in 1910 as the Association of German “Naturweinversteigerer” (natural, meaning non-chaptalized) wines.  Today, the VDP has member estates from all 13 Anbaugebiete with the goals of preserving Germany’s traditional viticultural heritage, encouraging excellent wine production, and designating top vineyards sites in each region. The VDP classification system of top vineyard sites was revised in 2012 and now has four levels of classification. These are listed below, in order from listed from highest to lowest:

  • VDPVDP Grosse Lage: The highest level vineyards of the estate, translated as “great site.” (The term Erstes Gewächs (“first growth”) is used in the Rheingau, and there are other regional variations as well.)
  • VDP Erste Lage: The second highest level vineyards of the estate, translated as “first site.”
  • VDP Ortswein: Translates as “classified site wine.”
  • VDP Gutswein:  Represents good, entry-level wines, translated as “estate wine.” The wines originate from an estate’s holdings within a region, and meet the stringent standards prescribed by the VDP.

Whew! I know that was pretty tough to read, but wasn’t it worth it to consider yourself up to date – at least for now – on the German wine classifications?

Let’s hope so!