Guest Post: Cab Franc…the Next “Big Thing?”

Red Wine BottlesToday we have a guest post from Houston-based Wine Educator James Barlow, CS, CWE – all about Cabernet Franc - and what some people think might be the “next big thing” for wine lovers. 

Everybody always seems to want to know… what is the next “big craze” for red wine?

In the early 90’s, Australia went through a glorious time with Shiraz and (how can we forget) “critter wines.” Then, South America made a huge splash on the market with Chile’s Cabernet and an even bigger splash with Argentina’s thick, fruity Malbec.  But the latest buzz says that Malbec’s popularity is waning, leading us to wonder…what’s next?

Some say Grenache, whether from Spain or France, will be the next varietal that tickles the palate of the American consumer.  It offers an abundance of fruit, relatively high alcohol, and can be mass produced at an affordable price point.  Sounds ripe for the picking, right?

GrenacheBut there are also believers in Cab Franc that are certain that Cabernet Franc should be the next red wine super-star in the hearts, minds (and shopping baskets) of the everyday wine consumer. After all, Cabernet Franc is one of the world’s oldest grapes and is the father of Cabernet Sauvignon. It can be described as having flavors or raspberry, red cherry, and cassis, as well as notes of black pepper, tobacco, bell pepper, and violet. No wonder it has quietly, but steadily, become the new favorite among critics, retailers, and sommeliers alike!

Cabernet Franc’s original home is believed to be Bordeaux, where it is used strictly as a blending variety. Although it is used along both the right and left banks of the Gironde River, it is more heavily favored on the right bank, giving the Merlot-based wines of the region some added spice and texture. Cabernet Franc is thin skinned and offers beautiful aromatics, peppery fruit flavors, low tannins, and medium to high acids to the blends.  In Bordeaux, Cabernet Franc has never gained much recognition. But, much like Malbec and Carmenère, the other blending grapes of this region, it is starting to garner attention in wine markets outside of France.

ChinonThere are two major areas in the world currently making the case for Cabernet Franc.  The first and oldest advocate of the varietal is France’s Loire Valley, where Cabernet Franc, locally known as “Breton,” is grown in the Touraine region, with towns such as Chinon and Bourgueil leading the renaissance.  Both Chinon and Bourgueil have similar soil structures of limestone tuffeau and sand.  This allows vine roots to dig deep into the soil and offers a unique terrior profile to the wines.

Both Chinon and Bourgueil will use up to 10% Cabernet Sauvignon to add breadth to the wine’s body and structure. Although the last several vintages have not been particularly kind to the region, Cabernet Franc has thrived and is showing an abundance of fruit that it lacked in years past. This is due to new winery technology and young, upstart winemakers.  The final result is wines with riper fruit balanced by racy acidity, light tannins, minimal oak, and an earthy terrior in keeping with other wines true to the region.

Domaine Bernard Baudry in Chinon uses state-of-the-art technology to produce rich, precise wines that offer beautiful elegance and balance.  Yannick Amirault is one of the rising stars of Bourgueil, as well as the neighboring town of Bourgueil-St.-Nicolas, and produces some of the more opulent Cabernet Franc styles.

Other towns in the Loire Valley make exceptional wines from Cabernet Franc as well. Champigny, in the Saumur region, touts some of the best and most age-worthy Breton in the world, as evidenced by the classic producer Clos Rougeard.

Cab Franc CuteCabernet Franc is becoming a regional super-star in Washington State as well, particularly in the loamy soils of the Columbia Valley AVA. Although Washington State is somewhat northerly, its summers are quite hot and the early ripening Cabernet Franc has no problem achieving phenolic ripeness. There are many similarities between climates surrounding Loire River and the Columbia River, so it is no surprise that this variety could thrive in both areas.  The Walla Walla Ava, a sub-region the Columbia Valley AVA, offers a sleek expression of Cabernet Franc, with large tannins and an affinity for oak.  It has an almost feminine Cabernet Sauvignon-like structure, but with more finesse and softer tannins.

The Cab Francs of Washington State generally have a richer, fuller mouth feel and more of a “blueberry” flavor than their counterparts in the Loire Valley.  Several boutique wineries are taking the lead in the production of quality Cabernet Franc in Washington.  Andrew Will is blazing a trail in the Columbia Valley and has garnered high praise and points from the most discerning of wine critics.  Andrew Will is a part owner of the prestigious and high quality Champoux vineyard, located in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA. Champoux produces some of the highest praised Cabernet Franc in the world.

red wine one glassAnother note-worthy producer in the Columbia Valley is Owen Roe winery, although, like in the Loire Valley, there are numerous Washington wineries that are now producing stellar Cabernet Franc.

All this being taken into account, will Cabernet Franc become the next “big craze” in the world of red wine? It has its challenges – for one, the grape is not mass produced in any country, causing higher prices and lower production. There is no conglomerate that pumps out Cabernet Franc at record pace.

The grape’s small production, though, might just end up becoming a blessing in disguise. It has the versatility to appeal not only to Cabernet Sauvignon drinkers, but also to those that prefer Pinot Noir. Modern American wine consumers are actively seeking out the more obscure, “wine-geek” wines to add to their expanding palates. This fact might bring Cabernet Franc into the “seek out” category, but production and price point will most likely keep it out of the “mass market.” As a wine lover, I don’t think that’s a bad thing!

Our guest author, James Barlow, CS, CWE, is a wine director of over 6,000 wines labels for a  store owned by Spec’s Fine Wines and Liquors in Houston, Texas.   He is also the  author of the widely recongized wine blog thewineepicure.com.  James is also a recent recipient of the CWE Certification (Congratulations, James!) and as such has taken on the duty of teaching the Certified Specialist of Wine course to fellow employees in hopes  of having the best educated staff in the state of Texas. Way to go, James!

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Chartreuse, “Elixir of Long Life”

ChartreuseChartreuse is a spirit with a long and fascinating history. The story begins in 1605, when the monks of the Vauvert Monastery, a branch of the Carthusian Order located in a suburb of Paris, were given an ancient document by Hannibal d’Estrées, a Marshall of King Henri IV.  The manuscript was a formula for an “Elixir of Long Life,” most likely the work of a 16th century alchemist with a great knowledge of herbs and plants in the treatment of illness.

The formula, containing over 130 ingredients, was so complex that it was never fully used by the monks at the Vauvert Monastery.  However, in the early 1700’s, the monks sent the manuscript to the Grande Chartreuse – the head monastery of the Carthusian Order.  The apothecary for the Grand Chartreuse undertook an exhaustive study of the formula and, by 1737, had unraveled the mystery and designed a practical formula for the preparation of the elixir.

The monks began production of the formula, which was sold in the town of Grenoble and other villages located close to the Grande Chartreuse Monastery.  The elixir had a natural, clear green color, and from the fame of the liqueur, the color became known as “chartreuse.” Today, Chartreuse still bills itself as “the only liqueur to have a color named after it.”

The monks protected their secret recipe throughout the centuries, including the tumultuous time surrounding the French Revolution when all religious orders were Char Yellowexpelled from France.  The Chartreuse monks left France in 1793, but one monk remained behind with a copy of the original manuscript.  Another monk secretly retained the original; shortly after leaving The Grand Chartreuse Monastery he was arrested and sent to prison in Bordeaux.  However, he was not searched and eventually passed the original document to a friend, Dom Basile Nantas.  Dom Basile was convinced the Monks of the Grand Chartreuse would never return to France, so he sold the recipe to Monsier Liotard, a pharmacist in Grenoble.  The pharmacist, however, never attempted to produce the elixir.  When Monsieur Liotard died, his heirs returned the manuscript to the Chartreuse Monks.

The Monks of Chartreuse were allowed to return to their Monastery in 1816, and resumed the production of their Chartreuse elixir.  In 1838, they introduced a sweeter version of “Yellow Chartreuse” flavored with saffron.

In 1903, the French government expelled the Monks once again, and the Chartreuse distillery was nationalized. The Monks fled to Spain and built a new distillery in Tarragona where they produced a liqueur they called “Une Tarragone.”

In the years following the nationalization of the distillery and Monastery, the French government sold the Chartreuse brand and trademark to a company who set up an operation known as the “Compagnie Fermière de la Grande Chartreuse.” The company went bankrupt in 1929. Upon the announcement of the bankruptcy, friends of the monks Char VEPpurchased the remaining shares and gifted them back to the Monastery.

After regaining ownership of their brand and trademark, the Monks returned to their distillery located in Fourvoirie, not far from their original Monastery, and resumed production of authentic Chartreuse liqueurs.  When, in 1935, the Fourvoirie distillery was severely damaged by a landslide, the Monks moved to Voiron, where the production facility still exists today.

The selection and preparation of the “secret” blend of over 130 herbs is still done today in the Monastery.  Once prepared, the ingredients are taken to the production facility in Voiron where they are macerated, distilled, and aged in oak casks for several years.  In addition to “Green Chartreuse” and “Yellow Chartreuse,” a special bottling known as V.E.P. Chartreuse (“Viellissement Exceptionnellement Prolongé”) is produced.   V.E.P. is aged longer than the other two products, and is packaged in a reproduction of the bottles used in 1840.  Each bottle of V.E.P. is individually numbered, sealed with wax and presented in a wooden box.

Since 1970, a company known as “Chartreuse Diffusion” handles the packaging, marketing, and distribution of Chartreuse products. However, the Carthusian brothers still prepare and produce the liqueur, and to this day, remain the only people who know the secret formula for their “Elixir of Long Life.”

For more information, visit the Chartreuse Website.

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Plymouth Gin

Photo by Gernot Keller

Photo by Gernot Keller

In the late 1700′s, at the time the London Dry Gin style was becoming wildly popular,  distillers in other English cities developed their own styles of gin as well.  Plymouth, Bristol, Warrington, and Norwich all had their unique styles. Plymouth Gin, produced since 1793, is the only one of these historic gins still produced today.

The building which was to become the Plymouth Gin distillery was originally a Dominican Monastery inhabited by an order known as the Black Friars. In 1536, at the time of the Reformation, the Monastery was dissolved and the building was put to other uses, including a debtor’s prison and a meeting place.  Legend has it that the Plymouth pilgrims who sailed to America aboard the Mayflower spent their last night in England here in 1620. The next morning, they made the short walk down to the harbor, ready to set sail to America and found a “new” Plymouth. The Mayflower ship forms a part of Plymouth Gin’s trademark label today.

In 1697, the building became the Black Friar’s Distillery.  Part of the distillery is housed in what was once the rectory of the monastery and retains a hull-shaped timber roof built in 1431.  This makes it one of the oldest buildings in Plymouth and a protected national monument.  With records of a “mault-house” on the premises dating to 1697, the distillery also claims to be the oldest working gin distillery in the world. The distinctive Plymouth Gin began to be produced in 1793, not long after the business became known as “Coates & Company.”

plymouth ginIn 1896, Plymouth Gin was mentioned in what is considered to be the first documented recipe for the drink that would become known as the dry martini. The recipe, under the name “Marguerite Cocktail,” appeared in a book published by the Excelsior Publishing House in New York known as “Stuart’s Fancy Drinks & How to Mix Them,” by Thomas Stuart.  Plymouth Gin is listed as the key ingredient, along with “French Vermouth and a dash of orange bitters.”

Plymouth Gin, still produced in England, has been awarded a Protected Geographical Indication by the European Union.  The PGI technically pertains to any gin distilled in Plymouth, although the Black Friar’s Distillery is the only distillery currently operating in the town. The style of Plymouth Gin is crystal-clear color in color with a full-bodied texture, fruity aromas and a very aromatic juniper berry profile.

For more information, visit the Plymouth Gin website.

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Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, CWE – your SWE Blog Administrator – jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org

Of Roads and Négrette

The Coat of Arms of Fronton

The Coat of Arms of Fronton

The year is 100 BCE…the Romans are continuing their northward expansion into southern Gaul – the land which will become modern day France.  Everywhere the conquering Romans go, they make their mark with the two main defining elements of the Roman Empire – roads and wine.

It is believed that the first vines in The Languedoc-Roussillon were planted around this time, as was Fronton – another, smaller area to the west .

Located just north of Toulouse, Fronton, now an AOC, features rustic red and rosé wines.  Known as Côtes du Frontonnais until 2005, the region has rocky soils and a very dry, warm climate.  The main red grape of Fronton is Négrette, an ancient Gallic variety that is related to Malbec.  This was recently determined through genetic testing of Négrette which unfortunately disproved the traditional story of the grape:  that it was originally from Cyprus and was introduced into the area by the Knights Templar, returning from the crusades.  While it is true that the region was taken over in the 12th Century by the Knights Hospitaler, a monastic military order similar to the Knights Templar, it seems the grape was in the region before the Knights.

Almost 85% of Fronton AOC wines are red, which must contain a minimum of 50% Négrette.  The other 50% may include a mix of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, and Malbec.

Négrette at Harvest

Négrette at Harvest

Négrette has a very distinct character and profile, featuring aromas of anise and red fruit.  Some people describe the wines as “foxy.” On the palate, the wines can show strong dark and dried fruit flavors with very little tannins, lending the wine a pronounced suppleness.  Winemakers making blends based on Négrette have to blend carefully with other grapes, as the delicate characteristics of the grape can be easily overpowered by more tannic varieties.

There are scattered plantings of Négrette found throughout the world, perhaps most surprisingly in the San Benito AVA, located in the Central Coast of California.  In California it was known as Pinot St-George until 1997.  There are some plantings of Négrette in the Loire, notably in the Fiefs Vendeens area.  In the Loire, Négrettecan legally be called “Ragoutant.” 

Viticulturally, Négrette does best in warm climates, as it is very susceptible to gray rot and odium.  The wines are best consumed within a few years of their release.

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Post authored by Ben Coffelt  – bcoffelt@societyofwineeducators.org

Noble Rot…Ale???

noble rot dogfish headBeer’s gone wild!

With the growth of micro-breweries over the past thirty years and a diverse consumer base, brewers are on the lookout for new ideas, ingredients, and styles, and aren’t afraid to push the boundaries of what beer can be.  Beer has been flavored with fruit for centuries, so it doesn’t seem odd that brewers would turn to their cousins in viticulture to find Beer’s new frontier.

Dogfish Head Brewery in particular has built their reputation courageous experimental beer styles.  Based in Milton, Delaware; Dogfish Head was founded by Sam Calagione in 1995. Originally building their reputation with a series of increasingly hoppy India Pale Ales (IPA), the brewery has proven itself to be fearless when it comes to making beer.  They produce a wide variety of ales with an even wider variety of ingredients.    Even if one does not like a particular beer, it is undeniable that their products are always fascinating.

The brewery spent most of first decade of the 21st century re-creating “Ancient Ales,” ales based on the residues of beer-styled beverages found in archaeological sites around the world.  These included “Chateau Jiahu” a beer based on residue dating back to 7th century China and “Midas Touch Golden Elixi,r” a strong ale made with Muscat, honey, and saffron.  With ingredients and styles like this, it doesn’t seem surprising that Dogfish Head would look to wine for a new ideas.

Noble Rot Small LabelIn 2010, Dogfish Head began to collaborate with Alexandria Nicole Cellars, a winery located in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA in Washington.  The winery supplied botrytis-infected Viognier must which the brewers used to create their “Noble Rot” Ale.  The brewery ferments the must together with the malt, creating a dry, complex and unique ale. It pours a light golden color and has a conflicted aroma, at times one can easily discern the characteristics of Viognier – a slightly sweet and tart apple and a faint hint of honey.  You almost expect to experience the flavors associated with Sauternes, especially honey.  Instead, the beer is light, crisp, and dry.  It marries the light fruity, floral components of Viognier with the malt backbone and carbonation of an ale.  It’s only as the beer warms that one can detect a pleasant honeysuckle that recalls Sauternes.

As microbreweries grow and expand, and brewers continue to venture to find the next frontier, it makes sense to expect to see more beers influenced by wine.  From grape juice to wine barrels to yeasts, breweries will be able to incorporate different elements at different stages of production, further cementing America’s new tradition of fearless beer production.

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Post authored by Ben Coffelt  – bcoffelt@societyofwineeducators.org

Guest Post: Turbiana, is it Trebbiano…or not?

TurbianaToday we have a guest post from Wai Xin, a wine educator based in Singapore.  Xin brings us on a fascinating journey to get to the truth about Turbiana!

Modern DNA profiling ability has enabled researchers to name most grapes and their parentage. But for those who won’t be spending time on reports, they find the proof in the glass. While not always exact, some characteristics that run in the vine family can be tell-tale signs of its lineage, with slight variations attributed to vintage and geographical differences. But if you need a grape to stump someone, try Turbiana.

Sitting at a Zenato wine dinner three months ago, I overheard diners and their enthusiasm to taste the flagship wines – two vintages (2005 & 2006) of Sergio Zenato Riserva and a 2008 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico. All rich and opulent, and should you have a case of the 2005 Sergio Zenato Riserva, it is certainly a good time to start exploring. But what really started the discussion among nearby wine specialists wasn’t the Amarone, they were two dry whites from Lugana.

Lugana is a small region south of Lake Garda, sitting near the border of Veneto and Lombardy. As often happens to a small region nestled between two large areas, it is often overlooked.

To try and figure out Lugana, I pulled my phone out from pocket and conjured my secret stash of wine resources. A Dropbox account containing handy resources such as maps, scholarly texts, and in this case, 521 official documents detailing all the approved Italian wine regions from IGT to DOCG.

“I vini a denominazione di origine controllata “Lugana” devono essere ottenuti dalle uve provenienti dal vitigno Trebbiano di Soave localmente denominato Turbiana o Trebbiano di Lugana.”

white wine tastingIn loosely translated essence, “Trebbiano di Soave, in local terms Turbiana or Trebbiano di Lugana.” Trebbiano and Soave sounded familiar enough to us. Done deal.

Or is it?

Two weeks after that dinner, on a friend’s insistence I met Fabio Zenato from Le Morette. “You must meet this man and his wines” my friend said, “I have never tried this variety before.”

At our meeting, an assortment of sparkling, dry, red and dry white wines were laid out on the table, and the word Lugana caught my eyes again. But instead of calling it a Trebbiano di Soave, Fabio addressed it with an alien name Turbiana. Tur. Interesting…

Very often Trebbiano, one of the most planted varieties in Italy, has its name appended with a region. Names like Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, Trebbiano di Soave, Trebbiano di Romagna and others are aplenty. The French call it Ugni Blanc, but even with that, it is still one of the many French synonyms.

In 2001, a group of researchers from University of Milan looked into the differences between these “Trebbiani” and other grape varieties that could be related. The result showed huge genetic differences suggesting that most Trebbiano, if related, must be cousins. Two grapes showed remarkable resemblance; Trebbiano di Soave and Verdicchio were 99% similar, while Turbiana differed slightly with Verdicchio at 97%.

Fabio supported the 2001 study. With this result, he can prove his claim since it had clearly demonstrated that Turbiana was significantly different from Trebbiano. I support his cause, and by calling it Trebbiano, it only misrepresents the Lugana native to a distant family. To get things right, Trebbiano di Lugana needs to be correctly known as Turbiana, and Trebbiano di Soave as Verdicchio.

lugana vineyardsIn Singapore, Lugana wines are almost non-existent with only a handful of merchants carrying one or two labels. The Zenato Luganas are available in Crystal Wines, while Monopole carries a Lugana from Tommasi owned Villa Giradi. Fabio’s visit to Singapore in October was to look for an importer. In December, his wines were showcased over a Veneto wine dinner, but as of today, I am not certain if anyone was confident to take up the distribution rights.

With my few experiences of Turbiana, it had came across being neutral and shapeable. While at other times, fully expressive of its fruits and minerals. Such unpredictability can make it difficult to handle, yet intriguing for some. The name change will do some good, but first it has to overcome the many obstacles ahead.

Tasting Notes: 

Zenato Lugana DOC San Benedetto 2012 – Hint of ripe tropical fruits showed initially and supported by a more melon-like aroma. While the palate was crisp and bone dry, the fruit flavors that showed on the finish was a welcoming touch. A simple wine but paired fine with fresh seafood.

Zenato Lugana Riserva “Sergio Zenato” 2007 – Having aged in oak barrels, tinge of smoky aroma overshadowed a neutral fruit. Palate had a light hint of residual sweetness and finished off with good roundness. Rather akin to a rich Chardonnay.

Le Morette Lugana DOC Mandolara – Youthfulness of the wine showed both in glass and palate. A gentle expression of fresh apple and flowers, the steel-like palate was driven by pronounced salty mineral touch that cut from beginning to finish.

Le Morette Lugana DOC Benedictus  Keeping the skin with the juice gave a nice straw gold tone and dense phenolic volume. Partially fermented in small oak barrels also imparted spicy note to the rich spectrum of aromas. If there’s a lack of description for the wine, one can say there’s a taste of grape flesh within.

Wai Xin, CSW, FWS is a wine communicator based in Singapore. He describes his journey to wine as follows – “I woke up one day and decided to throw my Java coding career out of the window for a lifetime of intoxication. Believing strongly that wine is for enjoyment and not a trading commodity, I encourage sensible, affordable drinking and the exploration of individual preferences.”

Wai Xin is the author of a blog entitled “Wine Xin- The Babbler”, as well as a contributing author for EnjoyWine.Sg and ChubbyHubby.Net (a food, family, and lifestyle blog). Xin may be reached at this.is@winexin.sg or via twitter @Winexin.

Note from Jane N:  What I find most interesting about Xin is his “98″ score on the CSW – very impressive!!

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It’s Official: Cabernet is King!

Photo:  www.adelaide.edu.au

Photo: www.adelaide.edu.au

If you are a Cabernet Sauvignon lover, rejoice! According to a new report issued today (January 6, 2014), Cabernet Sauvignon is now the most widely planted wine grape variety (by vineyard area) in the world.

This piece of news is actually the result of decades worth of research conducted by the University of Adelaide; funded by Australia’s Grape and Wine Research and Development  Corporation. 

The report, entitled “Which Winegrape Varieties are Grown Where:  A Global Empirical Picture,” is purported to be the first complete database of the world’s winegrape varieties, compiled using data from over 44 countries.

The database and its narrative, which has more information than most of us have ever even dreamed of, is available for free download, courtesy of the University of Adelaide:  just click here.

According to the report, the top ten wine grape varieties grown worldwide are currently:

  1. Cabernet Sauvignon
  2. Merlot
  3. Airén
  4. Tempranillo
  5. Chardonnay
  6. Syrah
  7. Garnacha Tinta
  8. Sauvignon Blanc
  9. Trebbiano Toscano
  10. Pinot Noir

Red Grapes 3.3Other interesting pieces of information include the top five winegrapes that have increased in vineyard volume over the past ten years, which are:  Tempranillo (#1), Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay (#5).  Accordingly, the five grapes that have declined the most in vineyard volume are Airen at #1, followed by Mazuelo, Grasevina, Garnacha Tinta, and Trebbiano Toscano.

The report (all 670 pages of it) is a wealth of information – so much so that you should wait to download it until you have a large block of free time!

For More Information:  The University of Adelaide , Australia’s Grape and Wine Research and Development  Corporation

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Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, CWE – your SWE Blog Administrator – jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org

Coda di Volpe – The Tail of the Fox

Red FoxCoda di Volpe is a relatively obscure golden-yellow grape variety, used since ancient times to produce medium to full-bodied wines in and around Campania in southern Italy.

The name “Coda di Volpe” can be translated to “tail of the fox.” The name is believed by some people to refer to the long, pendulous shape of the bunches, which if you squint really hard and turn your head to the side, resemble a fox’s bushy tail.

Coda di Volpe is thought to be the grape variety used in the famous Falernian wine produced in Ancient Rome. Falernian, considered the finest wine of its kind at the time, cost as much as four times as much as ordinary wine and was beloved by the poets and Caesars alike.  It was most likely produced from late harvest grapes, as it was very high in alcohol – perhaps as high as 15%.  Pliny the Elder alluded to this when he described it as “the only wine that takes light when a flame is applied to it.”

In more modern times, Coda di Volpe is widely used in the white wine blends of Southern Italy, including Solopaca DOC and Vesuvio DOC.   The Vesuvio DOC is famous for its “Lacryma  Christi” wines, the white version of which may be produced from a blend that includes Coda di Volpe (a minimum of 35%), Verdecca, Falanghina, and Greco di Tufo. However, the wine is often produced from 100% Coda di Volpe.

The name of this wine, translated as “Tears of Christ,” is drawn from a legend of biblical history.  According to the legend, God cried over Lucifer’s fall from Heaven, and grapes grew where his tears fell, and the grapes came to be used to make Lacryma Christi.

Wine produced from Coda di Volpe are often described as medium to medium-full bodied, fruity (citrus, peach, pineapple) and spicy (nutmeg, cinnamon) on the nose, and with flavors of grapefruit, lemon, and almond.  The grape tends to be low in acidity, which is one reason why it does so well in the volcanic soil surrounding Mount Vesuvius, which can help impart higher levels of acid.

White Grapes Coda di VolpeBeginning in the 1980’s, wineries in Campania began making single-varietal wines from Coda di Volpa, and it has grown both more widely known and popular since that time.  100% Coda di Volpa wines are now used in the DOC wines of Irpinia and Sannio and Taburno, among others.

According to Jancis Robinson, et al, in the new tome Wine Grapes, the name of the grape is actually “Coda di Volpe Bianco;” the term “bianco” used in order to differentiate it from “Coda di Volpe Nera,” a red grape also known as Pallagrello Nero, and of no particular relation.

Accepted synonyms for Code di Volpe Bianco include Alopecis, Falerno, and Guarnaccia. Coda di Pecora, meaning “tail of the sheep” was, for a long time, thought to be the same grape, but recent DNA analysis has shown it to be a separate, unrelated variety.

Reference for quote from Pliny the Elder:  The XIIII Booke of the Historie of Nature, Containing the Treatise of Trees bearing fruit, by C. Plinivs Secvndvs

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Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, CWE – your SWE Blog Administrator – jnickles@societyofwineeducators.org

 

 

 

The (Confusion of the) Torrontés Family Tree

Chenin Blanc GrapesTorrontés, a vinifera cross native to Argentina, is known for producing crisp, fruity, and floral wines redolent of peach, apricot, mandarin orange, honey, melon, and rose.  While Chile, Spain, and a few other countries grow grapes that go by the same name, Torrontés – actually several closely-related varieties –  is grown primarily in Argentina. Along with Malbec, it is considered one of the two “signature varieties” of the country.

A wine labeled “Torrontés” from Argentina may actually be made from three separate but related varieites.  Torrontés Riojano is the most widely grown, the most aromatic, and is considered to produce the highest quality wines.  Torrontés Mendocino, the least aromatic, is also the least widely grown; and Torrontés Sanjuanino takes the middle ground.

All three varieties of Argentine Torrontés are thought to be natural vinifera crossings involving Muscat of Alexandria that occurred on Argentine soil. As for the parentage of each, it gets a little tricky:  The leader of the pack, Torrontés Riojano, is known to be a crossing for Muscat of Alexandria and Criolla Chica, otherwise known as the Mission grape. Torrontés Sanjuanino is a separate crossing of those two same grapes. Torrontés Mendocino is a mystery, thought to be a crossing of Muscat de Alexandria and an unknown variety.

Casa Rosada ArgentinaOf the versions of the grape grown in Argentina, Torrontés Riojano is by far the most widely grown and renowned. As the name suggests, it thrives in the La Rioja region, and is also widely planted in Mendoza and the Salta region of northern Argentina.  It seems to do particularly well in the arid, ultra-high altitude vineyards of Salta where the conditions allow the grape to retain a crisp acidity and develop the intense floral aromas the grape is known for.  Torrontés Sanjuanino is planted mainly in the San Juan province, but even there plays second fiddle to Torrontés Riojano.  Torrontés Mendocino, despite being named after Mendoza, is rarely seen there and is mostly found in the southern province of Rio Negro.

For many years it was thought (naturally, I think) that the Torrontés of Argentina was the same grape, known by the same name, grown in Galicia and other regions of Spain. It was thought that the grape was simply brought to the new world along with an influx of immigrants from Galicia into Argentina.  However, recent DNA evidence has shown there is no relation between the two grapes. The Torrontés of Galicia, grown mainly in the DO of Ribeiro, is now known to be identical to the Fernão Pires of Portugal.  It aslo appears that many different grape varieties go by the name “Torrontés” in Spain. To quote Jancis Robinson and her co-authors in Wine Grapes, “Confusion reigns supreme over Torrontés in the Iberian Peninsula.”

Crios TorrontesChile grows a good deal of Torrontés, sometimes under the synonym “Moscatel de Austria.”  There are varying reports of its exact provenance, with some publications claiming that most Chilean Torrontés is the Sanjuanino version and others that claim it to be Riojano. We do for certain that much of the Torrontés grown in Chile ends up distilled into Pisco.  Wines (and grapes) labeled as Torrontés in Chile may also actually be Torontel, a closely related but separate crossing of Muscat of Alexandria and Criolla. Tortontel-by its correct name- is grown in many regions in Chile.

In case you would like to be confused even more, there is also a red grape known as Torrontés, which also goes by the names Tarrantes and Turrundos. Perhaps that is a good topic for another day.  For now, I think I need a glass of Crios de Susana Balbo Torrontés, Cafayate, 2012 (peach, melon, honeysuckle, tropical fruit, and most likely Torrontés Riojano) to calm my brain down.

Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, your SWE Blog  Administrator – bevspecialist@societyofwineeducators.org

 

Blood and Wine…Sangre and Sangria

SangriaSomewhere near the very beginning of every wine class, an eager student asks about Sangria.  They seem to think it is a type of wine, most likely because they have seen bottles of it alongside the wine selection at their local supermarket.

Now, before I go any further, let me assure you: I love Sangria. I’ve served many a punch bowl of it, and often order it a restaurant where the wine-by-the-glass selection looks otherwise questionable.

However, I want to get the point across to my students and fast…Sangria is not a type of wine, despite the bottles you see at the grocery store.  While we’re at it, I remind them that a Mimosa is not wine and a Kalimotxo is not wine.  What all three are, however, are popular cocktails, and in the case of Sangria, a type of punch made out of wine. The tradition of making punch from wine, such as Claret punch in Bordeaux and Gluhwein in Germany, is widespread.

Sangria actually has an interesting history, as should be expected for a drink whose name is based on “Sangre,” the Spanish word for “blood.”  If we go back to 200 BC, we arrive at the days when the Romans were conquering the Iberian Peninsula. The Romans, of course, brought their tradition of wine and viticulture everywhere they went, and planted some of the first vineyards in Spain.

The locals, looking for refreshment, made fruit-infused, watered-down drinks from the hefty red wines of the region. We know that the tradition of wine consumption at the time was to dilute wine with water, so this makes sense. One theory states that the drink was simply called “sangria” after the color of blood.

Another theory on the name Sangria is based on the “four humors,” or bodily fluids (blood and three others too gross to mention). In the days of Ancient Rome, it was thought that varying levels of the four humors were present in a person based on their diet and activity. Personality characteristics and temperament were also based on humors.  A person who aligned with the blood humor was said to be sanguine and considered to be courageous, hopeful and amorous.  It doesn’t take much imagination to see how these traits can also be the result of daily dose of wine punch!

Sangria and TapasAt the 1964 World’s Fair, held in New York, the Spanish “world area” served its traditional fruity red wine punch to the crowds, and the people loved it! Sangria became popular in the United States, and started its inevitable march towards American commercialization and bottles of Arbor Mist Zinfandel “Sangria” in the ensuing years.

In case you are now dying to try a glass of refreshing Sangria, or think it would be a hit at your next Tapas or Paella party, here’s my recipe.  From what my fuzzy memory can recall, this recipe grew out of a version that I copied down from a library copy of Time Life’s “Food of the World – Spain” book back in the 1980’s. I’ve revised it constantly over the years so that it doesn’t much resemble that original, but I would love to see the original, if anyone still has a copy of those books!

Sanguine Sangria:

  • 1 Bottle Red Rioja Crianza Wine (sure, you can substitute any red wine, or even white wine, but we are trying to keep it real here)
  • ½ Cup Spanish Brandy (again with the keeping it real)
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 orange, seeded and cut into thin rounds
  • 2 lemons, seeded and cut into thin rounds
  • 1 red apple, cored and cut into thin slices
  • 1 bottle (750 ml) sparkling water

Method:

  • Place the prepared fruit, sugar, and brandy in the bottom of a large pitcher or other container.  Stir around a bit until well mixed, and place in the refrigerator for at least one hour.  If you need to prepare ahead, you can do this step the night before, and leave it in the refrigerator overnight.
  • When ready to serve, add the wine and stir well.  Add the sparkling water and give another stir.
  • Serve over ice in a tumbler or wine glass.  Make sure everyone gets a few pieces of fruit.

Be careful with this…its goes down easily and is thirst-quenchingly refreshing.  However…it packs a punch.  You’d best know what you are doing.

Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, your SWE Blog Administrator…bevspecialist@societyofwineeducators.org