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 (a version of 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 know 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
 References/for more information:
  • Robinson, Jancis and Hugh Johnson: The World Atlas of Wine, 7th edition. London, 2013: Mitchell Bealey (Octopus Publishing Group).
  • Robinson, Jancis, Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz: Wine Grapes. New York, 2012: Harper Collins Publishers
  • http://www.winesofargentina.org/argentina/variedades/malbec-torrontes/torrontes/

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

 

Lillet. Kina Lillet.

Vespter MartiniFrom the book Casino Royale (Chapter 7), by Ian Fleming:

“A dry martini,” (Bond) said. “One.  In a deep champagne goblet.”

“Oui, monsieur.”

“Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?”

“Certainly, monsieur.” The barman seemed pleased with the idea.

“Gosh, that’s certainly a drink,” said Leiter.

Bond laughed. “When I’m…er…concentrating,” he explained, “I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold and very well-made. I hate small portions of anything, particularly when they taste bad. This drink’s my own invention. I’m going to patent it when I can think of a good name.”

A few chapters later, Bond names the drink the Vesper Martini, in honor of Vesper Lynd, a Special Agent at M-16, who of course turns into a love interest, at least until it is revealed that she is a double agent.

While James Bond, double-agents, and strong cocktails might seem to be the key points of this story, as a true student of spirits, I am even more intrigued by the mention of Kina Lillet…so I decided to do a bit of detective work myself.

Lillet BlancLillet is a French aperitif that has been produced since 1872 in the town of Podensac, France, just south of Bordeaux. Lillet is based on Bordeaux wine that has been both aromatized (flavored with herbs) and fortified (strengthened with distilled spirits).  Lillet is made with the typical grape varieties of the region: Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle for the Blanc; Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon for the Rouge and Rosé.

Lillet is approximately 85% wine, sweetened and fortified with various citrus liqueurs, flavored with orange peel, and aged in French oak barrels. Lillet also includes Cinchona bark from Peru, the “secret ingredient” that contains quinine, as is used in tonic water, thus making Lillet a “cousin” of Vermouth and technically an aperitif known as a quinquina.  Lillet actually contains very little quinine, and no other botanical flavorings besides citrus fruit, making it one of the mildest quinquinas in terms of both botanicals and flavor. Other brands of quinquina include Dubonnet, Cocchi Americano, and St. Raphaël.

The original Lillet, once known as Kina Lillet, was re-formulated in 1986 to make it a bit less bitter and a bit less sweet, is now known as “Lillet Blanc.” Lillet Blanc is a light, refreshing, fruity drink that is crisp, sweet, and somewhat floral. Lillet Blanc is popular as an aperitif in France, served chilled or on ice with a garnish of lemon, lime or orange.

Maison du Lillet now produces four versions of its product, including Lillet Blanc. Lillet Rouge, released in 1962, might remind you of the sweet, fruity red wine flavors of James BondLambrusco.  Lillet Rosé, released in 2012, has a grapefruit-edged bitterness and is the sweetest of the four products. Reserve Jean De Lillet 2009, vintage-dated and based on Sauternes, is the newest (and most expensive) product, released in 2013.

Aspiring mixologists who want to make an authentic Vesper Martini may want to use Cocchi Americano instead of Lillet Blanc in the recipe, as purists insist that Cocchi Americano is closer in taste and flavor to the original Kina Lillet, being stronger in quinine and therefore more bitter than today’s version of Lillet Blanc.  After all, you wouldn’t want to disappoint Mr. Bond.

Maison du Lillet – http://www.lillet.com/

 

Neither Petite nor Syrah…Petite Sirah

Petite SirahZinfandel and Malbec, take a seat…the big dog has arrived.  I hold in my hand a glass of Michael-David Vineyards “Earthquake” Petite Sirah.  This wine looks like red crude oil, weighs as much as a linebacker, blasts flavors like a blow torch and leaves some cotton on the roof of your mouth.  Despite the name, there is nothing petite about Petite Sirah. It’s not a small version of the grape known as Syrah.  And, for the record, the “i” in “Sirah” isn’t a typo – but if you spell it with a “y” that’s ok as well.

So, if Petite Sirah is not petite and not syrah, what is it?  The grape is one of those vinous mysteries, solved CSI-style with the miracle of modern DNA testing in the U.C. Davis laboratory of Dr. Carole Meredith.

What we call Petite Sirah, it turns out, is a very old variety born and bred in the 1870’s by a French Nurseryman named Dr. Francois Durif.  It seems that the good doctor wanted to create a grape that had the flavor components of Syrah and the resistance to powdery PS on the vinemildew of a grape known as Peloursin. He crossed Peloursin and Syrah and named the resulting grape, like any proud father, after himself.  Durif became a minor success, was planted in quite a few vineyards, and was used as a blending grape in Rhône Reds.  But, alas, Durif never really became a major French variety as it failed to produce high-quality, distinguished wines in the South of France.

Durif migrated to the United  States in the 1890’s, where it fared somewhat better.  Durif thrived in the California sun, was easy to grow, and produced a high yield of  four to eight tons per acre in the Sierra Foothills and Central Valley of California.  In those days, Durif was a major player in the red blends of the Golden State.  If we could go back in time to the days of Gallo Hearty Burgundy, we’d be able to detect a bit of the deep, dark red fruit and dusty cinnamon flavors of Petite Sirah in there…maybe even dominating the blend.

However, in the early days of California wine making, many vineyards were field blends – a variety of grapes grown together in one vineyard with little regard to varietal pedigree and the name “Durif” got lost along the way, much like what happened to Carmenère in Chile.  Later, when someone needed a name for the variety, the grape was named “Petite Sirah.” We can only assume this was due to its Syrah-like flavor and the small size of the grape – the only possible explanation for the moniker “petite”.

Those small grapes grow in big clusters with very thick skins and high tannins.  A good Petite Sirah has a deep red color, a hefty, somewhat “rustic” feel and substantial but ripe Earthquake Petite Sirahtannins. Walk carefully around this wine…it can pack quite an alcoholic punch, sometimes reaching as high as 15%.  In the bottom of the glass you will find rich fruity aromas including of sweet plum, blackberry, cherry, currant and cassis.  Take a sip and you’ll notice the rich fruit flavors…I think this wine defines the term “jammy”. Go ahead and take another sip…look for the flavors of black licorice, chocolate, coffee, black pepper, vanilla, and cedar.  This wine can be quite complex…you might also find aromas and flavors of herbs, violets, brown sugar, orange peel, clove, and cinnamon.  It’s got a lot going on.

Petite Sirah is still grown in France, although like many a local celebrity, it was never much appreciated in its home town.  Australia has a few vines, as well as Argentina, Chile, Israel, and recently, Washington State. The one region to really take to Petite Sirah is California.  The grape is grown throughout California and does particularly well in the warmer regions of the Golden State such as the Sierra Foothills and Lodi, where, in the words of the back label of Earthquake Petite Sirah, it makes a wine that is “over the top and shattering to the veins!”  I couldn’t agree more.

Land of Two Seasons: The Mediterranean Climate

Olive LeavesThe area around the Mediterranean Sea, home to miles of sun-drenched beaches, mild winters, olive groves and (of course) fabulous wine, has been a cultural crossroads since the dawn of civilization. The beautiful weather, with the four seasons seemingly compressed into two, is surely one of the major reasons why so many people decided to make this region their home.

The comfortable climate typical of the Mediterranean Basin is found in many other areas throughout the world, including California and Baja California, the Central Coast of Chile, Southwest and South Australia, and the Western Cape Region of South Africa.  We serious students of wine will easily recognize these areas as major wine producers, and, of course, areas blessed with a Mediterranean Climate.

The Mediterranean Climate, known as a “dry-summer subtropical” climate under the Köppen climate classification, is generally found between 31 and 40 degrees latitude north and south of the equator, on the western side of continents. The climate can be summarized as “warm, dry summers and mild, rainy winters.” The climate zone can extend Mediterranean Climateeastwards for hundreds of miles if not thwarted by mountains or confronted with moist climates, such as the summer rainfall that occurs in certain regions of Australia and South Africa.  The furthest extension of the Mediterranean Climate inland occurs from the Mediterranean Basin up into western Pakistan.  In contrast, areas of California and Chile are constricted to the east by mountains close to the Pacific Coast.

The oceans and seas bordering the land areas with a Mediterranean climate work their moderating magic and keep the temperatures within a comparatively small range between the winter low and summer high.  Snow is seldom seen and winters are generally frost-free.  In the summer, the temperatures range from mild to very hot, depending on distance from the shore, elevation, and latitude. However, as anyone who has experienced Southern California’s Santa Ana Winds will tell you, strong winds from inland desert regions can bring a burst of dry heat to even the mildest season.

VineyardIn addition to the influence of water, specific atmospheric conditions create the Mediterranean climate. Every area that enjoys a Mediterranean Climate is located near a high pressure cell that hovers over the ocean or sea.  These high pressure cells move towards the poles in summer, pushing storms away from land. In the winter, the Jet Streams shift the cells back towards the equator, drawing stormy weather inland.

The long, dry summers of the Mediterranean Climate zones limit plant growth for much of the year, so the natural vegetation of such areas has adapted into evergreen trees such as Cypress and Oak and shrubs such as Bay Laurel and Sagebrush.  Trees with thick, leathery leaves and protective bark such as olive, walnut, citrus, cork oak and fig are also abundant, and as those early settlers in the Mediterranean Basin figured out – grapevines thrive here as well.

 

 

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.

Welcome to our Blog!

Red-Wine-DecanterWelcome to the first post of “Wine, Wit, and Wisdom,” the Official Blog of the Society of Wine Educators.

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