Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Tour of Berlucchi Franciacorta operations and Palazzo Lana Berlucchi

The evening before the the Berlucchi tour had been devoted to the Grand Finale Dinner of the 2011 European Wine Bloggers Conference and an "after party" but we were all at the appointed meeting place in the heart of Old Brescia at the appointed time.  As sleepy as I was, I wished the buses would be there on time so that I could catch a quick snooze en route.  No such luck.  The buses showed up eventually and we boarded and wended our way out of Brescia and onto the Autostrada Milano-Brescia in a northwesterly direction.  We exited the Autostrada at Via Provinciale and travelled due north to Borgonato and the Berlucchi facility.

We were welcomed outside the winery by a large group which included Arturo Ziliani, Vice President and Chief Winemaker and Cristina Ziliani, Head of Public Relations, Communications, and Image.  Cristina did most of the speaking at this time and informed us that we had been tardy and would have to hurry in order to complete the appointed program.  Headsets were distributed to us as we made our way into the winery and positioned ourselves in a semicircle around Arturo and, as he explained, his translator.  Hence the headsets.

When we had settled down, Arturo utilized a presentation on a large flat screen TV to explain the estate's viticultural and vinicultural practices.  He was especially proud of the company's Coquard presses.  According to www.winenews.it, these presses are insatiable and, further, "A fast and efficient press avoids the insurgence of uncontrolled microbiological processes that occur among the grapes in the crate. The Coquard's inclined plate favors the rapid descent of musts, thus clarifying the wine with this first natural filtration while at the same time limiting the time in contact with the skins."  The pressure exerted on the grapes by the press can be automatically adjusted based on its reading of pre-set parameters.  According to Arturo, every major Champagne House utilizes this technology but Berlucchi was the first non-French estate to acquire it.

After completing our tour of the vinification facility, we re-boarded our bus for the trip over to the cellar and Palazzo Lana Berlucchi.   We were warmly welcomed there by another staff contingent and taken on a tour of the cellars where the wines are bottled for re-fermenting and aging after assemblage.  Depending on the wine style, a bottle can spend anywhere from 18 to 60 months in the Berlucchi cellar.  Berlucchi still uses some manual riddling to concentrate the spent yeast into the neck of the bottle but has supplanted it with machines for the most part.  Automatic riddling, via the gyro palette, was developed by the Cava industry in the 1970s and has been adopted by traditional sparkling wine makers the world over.  The method can reduce the riddling time to as little as three days in comparison to an average of six weeks for a hand-riddled wine.

As Arturo explained it, the pressure in a Franciacorta bottle is six atmospheres (with the exception of Satén which is bottled at 5 atmospheres of pressure).  He demonstrated that this pressure is contained within the wine itself by opening a bottle, placing it on a flat surface, and then tapping gently on the outside of the bottle with a metal object.  The resulting eruption of wine was a sight to behold.

Our tour was actually conducted in reverse to the construction and maturation processes in that we started with the bottles at rest, went next to the remuage process, on to the bottling facility, and then ended at the base-wine tasting room.  In the base-wine tasting room we were allowed to taste a number of base wines from different lots, different vintages, and different varieties.  In the actual assemblage of the wine, a four-person tasting team, to include Arturo, convenes to determine the composition of the estate's offerings.

At the conclusion of the cellar tour, we were taken over to Palazzo Lana Berlucchi, the early 16th century chateau that nests alongside the cellar, for a tour and light repast.  The delicate finger foods to which we were treated paired exquisitely with the array of wines to which we were treated.  While in the palace, Arturo revealed a special, wine-blogger-specific bottling of a "61 Franciacorta and said that we would take it outside to the vineyards and crack it open.  And so we did.

All in all a wonderful day.  The management and staff at Berlucchi were kind, attentive, and informative.  The ongoing back and forth between Arturo and Cristina exhibited a fun, close familial relationship.  The knowledge and passion of Arturo for Berlucchi and Franciacorta were on display for all to see.  If there was one disappointment it was that Franco Ziliani, the father of Franciacorta, was too sick to meet with us on the day of our visit.  But no matter, his spirit was in every glass that I drank that day.  And every glass that I have drunk since.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Guido Berlucchi: Franciacorta's leading light

On the final day of the 2011 European Wine Bloggers Conference, a number of bloggers participated in a tour of the winemaking facilities of Franciacorta powerhouse Guido Berlucchi.  Our hosts for the tour were Arturo Ziliani, Vice President and Chief Winemaker and Cristina Ziliani, Head of Public Relations, Communications, and Image.  Key elements of the estate's genesis and operations are highlighted in this post.

Guido Berlucchi was founded in 1955 by Guido Berlucchi, Franco Ziliani and Giorgio Lanciani.  Guido Berlucchi was a gentleman farmer in Borgonato who produced an unstable, still white wine called Pinot del Castello.  His search for a solution to the wine's stability problems led him to Franco Ziliani, a recent graduate of the Alba Winemaking Institute.  Ziliani solved the stability problem and then promptly turned to enlisting Berlucchi's assistance in the attainment of his goal of making a sparkling wine in the Franciacorta area. Berlucchi signed on and they were joined by Giorgio Lanciani.  After years of effort, Ziliani finally produced 3000 bottles of quality sparkling wine in 1961.  This wine was called Pinot di Franciacorta, the first time that the word Franciacorta had appeared on a wine label in Italy.

Grapes for the Berlucchi wines are sourced from 600 hectares of estate and grower vineyards.  The climate and soil extant in the Franciacorta region have been described previously, as was the University of Milan zonation study which detailed the soil characteristics.  In a project called the 1001 Vineyard Project, Berlucchi has extended the University of the Milan zonation study to divide its vineyards into over 215 different lots.  Vineyards on these plots are spur-cordon trained and planted to high density and, combined with practices such as the use of cover crops and green harvesting, are designed to produce low yields of high-quality grapes.

The technological sophistication of the Berlucchi organization is on display in the way in which the vineyards are managed.  At the beginning of the growing season, the vineyards are mapped -- using infrared technology on satellites or drones -- to determine vegetative vigor.  As the grapes ripen, they are sampled according to the mapped zones and harvesting decisions are driven by the results.

Grapes for the Berlucchi wines are hand-harvested on a lot-by-lot basis by over 1000 pickers.  Careful harvesting is designed to retain the freshness and flavors of the grapes.  The grapes are loaded onto eight inclined-plane presses in intact bunches and are then delicately pressed to release the must.  The wines are vinified by lot with initial fermentation in stainless steel tanks or, in some cases, oak barriques.  Some of the wines undergo malolactic fermentation in oak barrels.  The result of the vinification process is 200 base wines some of which undergo bâttonage in order to stir up the lees.

In the winter following the harvest, the wines are blended then bottled.  They are held in the cellar -- a 17th-century structure that is 10-meters underground -- for 18-60 months while they re-ferment and mature.

Berlucchi produces approximately 5,000,000 bottles of sparkling wine per year.  The company's portfolio of wines is shown in the table below.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Champagne and Franciacorta: Comparisons and Contrasts

Franciacorta is regularly compared to Champagne by its boosters and there are some areas of similarity: (i) they are both sparkling wines; (ii) they are both produced using the method of second fermentation in the bottle; (iii) in both cases the wine is identified with its region of production rather than by variety; (iv) each of the regions have a single-word nomenclature;  and (v) the levels of sweetness of the finished product is similarly characterized. But there are also many differences.  In this post I will highlight these differences, some dictated by environment, others of choice.

Champagne Wine Region.  Source: http://www.terroir-france.com/wine/champagne_map.htm

Franciacorta Wine Region. Source: Franciacorta Consorzio

Franciacorta is the new kid on the block.  Enologist Franco Ziliani had been engaged by the Berlucchi estate to help with the stabilization of its wines. While undertaking that effort, Ziliani also sought to convince Guido Berlucchi that the area was well suited to the production of a sparkling wine using the methode champenoise.  Berlucchi gave him the go ahead and, after a number of tries, Ziliani successfully produced his first batch of sparkling wine in 1961.  The wine was awarded DOC designation in 1967 and DOCG in 1995.  The history of Champagne, converesly, stretches back 300 years from the birth of Franciacorta to the period when Dom Perignon was the cellar master at Abbey of Hautvilliers and established the principles that are used to this day in its production.

The first major difference between the two regions is location.  Champagne is located at latitude 49 degrees, 160 kilometers to the east of Paris, while Franciacorta is located at latitude 45 degrees in Lombardia (Italy), 700 kilometers south of Champagne.  The northern location of Champagne makes it difficult for grapes to ripen, resulting in acidic base wines which require the bubbles of the second fermentation to make them sparkle.  Grapes in Franciacorta have no difficulty ripening and the resultant wines are richer than Champagnes of an equivalent sweetness level.

The Champagne region consists of 32,900 hectares of vineyards in 300 villages distributed between five sub-regions: Vallée de la Marne, Montagne de Reims, Côte de Sézanne, Aube, and Côte des Blancs.  In this region, 15,000 vineyard owners grow and sell grapes while another 5000 grow grapes as well as produce wines. Vineyards are classified as Grand Cru, Premier Cru, or Deuxième Cru.  Blending, aging, and marketing of the wines are the domain of large Champagne Houses.  Franciacorta has approximately 3000 hectares under vine spread between 19 municipalities.  All of the sparkling wine produced in Franciacorta is estate grown by its 104 producers.  Vineyards are not currently classified.

Franciacorta is mild in the winter and hot in the summer.  The climate is moderated by winds blowing in off Lakes Iseo and Garde which act to protect the region from the autumnal and hibernial fogs that threaten from the Brescian plains.  Rainfall in the region is concentrated in the spring and fall.  Champagne lies at the northern edge of the vineyard-growing areas and, with an average July temperature of 66ºF (18.8ºC), grapes struggle to ripen.  Rainfall is at its highest during the month of September.

The soil in Champagne is chalk or a clay-chalk mix.  This soil absorbs heat during the day and releases it at night.  It also absorbs water during wet periods and retains it such that it can be accessed by vine roots in search of moisture and nutrients. The region's thin layer of arable top soil is infertile and requires the aid of fertilizers.  There are four glacial morainic soil types in Franciacorta with pH ranges from neutral to sub-alkaline and drainage ranging from poor to good.

Vineyards in Champagne are planted on slopes at elevations between 90 and 210 meters. Montagne de Reims and Côtes des Blancs can be said to have the best vineyards as they have the highest concentration of Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards.  The vineyards are planted to Pinot Noir (35%), Pinot Meunier (40%), and Chardonnay (25%). Franciacorta vineyards are planted in the "gentle" hills that are characteristic of the region and are constituted thusly: Chardonnay (80%), Pinot Nero (15%), and Pinot Bianco (5%).

The grapes utilized in the production of Champagne are Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay.  The permitted grapes in Franciacorta are Chardonnay, Pinot Nero, and Pinot Bianco (maximum of 50% in the bottle).   Champagne production was 370 million bottles in 2010 as compared to Franciacorta's 10.3 million bottles, an average 10% annual production growth from 2002.  Champagne exports 50% of its production while the corresponding number for Franciacorta is 15%.

The average price for a non-vintage Champagne is in excess of 20 euros while the price for a non-vintage Franciacorta ranges between 10 and 35 euros.  At the high end, the Franciacorta will not exceed 100 euros while the tête de cuvées of the large houses will cost several hundred euros.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

1958 Biondi-Santi, wine of the night: Guest Post by Ron Siegel

The @wineORLs invited Bev, Russell, and me to join them for dinner at Terramia, a Winebar and Trattoria in Longwood, Florida. The food at the restaurant was very good. We ordered a number of small plates so that we could open and taste all of our wines and have them served with each course. @wineORL had said that he had a few Italian gems that he wanted to try and asked that I bring an assortment of wines to flesh out the evening's offerings.

We started off with two Champagnes:

(i) 1980 Lanson Noble Brut ( Ron). This was the sixth bottle of this wine that I have had in the past 6 months and it was drinking beautifully. It had a nose of Crème Brulee and brioche with a touch of green apple, a nice creamy mousse, great acidity, and nice balance.

(ii) 1978 Dom Perignon (Russell). What a nice surprise when Russell pulled this out of his bag. This wine had a nose of lemon curd, tangerine, and a little burnt sugar and a slightly lighter finish than the 1975 Dom but had really nice acidity and freshness on the palate.

Then came the reds:

1958 Biondi Santi Brunello Reserva (@wineORL). This was truly one of the best Brunello’s that I have ever consumed and it was in really good shape. It started off as almost Burgundian (Russell thought more like a Barolo) and was opulent and sexy. It had a nose of cherry, orange peel, and mushroom. On the palate very rich red fruits along with some basalmic and tobacco notes, perfect acidity, and balance. The wine presented as much younger than its years.

1950 Liger-Belair Morey-St Denis (Ron) Nice dark color with a nose of sour cherry and Asian spice. A nice finish with sweet red fruits, along with some soy and Basalmic. A very nice Burgundy.

1995 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo ( Russell). Bouquet of dried cherry, soy, and sandalwood. Medium length with red fruits, leather, and mushroom.

1995 Soldera Brunello Reserva (Ron). This was a very big and old style Brunello with red fruits, tobacco, and roasted nuts. Very rich and thick, saucy texture with some underbrush and spice notes also showing. This will be a killer with some more time in the cellar.

1998 Conterno Barolo Monfortino (Ron) This was a big, rustic, old-style Barolo that could also use more time in the cellar. Russell commented that he had always wanted to try a Monfortino and I do not think this bottle let him down as it had beautiful aromas of dried cherry, tobacco, licorice, and spice box and a long finish.

2001 Cheval Blanc ( Ron) I always bring a Burg and a Bordeaux with me no matter what the theme. A really nice Cheval that is drinking well but will be so much better in 10 years. I really like the 2001 Bordeaux’s and wish that I had bought more of this vintage. Black and red fruits with shoe polish, cedar, and herbs. Very elegant and balanced and a great way to finish the evening.

Another great night of food and wine and lots of fun. As usual, we closed the restaurant. We all agreed that the Biondi-Santi was the wine of the night. I made that choice because of the rarity factor as well as how well it showed for its age.  The Soldera will probably be equally as great in another 20 or 30 years but ... who knows.  The Biondi-Santi was  a real treat.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Franciacorta: A "sparkling" wine region

The 2011 European Wine Bloggers Conference was held in the ancient city of Brescia (Italy), the closest urban center to the Franciacorta zone, home of Italy's (and one of the world's) finest sparkling wine.  The region, which attained its DOCG classification for sparkling wines in 1995, has gained a reputation for producing high-quality sparkling wines using the classical method (second fermentation in bottle).  This post will provide some background on the Franciacorta wine zone.

Franciacorta (the name means either "little France" or "tax-free zone," depending on the publication consulted) is located in the "gentle" hills in the area of Brescia and is bounded thusly: to the east by rocky hills; to the west by the Oglio River; to the north by Lake Iseo and the foothills of Alpi Retiche; and to the south by the Brescia-Bergamo Highway.  The region lies in an amphitheater which was carved out by a falling glacier and encompasses all or part of 19 Brescian municipalities.   The zone is approximately 18,000 hectares in size with 2665 hectares under vine.

Source: Franciacorta.net

Franciacorta is mild in the winter and hot in the summer.  The climate is moderated by winds blowing in off Lakes Iseo and Garde which protect the region from the autumnal and hibernial fogs that threaten from the Brescian plains.  Rainfall in the region is concentrated in the spring and fall.

Thanks to exhaustive zoning studies conducted in the region in the late 1990s by the University of Milan, a very clear picture of soil differentials -- and the differing contributions of each type to the finished product -- has been established.  The figure below shows that the combination of landscape units (formations by geologic era) and soil types results in six distinct regional terroirs.  The figure illustrates that the soil, vegetative productive, qualitative, and organoleptic characteristics of each terroir has also been identified.  The details of those characteristics are contained in the table following.

Formulation of Terroirs  Derived from Franciacorta: un vino, una terra, p. 28-33

Characteristics of Franciacorta Terroirs. Derived from Franciacorta: un vino, una terra, p. 28-33

The sparkling wine is produced under the DOCG classification from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Bianco grapes.  As indicated previously, the wines are produced using the classic method and, depending on the terroir in which it was grown, or the blend of terroirs, will exhibit some subset of the organoleptic qualities indicated in the last column of the table above.  The wines can be either non-vintage (white, Rosé), vintage (white or Rosé), Riserva (white, Rosé, or Satèn), or Satèn.  Non-vintage wines are aged for a minimum of 25 months with 18 of those months being on the lees in the bottle.  Vintage wines are aged for a minimum of 37 months with 30 of those months being in the bottle on the lees.  In addition, a minimum of 85% of the wine must be from a single vintage.  Riserva wines are aged for 5 years on the lees.  Satèn is made from Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco and, as a result of lower bottle pressure, manifests a satiny feel with tinier bubbles.  Rosés must contain a minimum of 25% Pinot Nero.  Wines are labeled in terms of sweetness much the same as is the practice for Champagne.

Still wines are produced in the zone under the Curtefranca DOC.  White grapes are produced as blends or varietals from Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco while reds are produced from Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Nebbiolo, and Barbera.

The most respected producers in the region are Bellavista, Berlucchi, Ca' del Bosco, Cavalleri, Facoli, and Monte Rossa.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Abacus, Trilogie, Reserva Especial: Leading non-Vintage still wines

We are all familiar with non-vintage Champagnes but may be less so with high-quality, non-vintage, dry still wines.  In this post I will describe three instances of the latter: Chateau Le Pin's Trilogie, Vega-Sicilia's Reserva Especial, and ZDs Abacus.

Château Le Pin's Trilogie

Variously described as "hedonistic," "exotic," and "more California and Australia than traditional Bordeaux," the Merlot-based wine of Pomerol's Chateau Le Pin is one of the world's most highly desired -- and highly priced -- wines.  The estate sits on a 1.6-hectare plot of granite, clay, and sand that is planted to 92% Merlot and 8% Cabernet Franc (the wine is 100% Merlot), old vines that yield 30-35 hectoliters/hectare.  The grapes are hand-harvested and then fermented in stainless steel tanks.  After fermentation the wine is transferred to 100% new oak barrels for malolactic fermentation and 18 months of maturation.  The wine is subjected to egg-white fining prior to bottling.  Annual production ranges between 500 and 700 cases.

In order to maintain its high level of quality, Chateau Le Pin employs an extremely rigorous selection process.  It has been said that the wine excluded in the Le Pin selection process would be the core of the Grand Vin of many a Bordeaux estate.  These extra barrels are the source of Le Pin's Trilogie.  In any given year the estate does not have enough of this unselected wine to make a second label but, over multiple years, unselected barrels can be combined to provide enough volume for a market offering. The most recent Trilogie offering is a blend of the 2007 and 2008 vintages which can be purchased for approximately $125 at retail.

I have not tasted this wine to date.  I bought a 6-pack from Antique Wine Company in the UK but the seal remains unbroken.

Vega-Sicilia's Reserva Especial

Vega-Sicilia is a highly regarded (Lafitte of Spain) estate located in the Ribera del Duero region of Spain.  The winery, in operation since 1864, sits on a 1000-hectare property, 250 hectares of which are planted to vine: 80% Tempranillo and the remainder Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Malbec.  Planting density on the clay-limestone soil is 2200 vines/hectare and yields are 22 hectoliters/hectare, with each vine producing less than 2 kilos of wine.  The estate's Grand Vin is Unico (10 years of aging) with the second wine, Valbueno, being approachable a little earlier (5 years of aging).  If the grapes for Unico are not of the best quality, they are declassified to Valbueno and no Unico is produced in that year.  This has happened previously in 1992, 1993, 1997, and 2001.

The Unico wine is fermented for 15 days in in oak vats and are then transferred to oak storage containers for malolactic fermentation.  The wines remain in these containers for 1 year.  The Unico wine is aged for 7 years during which time it is transferred successively to barrels with less new oak characteristics.  When the desired harmony of wood and wine is attained, the wine is placed into large wooden vats to await bottling.  The wine is bottle-aged for three years. Annual production is approximately 7000 cases.

The Reserva Especial is a blend of three-years' harvests.  One recent offering contained a blend of 1991 Unico (aroma), 1994 Unico (power), and 1995 Unico (quality of finish).  These wines average $380 per bottle at retail.

I am an avid collector of Vega-Sicilia and have previously reported on my tastings of the 1970 and 1994 vintages on this blog.

ZDs Abacus

The ZD estate is located in Napa's Rutherford AVA and is the source of grapes for its Cabernet Sauvignon wines along with grapes from "low-yielding vineyards" In "recognized viticultural areas within Napa."  Grapes for the ZD Cabernet Sauvignon are hand-harvested at full maturity and transported to the winery for destemming and crushing.  The grapes are fermented in open-top stainless steel tanks for between 6 and 14 days, with cap punchdown occurring every 8 hours.  After fermentation the wines are placed in 50 gallon oak barrels for 24 months of aging.  The Reserve blend is aged for 36 months.

Abacus is a solera-type blend of all of the existing vintages of the Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.  The first bottling was released in November of 1999 and contained elements of the 1992-1998 vintages.  A total of 200 cases of the first bottling was produced.


The 14th bottling will be released in October 2012 and it will contain contributions of all Reserve vintages between 1992 and 2009.  The 14th bottling is available from the winery at a pre-production price of $500 per bottle.  The average price on wine-searcher.com for earlier bottlings is $380.

I have tasted this wine on many occasions and have never been disappointed.  Click here for one of my tasting experiences.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

2011 "New World" Wine Law Changes

The Guild of Sommeliers has published a list of 2011 worldwide wine law changes and I have obtained their permission to reproduce it on this blog.  2011 FrenchItalian and German wine law changes have been covered in prior posts.  This post covers "New World" wine law changes implemented in the same time period.

The following new AVAs were approved by the TTB:
  • Southern Napa: Coombsville
  • Sonoma County:  Fort Ross-Seaview.  The coastal AVA is located with Sonoma Coast AVA, south of the Annapolis area.  
  • Northern Sonoma County/Southern Mendocino County: Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak. Overlaps part of Alexander Valley.
  • Columbia Valley: Naches Heights

South Africa
Elandskloof is a new ward within Overberg.  Napier is another new ward located in the Cape South Coast region.  It is not located within a district. 
As of 2008, producers in Argentina may use the terms "Reserva" and "Gran Reserva" for white and red wines produced from certain varities.  To qualify for "Reserva", white wines must age for a minimum six months prior to release, and reds must age for a minimum twelve months prior to release.  Minimum aging increases to one and two years, respectively, for white and red "Gran Reserva" wines.
In 2011, the Chilean Ministry of Agriculture approved a new set of geographical terms, based on east/west geography rather than north/south geography (Ministry of Agriculture Decree # 16, an amendment to the original 1994 Decree # 464).  Now producers may use the designations "Costa" (coast), "Entre Cordilleras" (between mountains), or "Andes" to reflect the proximity of their vineyards to the coast or the mountains.  These new appellations may complement the existing appellations on labels in the future.  A min. 85% of grapes must be grown in the listed appellation. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

2011 Italy and Germany Wine Law Changes

The Guild of Sommeliers has published a list of 2011 worldwide wine law changes and I have obtained their permission to reproduce it on this blog.  2011 French wine law changes were covered in a prior post.  This post covers Italian and German wine law changes implemented in the same time period. 

The following new DOCG zones were formally approved in 2011:
  • Veneto: Montello Rosso, Friularo di Bagnoli, Colli di Conegliano
  • Toscana: Rosso della Val di Cornia, Suvereto, Montecucco Sangiovese, Elba Aleatico Passito
  • Puglia: Castel del Monte Bombino Nero, Castel del Monte Nero di Troia, Castel del Monte Rosso Riserva, Tavoliere delle Puglia
  • Marches: Offida
  • Lazio: Frascati Superiore, Cannellino di Frascati
  • Fruili: Rosazzo
  • Emilia-Romagna: Colli Bolognesi Classico Pignoletto
  • Campania: Aglianico del Taburno
In Asti DOCG, three legal subzones now exist: Canelli, Strevi, and Santa Vittoria d'Alba.  All three subzones only produce Moscato d'Asti.  Maximum pressure for Moscato d'Asti has been raised to 2 atmospheres.  Moscato d'Asti late harvest (Vendemmia Tardiva) wines may be produced.

VDP Erste Lage sweet wines may be released on May 1 of the year following the harvest.  Grosses Gewächs dry whites are not released until September 1.

New World 2011 wine law changes will be covered in my next post.

2011 French Wine Law Changes

The Guild of Sommeliers has published a list of 2011 worldwide wine law changes and I have obtained their permission to reproduce it on this blog.  This post covers the French wine law changes with subsequent posts covering the remainder of Europe and the New World.  
France Wine Law System
Confusion has reigned regarding the alignment of France's traditional appellation system with the Common Market Organization reforms of the EU, but it is now clear that AOC and AOP are intended to be complementary designations.  AOP will not entirely replace AOC on labels; rather, producers have the choice of using one or the other.  Vin de Pays and IGP are likewise complementary designations.  VDQS has been eliminated, leaving three tiers of French wine appellations: AOC/AOP, Vin de Pays/IGP, and Vin de France.
"Côtes de Francs" was eliminated as a geographical designation for Bordeaux AOC/AOP.
In 2011, maximum yield requirements for nearly all village, premier cru, and grand cru appellations were raised, as were the requirements for minimum must weights.  Monopole grand crus now require manual harvesting—an amendment to AOC rules that reflects the tradition in these vineyards.
While Burgundy's greatest vineyards saw yields increase in 2011, base yields in the crus of Beaujolais decreased, from 58 hl/ha to 56 hl/ha.
Coteaux Bourguignons AOC/AOP is the new name for an old appellation, Bourgogne Grand Ordinaire.  Blended red, rosé, and white wines are authorized. 
In Pays Nantais, 3 former VDQS zones received AOC/AOP status: Gros Plant du Pays Nantais, Fiefs Vendéens, and Coteaux d'Ancenis.  In the tradition of Muscadet, Gros Plant wines may be labeled "Sur Lie".  Coteaux d'Ancenis produces red and white wines; white wines from the appellation are off-dry, varietal versions of Pinot Gris.
In Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine, the "Cru Communaux" proposal raised over a decade ago has finally been adopted into AOC law.  Three crus (subzones) now exist: Clisson, Gorges, and Le Pallet.  It is expected that more will follow shortly.  These wines are aged on the lees for a longer period of time than is legally allowed for the "Sur Lie" designation, and therefore may not list that term on the label.
In Anjou, two former crus (subzones) of Savennières are now fully-fledged, separate appellations: Savennières Coulée de Serrant AOC/AOP and Savennières Roche Aux Moines AOC/AOP.  Both totally prohibit chaptalization, and each has tighter controls on yields, and higher minimum must weight and minimum potential alcohol requirements than the basic Savennières AOC/AOP.
In the Coteaux du Layon region, producers of Quarts du Chaume are legally allowed to label their wines as "grand cru" from the 2010 vintage forward.  The new AOC regulations for the appellation bar cryo-extraction and require a new minimum 85 g/l of residual sugar, up from a prior 34 g/l.  Quarts du Chaume now mandates the highest minimum residual sugar level of any non-fortified wine in France.  With the approval of the "grand cru" designation for Quarts du Chaume, producers of Chaume (a geographic designation for Coteaux du Layon) may once again label their wines "premier cru".
In addition to Mesland, Amboise, and Azay-le-Rideau, Touraine AOC/AOP has 2 new subzones, Oisly and Chenonceaux.  White wines from both subzones are produced solely from Sauvignon Blanc.  Reds from Chenonceaux are blends of Cabernet Franc, Cot, and Gamay.
South of Touraine and Anjou, the former VDQS Haut-Poitou has been elevated to AOC/AOP status.  Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc are the principal grapes for the region's white, red, and rosé wines.
In Central France, near St-Pourçain, Côtes d'Auvergne is now AOC/AOP.
Alsace and Lorraine:
Moselle joins Côtes de Toul as an AOC/AOP of Lorraine.  The region's principal grapes are Pinot Noir and Auxerrois.
In Alsace, Riesling now has a maximum required residual sugar level.  All varietal Riesling from Alsace AOC/AOP may contain no more than 9 g/l of residual sugar, making the wines effectively dry.  This does not apply to wines labeled "Vendanges Tardives" or "Sélection de Grains Nobles", nor does it apply to Grand Cru wines or wines labeled as a lieu-dit.  This applies from the 2008 harvest forward.
Several new geographic designations join Klevener de Heiligenstein under the Alsace AOC/AOP: Blienschwiller, Côtes de Barr, Scherwiller, Vallée Noble, Val Saint Grégoire, Wolxheim, Ottrott, Rodern, Saint-Hippolyte and Côte de Rouffach.
Southern France and the Rhône
In Provence, white wines have been added to the Les Baux de Provence AOC/AOP.
Going forward, Rasteau's VDN wines will be labeled in a manner similar to Rivesaltes.  White VDN wines are either "blanc" or "ambré", indicating either a fresher or a more oxidative, tawny style.  Red VDN wines are "grenat" or "tuilé".  Maury and Banyuls have adopted these terms as well. 
Maury AOC/AOP may now produce non-fortified, dry reds.  Maury and Baixas, which appeared as subzones for Côtes du Roussillon-Villages in early 2011 on the INAO's official site, are not listed in the appellation's most recent revision of its regulations.
Languedoc's system of Grand Crus and Grand Vins is seemingly still under discussion and revision.  As of the close of 2011, the Languedoc AOC/AOP subzones La Clape and Pic-St-Loup have not yet achieved AOC/AOP status.
In Southwest France, a number of former VDQS zones now enjoy AOC/AOP status: Estaing, Entraygues-Le Fel, Brulhois, Côtes de Millau, Coteaux du Quercy, Saint-Mont, Saint Sardos, and Tursan. 
The subzone "Bellocq" in Béarn has been eliminated.
The minimum percentage of Tannat in the Madiran encépagement has been raised to 60%.