Thursday, May 30, 2013

Carmel Cafe & Wine Bar: New entrant to the Winter Park dining scene

There is an exciting new entrant to the already vibrant Winter Park dining scene: Carmel Cafe & Wine Bar (140 N. Orlando Avenue, Winter Park, FL;

Last Thursday, Henry (a friend; and the King of soft openings) attended the soft opening of Carmel Cafe and was so excited by what he saw that he texted my wife and told her that the place was a must-visit. Fast-forward to yesterday afternoon. I had just returned home from an unfulfilling round of golf and was settling in to complete the writeup of my Alto Adige wine tasting notes when my wife suggested (demanded?) that we go to dinner at this new place that Henry had mentioned. I didn't really feel like writing up my notes, and I was dispirited by my round of golf, so I jumped at this potential upliftment opportunity.

We arrived at the restaurant during a tropical downpour but when I pulled up, one of the staffers approached the car on the passenger side carrying an umbrella which he used to provide my wife dry passage to the restaurant door. Another staffer passed a secured umbrella to me through the open passenger door for me to use for my travel back from the parking lot. (The restaurant does not have a valet parking option at this time and I did not enquire as to whether this was in their future plans.).

When I entered the restaurant, I was greeted by a trio of hostesses standing directly opposite the entrance door and grouped around a small, low-slung, circular table upon which a wine box had been set. My wife had already been seated so one of the hostesses walked me back to our table. My first impressions, as I threaded my way back, were very favorable. The design and layout were esthetically pleasing with a large, well-lit, pleasingly decorated bar to the eastern end as the focal point and a "core" seating area directly across from the bar. This core was furnished with multiple-seat, high-top tables, standard tables, and orange-colored couches. The core was ringed by a walkway which separated it from more traditional booth-style seating. Wine racks were deployed at the southeastern corner of the restaurant and, just in front of them, a special-occasion seating area which could be separated from the larger dining room by blinds if the occasion warranted it.

When I got to my table I was welcomed by our server who had already begun to engage my wife on the unique elements of the restaurant. One of the cool aspects was the way in which they had integrated iPad technology into every aspect of operations. The hostesses used iPads to manage and allocate seats. Every food and drink item is listed on an iPad that is left at your table for the duration of your stay and you have the option of ordering intuitively using the tablet (orders go directly to the kitchen or bar and are brought directly to your table in fairly short order) or using the paper menu and the server to place your order. The iPad menu contains images of the of all the food items, thus adding a graphical aid that would require a bulky hard copy to provide similar context.

The server at our table was enthusiastic, well-trained, and very knowledgeable about the restaurant, its objectives, its offerings, and the technology (in a later conversation with the manager, he mentioned that  they had been fortunate to recruit a team that had been open to the rigorous training regime and seemed to have absorbed it well.). I ordered two glasses of Zardetto Prosecco and was very pleased with the quality of the flutes when the order arrived. The wine list, by the way, is not a "fine-dining" list but is extensive and has quality representation from the major wine regions of the world. The focus is on California, however. The customer has the option of purchasing 3-, 6-, or 9-oz pours, or the entire bottle if that is their druthers. Sparkling wines can be bought either by the bottle or as 6-oz pours.

According to our server, the food can be best described as Modern Mediterranean with an old and new world mixture. I wasn't sure what that meant but figured I would find out sooner or later. The menu is extensive with flatbreads, salads, soups, and shareable plates fronting the main courses. A pleasing characteristic of the restaurant is that the main courses can be ordered as small or large plates thus giving the customer the opportunity of eating tapas-style if he/she so desires. Another pleasing characteristic is its support of customer dietary restrictions. There is a vegan menu, a vegetarian menu, a garlic-allergy menu, and a gluten-free menu.

We started our meal with the Chickpea Fries, from the Signature Shareables portion of the menu, and a cup of the Tuscan Vegetable soup. We ordered using the iPad and the order was fulfilled pronto. The Chickpea Fries came as stacked, oblong blocks on a long plate framed by two small bowls containing tomato jam and curry aioli dipping sauces. The Tuscan Vegetable soup contained green peas, canneloni beans, carrot cubes, and Chard in a wonderfully flavored broth. The Chickpea Fries were an explosion of flavor in the mouth with great texture and comfortable spiciness and handled both sauces equally well.

We followed up the first course with an order of Edamame Hummus. This is made with crushed Edamame and Mediterranean seasonings and is presented with a topping of chili sumac oil and ringed by an array of Puffed Vegetable Crackers. This was so good that we had a second order.

For the main course I had the Seared Lamb Lollipops with Tzatzki sauce and my wife had the Moroccan Lemon Chicken (chicken breast, pine nuts, saffron, olives, lemon, vegetable cous cous) and a side order of Chard. The lamb was juicy and flavorful. The ingredients in the Moroccan Chicken worked well together; oh the complexity of flavors in the mouth.


To cap the experience, we used the iPad to call our bill up, swiped our card in the place provided, and did a self-checkout. You have the option of having the receipt emailed to you or having a hardcopy printed in the restaurant and brought to your table.

This restaurant is positioned somewhere between Luma and Hillstones but with very reasonable pricing. I would recommend wholeheartedly.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Corton and Musigny: Burgundy Grand Cru appellations that go both ways

In a previous post I highlighted the fact that the limestone soils of the Côte de Nuits were laid down in the Mid-Jurassic while those of the Côte de Beaune date from the Upper Jurassic period. The Côte de Nuit soils tend to have a higher limestone content and be more favorable for the growth of Pinot Noir while the calacreous (consisting of, or containing, calcium carbonate) clayey soils of the Côte de Beaune are best suited for the growth of Chardonnay. And this rule holds true for the entirety of the Côte d'Or Grands Crus vineyards with two exceptions: Corton -- which grows predominantly red wines in a white wine region -- and Musigny -- both red and white wines in a red wine region. I examine these two vineyards further in this post.

Musigny Grand Cru

The Musigny vineyard is associated with the commune of Chambolle-Musigny, a village located in the heart of the Côte de Nuit.


The Grand Cru vineyard sits at elevations ranging between 260 and 300 meters with gradients of between 8 and 14%. The vineyard is located between two small valleys -- Chambolle and Orveau -- and is further divided into three Lieux-dits (named plots): Les Musigny (sometimes referred to as Les Grands Musigny; 5.9 ha); Les Petits Musigny (4.19 ha); and La Combe d"Orveau (0.77 ha). All of Les Petits Musigny and most of Les Grands Musigny is owned by Domaine Comte Georges de Vogüé while Domaine Jacques Prieur owns the entirety of Combe d'Orveau.

Red wine production in Musigny averages 286 Hl (38,038 bottles) annually while white wine production averages 24 Hl (3,192 bottles).

Corton Grand Cru

The Hill of Corton heralds the beginning of the Côte de Beaune wine region and, one would think, a sea of white wine.

The top of the hill is covered by dense woodland which gives way to cap rock of Rauracian limestone. Vineyard-capable limestone soils begin at about 345 meters and slope gently to the valley floor through "terroirs of distinction." Limestone soils and Chardonnay flourish on the western side of the hill while Pinot Noir kicks in on the western side beginning at 330 meters elevation. Two great Grand Cru vineyards share the hill: Corton (mostly red) and Corton-Charlemagne (white).


The Corton Grand Cru appellation is associated with the famed communes of Aloxe-Corton, Ladoix-Serrigny, and Pernand-Vergelesses. The vineyard is 94.78 ha in size (4.53 ha of which is planted to Chardonnay) and sits at elevations ranging between 250 and 330 meters. The Chardonnay vines are planted in the climats of Vergennes and Languettes.

While 4.5% of the Corton Grand Cru vineyard is devoted to Chardonnay vines, 6.19% (216 Hl or 28,728 bottles) of the Grand Cru production is white wine. There are 26 Lieux-dits in the appellation and the red wines are authorized to name the Lieux-dit on the bottle following the appellation name. White wines are not so allowed.


So why, of all the Côte d'Or Grand Cru vineyards, are these two the only ones to grow both red and white grapes? In the opening paragraph of this post I mentioned the affinity of Pinot Noir for older mid-Jurassic soils and Chardonnay for younger Upper Jurassic soils. In Figure 4.5 of his book Terroirs, Wilson clearly shows the Upper Jurassic soils beginning just below the cap rock and travelling downslope past the Corton-Charlemagne/Corton boundary. In my opinion, red wines are grown on the hill due to the presence of the mid-Jurassic soils (plus the morning sunshine associated with being on the eastern side) while white wines can be grown in the Corton appellation as a result of the presence of Upper Jurassic soils in the highest portions of the vineyard.

According to, the soils in Musigny are enriched by red clay in the upper sections and are more clayey amd less limey than other Nuit vineyards. This clayey character could account for the Chardonnay grown in this vineyard.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Alto Adige (Südtirol) wine region

Fresh from a trip to Alto Adige, Master Sommelier Geoff Kruth led a Guild of Sommeliers tasting of the region's wines held at Khong (Miami Beach, FL) on Thursday, May 16th. I will report on the tasting in a future post but will first seek to establish the bona fides of the region.

Alto Adige (Upper Adige) is one of two provinces (the other being Trentino) which constitute the autonomous Trentino-Alto Adige region in north Italy. Trentino is the southern portion of the region and, centered around the city of Trento, is classically Italian. Alto Adige, centered around the city of Bolzano, is bordered to the north and east by Austria, to the west by Switzerland, to the southeast by Veneto, to the south by Trentino, and to the southwest by Lombardy. Alto Adige was a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire prior to World War I and was known at that time as South Tyrol (Südtirol). At the end of the war Italy came into possession of Südtirol and changed the name to Alto Adige as a part of the integration process. Its Germanic roots are reflected in the fact that 70% of the population speak German today.

According to, Alto Adige has a mild Alpine-continental climate aided by the alps protecting the region from cold north winds and openness to Mediterranean influences in the south. The region experiences 300 days of sunshine per year -- a total of 1929 hours -- and average growing season temperatures of 18℃ can spike to 29℃ (84℉) in July. High average daytime temperatures in the summer make for significant diurnal temperature differentials. pegs the annual precipitation at 661 mm (26 in.) while stipulates that number at 811 mm (32 in.). The wettest month of the year is August with 90 mm (2.5 in.) of rain, snow, hail, and sleet falling on the region over a total of 9 days (

There is significant soil diversity in Alto Adige with quartz, mica, limestone, dolomite, sandy marl, volcanic porphyry, and weathered ancient rock resident in close proximity. A part of the vineyard area is located on the valley floor on soils comprised of "rock debris and scree cones." These soils are deep and far from groundwater but the texture allows grapevines to dive deep in search of water. The remaining vineyard areas are on slopes and terraces where moraine deposits are dominant. These soils are difficult for roots to penetrate and have low water permeability. The stony soils in the southern portion of the region originate from the Dolomite Mountains and, as a result, have a high mineral content. Due to the mineral content, and a high degree of water permeability, these soils are especially well-suited for grape growing.

Alto Adige is characterized by mountains and valleys and the key vineyard zones follow the north-south path of the Adige River and the northeast-to-southwest path of the Isarco River prior to its disgorgement into the Adige at Bolzano. As shown in the figure below, the Alto Adige wine region is further subdivided into seven distinct sub-regions. The characteristics of the sub-regions are detailed in the immediately following table.

Alto Adige wine region (Source: Guildsomm handout)

Some observations regarding the Alto Adige sub-regions:
  • The largest sub-regions, in terms of vineyard area, are to the south with Bassa Atesina and Oltradige together representing 69% of the total.
  • Val Venosta is the smallest of the regions with 1% of the vineyard area
  • The greatest elevation range is in Basse Atesina with the lowest vineyards at 200 meters and the highest at 1000
  • Limestone and porphyry soils dominate
  • White wines dominate in every sub-region with the exception of Bolzano and Merano
  • The Schiava variety is important in every region with the exception of Isarco Valley.

The Alto Adige climate suits white wine production and a number of aromatic (Sylvaner, Grüner Veltliner, Gewürtztraminer, Müller-Thurgau) and international (Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, Sauvignon Blanc) whites are produced here but red wine production has been historically important in the region. As shown in the tables below, 11 white and six red varieties are important in the region. The major white varieties have comparable representation in terms of vineyard area but, surprisingly, Schiava (a red) has twice the area devoted to its cultivation as the nearest white variety (Pinot Grigio).

Both the white and red wines produced in Alto Adige are a combination of blends and single varieties. White blends are made from Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, or Pinto Grigio with Sauvignon Blanc or Gewürtztraminer rounding out the blend. Red wines with geographic designations have historically been traditional blends but, more recently, Bordeaux style blends made with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot have been all the rage. In addition to the red and white wines, Alto Adige produces small quantities of sparkling and dessert wines. The sparkling wine is made using the methodé champenoise and utilizing Pinot Bianco, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay grapes. The dessert wine is traditionally made from Moscato Rosa. Over 70% of the region's wines are produced by cooperatives.

Alto Adige gained its DOC designation in 1975 and today fully 98% of the region's vineyards are classed DOC. The DOC classification of Alto Adige wines are shown in the table below.

In the next post I will turn to the tasting of the Alto Adige wines.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Friday, May 17, 2013

TerraMia Pizzeria and Trattoria: Death and rebirth of a neighborhood icon

Up until Christmas of last year, the TerraMia Orlando stable of restaurants consisted of TerraMia Wine Bar and Trattoria on SR 434 in Altamonte Springs (FL) and TerraMia Brick Oven Pizza and Trattoria located on SR 46A in Heathrow. The divergent performance characteristics of the two restaurants led management to close the Altamonte Springs location and to re-open in a new location (1150 Douglas Avenue, Suite 1040, Altamonte Springs) with a new name (TerraMia Pizzeria and Trattoria) and the cuisine associated with the Brick Oven facility in the Heathrow market. I accompanied my wife to the restaurant on opening day (Monday of this week) and provide my overall observations in this post.

The TerraMia eateries are owned by the locally well-known restaurateurs Rosario Spagnola and Massimo Nobile. These gentlemen have opened a number of Italian restaurants in the Greater Orlando area and sold them off after a few years of operation. After selling Cafe Allegre in Winter Park in the mid-1990s, they opened TerraMia Wine Bar, a restaurant featuring well-prepared Italian dishes, a wide variety of wines, a large homey bar, a piano that was the basis for weekend music, and a separate room for private parties. In 2009, in the midst of the recession, they opened TerraMia Brick Oven and it was an unqualified success from day one. This mix of restaurants was viewed favorably by regulars. If you felt like a long, lazy, fine-dining experience with music, you went to the TerraMia Wine Bar. If you wanted trattoria-style food or a Pizza, and wanted to get in and out quickly, you went to the Brick Oven. In any case, you stood a good chance of being able to spend time with either Rosario or Massimo who alternated between restaurants.

With the passage of time, the electricity that was evident in the early days of the Brick Oven remained constant; as did revenue. As the Heathrow location continued to outperform Altamonte Springs, the managers began to question their diversity strategy. After some thought they decided that their interests would be best served if they had a Pizza capability in Altamonte Springs. The building in which they were situated could not accommodate a Pizza oven so they secured new facilities and closed the old concept down for 4 months while they built out the new. I was a little concerned by the length of the hiatus because of its potential impact on staff and regular customers but, like me, the old customers had been anxiously awaiting the summons.

As I pulled up to the restaurant, one of the advantages over its predecessor was immediately apparent. The restaurant was clearly visible -- as well as easily accessible -- from the main street, conditions that did not hold true for the old facility. The restaurant occupies a central position on the ground floor of a two-story building and its position is heralded by prominent signage. There was ample outside seating in a covered area just outside the main entrance and this seating was itself an indication of the transformation that the restaurant had undergone. In the old restaurant, the outside seating was a white-tablecloth affair while in this incarnation the table tops were unclad and the chairs had a rattan-like look. The hours of business posted on the door was 11:00 am to 10:00 pm; I had arrived at the old restaurant at 10:00 pm on many a night and left in the wee hours of the morn.

Looking through the glass which fronts the central core of the restaurant, I saw a brightly lit interior with two circular high tops (one on each side of the door), a circular bar in the middle distance (the circle broken only by the entry/egress point for staff), and, in the furthest distance, a dining area populated with high tops and open-booth seating. Chairs and tables are also positioned along the wall to the right of the bar.

The setup at the entrance was a little congested/confusing with the presence of a bottleneck at the point where the bar is closest to the tables flanking the entrance. Customers and staffers have to thread their way through this choke point causing, in some cases, a backup of bodies. As you turn to the left after entry, and wend your way past the table that occupies the position to the left of the entrance, you encounter the hostess station. I found it confusing to pass diners before hitting the welcome station. Secondly, patrons sitting at these "guardian tables" will have the experience of everyone entering or leaving the restaurant -- or taking food to, or removing empty dishes from, the rear seating areas -- passing by their space and food at close quarters.

Looking past the Hostess Station I see the gleaming stainless steel kitchen bounded by brown marble countertop and another seating area outfitted with high-top tables and seating positioned against the north-south wall that serves as the western boundary of this room.

By this time I begin to encounter old familiar faces (plus a lot of faces that I have not seen previously). There was Lisette behind the bar and, to the left, the smiling mugs of Rosario and Massimo. I was guided to my seat by the hostess as I continued to take in my surroundings. I examined the menu and and noted that, with a few exceptions, it was similar to the one employed at TerraMia Brick Oven. The wine list was more extensive than the list at Brick Oven with a good mix of Italian and domestic bottle and by-the-glass offerings.

Massimo and Rosario

This was the first day that the new restaurant was open and, not surprisingly, there were a few kinks (long time to fulfill my wine order, cold main course) probably attributable to the size of the turnout. Based on my experience with this team, these mis-steps will not be a feature of future operations.

I ordered mussels in a Fra Diavolo sauce as my appetizer and a Short Rib with Red Sauce and Penne Pasta as my main course. The mussels were fulsome, spicy and flavorful with a pleasing texture. The Short Rib is a totally new item for either restaurant and with its size and tastiness, is not meant for the diet-conscious. My wife ordered an Aragula salad with leeks, citronelle vinaigrette and ricotta cheese as a starter and a Salmon with Cherry Tomatoes and Asparagus in a white wine sauce as her main course. Both plates were excellent.

The mashup at the door notwithstanding, this is a great setting. You can relax inside or outside and, if you are outside, the large plate glass panels give you a broad-spectrum view of the goings-on inside. If inside, you can choose between sitting at the copious bar or at the high tops or regular tables in the "wings" off the bar. There is a high level of energy and the open-space setup ensures that the buzz percolates to every corner of the restaurant.

With the new menu and hours, the restaurant is now kid friendly (And the word had gotten out because a number of kids were in attendance. They hardly ever graced the old restaurant with their presence.). Peter, one of the original waiters, had left the restaurant years ago to work at Bice at Universal and then went back to Boston. He is back and as funny and knowledgeable as ever. The piano is no more.

The change of location, outfitting, and menu -- and the lowering of prices to matchup with the new approach -- will no doubt result in the outcomes that Rosario and Massimo are pursuing. Another win for this dynamic duo.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Monday, May 13, 2013

The soils of the Burgundy wine region

Winegeeks has identified Kimmeridgian soil as the top vineyard soil in the world but has erroneously attributed that soil type to the totality of vineyards in Burgundy, Champagne, and the Loire Valley. I have begun a process to set the record straight by, first, identifying the locations where Kimmeridgian soils can actually be found and, second, clarifying what soil types are to be found in Champagne, Burgundy, and the Loire. In this post I identify the soils of Burgundy.

Excluding Chablis, the Burgundy vineyards occupy hills and slopes along a 100-mile (160-km) stretch of the western side of the Sâone Valley. The region is noted for its diversity of soils -- both within and between vineyards -- but still sees "a unity of geology and soil" from north to south; a unity characterized by sedimentary soils comprised of clay, marls, and limestone over an older substrate of granite, lava, and schist.

During the Mesozoic era, most of mainland France was covered under a warm sea which was favorable for coral development and limestone deposits. During the Jurassic period (150 million+ years ago), calcareous sedimentation converted the deposits into rocks comprised of clay, marls, and limestones. The sea withdrew approximately 65 million years ago and erosion of the exposed sedimentary rocks led to the creation of valleys and clay-limestone soils. Thirty million years ago (Tertiary era), the action of the African plate pushing against the European plate resulted in the formation of Mont Blanc and the Massif Central as well as the landscape in evidence today between Dijon and Macon. Glacial activity during the Quaternary period eroded existing slopes to form the Côtes we know today.

Faulting has been a key contributor to the lay of the Burgundy land. Wilson (Terroir) describes a fault zone that runs the entire length of the Sâone Valley and provides a "profound break between two different geologic worlds." The faulting lowered the strata one mile deep into the trough and fractured its western edge into the scarps and hills of Burgundy. Upslope of the fault the soil is comprised of Jurassic limestone and marls while the valley-side soils are comprised of Tertiary era sands and clays which filled in the trough (All of the great Grand Cru vineyards are located upslope of the fault line.). Faulting in the Dijon-Macon corridor has also served to create three of the four distinct viticultural compartments extant today(Wilson). The Blanzy Rift separates the Côte d'Or from the Chalonnais which is, in turn, separated from the Mâconnais by the Grosne Rift. The fourth viticultural zone -- Beaujolais -- is the result of a bulge in basement granite.

The Côte d'Or "dominates the Bressan plain from Dijon to Maranges at a height of 150 - 200 metres" ( Rendzinas (a type of shallow intrazonal soil rich in lime and formed from  underlying limestone or chalk rocks -- and brown limestone soils with a covering of broken rock fragments predominate in this zone with Côte de Nuit soils dating to the mid-Jurassic (175 million years ago) and Côte de Beaune soils dating to the Upper Jurassic (150 million years ago). Gravel and red silts have slipped down the slopes and come to rest on marl or limestone bases. The arable land is generally very shallow and in close contact with the source rock but the vine roots are able to exploit any weaknesses in the rock to dive deep for water and nutrients. The cap rock from Dijon to Prémeaux is Comblanchien limestone (hard pink-beige limestone laid down during the Bathonian epoch) which re-appears at Puligny and is the cap rock for the rest of the Côte de Beaune. The cap rock from the Hill of Corton to Puligny-Montrachet is Nantoux limestone (Wilson). The bedrock in the Côte de Nuits is calcaire à entroques, a crinoidal limestone whose many fractures provide a water-storage system for the thin soils.

The soils of the Hautes-Côtes are a mix of hard limestones and clays with pebbly limestones on the flank and limestone pavement and gravel at the foot of the slope. The cap rock is Rauracian limestone.

Côte Chalonnais is part of the northeast face of the Massif Central with differing soils characteristics in its northern and southern portions. The cap rock in the north is Nantoux limestone with Jurassic limestone soils dominant. In some villages, Liassic and Triassic soils surface. In the south the cap rock is Bajocian limestone while some soils are Liassic/Triassic assemblages with a high clay content while others are mid- and upper Jurassic assemblages where hard limestones and softer marls alternate. The lower slopes exhibit leached-out brown soils -- the result of a pebbly alluvium overlaying the limestone -- while the base of the hills are covered with sand and flinty clay.

Variations in the Maconnais landform has led to a diversity of soils to include rendzinas and brown limestone and flinty, clayey, and sandy soils mixed with sandstone pebbles. Vines growing around the base of Solutre are rooted in reddish Liassic marls that have washed down the slopes and have been covered with limestone scree.

Beaujolais and Chablis soils have been covered elswhere.

The soils of Burgundy are summarized in the following figure.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Beaujolais and Douro (Portugal): Contrasts in the utilization of granite and schist soils

The Beaujolais and Douro wine regions are both "blessed" with granite and schist rock types in their wine growing regions but they take contrasting approaches in dealing with this reality. In this post I will define the two rock types, address their distribution in the wine regions, and describe how they are incorporated (or not) into the vine-growing strategy.

The Rocks

According to, "granite is a light-colored, igneous rock with grains large enough to be visible with the unaided eye." Its primary constituents are quartz, feldspar, small amounts of mica and what Wilson (Terroir: The Role of Geology,Climate, and Culture in the Making of French Wines) calls "dark" minerals.

Granite formation (Source:

The feldspar, mica, and other minerals in granite are susceptible to chemical weathering which, if it occurs, alters the feldspar and mica to "easily removed" clays and causes the remaining rock structure to disintegrate to a sandy granite wash (Wilson).

Schist, again according to, "is a metamorphic rock with well-developed foliation. It often contains significant amounts of mica which allow the rock to split into thin pieces."

Schist (Source:

Granite and Schist in Beaujolais and Douro

The Beaujolais wine region is effectively divided into an upper and lower Beaujolais based on the soil composition north and south of the Nizerand River. The landscape south of the river is comprised of flat limestone-clay plains interspersed with sandy patches. North of the river, light granite- and schist-based soils predominate in the hills and stone and clay soils on the lower slopes.

The granite in Beaujolais was formed at great depth over 300 million years ago and was brought to the surface in the mid-Tertiary period by the uplift of the Massif Central and the Morvan. On its way to the surface the molten mass intruded into a crust of ancient lava and ash and metamorphosed that material into schist which accompanied the granite on its upward journey (Wilson). The principal vineyards of upper Beaujolais reside on a large massif known as the Odenas granite, a rock which weathers readily to clay minerals.

Beaujolais (Source:

The north of Portugal consists almost exclusively of granite, the uniformity of which is interrupted by a massif of shale that extends from Barca d'Alva almost to Régua. This schist is a slate-like metamorphic rock which frequently splits into vertical layers below the surface, allowing moisture to seep in as well as providing growth pathways for the vine roots.

Lithology of the Douro region (Source:

The soils

Beaujolais is divided into Haut- and Bas-Beaujolais, based on distinctions in the soil and the intervening Nizerand river valley, with Haut-Beaujolais to the north and Bas to the south.  The north is characterized by rolling granite hills pock-marked with patches of clay and limestone and with granite and schist in the upper slopes and higher stone and clay content in the lower slopes.  The south has a flatter topographical profile than the north and has primarily clay and sandstone soils. For the purposes of our analysis, we will concentrate on the soils of Haut-Beaujolais.

The hills in the north of Beaujolais are convex and have no bellies in which to collect slope wash. As a result, the soils here are thin and primarily crumbled granite bound together by sparse clays resulting from the weathering of feldspars and micas. The sandy soils are known locally as "arene," "gore," or "gorrhe." These soils are thin, acidic, and lacking in nitrogen but contain high concentrations of mineral nutrients (potassium, phosphorous, magnesium).

The Douro soil is schistose with granite at the borders and, in some cases, penetrating horizontally into the schist layers.  Prior to its current state, the Douro land under vine was characterized by "the presence of bedrock at less than 15 cm (5 inches) below the surface" (Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto (IVDP)).  This was untenable for vine growth given the rooting requirements of the vine.

According to IVDP, the Douro soil has been created by man "digging down deeply and forcing the vertically layered rock to break up, thus totally altering its original disposition and creating changes to its original morphology, added to which he has applied fertilizers."  This scarification has resulted in soils with depths of between 1 and 1.3 meters.  In both cases the roots take advantage of the pliability/makeup of the underlying bedrock to dive to great depths.

The Douro soil profile consists of a 12.5-cm layer -- "the result of the digging that is done around the roots of the vines every year" -- followed by a layer of between 87.5 centimeters and 1.17 meters thickness, and then bedrock.  The composition of this topsoil is a clay-rock mix with (IVDP): little organic matter; low calcium, magnesium, and phosphorous levels; and medium-high levels of potassium. The soil pH is predominantly acid (4.6-6.5).

Vineyard characteristics and practices

There are approximately 3600 vineyards in the 55,000 acres that constitute Beaujolais. The vineyards tend to be small to mid-sized plots owned by hundreds of farmers and carrying between 9000 and 13,000 vines per hectare.  For the most part, the fruit is sold to negociants who produce and market the wines.  In the north the vineyards sit on gently sloping hills at elevations that range between 500 and 2000 feet. The resultant exposure to the sun allows quicker ripening and harvesting in the north when compared to the south.  Vine training is primarily Goebelet but, recently, some Guyot training has been utilized in the south.

The low nutrient levels in the Douro will act to reduce yield and retard fruit ripening if unaddressed.  The solution is the application of fertilizers for the macronutrients and foliar sprays for the boron deficiency. Lime is added to the soil as necessary to counteract the effects of low pH. The vines reside on hillside terraces and are Guyot- or cordon-trained. Planting density is on the order of 6000 vines/hectare.  Drip irrigation is shunned.

Comparative utilization of available soils

Gamay has found a home in the granitic soils of Haut-Beaujolais. This vine was ripped out of the primary areas of Burgundy by Philip the Bold in 1395 due to its fecundity but the thin, sandy soils of Beaujolais are the "right challenge" for its voracious growth. The principal vineyards of Haut-Beaujolais are situated on a large massif known as the Odenas Granite which contains black mica, a material which weathers easily to clay minerals. The thinness of the Beaujolais soil is, therefore, compensated for by high levels of nutrients such as potassium, phosphorous, and magnesium. It should be noted that the wines produced from this combination of soils and vine are not prone to extended longevity.

The opposite is the case in the Douro region where schist reigns supreme. Its water acquisition and retention properties, as well as its provision of growth pathways for the vine roots, make it the soil of choice in the region. Its low nutrient levels are compensated for by the addition of fertilizers for macronutrients and foliar sprays for boron deficiency. When granite breaks through to the surface, the terrain is considered unplantable and vineyards planted on granite are penalized in their Casa do Douro classification (rating of Douro vineyards on a quality scale ranging from A to F) as assigned and maintained by the regulatory authorities. The grapes produced from this regime yield intensely flavored wines which can stand up to the intensity of 20% alcohol fortification and long aging while retaining their fruit characteristics.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Monday, May 6, 2013

The soils of the Champagne wine region

In a recent post I refuted a winegeeks assertion that Kimmeridgian soil extended across the wine regions of Champagne, Burgundy, and the Loire Valley. I was, instead, able to show that the primary Kimmeridgian vineyard sites in France are: (i) the Aube sub-region of Champagne; (ii) the Chablis, Tonnerre, and Auxerrois sub-regions of Burgundy; and (iii) the Pouilly, Sancerre, and Menetou-Salon sub-regions of the Loire Valley. This finding begs the question "If not Kimmeridgian in those three regions, then what?" I will attempt to answer that question in this and two subsequent posts.

The figure below places a map of the French wine regions side-by-side with a geological map of the country. The geological map clearly shows that, contrary to the winegeeks article, a single soil type is not possible for the three wine regions under discussion. If we just follow the course of the Loire as it wends its way through the Loire region, we see it passing through Jurassic period stratigraphy, then through the Cretaceous and Tertiary stratigraphy of the Paris Basin, then through the paleozoic rocks of the Massif Amoricain before debouching into the Atlantic Ocean.

So lets look at each one of the regions of interest, beginning with Champagne.

The soil in Champagne is, for the most part, comprised of massive chalk deposits interspersed with rocky outcroppings and covered with a thin layer of topsoil (mix of sand, marl, clay and lignite) which requires constant renewal through fertilization.

Champagne soil (Source: Fatcork via

The slow sagging of the Paris Basin caused an upthrusting of ancient geologic formations at the outer perimeter with each formation exhibiting as a concentric, outward-facing escarpment. One such escarpment was the Kimmeridgian chain of Jurassic soils discussed previously. In the case of Champagne, the escarpment is comprised of sands, marls, and lignitic clays of the Tertiary period capping chalk from the upper Cretaceous and, below Chalons, clays and sands of the lower Cretaceous. It is the marriage of the Tertiary and upper Cretaceous strata that "is the parentage of the unique soils of Champagne."

The components of the Tertiary strata function as follows (Wilson):
  • Sands -- provide coarse ingredients which help in building good soil structure
  • Clays, marls, weathered chalk -- bond with particles to give good body to the soil
  • Lignite -- a soft, low-grade coal which "seasons" the soil. Rapid burial resulted in concentration with iron, sulfur, and zinc from plant material.
Chalk, according to Wilson, is composed of calcareous algae (a form of seaweed) and shells of tiny organisms that settled in a uniform manner at the bottom of the Cretaceous seas. The chalk deposits in Champagne are finer-grained and more porous than other French limestone soils -- and have extremely high concentrations of the mineral marls Belemnite (younger and found higher up on the growing slopes) and Micraster (older and located on the valley floors). Chalk has excellent drainage as well as water-retention properties in that its micro-pores can absorb water during wet periods and slowly release it during drier periods. In addition chalk will also reflect sunlight and heat thus aiding in the ripening of the grapes. The chalk soil allows the vine roots to dig freely and deeply in search of water and nutrients and also retains a constant temperature year round. Chalk weathers to a fine dust which is easily dispersed. In the case of Champagne, the Tertiary slope wash collects in the belly of the concave hills serving a binding function as well as providing mineral content. The chalk provides excellent drainage and water retention, which, when combined with the Tertiary soils, results in one of the best vine-growing soils in France.

The soils in the defined Champagne region is not monolithic, however. The Côte de Bars region of Champagne has Kimmeridgian soil of the same construct as the soils that underpin the vineyards of Chablis and Sancerre. In the Aisne region the upper Cretaceous has dipped into the Paris Basin  and the soil is comprised entirely of Tertiary clays and sands. In the area below Chalone -- referred to as wet Champagne -- the poor-permeability clays and sands of the lower Cretaceous period are dominant.

The Champagne soils distribution is illustrated graphically below.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Antonio Galloni's La Festa del Barolo: Guest post by Ron Siegel

Last weekend, Antonio Galloni -- fresh from his settlement with Robert Parker -- hosted the second edition of his La Festa del Barolo in New York City. The event, touted as a “special weekend celebration dedicated to the great wines of Barolo,” included a Rare Wine Charity Dinner benefitting The Robin Hood Relief Fund and the victims of Hurricane Sandy on Friday night and Saturday events to include a tutored tasting and a subsequent dinner at Del Posto.  This post covers the Saturday events.

Galloni flew in 15 of the top producers from Piemonte to participate in the event and had the highly acclaimed restaurant Del Posto host the tasting and the dinner in their private downstairs banquet room. The tasting -- titled 2008 Barolo: An Exploration of Terroir and held earlier in the afternoon -- consisted of 15 wines of the 2008 Barolo vintage in four flights. 

Ron, Bev, and Galloni
Bev with Pete Wasserman

The tasting and dinner were both well organized and extremely well run with top Sommeliers from NYC and around the country opening and pouring the wines. We had Gianluca Grasso -- from Elio Grasso -- at our table with Marta Rinaldi from the Rinaldi  winery as our special guest. Marta was so much fun to be with and kept bringing us wines to taste and introducing winemakers to our table. 

Ron, Bev, and Marta Rinaldi

The following wines were poured at the tasting. The winemakers would talk about the wines and the vintage with Galloni moderating. A cool growing season and late harvest were some of the hallmarks of 2008.

Flight 1

2008 E Pira Barolo Cannubi. Surprisingly showing some sediment. Nice red fruit. Smoke, soy, and balsamic notes. 
2008 Borgogno Barolo Cannubi. Slightly muted nose. Tar and rose petals. Made in the classic style. 
2008 Luciano Sandrone Barolo Cannubi Bosch is concentrated cherry. Very structured with violets and camphor notes. Nice acidity. Will need time but I like this producer.
2008 Roberto Voerzio Barolo Cerequio. Huge nose of black cherry. Very floral with violets and rose petals. Spice and tar notes. Long finish. We loved this wine. My wine of the flight.

Flight 2

2008 Elvio Cogno Barolo Bricco Pernice. Higher altitude vineyards which showed a somewhat muted and closed nose. A lighter and more elegant style of Barolo. Not my favorite today.
2008 GD Vajra Barolo Bricco delle Viole. Very aromatic and complex bouquet. spice, forest floor, cherry, sandalwood, bay leaf, roses, licorice, and tar and slightly medicinal. Very elegant on the palate. I would buy this!  
2008 Vietti Barolo Rocche. Wow! Love Vietti's Rocche. Great intensity with a nose of strawberry, licorice, and tar. Big, structured, and rich. Showing lots of depth but still very elegant and no harsh tannins. My wine of the flight
2008 Paolo Scavino Barolo Riserva Bric del Fiasc. Nice red fruits, floral notes, smoke and spice.

Flight 3

2008 Conterno Fantino Barolo Sori Ginestra. Sweet red fruit, licorice, cherry, smoke and vanilla. Nicely structured and ripe. Long maceration plus 24 months in 80%-90% new oak.
2008 Elio Grasso Barolo Ginestra Vigna Case Mate Large, structured, and tannic. Very complex nose of cherry, strawberry, dried herbs, and licorice. Needed more decant time. Galloni gave this 98+. 
2008 Poderi Aldo Conterno Barolo Romirasco. Very spicy. Red berry fruits, roses, and mint with some smoke, mineral, and balsamic. Full-bodied and made from one of the best vineyard sites, Bussia. My wine of the flight.
2008 Pio Cesare Barolo Ornato. Nice round, lush cherry fruit with some cinnamon and licorice notes. Ten thousand bottles produced and in only good vintages. Very nice Barolo.

Flight 4

2008 Giacoma Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia. Barolo made in the traditional style with black cherry, rose petals, tar and licorice notes.   
2008 Brovia Barolo Ca' Mia. Dark color. Lovely complex nose of cherry and strawberry. Very floral, spicy, tarry and meaty. Reminded my wife of a Dr pepper. Big structured Barolo. My wine of the flight.
2007 Cavallotto Barolo Riserva Bricco Boschis Vigna San Giuseppe. The only 2007 in the tasting as the 2008 was yet to be bottled. Very approachable with red fruits and floral notes of roses and violets. Nice spice.                

Below are most of the wines that we tasted at the dinner arranged by decade. 

I got a little taste of what La Paulee must be like for their Gala dinners as we had to taste quickly as there were new wines ready to pour one after the other into our already filled glasses. A great night of Giacosa Riservas and Monfortino's.

1957 Cappellano Barolo (slightly over the hill)

1964 Giacomo Conterno Barolo

1970 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Riserva Monfortino
1971 Giuse
1978 Borgogno Barolo Riserva (poured to us by Andrea Farinetti - the son of the owner of Borgogno)

1982 Giuseppe Mascarello Barbaresco Marcarini (corked)
1982 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Riserva Cascina Francia
1985 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate Riserva
1988 Aldo Conterno Barolo Granbussia from Magnum (poured for us by Roberto Conterno - the owner of Giacomo Conterno)
1988 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Riserva Santo Stefano (Red Label)
1989 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Riserva Santo Stefano (Red Label)
1989 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia

1990 Brovia Barolo Monprivato from Magnum
1990 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Riserva Rionda (Red Label)
1990 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Riserva Falletto (Red Label)
1990 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Riserva Monfortino from Magnum (poured for us by Roberto Conterno - the owner of Giacomo Conterno)
1994 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate Le Coste
1997 Roberto Voerzio Barolo La Serra
1998 Cappellano Pie Rupestris (normally this is Barolo DOCG but in 1998 it was not approved as Barolo DOCG and was bottled as a Vino de Tavola)
1998 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Riserva Santo Stefano (Red Label)
1999 Elio Grasso Barolo Riserva Rüncot

2000 Roberto Voerzio Barbera Riserva Pozzo dell' Annunziata (only bottled in Magnum)
2001 Elio Grasso Barolo Casa Maté
2002 Cascina Ebreo Limpido
2008 Elio Grasso Barolo Casa Maté

©Wine -- Mise en abyme