Variation Watch

blanc de noirConstant variation is the life blood of the wine community. The basic styles of wine—red, white, sparkling, and fortified—have been around for centuries. What makes wine interesting is the constant striving for difference within these basic styles that is carried out by nature and our ability to harness it to produce something delicious.

Here are three stories about the search for variation that caught my eye this week.

—Paula Redes Didore reports on Germany’s approach to Blanc de Noir, white wines from red grapes, especially in the Ahr using Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir). Of course, Champagne has long used Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier in their sparkling wine.But a persistent commitment to Blanc de Noir still wine is largely confined to regions in Germany where Spätburgunder  is prevalent.

No estate in the Ahr is without a Blanc de Noir in its portfolio,” says Meyer-Nӓkel’s Appel.  “For some of the regional cooperatives, I dare say it is likely not only the most important white wine in its portfolio, but perhaps their most important wine overall.” Today the style has established itself as a hallmark of the region.

Will Blanc de Noir catch on elsewhere and become an addition to winery’s white wine portfolio? It’s hard to say. I occasionally run across white still wine made from red grapes. But outside of Germany it’s rare but probably worth pursuing for wineries looking for a new product.


—Kathleen Willcox in Wine Enthusiast reports that some wineries in Champagne and Oregon are using honey in their dosage.

Lelarge-Pugeot’s family turned to honey as a more honest and authentic evocation of their terroir, as well as a more responsible ecological choice. We are beekeepers,” says Lelarge-Pugeot. “This honey comes from our land. It’s essential to us that we make our footprint as small as possible in every way, and it is the product of bees that gather nectar from our land. The only organic source we could find for sugar is from halfway across the world.

The Champagne AOC authorities shut it down since it wasn’t explicitly authorized in the regulations. But the winery has applied for permission to use it legally. And in Oregon

Left Coast’s Queen Bee Bubbly is made from Pinot Noir grapes, with honey added to jumpstart the second fermentation. “It’s riper and rounder, and gives you a real sense of what our estate smells like,” says Wright. “Jasmine, dry summer grass, honey, peaches.”

Honey is basically sucrose so I don’t imagine it will make a huge difference in flavor or aroma. But the flavor of honey is sensitive to the flowers from which the bees get their nectar and pollen. It may be an interesting source of difference for sparkling wine.


—Could sea-soaked wine be in our future?

Twenty-five hundred years earlier, vintners from the Greek island of Chios were famous for a sweet, heady wine that was coveted by the day’s elite. These winemakers, however, concealed how they produced it. Attilio Scienza, a professor of viticulture at Italy’s University of Milan, believes it was the grapes’ salty bath that gave the drink its special something.

Arrighi and Scienza are on a mission to re-create these wines from antiquity, and to do so as authentically as possible. That means drying the sea-soaked fruit in the sun and fermenting it in terra cotta jars. The process has its quirks: because the seawater strips part of the grapes’ natural protective coating—called the bloom—the fruit dries quickly, allowing essential characteristics to be preserved.

According to Arrighi, an analysis run by scientists at the University of Pisa in Italy showed that his so-called vino marino contained twice the amount of highly prized antioxidants, known as phenols, as a typical bottle of wine. The salt water had also acted as a preservative, leading the team to forgo the sulfites that are added to most modern wines.

Is wine from sea-soaked grapes good?

This wine, says Scienza, is imbued “with a scent of Mediterranean herbs and an aroma of honey and almond.” The vintners kept these bottles for themselves, but the 2019 vintage has just finished maturing, and 200 bottles are being prepared for sale. The vino marino has a thicker consistency, perhaps because the grapes’ salt-brined skins stayed on quite long. “Nobody could have imagined it,” Arrighi says of the wine.

That sounds delightful.  There are countless wineries with easy access to sea water. Time to start the experiments.

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