Lovers of Big Reds, Look To Alicante Bouschet
One of the few red grapes with red flesh, Alicante Bouschet is an oddity that makes big, juicy red wines.
Guide to Alicante Bouschet Wine
Some grapes evolved through nature. This one was the result of a science experiment. Over its 150-year history, Alicante Bouschet has always been in the background – as a secret ingredient to embolden other red wines, or to make bathtub booze during Prohibition.
Today, Alicante Bouschet is finally bottled on its own. Lovers of rich, fruit-forward reds like Shiraz, Zinfandel, and Cabernet Sauvignon take note: Alicante Bouschet is quite the find!
Oddball Alert: The Reddest of Red Grapes
If you peel back the skin of an Alicante Bouschet grape, you’ll see what separates it from the rest. Unlike other grapes, which have clear flesh, Alicante Bouschet has red flesh. (Be prepared for purple teeth!)
Alicante Bouschet is a teinturier grape. (The name comes from the French word for “dye.”) It’s a bit of a rarity in the wine world.
Alicante Bouschet’s Family Tree
Unlike other varieties, Alicante Bouschet came into existence by careful breeding. The goal was to create a grape that had high color intensity, productivity, and fruitiness. A botanist named Henri Bouschet managed to do this in the mid-1800s by crossing fruity-tasting Grenache (known as Alicante in southern France) with a teinturier grape developed by his dad, called Petit Bouschet.
Then, after the phylloxera blight devastated French vineyards, there was an upsurge of Alicante Bouschet – the vines grow easily and yield bucket loads of grapes.
Of course, France isn’t Alicante Bouschet’s only claim to fame. It was a key wine grape during Prohibition in the US as well.
Back then, a little-publicized loophole allowed families to make a small amount of wine at home. Alicante Bouschet’s thick, tannin-filled skins made it ideal for transport to the East coast.
Essentially, you would order a few Alicante Bouschet “grape bricks,” soak them in water, and Voila! Hello, semi-legal bathtub wine.
Alicante Bouschet Tasting Notes
Big, bold Alicante Bouschet is unquestionably fruit-forward, with flavors ranging from fresh to jammy blackberries, blueberries, black cherries, and more. It has spicy, smoky flavors, along with sweeter tones of dark chocolate, baking spice, and vanilla bean. (Especially when aged in new oak!)
While Alicante Bouschet tends to be higher in body, alcohol, and tannins, its structure varies based on climate. In cooler regions, the acidity can be sharp (like Nebbiolo – and age-worthy too!), but in hotter areas, it’s more like mellow, ready-to-drink black gold.
Where To Find Alicante Bouschet
In the mid-1900s, many French and American producers realized that Alicante Bouschet wasn’t really necessary. Winemakers no longer needed the grape’s rich color, so growth declined.
Don’t worry, little orphan Alicante Bouschet – the Iberian Peninsula was happy to adopt this grape. Both Portugal and Spain have planted more Alicante Bouschet over the last 50 years.
Honestly, it’s probably better-suited to the climates in these two countries anyway. Alicante Bouschet ripens late and loves hot, dry areas with lots of sun.
Still, if you leave Alicante Bouschet untended it becomes a runaway train, yielding tons of deeply-colored fruit, but with tasteless juice. So, producers have to prune vines aggressively to reduce yields and concentrate flavors.
Big, Smoky Reds
Among the country’s many indigenous varieties, Alicante Bouschet is one of southern Portugal’s most important red grapes. It has a long history in the hot, dry Alentejo region. It’s increasingly available as a single-varietal wine or blended with grapes like Aragonez (aka Tempranillo) and Trincadeira.
Definitely take note if you spot a Portuguese Alicante Bouschet, as these offer stupendous value.
Juicy, Fruity Reds
In Spain, Alicante Bouschet is more commonly known as Garnacha Tintorera. The warm, central Almansa region within Castilla-La Mancha is the most important area for Alicante Bouschet. You’ll find both single-varietal wines or blends made with Monastrell (aka Mourvèdre) and Tempranillo.
Bold, Earthy Reds
California, Chile, and Africa
Alicante Bouschet grows in Chile, Tuscany, Calabria, Israel, and even Algeria. Just under 1,000 acres of Alicante Bouschet grow in California, particularly in the warm, central valley regions of Lodi and Madera. Perhaps American producers will champion this grape once again!
Check out the Wines of Alentejo
Read more about the world’s wine grapes in this amazing book.
We asked Toronto-based somm (and lover of long hairs) to offer up her silliest wine names for cats.
It’s no secret that city-dwelling sommeliers have a penchant for kitty-cats. Maybe it’s because they purr when you stay home to study wine. Or, maybe it’s because they act just as bipolar as you do when you drink. Either way, it’s perfectly fitting to name your cat after something wine-related.
Wine Names for Cats
Sphynx: Hairless, skinny, curious, and meant to be revered.
Pinot (Noir): Dignified, fussy, delicious, and meant to be revered.
Bengal: Like a baby leopard. Rare. Expensive. Unusual.
Champagne: Like your baby; the best, even if you can’t afford it.
Orange Tabby Cat: He’s fat and lazy, but loveable, like a lasagne-eating cartoon cat.
Malo(lactic Fermentation): The process that makes the buttery, round, oaky Chardonnay that is always there for you.
Long-Haired Cat: It could be a small cat, but you can’t tell because of all that hair.
Lees: Lees is a popular winemaking method that makes white wines richer and creamier.
Persian Cat: Dignified and ornamental, with a soft musical voice and All. That. Hair.
Peluda (Garnacha): AKA “Hairy Grenache,” from the French pelut, meaning “furry.” Really.
Munchkin Cat: Small, sweet, people-pleasers, with larger than life personalities and stubby legs.
Brix: Sugar metering system, perfect for a sweet, energetic little dude.
Scottish Fold Cat: Fuzzy, poofy and round, with owl-like faces.
Merlot: In the new world, a lush warm hug of a wine, for your warm hug of a cat.
Ragamuffin Cat: Always friendly, and they have a tendency to overeat.
Magnum Bottle: What’s better than one bottle of wine? Why, an even bigger bottle, of course.
Manx Cat: No tailed charmers that hop like rabbits.
Vinho (Verde): Spritzy and bright, with aromas that bounce out of the glass.
British Shorthair Cat: The round-faced inspiration of the Cheshire cat.
Solera: The aging method for Sherry wines that makes them gain roundness (and puts a smile on your face).
Lykoi Cat: The werewolf cat…partially hairless, totally weird.
Refosco: The wines are strong flavored, tannic, and usually show a slight bitterness. Perf.
Calico: Your multi-colored friend.
(Pinot) Gris: A grape that’s not really red and not really white. It makes wines that range from white to deep orangey-pink.
Tuxedo Cat: The most dapper little kitty you ever did see.
Somm(elier): “Sohm-mul-yay” After all, he’s already got the outfit.
Black Cats: One that you’re obviously cool with crossing your path.
Nero (d’Avola): Nero means “black” in Italian, so this Sicilian wine is great choice!
Needy Cats: You can’t leave the house without him weaving between your legs asking what you’re abandoning him for now.
Pedro (Ximenez): A cloyingly sweet wine for your cloyingly sweet cat.
Smart Cats: Like Einstein, but not. Your lil’ buddy better be a smarty.
Ice Wine: One of the sweetest wines in the world. Made entirely of grapes naturally frozen to the vine.
- Dom: “Dom,” after Dom Perignon. When your cat is the closest thing you’ve had to a fatherly figure in your life.
- Krug: “Kroooog.” This guy needs a bubbly personality.
- Brion: “Bree-on,” after Château Haut Brion, the only winery in Bordeaux with a Premier Cru Classé red and white wine!
- Screagle: “Skree-gull,” the pet name for the Napa Valley cult wine, Screaming Eagle.
- Möet: “Moh-ET,” One of the most globally recognised Champagne houses.
- (Nebuchad)nezzar: A bottle named after a Babylonian king that holds 20 standard bottles of wine. Perfect name for a fat cat.
- Unico: “You-nee-ko.” One of Spain’s top Tempranillo producers. They’ve tamed a wild thing (the Tempranillo grape), and you can too.
- MosCATo: As if you need a reason.
This in-depth guide will explore the intricacies of Champagne’s Côte des Bar region in the Aube, which has exploded in growth over the past decade. If you’re just dipping your toes into Champagne, check out A Guide to Finding Great Champagne.
Everyone and their mother is drinking Champagne these days, whether it’s paired with pizza or out of plastic cups at a picnic. The Côte des Bar is very much the underdog of Champagne with a tendency to rebel against the system.
Côte des Bar has become a hot spot of untapped potential, particularly for Pinot Noir. Let’s explore the landscape, grapes, quirky specificity, and producers that make this Champagne region so darn awesome.
Côte des Bar Champagne Guide
Most Champagne regions are within in the Marne département (by Reims and Épernay). The Côte des Bar is the only major region in the Aube, southeast of the city of Troyes. It takes less than two hours to drive here (from Reims), but the landscape is nothing like central Champagne. Vineyards are leisurely interspersed with forests, farms, and streams. It’s unlike the densely-planted Montagne de Reims, Côte des Blancs, and Vallée de la Marne. In fact, most vineyard owners are not full-time wine growers.
While a few Côte des Bar producers were founded in the 19th century, most growers sold their grapes to big Champagne houses. The 21st century saw a few risk takers starting to make their own wines and push towards a culture of artisanal, experimental, terroir-driven Champagne in the Côte des Bar. The vineyard area has grown by nearly 20% since 2000 and now makes up almost a quarter of the entire Champagne region.
Pinot Noir FTW
Since the Côte des Bar is part of Champagne, the grapes are easy to remember. The standard trio of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier can be planted, along with the more obscure, supplementary Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Arbanne, and Petit Meslier varieties. But Pinot Noir dominates the landscape, comprising around 86 percent of vines in the Côte des Bar.
Chardonnay plantings are growing, but still sit around 10 percent, and Pinot Meunier makes up a tiny 4 percent of vineyards. Interestingly, Pinot Blanc has a long history in the Côte des Bar, and some producers are making single varietal Pinot Blanc Champagne wines!
Climate and Soils
Champagne is known for its distinctive, chalk-limestone soils that spring from the region’s location just outside the center of the Paris Basin. But the Côte des Bar is located just on the edge of this strip of soil, where chalk meets clay. This is called Kimmeridgian soil, and it may sound familiar – it’s the same dirt of Chablis! In fact, the Côte des Bar is about a half-hour’s drive closer to Chablis than to Reims. Some younger Portlandian soil – also found in Chablis – is found in Aube as well.
“So we’re wondering… why aren’t they planting more Chardonnay?”
Since Kimmeridgian soil is a marly blend of limestone and clay, it does two things to the grapes. The chalky soils maintain acidity and the clay-marl encourages round, rich structure, and boisterous fruit flavors. This soil, combined with the slightly warmer temperatures (though make no mistake – this is still a marginal climate), makes Côte des Bar Champagne wines broader and softer than the stuff from the north.
A Little History
The Côte des Bar has a long history of growing and supplying grapes for Champagne houses up north to purchase, but this region was treated as second class for decades – literally. The large producers in the Marne département pushed to exclude the Aube from the official classification of the Champagne region in 1908, leading Côte des Bar growers to riot!
Though the “powers that be” relented in 1911, regions in the Aube were classified as Champagne deuxième zone, or “second Champagne zone,” until 1927. Perhaps this century-old chip on the shoulder is a reason why Côte des Bar producers are so willing to buck tradition?
The Regions of Côte des Bar
There are 19,870 acres and 63 villages of the Côte des Bar. They aren’t young, exactly, but they are for producing wine, rather than just growing grapes. Thus, the differences between the area’s sub-regions is still up for interpretation. That said, the Côte des Bar has a few distinct regions to know.
In the southwest portion of the Côte des Bar, the 33 villages of the Barséquanais center around the town of Bar-sur-Seine. This is where the area’s most significant producers are located. Vineyards are primarily Pinot Noir.
This northeast area of the Côte des Bar has fewer growers but is home to the region’s long-standing Champagne house, Drappier. Thirty one villages cluster near the central town of Bar-sur-Aube. Pinot Noir dominates here, though a tiny bit of white Arbanne is here too.
Rosé des Riceys
Top Producers: Olivier Horiot
While this area surrounding Barséquanais’ Les Riceys village is small, it has its own AOP – one of only three in the entirety of Champagne. Rosé des Riceys AOP is a rare, still red wine (surprise!) that’s comprised of 100% Pinot Noir. Most are pale, tart, and light-colored. This is not your typical Pinot Noir!
Okay, okay. So, it’s not technically in Côte des Bar, but it shares the energy and innovation of the region and is the only other significant wine region of the Aube. Montgueux is an oddity. It’s a hill of chalk surrounded by flat lands unsuitable for grape growing. Unlike the rest of the Aube, Montgueux specializes in ripe, rich, high-quality Chardonnay grown on south-facing slopes. (Aha! There’s the Chardonnay!)
Beyond the soil and climate differences of the Côte des Bar, there tends to be a different overall mindset when it comes to the creation of these wines. That mindset boils down to specificity. Côte des Bar winemakers often focus on the singular attributes of their Champagnes, rather than blending them into a whole.
While a few Champagne houses set up shop in the Côte des Bar over a century ago, the region’s recent boom has been driven by grower-producers. A single vigneron will produce wine from estate-owned grapes, rather than purchased ones, enacting greater control over fruit quality.
Many Côte des Bar houses choose to craft their entry-level Champagnes as single vintage cuvées. This is rare in Champagne. Most blend vintages to create consistency. But here, producers embrace the differences from vintage to vintage. Just so you know, wines can’t label by vintage if not aged in bottle for 3 years. So, Côte des Bar producers put the vintage on the back label after the letter “R.”
Why We’re Drinking Côte des Bar Right Now
There’s a reason why Champagne lovers clamor for wines from the Côte des Bar. Once cast aside as second class, only fit for purchased grapes, the producers of the Côte des Bar have cultivated a winemaking culture of experimentation and innovation. While this is happening across Champagne, it is especially concentrated in the Côte des Bar because young, forward-thinking producers can actually afford to purchase land and grapes.
Like all good things, it probably won’t last; it’s only a matter of time before demand and, therefore, land prices rise. For now, there are certainly some pricy Côte des Bar Champagnes, driven by small production and low profit margins, but some excellent, interesting bottles can be found for under $50. Jump into this lesser-known Champagne producing region now and join the excitement.
Tannat, with its roots in Madiran (a tiny village in South West France), might just be the next Malbec. Why? Well, it has more gusto than Cabernet Sauvignon, and Tannat wines from up-and-coming Uruguay are surprisingly affordable! Here’s what you need to know.
Fun Facts About Tannat Wine
- Tannat made its first appearance on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of the Year in 2017. It listed #41 with Bodega Garzon 2015 “Reserve” Tannat from Uruguay (~$17). (Tried it – delicious!)
- Tannat is a great value! A great bottle of Tannat will is priced between $15-$30.
- Tannat has been touted as being one of the “healthiest” red wine grapes, thanks to much higher levels of antioxidants (like resveratrol).
- Newer Tannat vine clones are improving this wine. They maintain power, structure, and complexity, but roll back the frisky acidity and heavy-handed fruit profile.
What Does Tannat Taste Like?
Tannat tastes range from red to black fruit with a decent dose of black licorice, vanilla, dark chocolate, espresso, and smoke alongside a signature note of cardamom and brown spices. Typically, the more oak-aging, the more spice-driven character the wine will carry. Likewise, the more maceration (time the juice spends swimming in the grape’s skins), the more intense the color pigments and tannins will be in the final wine.
French Tannat vs Uruguay Tannat
French Tannat From Madiran
Flavors: French Tannat leans more readily into red fruit flavors, namely raspberry, with tighter, gripping tannins, and unmistakable power.
The Tannat grape is a bit of a chameleon and shines differently depending on where it is grown. Traditionally, Madiran Tannat is a big wine, with full throttle tannins and searing acidity. For this reason, it’s often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc to ease astringency. Still, French law requires a minimum of 60% Tannat on wines labeled “Madiran AOC.” That said, many regional winemakers opt for 100% Tannat because they just love the stuff. In conclusion, expect French Tannat to have feisty tannins, an opaque “black wine” color, elevated alcohol, and cellar-worthiness. Try setting one down for a decade (if you can wait that long!).
Flavors: In Uruguay, the tannins come across as more pliable and softer on the approach, while the fruit profiles are mostly black fruits, like blackberry, black cherry, and plum. Wines show an enduring elegance.
Yet a quick sip south to Uruguay and you’ll find Tannat sporting a more laid- back, creative style. Intentionally blended with a variety of grapes to soften up its staunch structure, it’s not unusual to find Uruguay’s Tannat married to Pinot Noir, Merlot, or Syrah in the bottle, where soft, synergistic fruit flavors help tame Tannat’s high octane tannins. Thanks to French immigrants bringing their hometown grapes to Uruguay in the late 1800s, Tannat vines were readily cultivated and have since become the country’s dominant grape variety, enthusiastically representing well over a third of the nation’s plantings.
Cassoulet with its rich, meaty flavors will help quell Tannat’s rigorous tannins. by Phillip Capper
Tannat Food Pairing Recommendations
Given the tightly-wound tannins, Tannat begs for food that brings the hearty duo of high protein and high fat to the table. Why? The fats and proteins soften the intense gripping quality of high tannins. The happy pairings of beef, sausage, cassoulet, roasted lamb, duck confit, and assorted aged cheese (reach for Roquefort or Chaumes) will gladly serve to soften the tannins and amplify the rich vibe of the food itself.
Tannat has high antioxidants! However, this makes bitter and astringent wines without special skill.
Winemaker Secrets to Tannat Wine
Winemakers love Tannat because its thick skins make it:
- relatively easy to grow in a variety of climate conditions (especially dry)
- less likely to be attacked by vineyard pests, fungus and mold
- less susceptible to cold temperature variations and the dreaded frost
Of course, it can be tricky to manage in the cellar because it’s such a big wine! The grape itself showcases extra thick skins and high seed counts (often 5 seeds per grape instead of the standard 2–3). These attributes contribute to robust polyphenol compounds in the wine.
Here’s what to look for in the winemaker’s notes to find smooth, velvety Tannat wines:
- Oak barrel aging – while oak introduces wood tannins, it also allows a steady entrance of oxygen to the wine, which helps the wine taste smoother.
- Micro-oxygenation – (aka “microOX” or “microbullage” in French) – is the process of introducing teeny, tiny amounts of oxygen during the winemaking process to soften the overbearing structure and make the wines more approachable at a younger age.
- Extended aging – one of the perks of aging a wine that is built to age (i.e. carries high tannins and
high acidity) is that over time, the wine’s tannins will break down and soften on their own.