Category Archives: Alphabet Soup

M is for Marechal Foch

A cluster of Marechal Foch grapes. Note the small berry size.

Marechal Foch, pronounced mar-esh-shall-fosh, sometimes with an accent (Maréchal) or just referred to as Foch, is a French hybrid grape. 

It was developed in Alsace by Eugene Kuhlmann, but its parentage has been disputed.  Some cite Goldriesling (v. vinifera) as one parent and a North American varietal (v. riparia or rupestris) as the other.  Others claim the North American parent to be Oberlin Noir, a Gamay-riparia cross, which was once commercially cultivated in Burgundy. 

Regardless, the resulting grape is winter hardy, ripens early and produces red wine ranging from light-bodied and Beaujolais in style to sweet, fortified and port-like.  Once, it was widely planted in the Loire Valley and now it is still popular in Canada and New York.  It can also be found in Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Minnesota and the Willamette Valley.

He made the cover of Time magazine in 1925 and had a cultivar named after him.

The grape is named after French marshal Ferdinand Foch (1851-1929), who played a key role in the closing of World War I.  As supreme commander of the Allied armies, he accepted the German request for an armistice.  Once the war was over, he claimed to have defeated Germany by “smoking his pipe”.

“‘How did I win the war?’ Foch will say chaffingly to André de Marincourt, many months later. ‘By smoking my pipe. That is to say, by not getting excited, by reducing everything to simple terms, by avoiding useless emotions, and keeping all my strength for the job.'”
Frank H. Simonds, History of the World War, Vol. 5, Ch. 3, III. Doubleday, Page & Co., 1920.


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L is for ladybird

This is not a post about the First Lady of the U.S. from 1963-1969, a track on a Tears for Fears album, or the 1992 Rodney Dangerfield soccer comedy. Instead, it is about an insect pest new to North American viticulture.

Of the Coccinellidae family, the particular culprit is the Harmonia axyridis, or Asian Lady Beetle. She also goes by Japanese ladybug, Harlequin ladybird and Halloween ladybird (she might try to settle in your home as the weather chills in October).

I always thought these beetles were considered a good sign in the vineyard, as they have voracious appetites for aphids, which tend to suck juices from plants.  

Turns out ladybirds were first observed causing problems in the northeast US during the 2001 vintage.  They like to feed on sugar from damaged grapes late in the ripening process and they are often harvested along with the fruit.  When these little buggers get disturbed (which is quite likely during the crushing process), they emit a yellow-orange body fluid, which taints the wine. 

The goo is released from their legs and is called hemolymph and it contains a high concentration of isopropyl methoxy pyrazine.  Those of you more familiar with winespeak will recognize that this is the stuff which lends green flavors to wine – think Sauvignon Blanc.  Unfortunately, it also imparts a musty, nutty aroma and an astringent peanut-chocolate character to the wine. 

The shocking part of all this is that one adult beetle per 1.7 kg (3.75 lbs) of grapes is enough to cause noticeable funk in the wine!

We introduced the species to our country to control the soya bean aphid, and the ladies can now be found along the eastern seaboard, across central states and in Washington and Oregon.  Over a million liters of wine from Ontario have been dumped, as a solution (other than careful sorting) remains to be found.  Taint has also been reported in Italy, Germany, Holland, Belgium and the UK.

Not very lady-like, if you ask me.

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K is for Kir

Canon Félix Kir (1876-1968). Photo courtesy of He looks thirsty.

Kir, alternatively referred to as vin blanc cassis, is dry white wine mixed with blackcurrant liqueur.  The drink is named after Canon Félix Kir, a priest and hero of the Burgundian resistance during WWII, who then went on to become the mayor of Dijon.  My research indicates he became a hero when he organized a gang to derail a Berlin-bound train to rescue barrels of wine stolen by German soldiers. 

During his tenure as mayor, this drink became the official aperitif of town hall receptions.  Why the combo of white wine and blackcurrant liqueur?  Both products are local – the Côte D’Or is an important grower of blackcurrants and the typical base wine is Aligoté.  It’s possible that war-time wine wasn’t the best and that a little dollop of a sweet liqueur would make it more palatable.  Perhaps Kir was an early locavore.  He may have known about the high vitamin C content of blackcurrants.  The best guess may be that he just liked to drink. 

Recipes vary – I’ve seen everything from 1/2 oz. crème de cassis to 4 oz. of wine to 1/3 cassis to 2/3 wine to 1 part cassis to 5 parts wine.  It boils down to personal preference and the quality of your starting ingredients.  There’s discrepancy when it comes to the serving vessel, too, but I think a wine glass is best.  Apparently, if you ask for white wine with cassis (as opposed to crème de cassis) in France, you may end up with some berries floating in your glass.

This aperitif has inspired others:

Kir Royal(e) – sparkling wine rather than still wine
Communard – use red Burgundy wine as the base
Cardinal – mixed messages here – some say base is Beaujolais and others say red Bordeaux
Kir-beer or Tarantino – use lager or a light ale as the base
Kir Médocain – base is rosé
Kir Normand – base is a Normandy cider.  If you add a shot of Calvados to the mix, you end up with a Cidre Royal

If blackcurrant’s not your thing:

Kir Mûre – blackberry liqueur
Kir Peche – peach liqueur
Kir Lorrain – mirabelle plum liqueur


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J is for jiggle

I hope you don’t get the wrong idea based on my previous post.  The jiggle I’m referring to here is from gelatin.

Did you ever eat these when you were a kid?

In the NYT this week, Pete Wells reminisces about some of his favorite childhood food moments – Tang, Kool-Aid, Jell-O,Bac-Os – and gives us an upgrade he dubs “wobbly wine”.

Image courtesy of the NYT

Recipe: Spiced Rosé Gelatin With Peaches
2 cups rosé wine

1/4 cup sugar, to taste

1 1-to-2-inch length of cinnamon stick

Zest of 1 orange, with as little pith as you can manage

5 peppercorns

2 envelopes gelatin

2 tablespoons lemon juice

3 white or yellow peaches, each sliced into 16 wedges.

1. In a nonreactive saucepan, add 1½ cups of the wine, along with the sugar, cinnamon, orange zest and peppercorns. Bring to a boil, then immediately turn off the heat and cover the pan.

2. After 20 minutes, pour the remaining wine into a medium mixing bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over it. Let sit for 3 minutes. Strain the spiced wine into the bowl and stir well for 2 or 3 minutes, until the gelatin is entirely dissolved. Place the bowl inside a larger bowl containing ice water, or put in the refrigerator.

3. When the gelatin is as thick as the white of an egg, 30 to 45 minutes later, put the lemon juice in a wide-bottomed bowl and add the sliced peaches, stirring as you go to coat the peaches with the juice. With a slotted spoon, transfer the peaches to the bowl of gelatin and fold them in gently. Divide the gelatin and peaches into 4 wineglasses, cover each with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 3 or more hours. Serves 4.


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I is for Incisa della Rocchetta

Mario Incisa della Rocchetta, of the Italian winery Tenuta San Guido, was the inspiration behind the “Super Tuscan”.  Not officially recognized by Italian wine law, these wines emerged in the 1970s as a result of restrictive wine laws, and decreased quality of and demand for Chianti. 

By the late 1960s, Chianti was suffering from overproduction, poorly situated vineyards, sub-par varietal clones, and over-dilution with white grapes.  Not wanting their wines to only be purchased for their straw-covered bottles, some producers thought they could do better by ignoring the wine laws.  Instead of the traditional Sangiovese-Canaiolo-Malvasia-Trebbiano blend, producers began experimenting with Cabernet Sauvignon and other varieties. 

Incisa della Rocchetta made Cabernet Sauvignon from vines sourced from Château Lafite in Bordeaux and aged his wine in French-oak barriques, as opposed to the old, large-format Slavonian oak, which was common at the time.  He called it Sassicaia, dialect for place of stones, and his production was tiny.  Fortunately, his cousin Piero Antinori (the head of another centuries-old winemaking family) got wind of what Mario was up to and created Tignanello, the first well-known “non-Chianti Chianti” (thanks, Karen MacNeil). 

Piero’s younger brother, Lodovico Antinori, went on to make Ornellaia, sourced from grapes planted right next to the ones used in Sassicaia.  Many other producers have since followed suit.  To this day, these three Super Tuscans are rich, juicy, incredibly sought-after, and go to show what can happen when you combine the right grapes with the right site.

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H is for Haraszthy, Agoston

Agoston Haraszthy 1812-69

Many fallacies are associated with this man: he was the first to show the possibilities of grape growing in California, he was the first to introduce superior grape varietals into the state and he was the first to plant the Zinfandel vine (this last point is still unresolved).  He’s even been wrongly dubbed the “father of California wine”. 

Agoston was born into a noble Hungarian family and left for the United States in 1840, arriving in New York and making his way along the Hudson River to the Erie Canal to the Great Lakes, eventually settling in Wisconsin.  He was a busy man there; he built homes and mills, planted corn, grains and grapes, raised sheep, pigs and horses, owned and operated a steamboat, dug wine cellars (the current site of Wollersheim Winery) and became a legendary hunter, even killing a wolf with his bare hands. 

Intrigued by the gold rush, he captained a train of wagons along the Santa Fe trail, arriving in San Diego in 1849.  Here he planted fruit orchards, operated a livery stable, opened a butcher shop, planted a vineyard, was elected the sheriff of San Diego County, served as a city marshal and in his role as a contractor, built a jail for the city. 

Agoston served for a few years on the California State Assembly and began to purchase land around San Francisco, planting European vines near Crystal Springs (now part of San Mateo County).  During this time, he started a refinery and when the first U.S. Mint opened in San Francisco in 1854, Agoston was the first assayer.  In 1857 he was charged with embezzlement ($151,550 in gold), but he was exonerated by 1861.

While he was under investigation, he moved to Sonoma and started the Buena Vista Winery, eventually holding over 5,000 acres of land. In 1861, as part of the state commission on viticulture, Agoston traveled to Europe and sent back thousands of vine cuttings of over 350 varietals.  He wrote about his experiences on the trip and as a wine grower in California (Grape Culture, Wines and Wine-Making) in 1862.   This book helped California gain recognition for its grape growing and is considered by some to be Agoston’s main claim to importance in America’s wine history. 

Things started to go downhill from there.  Agoston had borrowed large sums of money to expand his vineyards and his vines became infested with phylloxera, putting a damper on production.  Shareholders forced him out in 1867 and he declared bankruptcy. 

The next year he moved to Nicaragua and began developing a sugar plantation, with the idea of making rum and selling it to American markets.  In July of 1869 he disappeared in a river on his property, never to be seen again.  It was never established if his body washed out to sea or if he was devoured by an alligator.

I could not make this stuff up.



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G is for glassy winged sharpshooter

Yellow eyes, red veins, piercing, sucking mouthparts: what's not to love?

The glassy winged sharpshooter is a leafhopper from the insect family Cicadellidae.  Originally from northeastern Mexico, these little buggers have migrated to the U.S. where they spread Pierce’s Disease, a bacterial infection that kills grapevines.

Voracious eaters, they spread bacteria from plant to plant by inserting their needle-like mouth parts into the xylem of the plant.  As they’re eating away, they deposit waste, often dubbed “leafhopper rain”, which can give the leaves and fruit a whitewashed appearance. 

Fantastic name for a fantastic pest.

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F is for foxy

Drawing courtesy of robotkatsen's flickr stream. Not what we're talking about here, but still awesome.

You may be a cute little heartbreaker, but the foxy I’m referring to today is a pretty negative term that folks use when a wine has aromas more like animal fur than fruit or flowers.  The odor may also come across as grape-y, candy-like or similar to tiny wild strawberries. 

Studies have shown it might be caused by methyl anthranilate and/or o-amino acetophenone.  This is a little much for a Friday afternoon, so just know that it is commonly associated with grapes in the Vitis labrusca species, and the Concord grape in particular.  Concords are widely planted in New York State and are best known for their role in Welch’s grape juice. 

Earlier harvesting or longer cask aging has been shown to reduce some of Concord’s foxy characteristics.

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E is for egg white

Fear not, dear readers, this is not a health food post.

Believe it or not, egg whites play an important role in the wine making process, particularly when it comes to fine red wine production. 

The albumen – from the Latin alba for white – found in egg whites are colloidal in nature and have a positively charged surface that attracts negatively charged tannins.  Egg whites tend to remove fewer phenols and less fruit character than other fining agents, such as gelatin.  Egg whites also tend to favor harsh and bitter tannins, leaving the softer ones behind in the wine. 

Fining is done to improve color and clarity, as well as to enhance flavor and stability.  Five egg whites can do the job for a 225 l/59 gal barrel of young, red wine.  Fining can save money for the producer (and for you) because it saves time – most fine wines held under good conditions for a few months would achieve the same clarity as fining. 

Other fining substances have been derived from milk, fish bladders, and American bentonite clay deposits.  If any of this grosses you out, research conducted at UC Davis found that insignificant traces, at most, of any fining agent remains in the final wine.  Nevertheless, many producers are moving away from animal-based products for the sake of vegetarians and vegans.

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D is for Durif

In the late 1990s DNA profiling determined that Petite Sirah in California was a field blend of Peloursin, some actual Syrah and mainly Durif, which is a crossing of Peloursin and Syrah.


Let’s break it down.  Petite Sirah is a darkly-colored, fairly tannic grape grown in warm climates like California, South America and Mexico.  Sometimes it’s bottled as a single varietal – I especially like the ones from Elyse, Judd’s Hill and Neal Family – these wines are bold, with spicy blue and black fruits.  At other times it’s used to beef up red blends.

A field blend, not as common as it once was, is a mixture of different varietals planted in the same vineyard.

Peloursin is an obscure French grape, now found in California and Victoria, Australia.

A crossing is when two varieties within the same species are combined to create a new varietal.  Think Pinotage (Pinot Noir x Cinsault) or Müller-Thurgau (Riesling x Sylvaner).

Durif was spread into southeastern France in the 1880s by Dr. Durif and while it was resistant to diseases such as downy mildew, it didn’t really produce any high quality wine and the French authorities weren’t too keen on having it very widely planted.  You can now find it in North and South America and several areas of Australia; Rutherglen, Riverina and Riverland.

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