10 Small Appellations
By Andrew Hoover
These 10 appellations may be small in terms of acreage, but their delicious wines prove that bigger isn’t always better.
Learn about the vintners and producers behind these tiny giants >>>
Not only is this miniscule 2.1-acre plot Burgundy’s smallest grand cru, it’s also France’s tiniest appellation. A monopole owned by Comte Liger-Belair, the La Romanée Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) was officially established as a red-only AOC in 1936. Here, Pinot Noir is the chief variety, but AOC regulations allow for up to 15 percent Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris to be used in production, though vintners seldom utilize these grapes. The limestone-rich vineyard boasts vines that hover around 50 years old, and it’s located only a stone’s throw from the prestigious Domaine de la Romanée-Conti’s La Romanée-Conti plot.
There’s plenty of liquid electricity generated from this 17.3-acre appellation. Owned by winemaker Nicolas Joly, this monopole’s steep slopes laden with soils of blue schist and volcanic deposits produce dry, tensile Chenin Blanc wines. Since 1984, Joly has farmed the vineyards using strict biodynamic practices. He continues to utilize horses—rather than tractors—to plow one section of the appellation. Although Savennières-La Coulée de Serrant AOC earned its independence from the broader Savennières designation in 2011, its history is much more dated. Cistercian monks reportedly planted the area as early as 1130 AD.
Overshadowed by Marche’s five Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG), the 30-acre Pergola DOC is known for its red wines produced from Aleatico, a grape that is locally dubbed Vernaccia Rossa di Pergola. An under-the-radar appellation, Pergola’s red wine boasts fresh red-fruit and flower flavors, plus bright acids, which allow the wines to pair well with cured meats and local dishes like trippa alla marchigiana—tripe with tomato and spices. Pergola also produces Aleatico-based spumante, rosato and passito styles.
When compared to an appellation like La Romanée, the 474-acre El Hierro doesn’t seem so small. But in contrast to Spain’s other Denominacións de Origen (DOs), such as the 500,000-acre Castilla-La Mancha, El Hierro is quite diminutive. Located roughly 67 miles off the coast of Morocco, El Hierro is home to a range of wines, from light whites to sweet fortified offerings. Fortunately for El Hierro, its isolation from the mainland prevented phylloxera—the vine-destroying louse that devastated many vineyards in the 19th century—from gaining ground. Thus, many of the vineyards, which are dominated by the native grape Vijariego Blanco, are several hundred years old.
Approximately 250 miles north of Chile’s capital, Santiago, lies the Choapa Valley DO. The appellation has the distinction of being located at the country’s narrowest point, where the Andes Mountains intersect with the Coastal Range. The area has a total of 237 acres currently planted with Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, which grow on an amalgam of clay, silt and chalk soils. Desert-like conditions define Choapa Valley, and the DO receives as little as 4.5-inches of rain per year.
This 8.65-acre appellation is an enclave of the Northern Rhône’s larger Condrieu AOC. And like its neighbor, Château-Grillet AOC is a wine comprised of entirely Viognier. The vineyards of Château-Grillet have a long history, with records indicating that Roman Emperor Probus originally planted vines here in the third century AD. Since 1827, the Neyret-Gachet family was the sole owner of the property, but in 2011 François Pinault—proprietor of Château Latour in Bordeaux and Domaine d’Eugénie in Burgundy—purchased it. If you’re hoping to cop a bottle of this rarity, you’ll need some luck. In 2012, only 4,000 bottles were produced, and only nine percent of that total was exported.
In the same Italian region where the distinguished wines of Barolo and Barbaresco hail from is the Albugnano DOC, a minor appellation of only 12 acres. Albugnano is located in the province of Asti, and it’s situated at an elevation of roughly 1,700 feet, making it one of Piedmont’s highest and coolest wine-producing villages. The DOC was founded in 1997 for three types of wine: rosso, rosso superiore and rosato. Nebbiolo constitutes the majority of the wines, but winemakers are authorized to use as much as 15 percent Barbera, Bonarda and Freisa.
Located in the Côte de Beaune, the 4.32-acre Criots-Bâtard-Montrachet is Burgundy’s smallest white-only grand cru. Only Chardonnay is grown in this climat, which features predominantly brown limestone soils on southeast-facing slopes. Unlike the slightly larger grand crus of Le Montrachet and Bâtard-Montrachet, which are shared between the villages of Chassagne-Montrachet and Puligny-Montrachet, Criots-Bâtard-Montrachet lies completely in Chassagne-Montrachet.
Spanning 172 acres, the Cole Ranch American Viticultural Area (AVA) is the smallest in the United States, and it was the first subappellation established in Mendocino in 1983. In 1999, the Sterling family—proprietors of Esterlina Vineyards and sister winery Everett Ridge—purchased the property in 1999 from the original owner, John Cole. The family remains in possession of the AVA today. Located at an elevation of 1,400–1,600 feet, Cole Ranch is considered relatively cool climate. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Riesling are the primary grapes grown in Cole Ranch.
Situated only three miles from the Adriatic Sea in central Italy’s Abruzzo region, the 69-acre Tullum DOC—which is also referred to as Terre Tollesi—earned its DOC status in 2008. A spectrum of wines is produced in this area, in white, red, sparkling and dessert styles. Trebbiano Toscano forms the base of the whites, while Moscato and Malvasia dominate the passito bottlings. For reds, Montepulciano is the leading variety, which isn’t surprising considering Abruzzo’s sole DOCG is Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane—a wine that must be at least 90-percent Montepulciano.
- 2La Romanée, Burgundy, France
- 3Savennières-La Coulée de Serrant, Loire Valley, France
- 4Pergola, Marche, Italy
- 5El Hierro, Canary Islands, Spain
- 6Choapa Valley, Coquimbo, Chile
- 7Château-Grillet, Rhône Valley, France
- 8Albugnano, Piedmont, Italy
- 9Criots-Bâtard-Montrachet, Burgundy, France
- 10Cole Ranch, Mendocino, California
- 11Tullum, Abruzzo, Italy