Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Wines of Luxembourg – A Small Country Which Produces Great Wines

Pictures: Christian G.E. Schiller with Ambassador of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg to the US, Jean-Paul Senninger

The Ambassador of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg to the US, Jean-Paul Senninger, had invited the Washington DC German Wines Society for a tasting of wines of his country. ‘Luxembourg is a small country which produces great wines ” said Ambassador Senninger in his remarks. The wines that the Embassy staff poured, where indeed convincing - fresh, crisp, dry, with a lot of character.

Wine Producer Luxembourg

The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg - a constitutional monarchy - is tucked between Belgium, France and Germany. The country is very small, 84 km long and 52 km wide, with a population of 500 000.

Luxembourg is not really on the world wine map, although Luxembourg has a 2000-year history of wine-making. The vineyard area totals about 1200 hectares, roughly 10% of Germany’s vineyard area. Most of the wine is consumed in the country, with Belgium the by far largest export country (80%). Very little Luxembourg wine is seen outside Luxembourg and Belgium.

Wine is made in the southeastern part of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg along 26 miles of the Mosel river that is Luxembourg's border with Germany. A lot of the wine is grown for the sparkling wine industry, with many millions of bottles of Crémant de Luxembourg sold each year. But the better, south-facing slopes of chalk, clay or slate over limestone, are reserved for still wines.

In contrast to the downstream German wine region Mosel, Luxembourg has very little tradition of producing semi-sweet or sweet wines, despite a significant similarity in terms of grape varieties, soil and climate. Rather, the wines of Luxembourg tend to be fully fermented and dry. The main grape varieties in Luxembourg are: Müller-Thurgau, usually under the name Rivaner (29%), Auxerrois (14%), Pinot Gris (14%), Riesling (12%), Pinot Blanc (11%) and Elbling (9%).

Pictures: Ambassador of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg to the US, Jean-Paul Senninger with George Marling, German Wine Society, Chairman of the Board (above) and with Blair Alan Knapp, German Wine Society - Washington DC Chapter (below), Chapter President

Wine production in Luxembourg is dominated by a number of cooperatives. The cooperatives in Greiveldange, Grevenmacher, Remerschen, Stadtbredimus and Wellenstein source their wines from over 800 hectares of vineyards (almost two thirds of Luxembourg's vineyard surface) and sell their wines under the common name of "Vinsmoselle".

The Luxembourg wine classification differs both from the one in France and the one in Germany. Wines that meet the standards of the national seal - Moselle Luxembourgeoise - can also carry three additional quality designations: Vin classé, Premier Cru or Grand Premier Cru. These designations are awarded the individual wine after tasting by an official committee. In contrast, in neighboring France, the terms Premier Cru and Grand Cru are used to classify vineyards (Bourgogne) or wine estates (Bordeaux); in Germany, the sugar content at the time of harvest is the main quality criterion.

The Crémant de Luxembourg designation for sparkling wine is awarded within the framework of the Marque Nationale, meaning that only domestic grapes are allowed in the production. However, some sparkling wine produced in Luxembourg is just labeled Crémant and does not display the Marque Nationale. Such sparkling wines are produced from imported grapes, must or base wine.

Sweet-style wines are produced on a very limited basis: (1) Vendanges tardives is a wine typically made of botrytised grapes; (2) Vin de glace is an ice wine, made from grapes harvested in the frozen state and (3) Vin de paille is a straw wine, made from dried grapes. Generally, the wines of Luxembourg tend to be bone dry. In any case, you do not find the low alcohol wines with a touch of sweetness in Luxembourg, made by stopping the fermentation that are well known in Germany down the Mosel valley.

The Wines We Tasted

The tasting took place at the Embassy. The very attractive mansion housing the Embassy dates from the beginning of the 20th century and became the residence of members of Luxembourg’s royal family as well as a diplomatic legation during World War II. Formerly the Ambassador’s residence, it has served as the chancery since the 1970s and was extensively renovated in 2002-2003.

Pictures: The Wines We Tasted

We tasted still wines from the Domaine d’Etat and from Domaine Clos des Rochers and finished off with a Bernard Massard Cremant.

Domaine d’Etat

The Domaine d’Etat is a government-owned winery, created in 1918. The wine it produces is not for sale and only served at official government functions. The Domaine d’Etat also fulfills other government functions, notably research and education.

Domaine Clos des Rochers

The 18 hectares of vines on the Domaine Clos des Rochers are spread around the best slopes in the communes of Grevenmacher and Wormeldange and in the locality of Ahn. They are planted with Auxerrois, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Riesling.

The grapes are harvested by hand. Temperature-controlled fermentation in stainless steel vats. Slow fermentation with cultured yeasts. The wines stay on their lees for several months before bottling. Production: 60,000 bottles a year

Domaine Clos des Rochers traces its origins back to the 19th century and has always been considered one of the most prestigious Luxembourg wine estates. Owned since the 19th century by the Clasen family, the Domaine Clos des Rochers belongs today to the Bernard Massard Group, which operates out of Grevenmacher in Luxembourg and also out of Trier in Germany.

The Bernard-Massard Group was founded by Jean Bernard-Massard, a young oenologist who had started his career as a cellar master in Champagne. He created the German branch in 1918 and the Luxembourgian branch in 1921.

Caves Bernard-Massard

The main activity of the Bernard-Massard branch in Luxembourg was, and still is, the production of fine méthode champenoise sparkling wines, with today over four million bottles annually. However, the firm also has a long history of producing great still white Luxembourg wines. The company now owns the individual estates of Château de Schengen and Clos des Rochers (see above). In 1995, it also acquired Monmousseau in Montrichard, Loire Valley (France). Over the past 2 decades, the Bernard-Massard Group in Trier has taken over the Wein- und Sektkellerei Langenberg in the Pfalz, Château Fontesteau in the Haut Medoc and the Sektkellerei Hoehl in the Rheingau.

The Wine List

Clos de Rochers Auxerrois 2009
Domaine de l’Etat Pinot Blanc 2008
Clos de Rochers Pinot Gris 2007
Clos de Rochers Pinot Gris 2008
Clos de Rochers Riesling 2007
Domaine de l’Etat Gewurztraminer 2007
Bernard-Massard Cuvee de l’Ecusson Cremant, NV (Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Riesling, and Pinot Noir)

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