Sunday, September 17, 2017

Tasting and visit to the vineyard of Clos d'Opleeuw, Limburg, Belgium

Clos d'Opleeuw chardonnay almost ready for harvest
Today a group of members of the BWC/AIS Club of Brussels went for a day trip to the Limburg, a province of the Flemish-speaking part of Belgium. A sunny and balmy day, perfect for a day out!

Here we visited Clos d'Opleeuw, the vineyard of Peter Colemont, for a tour of the small (1 hectare) plot of chardonnay and pinot noir and a vertical tasting.

We went to the vineyard first, which is very well kept and it will be difficult, if not impossible, to expand this level of soil/ slope/ orientation/ protection from the weather.

Peter does not believe in "organic" farming but makes minimal use of chemicals in the vineyard. No added yeasts, only indigenous: more difficult to control but can do also thanks to his limited quantities. No fining with egg whites, only some casein.



The wall of the Clos, dating back to the middle ages, protects from the weather

But let Peter Colemont explain himself about his project.



We then had our tasting. First the chards, then the lone red. Following are the tasting notes that reflect our consensus during the tasting. The scores are mine. I did not indicate prices because the older wines are sold out and Peter Colemont exceptionally agreed to this vertical tasting. However the most recent vintage chardonnay retails for some 40 euro, while the Prestige goes for 60. Peter Colemont does not sell directly unless buyers also purchase some of his imported wines.

Peter Colemont leads our tasting (© Lifang Yan)

Chardonnay 2011, 12%
Straw yellow, moderately intense and consistent. Still quite fresh though round enough for drinking now.
Score 88

Chardonnay 2007, 12%
Golden yellow and very consistent. Notes of white truffle. Minerality and still plenty of freshness make for a perfect balance.
Score 92

Chardonnay 2005, 13%
This vintage is fresher than the 2007 we just tasted, it was a cooler year. Even a tad of effervescence, some excess carbon dioxide in the bottle.
Score 90

Chardonnay Cuvée Prestige Pleistoceen 2015, 13%
The prestige is produced, only in the best years, with the best grapes, from the best part of the small vineyard. Longer and more complex than the other Chards. Again truffle and some vanilla. Obviously still too young, it has a great potential but it is a ready wine for those who like it fresh, a bit Chablis style. A harmonious wine which could provide great surprises to its lucky owner for years to come.
Score 94

Pairing with food: these complex and structured chardonnays could go with structured white meats, maybe guinea fowl or turkey, and even caramelized pork chops.

Pinot Noir 2016, 12.5%
Surprising garnet color instead of the more usual ruby or pinot noirs. Red fruit jam to the nose and mushrooms emerge in the palate. Very well balanced for a young PN, much smoother than expected. Lacking somewhat in structure. Moderate length. Ready with limited aging potential.  As Peter himself noted, more work is necessary on the Pinot Noir, though I personally appreciated its pleasant smoothness and was intrigued by the garnet color.

The Pinot Noir will go well with duck liver spread on toasted bread, pasta with green and red peppers and, why not?, a delicate curry or Chinese Hainan-style steamed chicken with fried rice.
Score 84

Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (© Lifang Yan)
Thank you and see you next time! (© Lifang Yan)

To complete an excellent oeno-gastronomic excursion members of the BWC/AIS Club went for an excellent lunch at the nearby Altermezzo restaurant, creative and colorful cuisine at reasonable prices.

And to finish the day we paid a visit to Tongeren, an ancient Roman city where wine was already made some two thousand years ago. Its central square and cathedral as well as the unique treasures of the Teseum before returning to Brussels.

We'll have to come back to Tongeren, to taste the next vintage of Opleeuw, to visit other wine producers in the region (stay tuned, write to us to be included in our mailing list...) and to admire the Beguinage, a UNESCO world heritage site in the center of town.


Friday, May 26, 2017

Cabernet Franc Blind Tasting, at Phil dans ta Cave

Bunch of Cab Franc, © Wikipedia
Ten members of the Club met today at Phil dans ta Cave for an exclusive blind tasting of Cabernet Franc wines. A good way to end the week on this Friday evening, 26th May.

After an aperitif of Burgundy white, while waiting for everyone to arrive, we tasted three sets of three cab francs each, for a total of nine bottles.

Each set was prepared in carafes by Jonathan Smets, who was the only one to know the content. Each set was composed of two Loire Cab francs and one each from Italy, Hungary and Argentina, but we did not know which until the end of the tasting.

All of the above was accompanied by bread and tasty snacks. Wines were scored using the A.I.S. system.

Below is a summary by Marco Carnovale of some of the comments in the room, followed by my scores and (in brackets) the average score from the group.

Thank you to Phil and Jonathan of Phil dans ta Cave for hosting us. See the page "Friendly suppliers" in this blog to contact them and benefit for special discounts and receive invitations to tastings and sales as a member of the Brussels Wine Club. Contact us to join for free.


Here is a useful template from Winefolly to introduce Cab Franc.






















APERITIF TO WARM UP...

1987 Guffens Clos des Petits Croux (magnum). 100% Chardonnay from Burgundy.

An amazing wine which never ceases to surprise. Excellent consistency, but incredible freshness at 30 years-old. Complex aromas of ripe apricots, caramel, whisky. Perfectly balanced and very long. A harmonious wine, probably at its peak, but one would probably have said the same thing ten years ago. Score 95 (95). Price: 75 Eur (if you can find it).




FIRST SET

2015 Magipiro Az agricola Siciliano. Light ruby, moderate consistency, maybe a bit of nail polish. Barely balanced, some residual sugar. Score 78 (74). Ranking today: 9/9. Price: Eur 29.

2014 Y Amirault Saint Nicolas des Bourgueil Les Malgagnes. Green pepper, moderate balance, hard sensations prevail but not aggressive. Body and acidity promise a good evolution. Score 88 (85). Ranking today 2/9. Price: Eur 25.

2010 Philippe Alliet Chinon Vieilles Vignes A bit less freshness than previous wine, but otherwise similar. Typical Cab franc. Score 88 (83), Ranking today 3/9. Price: 18.


SECOND SET

2011 Philippe Alliet, Coteau de Noire Deep ruby intense and complex. Explosive raspberry and plum, perfect balance of full body and prominent freshness. Ready but will deliver for several more years. A harmonious wine. Score 94 (90). Ranking today 1/9. Price 28 Eur.

2013 Don Balthazar (Argentina),  The previous wine was a hard act to follow. This is a good cab franc with moderate potential. Good value for the money if your budget is limited. Score 86 (82). Ranking today 5/9. Price Eur 11.

2010 Baudry Chinon Les grezeaux, we step down a bit again from previous wine. Bitterish cherry. Moderate balance and length.  Score 84 (82). Ranking today 6/9. Price 18 Eur.


THIRD SET

2012 Malatinszky "Noblesse Cabernet Franc" (Hungary). Exuberant alcohol overpowers a pleasant sour cherry jam. Moderate balance, body and length. Score 78 (82). Ranking 4/9. Price: Eur 24.

2010 Clos Rougeard Saumur Champigny  A relatively plump wine, but lacks acidity. Mature. The most expensive wine of the evening, it did not really perform as one would have expected. Score 84 (81). Rank today 7/9. Eur 100+.

2012 Baudry Croix Boissée. Well known to most participants the 1st wine by Baudry was a bit of a disappointment, did not shine as expected. I found it aggressive, only moderately balanced while in the past I have several times ranked it as one of the best cab franc in Loire. Maybe it just needs time. Maybe I was just tired at the end of the evening!! Score 78 (80). Ranking today 8/9. Eur 28.

BONUS WINE (Thanks Jon!) 2008 Joguet, Clos de la Dioterie. Quite distinctive cab franc, ready now with its peak probably a few years ahead of us. Score 86. About 20 Eur.

CONCLUSIONS

1. Cab franc is a difficult varietal but can give great pleasure by itself, and not necessarily in blends with its son cab sauvignon, merlot or others. Few regions of the world try to make 100% cab franc, too bad. Even Cheval Blanc blends a bit of merlot.

2. It is not necessary to spend a fortune to get a good cab franc, in the 20-30 eur range there are great products.

3. Loire is still top, but Hungary and Argentina have interesting offers. We'll try Slovenia and others soon. Italy disappointed this time.

4. This varietal needs time, no point trying to hurry up. Give it ten years, more for a 85+ wine.



Sunday, March 26, 2017

Brussels Wine Club founding and Belgian wine presentation

Today we met at the house of Marco Carnovale, Sommelier AIS (Associazione Italiana Sommelier) and promoter of this new Brussels Wine Club, and his wife Lifang Yan. In this informal setting, in the company of 13 wine lovers from several countries, Marco presented the AIS and the idea of creating a branch in the capital of Europe.

In addition, Marco gave a presentation on Belgian wine: its history, denominations, and characteristics. The research for this presentation was based on an article that Marco wrote for issue  n.12 of magazine Vitae of the Associazione Italiana Sommelier (AIS).

Marco's presentation, including the description of each wine tasted today, can be seen online here.

During the course of the evening participants tasted the following wines:

Sparkling:
1. Ruffus Cuvée du Seigneur 2014, 12.5%
2. Genoels-Elderen Rose Parel 2012, 12,5%, no AOC.

Whites:
3. Aldeneyck Chard Heerenlaak 2014, Vlaamse Landwijn
4. Clos d’Opleeuw Chardonnay Prestige Pleistoceen, 2014, GOB Beschermde (protected) Haspengouw

Reds:
5. Bon Baron Acolon, AOC Côtes de Sambre et Meuse, 13%abv
6. Bon Baron, Pinot Noir Tresor, 2013, 13% abv, AOC Côtes de Sambre et Meuse

Sweet:
7. Aldeneyck Pinot Gris "Noble", 2013, 11.5%





Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Websites on Belgian wine

Websites with useful information on Belgian wine


OenoBelgium, The world of wine in Belgium. (FR, NL)

Vignes.be, Website of lovers of Belgian wine. (FR)

Wines in Belgium, tourism and events. (EN, FR, NL)





Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Tasting of Belgian wines, by Marco Carnovale

Tastings of Belgian Wines, January 2017

Here are my tasting notes for a selection of Belgian wines I have tasted in December 2016 and January 2017.

Scoring follows the A.I.S. scale of 0-100. Prices are indicative and may vary with time and depending on source. QTP = Quality-to-price ratio

Genoels-Elderen, Haspengouw

Magnificent castle at Genoels-Elderen, on the edge of the homonymous village, a stone's throw from Tongeren, near some Roman tumuli (tombs) of the 1st century AD. The original building dates back to 1132, it was the summer residence of the bishop of Liège. The people of Tongeren, angry with the bishop for excessive taxation and other vexation to which they were subjected, burned the villa a couple of times over the centuries, but it was always rebuilt. The underground cellars of that period are still in use.

The owners, the van Rennes family, planted the first 800 vines in 1990 as a hobby. Today, the vineyard boasts 22 hectares and over 10,000 plants. Joyce, the original van Rennes’ daughter, is the firm’s oenologist. Her husband Stefan manages all the work in the vineyards. Since 2006, sparkling wine has been produced with the Classic Method. In the coldest years, like 2015, they produce only sparkling wines, in the warmer ones, like 2016, only still wine. Otherwise both.

Sparkling Zwarte Parel (Black Pearl) 2012, 12.5% vol.
Chardonnay 41%, Viognier 59%
Intense straw yellow, energetic and fine perlage. Exotic fruit and yellow flowers prevail on the nose; carbon exuberance and the refreshing effect of lemon notes; Despite the unusual cuvée, the palate offers freshly balanced freshness. Moderate persistence (5 sec). Mature. It can be paired to with fish soups, or seafood spaghetti with lemongrass. Score 80. Euro 15 at vineyard.

Sparkling Zilver Parel (Silver Pearl) 2011, 12.5% vol.
Chardonnay 100%
We move one step up with Coer de Cuvée, obtained by eliminating the first and the last part of the must during pressing, and keeping only the “heart”. Brilliant straw yellow, intensely fragrant, both in fruity and in the note of yeast (three years on lees), pineapple and yellow peach bring complexity along with a slight hint of white flowers. It has a freshly attenuated effect with elegance from a little dosage, closes with an aromatic return of roasted hazelnut. It can accompany white meat, from lemon sauce chicken with a slice of suckling calf with light cream. Score 84. Euro 22 at vineyerd.

Sparkling Rose Parel (Pink Rose) 2013, 12.5% vol.
Prevalence of black pinot
Light cherries color. Vibrant foam and microscopic bubble. Fragrant and fruity, ripe red apple, white plum and yellow cherries. Vigor in fruity freshness derives from Pinot and the sapidity helps build a rich structure. Paired with champagne-sauce risotto and seafood pasta dishes, possibly with a Wienerschnitzel. Score 88. Euro 19 at vineyard.

Chardonnay white label 2014, 13% vol.
After 18 months of steel it has a brilliant golden yellow color with some green shades. The nose is full of classic chardonnay fragrance: white flowers (iris and acacia) and tropical fruit are accompanied by vanilla to make for a complex wine. Balanced soft / sapid effect, which makes long and elegant aromatic persistence. Grilled fish and vegetables. Score 90. Euro: not available for retail, only for restaurants.

Chardonnay blue label, 2014, 13% vol.
It has a golden color tone, the nose is intense of mango and papaya. Six months in wood after six in steel make for a balanced wine. It is perfect for crustaceans. Also for tartare or carpaccio. Score 92. Euro 13 at the vineyard, great QTP.

Chardonnay Gold Label 2012, 13% vol.
Late harvest (late October) and Draconian limit of 25 hl / hectare. Flagship wine, this bottle shines with a magnificent deep gold, and the nose expresses intense apples and orange jam. One year in wood and 6 months in steel, then one year in bottle. Very complex to the nose and palate, buttery end. Very persistent (10 sec). Great with dishes full of character, such as lobsters, quail and structured cheeses. Score 95. Euro 26.

Pinot Nero 2013, 13% vol.
The only red of the house: deep ruby, fresh, notes of raspberries and Goji. Moderately intense and persistent. One year in French oak barrels (30% new). A wine that could express itself to the best after a few years in the bottle. It can be combined with soft cheeses, but it may also take on an eggplant parmigiana. Score 86. S bit expensive at euro 26.


Schorpion, Haspengouw

The vineyard lies in the heart of Limburg. In 1994 the brothers Wilfried and Robert Schorpion launched the company and have since reaped growing success, focusing on their bubbles. Chardonnay and black pinot are flanked by white pinot and auxerrois. Intriguing the old Roman motto adopted by the house: Sapere aude! (Dare to know!)

Sparkling Goud (Gold) 2014, 12% vol.
Chardonnay, Auxerrois and Pinot Bianco
Very fresh this blanc de blancs. Average size of perlage with regular chains. Moderately intense notes of lemon and green apple. Moderate persistence. Good aperitif with raw shrimp or caviar, it can be combined with a pasta with four cheeses. I found it excellent also as a sorbet, served quite cold, between two full-bodied dishes. Ready. Score 88. Euro 20 online.

Clos d'Opleeuw, Haspengouw

Peter Colemont produced fruit, only later thought of wine, and so was born Clos d'Opleeuw, adjacent to the village of Gors. Clay soil and an ideal slope of 7% create an ideal stage on which Peter can perform. He decided to focus on the chardonnay, trying to mimic the style of Burgundy, using French and Belgian oak barrels. Only about 4000 bottles, of which a few hundred are part of his Cuvée prestige: more wood, the best part of the parcel and vines planted closer together.

Chardonnay Cuvée Prestige, 2014, 13% vol.
What a surprise! Deep gold, deep, intense and consistent. Vanilla scents blossom in the strong sapidity. The wine is already round and soft (due to a year in new French and Belgian oak), and in perfect balance. Ready for those who love chardonnay fresh and savory, a bit Chablis style. A persistent, harmonious wine with potential to explore over the years. Pair it with pork ribs or American roasted turkey in red fruit sauce. Certainly with mussels with white wine, garlic and parsley à la belge. This bottle is a real flagship of Belgian enology. Score 96. Euro 45 (in a box with other wines), very well spent if you are lucky to find some bottles.


Entre Deux Monts, Heuvelland

Martin Bacquaert grew up in his dad's wine shop and studied viticulture and winemaking in France. In 2004, the first kerner plants, followed by other varieties of vines for a total of 14,000 plants today. The name comes from the two mountains (rolling hills, actually), Red and Black, which put the vineyard in Heuvelland, just a few hundred meters from the border with France.

Sparkling Wiscoutre Rosé 2014, 12% vol.
Chardonnay, pinot black, kernel
The name of this wine comes from an ancient Frankish tribe who lived in the region. Cherry color, very fresh nose and prevalence of lime and mandarin to the palate. Red fruit notes in the background. An assembled rose obtained with prevalence of hard sensations. Moderate persistence (5 sec) and intensity. One year sur lattes. A mature wine. You can drink it alone, as an aperitif, perhaps accompanying it with nuts, salted peanuts, pistachios or olive paté croutons.


Pietershof, Vlaamse Landwijn

Vineyard in the Fourons region, between the cities of Aachen, Liège and Maastricht, on the border with the Netherlands. Limestone rich in minerals. The nearest town is Nurop, near Teuven, in the Gulp valley. Region of wine traditions since the Romans. Varietals used by Piet Akkermans are white and gray pinot, auxerrois, chardonnay and black pinot.

Pinot Gris / Pinot Noir Rosé, 12.5%
The best of Pietershof's wines is this interesting cuvée of two Pinot. Light yellow cherry color, moderately consistent cherry blossom immediately reveals intense strawberry notes on the nose. Tasting is balanced with raw almond and parsley. A wine of moderate texture and persistence. Mature. It can be paired to a sauté of mussels and clams.

Aldeneyck, Vlaamse Landwijn

Already in 750 AD vineyard were cultivated around the abbey of Alden Iker Saints Harlindis and Relindis, in Limburg. After centuries of darkness, Jake Purnot and then Hein and Charles Henckens and his wife Debbie in 1999 decided to make their passion for wine a real job. The first white pinot were planted on the slopes along the Meuse. The experiment has consolidated into a 7-hectare vineyard with 30,000 black and gray pinots. Yield is kept below 50hl/hectare by hand selecting about half the bunches (egrappage).

Aldeneyck Chardonnay Heerenlaak 2014, 12.7% vol.
Last born in Aldeneyck family, a surprising Chardonnay. Intense and complex in the nose, vanilla and pineapple in the foreground. Mineral and fresh but already round, soft, perfectly balanced. Two years in new barriques. Very persistent (10 sec). A wine of great structure, harmonious, still young but with great and unexplored potential. To pair with moderately structured dishes such as a pan-fried sole, or a seafood risotto. Score 95. Euro 18 online.

Aldeneyck Pinot Noir 2014, 12.8% vol.
Intense ruby red, moderate intensity of yellow cherries on the nose, champignon in the mouth. When the cork was pulled out, despite 10 months in barrique, it offered overwhelming hard feelings that were smoother several hours later. Moderately persistent. As a character recalls the Pinot from Alsace. Wine that has to wait in bottle to achieve greater balance. Combined with strongly structured and greasy dishes such as an Alsace choucroute or a Belgian stoemp with boudin. Score 86. Euro 18 online.

Château Bon Baron, Côtes de Sambre et Meuse

The first vineyards of these lands that we know of appear in postcards of the nineteenth century in the area of Profondeville. Bon Baron adheres to strictly organic principles. Jeannette van der Steen and her husband Piotr started in 2001. What was a small production to be shared with a few friends has become, with 17 hectares, one of the country's largest vineyards, spread over three plots along the Meuse.

Château Bon Baron Pinot Noir 2013, 12% vol.
Intense ruby color, mossy and smoky to the nose. On the palate moderate persistence with predominant wild red fruit. Freshness coexists alongside a pleasant velvety feeling and results in a balanced wine. Little structure despite a year in barriques. An easy black pinot without much evolutionary potential. It can be combined with medium structure cheese. Score 78. Eur 22 online.

Château Bon Baron Acolon 2014, 13% vol.
The best red of Bon Baron, perhaps of all of Belgium. Acolon is a German varietal created in 1971 by the Staatliche Lehr-und Versuchsanstalt für Wein und Obstbau in Weinsberg (Baden Württemberg) crossing dornfelder and blaufrankisch. Dark ruby red color. Moderately intense to the nose, red and black fruit with embryonic notes of cocoa and leather. Good minerality and a year in new barrique make it a balanced, medium-structured, ready wine that could give more satisfaction in the years to come. To be paired with game, mushroom risotto or medium-aged cheese. Score 89. Euro 19 online.

Château Bon Baron Chardonnay 2013, 12.5% ​​vol.
Deep yellow gold. Medium intensity and persistence of vanilla and ripe pineapple. On the palate are mature yellow apples, with honey notes. Minimality prominent but well balanced by 18 months in barriques. Medium body. Ready, secure evolutionary potential for 3 or 4 years. You can drink it with a pasta with red sauce seafood, or with monkfish and baked potatoes. Score 89. Euro 21 online.

Le Vignoble des Agaises, vin mousseux de qualité

Beginning with 600 pinot black plants, Raymond Leroy realized a dream that had begun in his wine cellar. From the two initial hectares in 2002 today we have23 that maybe will increase again, perhaps up to 30 or so, no more because the land with the ideal characteristics is limited. The great advantage of the farm is the constant ventilation that dries his plants from the frequent Belgian rains. Not by chance, just beside the vineyard, there is a powerful battery of wind generators. He only produces sparkling wines with the classic method. White grape chardonnay. Pinot Noir and meunier only for rosé.

Spumante Ruffus Cuvée du Seigneur 2014, 12.5% ​​vol.
Chardonnay 100%, Little sugar added (6 g)
Base wine, straw yellow. You immediately feel the chard fragrance of fresh bread. Freshness is decisively prevalent on the palate, with decisive and capricious perlage and medium minerality. A wine of moderate balance and persistence, suitable to be enjoyed as an aperitif with seafood or bruschetta. Score 84. Eur 16 at the vineyard.

Spumante Ruffus Sauvage 2011, 12.5% ​​vol.
Chardonnay 100%, pas dosé
The only difference from the Seigneur is the lack of dosage. Straw yellow color. Lime and yellow apples on the nose. On the palate it is fresh and mineral. Apples appear with citrus hints but they do not disturb the balance. Although it is a 2011, it is advisable to wait a few years to smooth the acidity. Moderately persistent. Perfect with oysters and seafood or raw crustaceans. Score 89. Eur 19 at the vineyard.

Spumante Ruffus rosé 2014, 12.5% vol.
50% chardonnay, 25% pinot black, 25% pinot meunier, 6g sugar
Unlike in Champagne, where white and red wines are produced separately then blended to make rosé, here they work on the right maceration of red grapes and vinify the whole cuvée together. Light cherry color, this rosé displays a medium perlage, the nose is intense with apple and yellow cherry. The palate is less fresh than the white cuvées, with ripe tangerine notes and ends with surprising vanilla hints. Balanced, moderately persistent and ready. Pair with "matjes" herring or smoked salmon croutons. Score 89. Eur 22 but very difficult to find this bottle.

Thorn, Maasvalleiwijn, The Netherlands

This vineyard is located in the Dutch Limburg, near Maastricht, just a few hundred meters from the Belgian border. So it is a Dutch wine, though they are asking, along with Aldeneyck (Belgian Limburg, see above) a cross-border designation (Belgium / Netherlands) that will be called Maasvallei Limburg. One can build Europe also with wine. It produces its whites (Auxerrois, Pinot Grigio, Dornfelder) in steel or mixed steel and French oak (new or old). On the other hand for its Pinot Noir it opted exclusively for French barriques.

Thorn Black Pinot 2013, 13% vol.
Ruby red is very intense, nose offers underwood and fern. Moderately consistent, complex and intense. On the palate peppercorn notes and cocoa. Round tannins, gifted by its time in oak barrels (30% new, 70% used). Well balanced, and moderately long. A mature wine. Combined with sweet ham of Friuli, medium seasoning cheese or French onion soup. Score 83. Euro 22 online.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Belgian wine: controlled designations of origin and protected geographical indications

As is the case in so many other areas, viticulture Belgium is divided into two regions: Flanders (Dutch-speaking) and Walloon (French-speaking).

Flanders

The designations of origin in Flanders are: Hageland, Haspengouw, and Vlaamse Heuvelland Mousserende Kwaliteitswijn for sparkling wines.

The Hageland region is at the center of the country, and it includes Aarshot, Tienen and Leuven. We know of vineyards going back at least to the twelfth century. The soil is mainly composed of silt, sand and sandstone. Hageland denomination was the first to be established, in 1997. Authorized varietals include müller-thurgau, optima, ortega, kerner, siegerrebe, pinots (gray, white, black and precocious black), chardonnay, riesling, auxerrois, bacchus, schön citizen, dominatrix, dornfelder, limberger, sirius, regent, wurzer, johanniter and merlot.

Haspengouw ( established in 1999) is located in the northeast of the country, in Limburg, between Hasselt, Sint-Truiden, Herk-de-Stad and Herstappe up to the border with Holland. The origins date back to the twelfth century. The soil is mainly sandy, with clay and limestone substrate. The grapes grown are Müller-Thurgau, Kerner, Siegerrebe, Pinot (white, gray, black and Meunier), Chardonnay, Riesling, Auxerrois, optima, ortega, Dornfelder, Wurzen, Bacchus and Merlot.

Heuvelland (established in 2000) is situated in the west, in the hills of Monteberg, Kemmelberg, Vidaigneberg, Rodeberg and Zwarteberg. Though mainly in the Flanders, a small part crosses over to Wallonia. The hills provide ideal draining slopes even if their altitude does not exceed 120 meters. Sandy soil is alternated with clay and rich in iron ore sandstone. The main vineyard are in Klijte, Dranouter, Kemmel, Loker, Nieuwkerke Reningelst, Westouter, Wijtschate and Wulvergem. Varietals admitted include: müller-thurgau, kerner, siegerrebe, pinot (black and gray), chardonnay, riesling, auxerrois, dornfelder, regent, cabernet sauvignon, johanniter and muscat.

Since 2005 there is a specific name for sparkling wines produced in Flanders with the traditional classic method: Vlaamse Mousserende Kwaliteitswijn (quality sparkling wine of Flanders). Maximum yield 80 hl per hectare. Permitted grapes: chardonnay, pinot (black, meunier, white, gray), auxerrois, riesling. It is a sector of wine production that is enjoying rapid growth.

Finally, there is a geographical indication for wines without designation of origin: Vlaamse Landwijn (loosely translatable as table wine of Flanders). The only requirement is that the must be made from grapes of vitis vinifera, or from hybrids between this and other species of the genus vitis.

Wallonia

In Wallonia there is one geographical designation: Côtes de Sambre et Meuse (2004), and another, Crémant de Vallonie (2008), for sparkling wines.

The production area of Côtes de Sambre et Meuse corresponds to the catchment area of the river Meuse, consisting in turn eight sub-basins: Meuse upstream and downstream, Sambre, Ourthe, Amblève, Semois, Chiers, Vesdre and Lesse. These areas correspond to the valleys between the two rivers Sambre and Meuse. The hills are very suitable for vines, with optimal slope for drainage and oriented to take advantage of the heat released by the water of the two rivers. The substrate consists of a thin layer of clay with silt, limestone and sand. There are around thirty winegrowers, for a total of about thirty hectares, about 80,000 plants and a production of one thousand hectoliters. The authorized grapes are auxerrois, bronner, chardonnay, chasselas, chenin, gamay, gewürztraminer, johanniter, madeleine of angevine, merlot, merzeling, müller-thurgau, muscat, ortega, various pinots (white, regent, riesling, gray and black) rivaner, seibel, siegerrebe and traminer.

Sparkling wines produced with the classic method have enjoyed rapid success and have demonstrated some of the best wine produced in Belgium. For the Crémant de Vallonie the varietals are Chardonnay and four pinot (black, white, meunier, gray). If a winemaker adds auxerrois or riesling the denomination becomes Vin mousseux de qualité de Wallonie (quality sparkling wine of Wallonia).

For the geographical indication Vins des Jardins de Vallonie (wine of the gardens of Wallonia, 2004) the rules are the same as for the Vlaamse landwijn.

For a brief history of wine in Belgium see another post in this blog.

NOTE: This post is part of an article by Marco Carnovale which appeared in Italian in the issue n. 12 of the magazine Vitae, published by the Italian Sommelier Association (AIS).

Monday, January 9, 2017

Belgian Wine: a brief introduction to its history, by Marco Carnovale

Sparkling wine made in Belgium
When one thinks of Belgian drinks, it is beer that come to mind. It is, without any shadow of a doubt, among the best in the world. One also think of fried potatoes and chocolate. Or perhaps Flemish lace and jazz, after all Adolphe Sax was Walloon. Few among those who will to read this post probably heard of, let alone tasted, Belgian wine. And yet, wine production in Belgium goes back a long time, and has recently made a remarkable comeback.

Ancient origins

When the Romans colonized a new land, they paid attention to two details: thermal baths and wine. Vital pleasures to reward the legions after their battles. In Belgium, the town of Spa (in Latin it means Salus per Aquam, health through water) has become synonym with thermal baths all over the world. And how about wine?

When I moved to Belgium in 1994 I could not find any local wine, for a good reason: there wasn’t any. And yet, wine in Belgium has ancient roots. It was part of that cultural heritage that Rome had inherited from Greece and would have left to the rest of Europe. In the Gallia Belgica, besides Spa, one finds the footprint of Roman wine. The Gallia Belgica was larger than today’s Belgium, and we know for sure there were Roman vineyards along the river Moselle, in today’s Luxembourg and Germany, and one find traces of Roman vines along the Meuse and the Schelde rivers, in today’s Belgium.

Unfortunately it often happened that Roman works were neglected after the departure of the legions, either for lack of interest by local populations or because of their technical incompetence: the thermal baths of Bath, in England, which were clogged up with mud until the nineteenth century, are a case in point. Likewise, the vineyards of Gallia Belgica grew wild and no more wine was produced for a long time.

The middle ages

It was in Amay, around 634 AD, that someone once again planted vines. Around the eighth century, in the late Merovingian period, we have once again reports of vineyards around Liège and Huy, along the banks of the river Meuse. By the ninth century various historical sources tell us that viticulture had spread widely, with small family vineyards in many villages, not only along the Meuse. However, we do not have detailed information on the quantities of wine produced, let alone on its quality. The main wine centers were Brussels, Malines (Mechelen), Briolet (near Charleroi), Tournai, and especially Torgny, in the extreme south of the country, which produced wine almost without interruption until the end of the twentieth century.

From the fifteenth to the seventeenth century, there is more documentation on Belgian winemakers and vineyards, though not much about the wine they produced. A certain Monsieur Schayes wrote two articles on the subject: "Sur la culture de la vigne en Belgique" 1833, and "Sur l'ancienne culture de la vigne en Belgique", in 1843. The scholar mentioned that vineyards appeared around Tournai, Leuven and even within the walls of Antwerp. Belgian wine survived, just, hanging by a thin thread.

In the seventeenth century northern Europe was hit by the so-called "Little Ice Age", with many very cold vintages, which yielded sour and acid wine. Many vineyards were destroyed by the weather or had to be extirpated.

But a more threatening enemy, worse than the fiercest storm, appeared on the horizon of the North Sea: the potato. With its arrival from America and its rapid spread in the north European cuisine, many local farmers found it more profitable to cultivate tubers than grapes. Potatoes supplied more nourishment and the harvest was rich immediately (with a vineyard it is necessary to wait at least four years). Still today, Belgium is famous around the world for its fried potatoes!

Independence and the re-birth of Belgian wine

A further blow to viticulture came between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when the protectionist policy of Napoleon imposed heavy taxes on all non-French wines. New hopes arose with the independence of the Kingdom of Belgium, in 1830. The new state was trying to support its wines with a Royal decree of 8 February 1833 on the development of “model vineyard”. But the tricolor wine, black, yellow and red, found it hard to take off.

The agricultural census of 1846 tells us that across the country there were only 66 hectares of vineyards. The next one, of 1866, refers to 290 hectares, a significant increase, even if a part of the harvest was intended for the production of table grapes and not wine. The first greenhouse were built around Brussels (Hoeilaart, Overijse), to try and fight off the weather. Different grape varieties were tried: Frankenthal, Royal, Colman and Chasselas. It looked like the foundations had been laid for a sustainable recovery, but it was not to be. From the seventies phylloxera hit Belgium, like the rest of Europe, clipping the wings to the budding production. Belgian growers tried again, against all odds, towards the end of the nineteenth century.

Joseph Halkin, in his little book Culture de la Vigne en Belgique, published in 1895, listed dozens of places across the country where, according to land registry archives, there were notable vineyards. The long list includes Brussels and many surrounding areas, such as Wavre, Overijse, Auderghem, Schaerbeek, Villers-la-ville and others. Very small family productions, varying quality, and virtually no regulation.

In the first half of the twentieth century viticulture developed largely in greenhouses. During the world wars, wine was not a priority for the small country, once again ravaged by highly destructive battles fought on its soil by foreign armies, and vineyards disappeared almost completely.

Belgian wine today

Clos de la Zolette, near Tragny, in the far south of the country, was responsible for the post-war revival of wine in Belgium. In 1955 Auguste Lajoux tried to cross Riesling and Sylvaner, but the newly planted vines were destroyed by the following terrible winter. Undaunted, Auguste tried again in 1959, an exceptionally warm year, and he managed a first harvest of 800 kg of grapes.

In 1961 Lajoux was succeeded by René Waty and subsequent years yielded mixed results. In 1964, and then in 1970, 3500kg. In 1968, nothing, everything was lost to spring frosts. During these years wine was initially made in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, where there was availability of facilities, but in the sixties Jean Muneaut bought the necessary equipment and vinification took place in Belgium. In 1973 Georges Petit took the reins, and remained at his post for over thirty years, maybe too many, he was not able to upgrade and innovate at the Clos.

The Clos de la Zolette enjoyed a promising period. From 1980 there was also an attempt to start commercial production. But in 1987 a new tremendous frost made it necessary to uproot the vines, which were doggedly replanted the following year. With highs and lows, production continued until 2005, when this pioneering and noble attempt was abandoned. Today, Clos de la Zolette is a nature reserve.

At the same time, other growers, both Flemish and Walloons, continued to challenge the elements to make wine. The qualitative leap occurred in the nineties of the last century. A series of warm years, the acquisition of new technologies, more methodical scientific research to find the most suitable areas and grape varieties, and the training of young agronomists and oenologists abroad, all contributed to the first significant achievements.

In 2015 wine production exceeded for the first time the one million liters mark, a significant increase compared to previous years. Nearly eighty percent was white (including sparkling wines): Chardonnay was the preferred variety. Twenty percent are red, among which the Pinot Noir is the star. Sparkling wines are playing a growing role and in some years have come to exceed forty percent of production. Rosé wines amount to under five percent.

In general, small vineyards prevail, two or three hectares on average, although recently there has been a considerable expansion of some companies. Some were born as a family pastime and then grew to reach over ten hectares.

Today about seventy varieties of grapes are grown by over 250 professional growers in Belgium, of which thirty-four are authorized in controlled designation areas. The main ones are Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Müller-Thurgau, regent, Auxerrois, Sieger, Dornfelder, different varieties of Muscat, Riesling, Sirius, Léon Millot, Solaris and Gewürztraminer.

For a discussion of Belgian controlled designation of origin and protected geographical indications, as well as some tasting notes, see other posts in this blog.

If you live in Belgium and are interested in joining a club of wine lovers visit www.brusselswineclub.eu and get in touch!

For a description of Belgian controlled denominations of wine see another post in this blog.

NOTE: This post is part of an article which appeared in Italian in the issue n. 12 of the magazine Vitae, published by the Italian Sommelier Association (AIS).