Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Time to Wine

It’s a given that the wines of Luxembourg are delicious: grapes for wine have been grown in this country for over 2,000 years, so, winemakers here obviously know what they’re doing. Taste aside; moving to Luxembourg last year, I immediately discovered two wonderful reasons to drink Luxembourgish wine.

First of all, wine is bigger in Luxembourg. Oh yes, you read that correctly: in one of the world’s smallest countries and the only Grand Duchy on the planet, the wine is bottled in 100ml bottles that are 25 percent larger than a normal wine bottle. Which makes your lovely dinner last about 25 percent longer. (Don’t worry, it’s available in normal 75ml bottles, too.) We’re talking co-operative produced table wine in big bottles here, but it’s tasty, crisp and refreshing and – to get to the second reason I love Luxembourgish wine – it is so much easier for me to recycle. Instead of walking my grocery cart full of empty jars and wine bottles all the way down the street, nearly a full mile, to the nearest recycle bin like I normally do, I can just skip to the grocery store two minutes around the corner with my giant empties. (Score!)

Alima grocery stores in Luxembourg Ville have a large, boxy green machine, usually near the registers, where you can insert your empty 100ml wine bottles and – voila! – out pops a coupon refunding the 20 cent bottle deposit that you didn’t even realize that you paid because the wine was so inexpensive to begin with. You can use the coupon toward groceries. Or toward more giant bottles of wine.

Oh, and did I mention that these giant bottles can be purchased for less than 5€ each?

(Keep reading and you’ll get a primer on Luxembourg wine, and a heads up on two can’t-miss wine festivals taking place in September.)

Intro to Luxembourg Wine

Harvest time in Lux starts Sept. 12.
The most widely grown grape varieties in Luxembourg are Riesling, Rivaner, Auxerrois, Ebling and Pinot Gris, but a growing number of vintners also grow Gewürtztraminer, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes. In addition to traditional wines, Luxembourg also produces late harvest wines (vendanges tardives), ice wine (vin de glace) and straw wine (vin de paille). And of course, you already know that sparkling wine in Luxembourg is called crémant.

If you’re looking for the ultimate gift or souvenir, Luxembourgish wine is what you’re looking for: you can’t buy it many other places. Most of the wine produced in Luxembourg stays in the country and is consumed here. (That might be my fault, sorry.) Of the wine leaving Luxembourg, 66 percent is exported to Belgium, 28 percent to Germany, 5 percent to France and the remaining 1 percent to a very, very tiny group of lucky countries elsewhere.

I’m not a wine critic (I never criticize wine), so you might want to check out this blog post about Luxembourgish wines, or take a look below at what the experts over at the Vins et Crémants de Luxembourg promotional commission have to say about each variety and how it tastes:

Cultivated on the best-oriented terroirs, it gets its elegance and finesse from its bouquet. Considered the “king of wines”, it is a proud and virile wine.

Of a rare elegance, this semi-early variety of vine is derived from a mutation of the Pinot Noir variety. 

A wine of great elegance, it offers an intense bouquet, dominated by a spicy touch.

This wine of generous character presents an elegant “pinoting” aspect. This semi-late variety of vine is derived from a mutation of the Pinot Gris variety.

Very sensitive to the qualities of its terroir, this wine presents a pleasant fruitiness. This rather sturdy Burgundian variety has only been introduced recently.

Delicate with many nuances, this is a keeper's wine with timber flavours. This early variety yields a supple wine with a delicate bouquet, typical of Luxembourg.

As a rosé wine, it has a delicate flavour of red fruit and little acidity. As a red wine, it is pulpier and subtly wooded through the casks it has been raised in. As a white wine, it is very fruity with an elegant bouquet. It's a Burgundian variety, which can be turned to red, rosé or white wine.

This is a mild wine with a musky aroma, which is to be drunk young. This variety is a crossbreed between Riesling and Chasselas.

A dry wine with a little acidity, it ripens rather early and has a discreet fruitiness. One of the oldest varieties cultivated in Luxembourg 's Moselle region.

Wine Tasting in Luxembourg
Wine tasting in Luxembourg is a very different experience than in the United States. In the U.S., most wineries that produce at least a certain amount of bottles per year have a tasting room that serves as a daily open house for anyone driving by who wants to stop in and taste, usually for a small fee.

My friend Ashley, crémant tasting
at Bernard Massard. It never disappoints! 
In Luxembourg, there are a small handful of wineries that have regular hours (at least during the late spring to fall tourist season), but most of the smaller, family-owned wineries are too busy and too resourceful to keep a staffer sitting at a tasting bar all day long. They’re more than happy to let you try their wines, however; all you need to do is call ahead first to make an appointment. You’ll be welcome to taste as many wines as you’d like, but you won’t ever be pressured to buy (even though you should).

The Vins & Crémants promotional folks have a terrific web site that lists most, if not all, winemakers in Luxembourg on an interactive map, which you can find here. Take a look, click around, and call ahead to make an appointment to taste and buy.

If you’re pressed for time and want to stick with a place that has regular opening hours and a nice terrace, I give high marks to Bernard Massard in Grevenmacher. They are open until 6pm, seven days of the week during tourist season. If you want just a small taste of two or three wines, they’ll probably give it to you for free. But, if you want to do a proper tasting in their tasting room or on their sunny terrace, ask for the menu. For less than 10€ you can sample six varieties of wine or five samples of crémant. The glasses are small shot glass size servings, but they are poured to the brim. And tastings are usually delivered with a smattering of snacks. You won’t leave disappointed.

September Wine Festivals
Now that you’ve been properly introduced to the wines of Luxembourg, why not find a place to sample them? Here are two festivals coming up in September:

September 9-11: Grevenmacher’s 62nd annual Fête du Raisin et du Vin
View the fête program.
Grevenmacher’s Fête du Raisin et du Vin is the largest wine festival in all of Luxembourg. The woman who answered the phone at the tourist office laughed as she summed up the party: “It’s a holy day” – (or maybe she said “holiday”) – “to the Grevenmacher people.” Either way, having attended last year, I can honestly tell you that it’s one heckuva street festival.

The main event starts on Saturday the 10th at 3pm when the music starts playing and the wine and crémant starts flowing.

To get to the festival from Luxembourg Ville, take bus 130 to stops “Grevenmacher – gare quai 1” in the middle of town, or “Grevenmacher – Enner der Bréck” opposite Bernard Massard and on the bank of the Moselle.

Voyages Emile Weber is offering extended bus service into the wee hours of the morning on line 450, and bus service on line 130 will also be extended - and free - between Luxembourg Ville and Grevenmacher on Saturday and Sunday for fête-goers. View the full schedule for Saturday here and for Sunday here.

The full 2011 festival program can be viewed here (in French and German). I was going to create a brief rundown for you of weekend events, but the video that the festival folks have put together is much more entertaining (and it’s in English):

September 16-18: Riesling Open
Ehnen, Wormeldange, Ahn and Machtum will open their cellars and plenty of wine bottles the weekend of September 16-18 for the area’s annual Riesling Open. This will be my first year attending, but this multi-town festival sounds like a terrific way to explore four of Luxembourg’s charming Moselle wine towns in one swoop.
View the brochure.

It's a rare event: small, family-owned wineries in Luxembourg are not typically open for unscheduled visits. Take a look at the brochure and you’ll see that several winemakers and their addresses are listed. All of these places will open their doors and invite you in for tastings (which are typically free) on Saturday and Sunday. Many wineries will entertain visitors with bands and bottles of wine will be available to drink on site or to take home. Most wineries will also offer food for purchase as well.

To get there by bus from Luxembourg Ville, take bus 135 to Machtum or bus 150 to Ehnen, Wormeldange, or Ahn. From there, buses and the MS Princesse Marie-Astrid will take you from town to town. On Saturday, boats and buses will follow their regular schedule and fee structure; don't forget that a 4€ one day bus ticket will buy you an unlimited number of bus rides. On Sunday, boats and buses between these four towns will be offered free of charge; buses will make regular stops along the Route du Vin and boats will depart every 30 minutes from each of the four towns.  

The festival brochure mentions a late night bus for getting home on Saturday evening, but no further details are listed. Check Mobilitéits Zentral for the bus schedule a few days before the festival to plan your trip.

Once again, here’s the link to view the Riesling Open brochure, but here’s the gist:

Friday, Sept. 16
Crowning of the Reine du Riesling at the Wormeldange Cultural Center.
Saturday, Sept. 17
The opening ceremony for the wine festival will be held at the Worlemdange Cultural Center at 3pm. Afterward, open houses, wine tasting and merry-making will ensue.
Sunday, Sept. 18
Wine caves are open and tastings are available from11am onward. Free bus and boat transport is offered today (it's also typically the busiest day of the festival).

Enjoy the wine and the festivals and, as we say in Luxembourg: santé

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