25 November 2020
23 November 2020
The film follows Martine Saunier seven wine-making families in the Burgundy region of France through the course of a full year, and delves into the cultural and creative process of making wine, as well as its deep ties to the land. What lies within the rhythm of a year, from vines to grapes to wine?
19 November 2020
A New Zealand winemaking team enters the period known as Vintage when wine is made 24/7 for months on end. Sleepless nights, endless labor, time away from home means they must ensure nature, science and magic come together to overcome each challenge Vintage presents. (from imdb)
A missed opportunity. The makers of this documentary had access to the whole process of harvesting at a large New Zealand vineyard but we learn very little in over one hour of watching this repetitive production. We hear a hundred times how hard the work is during harvest, and how awesome everyone in the multinational team of pickers is, but little else.
Some information that one learns in this film: foreigners now own one third of NZ wine production, the French were the first to invest, in the 1980s.
Biodynamics taking off.
Not so many rules like in Europe about controlled origins, allowed varieties, irrigation, chaptalization, so NZ can experiment more.
One curiosity: lots of pigs apparently threaten the harvest at night, and even deer. As for birds, they try and do their share of eating but mostly cause botrytis, which is some parts of the world is welcome as it allows to make sweet wines, but not here.
Read my reviews of films about wine here.
09 November 2020
01 November 2020
18 October 2020
10 April 2020
Ten years after the landmark wine documentary Mondovino, filmmaker Jonathan Nossiter returns to the subject, documenting the drastic shifts that have affected the industry in the time since. Natural Resistance follows four Italian winegrowers.
First is Giovanna Tiezzi lives in a converted 11th-century monastery, and grow grains, fruit, and wine in a way that links to their ancient heritage. She laments that much of Tuscany's vineyards have been bought up by foreigners, but then is proud that her region is a leader in quality vine cultivation.
Corrado Dottori is a refugee from industrial Milan, who inherited his grandfather's farmstead and tends to it as an expression of agricultural social justice. he studied capitalism at the Bocconi, he says, so as to criticize it better.
Elena Pantaleoni works her father's vineyards and strives to create a utopian reality.
Finally, Stefano Belloti, the controversial radical farmer poet, disrupts the long-established rules of farming from his avant-garde property in Piedmont. (Synopsys partly from IBMD.com)
A lot of ideology in this hastily put together film, which is really only a compilation of Nossiter's chats with the above growers over some wine.
The title "resistance" recalls the fighters of World War II against fascism and nazism, and it is not by chance. Nossiter, inserts several clips of Mussolini speaking from a balcony and SS guards rounding up civilians in this movie, and contrasts them with the heroic organic farmers, his partisans of today.
The other word in the title is "natural". The film compares and contrasts it with "artificial". And artificial (made by man with material that exists in nature) is not the same as "synthetic" (made through synthesis, transforming elements that do not exist in nature). Of course, all wine is artificial, it does not exist in nature.
Several of the protagonists complain about the DOC rules being abstract, detached from the criteria for quality that was the original reason for being created. In this they are right, and it has long widely been accepted that many top-quality Italian wines do not have, seek or need DOC certification.
The film nostalgically recalls when, in Italy, but the numbers are similar in other European countries, 60% of the people lived and worked on farms. Now it is about 2-3% depending on how you count it. Of course, every country that modernizes and develops moves from the primary sector of the economy (agriculture) to the secondary (manufacturing) and on to the tertiary (services). This brings higher standards of living, I find it hard to argue one should go back to the happy past.
The speakers are generally critical of the European Union Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). They argue it is a conspiracy to hand agriculture to big multinational corporations. Let alone that in several countries, Italy among them, EU subsidies (managed by regional administrations) are often left unused because small farmers do not bother to claim them.
They also argue that hygiene checks are targeted to create problems for small wine producers while they close an eye on the big ones. I do not know about the accuracy of this sweeping statement but they do not provide any evidence.
I also noticed a bias when a farmer shows Nossiter the difference between rich organic soil and standard vineyard next to it. The organic soil is a dark rich color and fluffy texture while the standard soil is hard and grey. But Belotti digs his organic sample near a plant and the other one on a pathway where constant traffic is expected to compact the soil. A careless test at best.
In sum, this film is more of an emotional call to arms than an analysis of the undoubted biological benefits of organic farming.
You can buy the DVD here
03 April 2020
A film sponsored by Château Lagarette, a biodynamic producer in Bordeaux.
A dozen or so biodynamic wine-growers express their vision of the present and make proposals for the future.
They ask eminently social and even political questions: What food? How Could humanity restore the ideal of living together?
Through their stories, practices, and the accumulation of knowledge from their experiences, the producers of the film and a group of farmers, biodynamic wine-growers, try to open a path. They want to show how the spirit of bio-dynamics could provide answers to these questions.
This film is an all-out passionate defense of biodynamic viticulture. I say defense because most of the interviewees talk as if they are under siege, as if the evil forces of modernity are out to extinguish the feeble flame of tradition. No alternative point of view is presented in the film. If you want to hear alternative voices, skeptical or critical of biodynamic wine, you have to look elsewhere.
Clearly, the growers interviewed are very passionate about their wine, but often they get carried away. Just a few pearls from their statements. A basic theme of the film is a high level of hostility toward "technology": there is "technological" wine, which is artificial and then there is biodynamic wine, which is natural. Oddly, little attention is paid to organic wines, although biodynamic certification requires a wine to be organic to begin with.
A couple of speakers identify "technological" wines as the result of American influence and specifically the work of Robert Parker, while, on the contrary, "Europe" is the custodian of genuine winemaking. Well, Parker has nothing against biodynamic wines and actually promotes it. And, of course, there are lots of American biodynamic producers and in fact the USA is the biggest biodynamic farming producer in the world.
One speaker argues that biodynamic vineyards are better equipped to resist the negative radioactive impact of Chernobyl, thus lumping together as if it was a dogmatic truth a whole host of questionable assumptions.
A major problem for me is when, as several speakers repeat in this film, the argument is put forward that what is important in biodynamic wine is NOT the result, but the relationship between man and nature, a new philosophy of daily life. Assuming the latter is somehow better served in biodynamic farming, for me the end result, ie good and healthy wine, IS WHAT MATTERS.
Technology, a word that is often repeated with a grimace by many interviewees, destroys the relationship man and nature, farmer and vineyard. Biodynamic preparations restore the correct energy flows! A corollary of this argument is the open hostility of one speaker to established wine associations such as the Masters of Wine. In his view, these associations have been created to serve technology against the natural traditions of wine.
One speaker is very honest when he says biodynamic farming is like a religion: you can not demonstrate it, you can only believe it. Another one compares it to acupuncture: not scientifically proven, but many believe it anyway. Not surprising that biodynamic farmers also accept homeopathic principles, as they use extremely diluted solutions in some of their preparations.
A quirky claim toward the end of the film is that biodynamic wine is especially appreciated by women! Maybe so, as a woman grower claims to have produced a "concert wine" in her biodynamic vineyard because both wine and music share a spirituality for people to appreciate.
If you already believe in biodynamic farming this film will make you feel really good. If you are trying to understand more, it will give you only half the picture.
For a wise and cool view of the subject, read Jancis Robinson, one of the world's most respected authorities.
You can watch the film reviewed here on Youtube.
You can buy the DVD (in French as well as English) here on Amazon. Hard to come by and very expensive, however!
05 March 2020
13 December 2019
Sercial 1999 colheita bottled 2016
Deve aspettare 100 anni
Tinta negra 1995 medium dry, bottled 2019
Still very dry, comincia a essere bevibile
Verdelho 1994 bottled 2019
Pronto grande potenziale
Caramello nocciole tostate
Malvazia 1990 bottled 2019
Round ready smooth
Boal 1984 bottled 2017
Round complex long
Boal 1982 bottled 2019
Terrantez 1971 bottled 2018
Sercial 1969 bottled 2019
Still incredibly fresh
Boal 1968 bottled 2019
Sercial 1937 bottled 2003
Still incredibile freshness
Verdelho 1932 bottled 2012
Still on fresh side, moderate balance
Bastardo 1927 bottled 2014
Figs prugne cotte
Long, imbottigliato per la prima volta nel 2007!
Verdelho 1912 bottled before 1994 not indicate bottling on label
Still incredibly fresh
Boal 1903 bottled 2017
Near Perfect balance long
Moscatel 1875 the bottled pré 1994
Amazing balance and length
Sercial 1862 bottled 2014
Still very fresh even too fresh
Touch of bitterness
Verdelho 1850 no bottling date
Touch of bitter
Up to 80 years of aging is optimal, longer and the rise in cost is not justified by a corresponding rise in quality and drinkability
26 July 2018
The Judgement of Paris was a blind tasting that pitched American wines from California against French reds from Bordeaux and whites from Burgundy. The name is a play on the "Judgement of Paris" in Greek mythology.
The author was the only reporter present at the mythic Paris Tasting of 1976—a blind tasting where a panel of esteemed French judges chose upstart California wines over France’s best—for the first time introduces the eccentric American winemakers and records the tremendous aftershocks of this historic event that changed forever the world of wine.
The Paris Tasting of 1976 will forever be remembered as the landmark event that transformed the wine industry. At this legendary contest—a blind tasting—a panel of top French wine experts shocked the industry by choosing unknown California wines over France’s best.
George M. Taber, the only reporter present, recounts this seminal contest and its far-reaching effects, focusing on three gifted unknowns behind the winning wines: a college lecturer, a real estate lawyer, and a Yugoslavian immigrant. With unique access to the main players and a contagious passion for his subject, Taber renders this historic event and its tremendous aftershocks—repositioning the industry and sparking a golden age for viticulture across the globe. With an eclectic cast of characters and magnificent settings, Judgment of Paris is an illuminating tale and a story of the entrepreneurial spirit of the new world conquering the old.
The definitive book on this historical event. French wine had been the uncontested world leader until that day, and maybe continued to be the leader, overall, but it was now hotly contested!
Spurrier put Bordeaux vs similar blend Californians, and Burgundy vs Californian Chardonnays. It was initially intended to be a tasting to introduce Californian wines to sceptical French experts, but once everyone was around the table Spurrier told them the real plan: a challenge.
The test was not scientifically exact: more American wines (6) than French wines (4) were included in the sample. And yet, take the whites: every single French judge scored an American chard first.
Another charge was that French wines were too young and would give their best later on in life. But several rematches years later saw the Americans prevail again.
A very detailed book about a pivotal point in wine history.
11 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
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.
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.
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. This does not detract that 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 35, 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, Vins 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.
10 January 2017
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.
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 which appeared in Italian in the issue n. 12 of the magazine Vitae, published by the Italian Sommelier Association (AIS).
09 January 2017
|Sparkling wine made in Belgium|
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).
25 December 2015
|Roman Imperial repoussé silverdisc of Sol Invictus (3rd century), found at Pessinus (British Museum)|
Saturnalia was originally a holiday created by Emperor Augustus to celebrate Saturn, on 17th December -- my birthday! It then developed into a week-long festival, the craziest week in ancient Rome, where people made merry with food, wine and more and even slaves were allowed to indulge in excesses that would have been punished by death at any other time.
The date coincides, closely enough, with the shortest day of the year (which the Romans believed to be 25 December whereas we know it is 21 December). Light prevails over darkness and days start getting longer again, an occasion to celebrate indeed.
Then the Christians took it over during the reign of Emperor Constantine, who had accepted Christianity as a religion of the Empire. The Church decided that Christ had chosen to be born on the shortest day of the year, after which light again starts to prevail, to symbolize his contribution to the rebirth of humankind.
I feel it's too bad that the ancient tradition of Saturnalia is gone. Not so much for the sake of Saturn, of course. But rather for what it symbolized: fun and naughtiness for a week but strict rule of Roman law for the whole year!
14 November 2015
Red Obsession is a film about power, passion and the fine wine game. Something unprecedented is happening to the fine wine market and that something is China. While the dragon economy could bring untold wealth to the revered wine-making region, the terms of engagement are different from any other customer in the past. This market is young, voracious and unpredictable. Demand is massively outstripping supply. The product is finite and this new client wants it all. For better or worse, Bordeaux is hitching itself to this new, infinitely wealthy client. RED OBSESSION sets out to explore this phenomenon and the link between China and Bordeaux.
A most interesting documentary on the rise of wine in Chinese society. The Chinese drank less than one bottle of wine each per year until just a few years ago. They have recently discovered wine. Not just to drink it, but to show it off, to display as a status symbol, and to invest in. In the past the Americans, and then the Japanese, similarly impacted the world of wine, but the sheer scale of the Chinese onslaught is greater by an order of magnitude. One Chinese billionaire who made his fortune selling sex toys has no qualms admitting in front of a camera that he prefers a bottle of great wine to great sex.
I was also pleased to see that some of the most prominent Chinese wine collectors seem to appreciate cigars and pipe smoking but not cigarettes. I can certainly sympathize with that. Great wine drinkers think alike!
While China is furiously planting new vineyards in regions with appropriate terroir and climate, and is already the fifth largest producer of wine in the world, the fascination of prestigiuous Bordeaux makes them spend billions on the most recognizable brands of Chateaux. This is driving the market crazy and may well portend a bubble in the making. Counterfeiting of expensive wines, like of so many other luxury products, is widespread.
It is going to be interesting to see how this pays out. China will soon be the largest producer of wine as well as the largest consumer. It will decisively affect both demand and supply. For now supply is more quantity than quality: local wines are mediocre (with some notable exception) and mostly for local consumption. Demand, on the other hand, is more focussed on quality, with rich Chinese buying only the best of the best. The global wine market is undergoing a Chinese revolution.
See my selection of movies on China on this blog.
04 October 2015
Associazione Italiana Sommelier a Londra con un misto di curiosità e scetticismo. Come la maggior parte dei colleghi sommelier presenti, avevo bevuto sake in numerose occasioni. Ma questo era avvenuto esclusivamente presso ristoranti giapponesi, abbinandolo con soddisfazione a sushi o tempura, ma senza un criterio sistematico. Come se per il sake non valessero i parametri di abbinamento - concordanza e contrasto - che abbiamo imparato ad applicare quando sposiamo un vino ad una pietanza occidentale. Sake dolce o secco, aromatico o fruttato, più fresco o più morbido, servito a quale temperatura? Ci mancavano gli strumenti per prendere le decisioni migliori.
|With colleagues during the master class|
La frizzante presentazione di Jonathan è stata intervallata dagli assaggi di sake, che a mano a mano ci venivano versati nei bicchieri. La degustazione è molto diversa da quella del vino. In primo luogo non c’è l’analisi visiva: il sake è trasparente. Se non lo è vuol dire che il tempo lo ha leggermente scurito durante un affinamento in bottiglia magari non perfettamente conservata. Ma il sake non deve mai aspettare, è concepito per essere bevuto appena imbottigliato, pochi mesi dopo la produzione. Infatti la data indicata sulle bottiglie è quella dell’imbottigliamento e non del raccolto.
Come il vino, il sake ha una storia plurimillenaria alle spalle ed un futuro radioso davanti, e per entrambi i rispettivi produttori tendono a provilegiare la qualità rispetto alla quantità. Sconosciuto in Occidente fino a poco tempo fa, oggi viene scoperto dai sommelier di tutto il mondo per la sua grande flessibilità negli abbinamenti con il cibo della cucina internazionale. Durante la manifestazione di Londra siamo persino stati stupiti dal felice abbinamento del sake con la bestia nera del vino: il carciofo!
|Federica e Andrea della UKSA|
Buy your sake sets here.
Grazie ad Armando Pereira per le fotografie.
23 November 2014
After returning home from the war, Sutton (Keanu Reeves) accepts that his wife has no interest in him or his plans for the future, and sets out in search of a new life on his own. He soon meets up with a vineyard owner's daughter (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón), but she finds out she is pregnant and fears for her life when it comes to telling her father. Sutton then agrees to help her by pretending to be her new husband, a decision which will change both of their lives forever.
A film about love: love for a family, a woman (you can see more men loving women, in their own way, than the other way around in this film) but especially love for the land and its wine. Catch the moment, life will offer unexpected treasures if one has the mental predisposition to catch them on the fly! Be ready to change what you planned, don't wait until you must.
Tornato dalla guerra, Paul Sutton, dopo aver riabbracciato la moglie Betty, che per la verità non sembra aver trepidato per lui, visto che non ha letto una sola delle molte lettere inviatele, riprende l'attività di rappresentante di cioccolatini. Una serie di contrattempi fa sì che si ritrovi a "fare" da marito ad una giovane di origine messicana, Victoria Aragon, figlia di un ricco viticoltore delle valle di Napa, che possiede il vigneto modello "Le Nuvole". La giovane, che frequenta l'università in città, aspetta un figlio illegittimo dal suo professore e teme che il padre, Alberto, la uccida.
Accettato il ruolo solo per breve tempo essendo deciso il giorno dopo ad andarsene con una lettera d'addio, Paul incontra subito l'aperta ostilità di Alberto, geloso della figlia e irritato per non essere stato avvertito, ma la simpatia della madre Marie José e soprattutto del nonno, Don Pedro, ritardano la sua partenza. Il rito della vendernmia poi, con il clima bacchico e solare della pigiatura dell'uva, fa perdere quasi la testa a Paul, che decide di rispettare Victoria, pur essendone attratto e ricambiato. Orfano, Paul trova nella famiglia della giovane un rifugio dagli orrori della guerra che ancora lo traumatizzano. Il fatto che i due non dormano insieme insospettisce Alberto che, colpito dalle manifestazioni d'affetto del finto genero per la figlia, decide di farli sposare con rito religioso.
A questo punto Victoria è costretta a dire la verità al padre, mentre Paul a malincuore si allontana per tornare dalla moglie che però, nel frattempo, ha provveduto ad annullare il matrimonio. Libero, il giovane fa ritorno al vigneto, ma trova Alberto ubriaco che si scaglia contro di lui e roteando una lampada a petrolio per colpirlo la lancia nel vigneto, incendiandolo. Vani sono i tentativi per domare le fiamme, poi Paul estirpa la radice, che ha resistito al fuoco, della pianta madre del vigneto, che rivivrà. Alberto fa pace con la figlia e Paul può sposarla accettando di essere un buon padre per il nascituro.
Un film sull'amore. Amore per propria famiglia, la propria donna ma soprattutto per la terra ed il vino. Carpe diem, la vita può offrire inaspettate opportunità a chi ha la disposizione mentale per cogliere l'attimo. Bisogna essere pronti a cambiare i programmi per i quali si è lavorato, anche per anni, quando cambiano le condizioni. Meglio non aspettare di essere obbligati a farlo!
08 January 2014
It's an eerie but somehow attractive scene, it could be the stage for a movie by Sergio Leone, were it not for the fact that it does not rain much in his movies. I approach and ask them what they are up to and if I can photograph. They are there to cleare the scene of sand and debris, but can't work under the rain. The light rain is not so intimidating to me but they have no raincoats. We chat for a while, I snap a few shots of their green overalls against the red bricks of the house and the white sand, and off I go.
The tasting is fun: for a small fee you can taste five of their wines, and for a little extra cash you get a small cheese platter, nicely served on a small wooden board with a small wooden knife. A white lady and a black man operate two serving stations in the huge tasting room. Lots of tables in the middle allow wine lovers to mingle and take their time as they get the various wines poured into their glasses.
We take our time but I keep an eye on my watch: it's not far from town but we don't want to be late to what promises to be the highlight of the day: a township tour with Sabelo, the bright young tour leader who took me and Yan for a music evening last month. I called him yesterday to organize another musical evening (we'll do that tomorrow) and mentioned in passing whether he also organized some visit of townships surrounding the Cape Town. Of course!
He is at our hotel at 14:00 hours, punctual as a Swiss watch, with a small van and Daniel, a jovial driver who will be at the wheel for the afternoon while Sabelo explains and shares his vast knowledge of the townhips. He actually does not live here but in another township, which however he does not think is safe to visit, even in his company.
The first townships we visit is Langa. It means "Sun" and was built in the 1920s to host blacks evicted from other neighborhoods such as Ndabeni that were too close to rich white areas for comfort. All this decades before apartheid was even formally the law of the land.
First stop at Cape Town tourism center in Langa, this township is not as well known as Soweto but it is trying to find its way in the tourism business. Some artists display their paintings and sculptures, musicians who demonstrate traditional music, students study in a reading room. We are kindly offered a music lesson by a drummer.
Ladies by the gate, not particularly busy with anything, fun to talk to anyway.I snap some pics of a lady by a wall mosaic and she seems to appreciate the attention. With them, a security guard is listening to some music from the radio. He wears a loose khaki uniform and a red tie, with a badge on his arm that reads "Security - Distinctive Choice". Somehow I find myself in agreement with the general thrust of the idea.
Just by the entrance two men in their thirties are exchanging banter and I join them for a few minutes. After the usual questions about Italian football, Totti etc, they tell me a bit about their life. In a nutshell, their message is that they have a normal life, Langa is a normal place with its good and bad, dos and don'ts, happy and sad. Maybe that is the main point I will come away with at the end of the day. Townships are becoming "normal" places, normal for South Africa anyway.
|Self-portrait at the hairdresser|
Lots of kids play music of some sort, and I am attracted to an especially photogenic girl with a drum, who plays on the sidewalk surrounded by a couple of dozen children. It's still the school holidays so they are free even though it is a weekday.
|Street music in Langa|
Outside the visitor center a man with no feet sits quietly in a wheelchair. He does not beg for money, does not reciprocate my greetings and does not bat an eyelid when I ask him to take a photograph. He hardly seems alive. Maybe that is the saddest condition of all, having lost the desire to live.
On the contrary, the people I meet as we proceed to walk around the township are anything but. At first I am a bit hesitant, I do feel some emotional pressure as this is the first "real" township I visit, it's not tourist-filled Soweto. But the ice is easily broken. Most people are happy to chat and all kids are elated to have their pictures taken.
Some adolescent girls are clearly flattered and after a polite invitation offer flirting poses to my lens. One in particular, whom I approach at the gate of her house, gets very much into the model mode. She is a fine interpereter of "moods": as if your boyfriend just sent you flowers, as if your boyfriend just made you mad, as if you want to seduce a boy...
Next stop is Khayelitsha, a large township of 400.000 people that lies 22 kilometers to the East down the N2 road. The first place we visit is the rather grandly named "Department of Coffee" coffee shop, just next to the large railway station. A micro enterprise by Wongama, a former fire guard and two friends of his who decided to open this shop when they realized there was no place to get a warm drink for the thousands of people using the railway every day and saw an opportunity. They say at first people were sceptical but now business is briks and they are thinking of opening another shop. "CAPPUCCINO" for 8.5 Rand is at the top of their red menu board hanging from the wall of their small bar.
Our second stop in the township is at the Velokhaya cycling academy. The word Velokhaya is derived from the French word for cycling (velo) and the Xhosa word for home (khaya) – as such, we’re regarded as the ‘home of cycling’ in Khayelitsha. A school of cycling but also of life, where kids from the townships are offered a chance to develop a skill but also, and perhaps more importantly, personal discipline and a sense of purpose. Co-founder Glyn Broomberg explains in this video. And the other co-founder Amos Ziqubu gives his story. Unfortunately we are still in school holidays so there are no kids training here.
You can understand more about Khayelitsha township in the video "My mother built this house" on housing problems here. See a trailer for the film "A wooden camera" on this township here.
|No vegetarians at Mzoli's|
|Bye bye Gugulethu|
After such an intense day, what would otherwise have been a pleasant walk and dinner becomes a pretty insignificant evening at the Waterfront.