Luxembourg, a major surprise

What a beautiful discovery the Luxembourg vineyard was! Postcard landscapes, beautiful parcels of vines planted on the hillside, charming vine growers. And to top it off, a very nice production of white (and red) wines! We were seduced.

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Of course, Luxembourg is a small producing country, with 6 million liters of wine produced in 2016(1) (0.03% of the world production), but it is full of nuggets. With 1,280 hectares and 42 km long, the Luxembourg vineyard extends from Schengen to Wasserbillig, mainly along the Moselle. Visit of one of the northernmost and oldest wine regions in Europe.

A vineyard first made for white wines

On the way to Luxembourg, our friend Geoffrey Avé joined us to film a bit of the Luxembourg vineyards.

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We visited the family estate Bastian Mathis et Fille, a beautiful property of 18.5 hectares in the town of Remich (nicknamed the Pearl of the Moselle), along with Anouk Bastian, the owner of the place. “Luxembourg is a little treasure, you just have to know how to find it”, she told us, smiling.

Because we must face the facts: hidden between the vineyards of Alsace and the German Moselle, the Grand Duchy vineyard is struggling to make a name. Wrongly.

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It has a great terroir, with calcareous soils in the north and clay marls in the south. Which, combined with the freshness of northern Europe, present a perfect equation for the production of great white wines, especially from Riesling, Auxerrois and Pinot Blanc grape varieties.

The Bastian Mathis et Fille estate produces innovative and very precise wines, such as a combination of Riesling, Auxerrois and Gewurztraminer, a blend of two vintages (2015-2016), for more complexity.

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An initiative to highlight, for a gourmet wine. We loved it!

Different styles of wines, different approaches, but always with irrefutable proof that Luxembourg plays in the big leagues. We met with Abi Duhr, a Luxembourgish vintner of character and owner of the Château Pauqué – in his family for 350 years – Abi is a true artist.

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A lovely person, as intriguing as attaching, producing among the greatest white wines of the country (and elsewhere). Abi completely impacted our spirits and made us travel the time of an unforgettable tasting. “I have a weakness for the Auxerrois grape variety, it ages like a Grand Chablis”, he confided.

Abi has given acclaim back to this little too neglected grape variety. A great moment of sharing and some beautiful emotions on the wine side, after having tasted 24 white wines, one more interesting than the next.

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We even touched the stars with an old vines Riesling. An invitation to meditation.

Luxembourg, from surprises to discoveries

The good thing about the vineyards of Luxembourg is that although we only talk about their white wines, they also produce incredible sparkling wines and a few red wines that are worth a visit. Example with two great successes.

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Domaine Alice Hartmann, an estate located in Wormeldange and created in 1850, proved to us (as if it was still needed) that Luxembourg is a leading player with its crémants. Under the supervision of André Klein, this 15-hectare estate has some of the most beautiful terroirs in the country, on the slopes of the Koeppchen, all around the chapel overlooking the valley.

Alice Hartmann‘s sparkling wine cuvée (50% Chardonnay-50% Pinot Noir), aged three years in barrels, then five years in bottle, is a pure delight.

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Domaine Henri Ruppert, in the municipality of Schengen (world famous for the treaty on the abolition of controls at European borders that was signed there in 1985), is now famous for its Pinot Noir.

Henri Ruppert, 8th generation of passionate winemakers on the estate (which dates back to 1680), works with 18 hectares. His red wines made from the Pinot Noir grape variety are models of finesse and delicacy.

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“A good wine is not the result of chance, it is planned. Its quality depends entirely on the vine that gives it life, with the production of ripe and healthy grapes”, Henri rightly summarized.

Ahn, charming village par excellence

We fell in love with Ahn, probably the prettiest village in Luxembourg. At least the one which has impressed us the most.

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At the estate Madame Aly Duhr, a family property of 13 hectares, the two brothers, Max and Ben, develop wines of a more contemporary and innovative style for the country, with longer aging in barrels. As a result, beautiful wines, at the antipodes of those produced by their uncle Abi Duhr (Château Pauqué), and which mark their own signature in the Luxembourg wine landscape.

5th generation on the estate, Max and Ben lost their dad very early and wanted to take over as soon as age allowed them.

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Walking through the vineyard, Max showed us their oldest plot of 0.5 ha: Riesling planted in 1972. The harvest is expected to be early but beautiful this year. 

Luxembourg is a wonderful wine country and I highly recommend a visit. “A small jewel full of resources and with nearly 400 wine farms”, enthuses my friend Dominique Rizzi, a renowned sommelier, in charge of the wines of the European Court of Justice.

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Only 4 hours drive from Paris, let yourself be charmed for a weekend, for example.

WineExplorers’ment cheers,
JBA

 

Thank you to Bastian Mathis et Fille, Château Pauqué, Alice Hartmann, Henri Ruppert and Madame Aly Duhr, for their warm welcome. Thank you also to Dominique Rizzi, figure of the luxembourgish and international sommellerie, for her lighting on the vineyard of Luxembourg. Finally, a big thank you to André Klein, from Alice Hartmann, for his precious help in our research.

 

(1) Source : European Commission, 2017

Malta, an archipelago to preserve

Welcome to Malta, with its three magnificent islands of a thousand and one faces. Considered to be one of the smallest wine countries in the world (barely 500 hectares of vines), Malta has been producing wine for over 2000 years.

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Its viticultural history, eventful – introduced by the Phoenicians, developed by the Greeks and Romans, put to sleep during the Muslim occupation, brought up to date by the knights of the order of Saint John of Jerusalem… then again damaged by the British to replace vines with cotton, has finally stabilized in the last two decades, with Malta joining the European Union in 2004.

MALTA, STRATEGIC CROSSROAD OF THE MEDITERRANEAN

Governed since the dawn of time by foreign nations, this archipelago with a rich and unique cultural mix, has a crazy charm.

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Only fifteen minutes from Italy and thirty minutes from Africa, Malta has always been a strategic crossroad in the Mediterranean, arousing the greatest greed. And although its independence was recognized in 1964, it took ten years (December 13, 1974), for Malta to proclaim the republic and elect a president at its head. Valletta, the capital, where I lived during my stay, is beautiful. A tourist destination par excellence, with boutique-hotels blooming like daisies in the spring. Wine bars are not yet very developed. However, one address is already unmissable : Trabuxu (“corkscrew” in Maltese), to drink some nice local wines and to get a first impression of the Maltese wine industry.

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Not forgetting to visit the incredible Saint John’s Cathedral, a building with interior walls covered with gold.

On the wine side, everybody is in agreement that finding a bottle of fine Maltese wine before the end the 1990s was a real challenge. “The protectionism of the 1960s – with zero competition – dropped the quality of wines to the bottom, just like many other products. Even the chocolate came from China and had everything but the taste of chocolate“, Bernard Muscat, from the Marsovin estate, recalls. After joining the EU in 2004, the production of wine has become more serious, focusing mainly on international grape varieties, turning its back on local varieties, considered to be less qualitative.

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Finally, three appellations were created in 2007, to continue increasing quality: D.O.K. Malta and D.O.K. Gozo, for both islands, and I.G.T. Maltese Islands, more global.

DELICATA AND MARSOVIN, THE TWO MAJOR PLAYERS

Delicata and Marsovin, respectively established in 1907 and 1919, are the two largest and oldest producers in Malta. They are based near Paola, along the port of Melita, just before Valletta.

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The Delicata estate, which has been in the hands of the Delicata family since the beginning of its creation, is the second largest producer in Malta with 1.2 million bottles produced per year. The estate works with 300 farmers, established between the islands of Malta (in the south) and Gozo (in the north), with whom they have contracts for the purchase of their grapes. Our visit during the harvest coincided with the visit of Mr Clint Camilleri (Permanent Secretary for Agriculture, Fishing and Animal Protection, in the center of the photo). This presented the opportunity to exchange thoughts on the range of wines from Delicata, consisting of some 50 wines, highlighting autochthonous varietals Girgentina (white) and Gellewza (red).

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It’s good to live here“, according to Alfred, a former retired employee who has worked here for 53 years and still comes to help during the harvest!

The story of Marsovin, located close by, is a very nice success story. This is the story of a man, Mr Cassar, who at the age of 16 was crisscrossing Malta with his cart, pulled by a donkey. He was selling wine in demijohns glass, to make a living. He quickly became interested in the production of wine, understood the trade, and founded Marsovin, which soon became Malta’s largest estate.

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Today, with 60% of the country’s grapes bought and 24 hectares of vines of its own, Marsovin continues to flourish. In the cellars of the estate, some treasures are to be found (more than 20 vintages), which can be opened for its members (around 3000), during vertical tastings organized once a month. There are even some magnums and jeroboams.

WATER, A MAJOR CONCERN

The Mediterranean climate of the island offers hot and dry summers, with temperatures reaching 40°C in July and August. However, rainfall remains low.

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Water is a major concern in Malta: twelve water desalination plants were created, to provide drinking water. Here, it is said laughingly that it is cheaper to shower with wine. “Irrigating by pumping water from basements in Malta is very risky for the vines since the water is much too salty and it would change the profile of the wines“. Despite this, new wineries appeared in recent years on the archipelago. Like the Maria Rosa estate, not far from the town of Mdina, which was created in 2006 by Joseph Fenech, who wanted to produce wine as his father had done in his youth. The estate covers 4.2 hectares, planted with Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Sirakuzan (Maltese name of the Italian grape variety Nero d’Avola).

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Around the estate, you can also see olive trees on the property, from which a delicious extra virgin olive oil is produced.

MERIDIANA AND SAN NIKLAW, FLAGSHIPS OF MALTESE VITICULTURE

Not far from the city of Mdina, which can be seen in the background of the vineyard and the national football stadium, is the Meridiana vineyard.

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Karl Chetcuti, the director of the premises, explained that the estate was established in 1997… from scratch! And although with only twenty years of existence, they were among the first to make premium wine in Malta. “It was a long and dangerous way to get there.” An ambitious project, which after many refusals from the banks, was partly financed by the famous Italian Antinori family, friends of the owner. Today, with 17.5 hectares of vines planted, the estate is exclusively in the hands of Antinori and benefits from a unique know-how, advanced equipment and advice, to produce some of the best wines in Malta.

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With a bias towards ageing wines without new oak : “with 300 days of sunshine a year in Malta and the opportunity to have fresh fish every day, I prefer refreshing and unwooded wines“, Karl said with a big smile.

Some winegrowers discover a passion for wine very late… others combine two jobs at a time… We met with John Cauchi, both a renowned doctor of the island, a very talented winemaker, and a flourished man. This very nice neo-winemaker, together with his brother Thomas (ship captain) created the San Niklaw Estate in 2004.

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A crazy job for him. But above all, the feeling of having accomplished something beautiful and being able to share it. Three hectares of vines: Vermentino, Sangiovese, Syrah and Mourvèdre. The production is very small (10,000 bottles) and the wines are very fine and delicate. Notice to the amateurs, you can find their cuvées in some of the most beautiful Maltese restaurants.

MAR CASAR, WINE AS THERAPY

There are sometimes hopeful stories with such a strong message that we simply have to share them.

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This is the story of Mark Casar, born in Valletta, who after working in the hospitality industry in France and Switzerland, returned to settle in Malta in 1991, where he was both a guide and a restorer of houses. Working 7/7, he finally fell into a depression and stayed at home for a year in 2004, to try to heal himself. He once thought of buying fields near the sea. “It was my cure, my therapy.” He planted three hectares with Merlot, Petit Verdot and Chardonnay. “I unconsciously stopped taking my pills“. Mark, sensitive to sulfur, has always suffered from headaches.

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He therefore decided to make natural wines, with the minimum amount of sulphite possible to stabilize his wines. Welcome to Mar Casar estate.
A good wine goes beyond taste and smell. It must bring joy and emotion to the one who drinks it“. And to add: “it is the only product, containing alcohol, able to bring out the joy that recides inside us“. All his wines are fermented and aged in the Qvevri(1) method, in the sand. Mark uses clay amphora “raw”, ie unrefined. Important for the circulation of energy and the good ageing of the wines, it seems. Mark believes very strongly in the magnetism of wine.

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We always talk about terroir, microclimate, but never about the cellar“, he is astonishingly right. “The best wineries are surely highly magnetized places“. To meditate…

GOZO, THE WILD AND PRESERVED SIDE OF MALTA

The island of Gozo, north of Malta, is full of natural treasures. More rural than the South Island, it is a paradise for hikers, scuba diving, or simply gastronomy and local products…for gourmands like us!

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We met Joseph Spiteri, owner of the TaMena estate. Joseph is a lover of his island: he talks about goats, olive trees, tomatoes, with stars in his eyes. Because in addition to taking care of his 15-hectare estate, alone with his wife, Joseph finds the time to make olive oil (1500 olive trees), cheese, jams, as well as many local culinary preparations for the happiness of the tourists of the island.

A character as charming as overexcited, who never stops and who keeps a genuine smile on his lips in all circumstances.

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As you can see, the Maltese vineyard is slowly being reborn from its ashes. And although the low production of the country makes it difficult to export wines, and at the same time to promote them abroad, tourism is growing stronger – Valletta will even be the European capital of culture next year – and this is probably the card to play for the recognition of Maltese wine.

WineExplorers’cheers,
JBA

 

Thank you to Delicata, Meridiana, San Niklaw, Marsovin, Maria Rosa, Mar Casar and TaMena for their warm welcome. Thank you to the agency MCA Communication, for its precious help in organizing this trip. Thank you to the team of Visit Malta, for accompanying us so kindly when visiting the wineries. Finally, thank you to Madame Béatrice le Fraper du Hellen, Ambassador of the French Republic in Malta, for her kind invitation.

 

(1) Qvevri is a large terracotta jar with a capacity of 800 to 3,500 liters, from Georgia. It looks like an amphora without handles; the interior is lined with a layer of beeswax sealing. Often buried below ground level, it is used for fermentation and storage of wine. The oldest date back to around 6,000 BC.

For more information on Malta : http://www.visitmalta.com/fr/