Wayne on Wine travels to France and Luxembourg, Days 1–3
Wayne on Wine
By Wayne Crawford
Photos by Wayne Crawford
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of five articles.
Summer 2014, I traveled for two weeks in Europe with a team of wine aficionados, circumnavigating France and part of Luxembourg. The goal was to expand the team’s wine knowledge with local wine owners, winemakers and merchants. The focus was on lesser-known appellations, where the potential for new, exciting wines offers export opportunities at reasonable pricing. Our travel guide and fellow aficionado was Parks Redwine, owner of Atlanta Improvements Company, a wine import establishment.
From Paris, we headed east into the Champagne region, July 13, to visit with Maison Pascal at Pere et Fils in Les Ricys in the Aubey Vineyards of southern Champagne. We enjoyed his still and sparkling rose wines in the only AOC village in the region allowed to produce rose wines from pinot noir grapes.
|Dom Perignon’s grave in the Abbaye Saint-Pierre d’Hautvillers.|
Before reaching Les Ricys, we joined a long pilgrimage of Champagne lovers and journeyed to Hautvillers to visit the Abbaye Saint-Pierre, where the Benedictine monk Dom Perignon mastered Champagne. The Dom’s final resting place is under a dark marble slab in the abbey, which is owned now by the great Champagne house, Moet et Chandon.
After revisiting Les Ricys in the morning of our second day, we headed to Domaine Regina to see Isabell and Jean Michel Mangeot in Bruley, France. We met Isabell and her young daughter Lorraine for lunch at La Jument Verte Restaurant on the Mosel River, Villey-Le-Sec. Isabell and Jean Michel retired from careers as computer technicians in 1997 and purchased an older vineyard. They have expanded their operations to include 34 acres of grapes, including gamay, auxerrois and pinot noir.
Auxerrois, a white grape with low acidity and a floral and citrus character, is well known in Alsace and Luxembourg and produces a dry white wine.
We had the opportunity to taste five wines from their domaine. A light cuvee Harmonie sparkling wine—80 percent chardonnay and 20 percent gamay—likely would retail around $22 in the U.S. This Cremant sparkler has light refreshing aromas and crisp, fruit-forward flavors with hints of apricot and pear, well balanced with a pleasing mouthfeel at a highly competitive price. They produce 15,000 bottles a year.
|Lunch with Bell and her daughter at Chateau Regina.|
The second wine was a cuvee prestige, Vins Blancs AOC Cotes de Toul, made with auxerrois white grapes at a projected price of around $16. This light, straw-colored wine with melon and pear aromas was dry, crisp and fruit-fresh with a nice mouthfeel, balanced, and would make a good complement to fruit, salads and light fish dishes. Ten thousand bottles are produced annually. More on this grape as we move to Luxembourg.
We transitioned to two rose, “grey,” wines from the Cotes de Toul. “Grey” translates to rose and is made from three varieties of grapes: gamay, pinot noir and auxerrois. One rose was produced on 40-year-old vines, which were established by the previous owners. Both wines were pale-pink in color, with the older rose being more complex and structured. Contact with red skins is only four hours. Crisp, fresh and light- to medium-bodied based on the age of the grapes, the greys, as in their other wines, were fruit-forward with hints of apricot and violet. These wines would likely age two to four years and sell between $16 and $18.
Day two, July 14, was La Bastille Day in France, and, with most French on holiday, our team pushed north along the Moselle River trace into the southeastern area of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, a multilingual, independent country in the heart of Western Europe.
It did not take long to be impressed with the clean and well-maintained countryside, dotted with small towns and agricultural farmland. A strong work ethic also motivates its 50 wineries, which produce many world-class wines; our primary reason for the one-day wine tour was to gain a fuller appreciation of these wines.
The Duchy is surrounded by France to the south, Belgium to the west and north and Germany to the east. One of the smallest countries in the world, the Duchy measures 998 square miles with a population in 2014 around 550,000. French, German and Luxembourgish are the dominant languages.
Prior planning and coordination allowed our team to spend a highly productive day visiting five wineries, ending with a late evening meal. Each stop included a repast shared with the winemakers, who introduced our palates to a full cross-section of their wines.
Three primary wine grapes dominate: riesling, gamay and auxerrois. We set up an operational base in Schengen in the south of Luxembourg and traveled 18 miles north to Grevenmacher, capital of the Luxembourg Moselle region. Germany was just across the river.
Our first visit was to the winery of Domaine Alice Hartmann, overlooking the Moselle Here we enjoyed an acclamation Cremant Du Luxembourg sparkling wine and settled in to discuss wine varieties, which, for this winery, included riesling, chardonnay, pinot noir and gamay.
|Alice Hartmann, Luxembourg.|
Characteristics for all their wines include fine craftsmanship, balance, smooth mouthfeel and light, crisp whites that inspire one to sip slowly and watch the traffic on the Moselle from the porch.
|Wayne and Antoine Classen at Caves Bernard-Mansard.|
Luxembourg consumes most of its wine, with some export to Belgium and a small amount to New York. Following our introduction to the Duchy’s wine at Alice Hartmann, we repositioned a few miles north to the Caves Bernard-Mansard to join Antoine Classen, a family member of this very large wine operation. We had lunch and an exceptional winetasting at his headquarters This 92-year-old company is the leading producer of sparkling wines in Luxembourg, employs 85-plus people and produces 4 million bottles a year.
Over a quick lunch and winetasting, Antoine Classen announced they had established a new agreement to export sparkling wines to New York City. During the tasting, we enjoyed an in- depth overview not only of their wines but also the wine industry in the Duchy and its recent challenges. As with any agricultural endeavor, they have had a few tough weather years recently, with rain and late-frost conditions following snow in May.
Antoine is an engaging, energetic enthusiast for his country’s wines and was informative in describing the many variables in the character of their wines. We were honored he shared several older wines from their wine library, including a rare ice-wine.
|Caves Bernard-Massard, Grevenmacher.|
Most Americans picture a winery surrounded by vineyards; certainly that is my dominant image. I experienced a paradigm shift on our third visit, this one to Domaine Viticole Kohll-Leuck. Tucked snugly in the village of Ehnen, one can drive the streets without discovering the modern wine facility on multiple floors with the vineyards surrounding the small town. Riesling, pinot gris, pinot noir, pinot blanc, auxerrois and Saint Laurent, along with gewurztraminer, dominate their offerings.
Departing Ehnen, our team relocated to Ahn (Ohn), a wine-growing town in the Wormeldange canton of Grevenmacher, to visit with Clos “Mon Vieux Moulin.” Tucked along a mountain road facing the vineyard region of Palmberg, we had another highly informative afternoon discussing riesling, auxerrois and elbing.
|Domaine Mathis Bastian wine team: Anouk and her husband; Wayne, in rear; and Parks Redwine, sitting.|
We finished the evening with dinner at Chateau de Schengen, our two-night hotel accommodation with Anouk Bastian and her husband. Anouk is the daughter of Mathis Bastian, the founder of Domaine Mathis Bastian. This domaine maintains 28-plus acres in the villages of Remich and Wallenstein.
As we had in all our wine stops, our dinner wines included auxerrois and riesling, which have remained well crafted. We have continued to enjoy auxerrois with salads, fruit, cheese and fish. These balanced, smooth, crisp and light wines have a pleasant acidity with a medium finish.
To cap off the evening, we shared late-harvest Riesling 2011, an exceptional wine with a light-straw color rim-to-rim and a brilliant, clear appearance. The aromas and flavors of honey, peach, apricot and sweet vanilla dominate. This full-bodied wine had an enticing mouthfeel and sweet overtones, with pleasing vanilla in a long finish. The lingering honey, peach and apricot flavors made a lasting impression for this extraordinary wine.
This late evening meal ended our first three days in France and Luxembourg.
Wayne Crawford is a certified specialist of Wine CSW and a member of the Society of Wine Educators and the American Wine Society.