Wine and some other drinks of Tour de France 2017: Stage 2. Düsseldorf — Liege

Tony Martin did not satisfy his home fans. It was sad to see Alejandro Valverde and Ion Izagirre  crash out of the race.

Today some riders will go in a break away, and will try to get points to get the polka dot jersey. But the stage will probably end in a bunch spirnt.

As I wrote in the introduction to this year’s Tour, I was disappointed when I learned that stage 2 should go to Belgium and Liege. Belgium is the world’s most interesting beer country. To quote “World Atlas of Beer”:

“Belgium is to beer what France is to wine or the Scottish Highlands is to whisky.”

But the Tour has often been visiting Belgium. We were in Belgium in 2010, 2012, 2015 and now in 2017. It has been confirmed that the Grand depart 2019 will be in Brussels. Antwerpen is biddng to be the city for the Grand Depart in 2020. So there will be many oporutnities to taste Belgian beer.

The Tour has not visited Germany since 1987. When we finally are here again, we could have stayed a bit longer. I had hoped that stage 2 and stage 3 would go through some wine districts in Germany, either Mosel or along tha Rhine river. I will cheat a bit. I am going to write about German wine and a selction of Belgian beer. We will be close to the river Mosel tomorrow, so I will come back to Mosel then.

As a beer country, Belgium is in som way the polar oposite to Germany. Germany had the Reiheigsgebot, and beer could only be made from barley malt (wheat was accepted too), hops, yeast and water. No other ingrediences were allowed. Germany have had and still has many local and regional breweries, but German beers have been variations within a restricted framework. In Belgium, brewers were free to do as they wanted. It has been said that Belgium, they are brewing more than 400 different types of beer. One may argue what is a type of beer, and what are two versions of the same beer. But we will not go into that. But every time I see this figure, I think of the French president Charles de Gaulles, who once said that it is impossible to govern a country with 400 cheeses. Belgium has proven that it is much more difficult to govern a country with 400 beers. In Belgium, there is at tradition for adding spices, fruit etc to the beer, which could not be done under the German Reiheitsgebot.

Through the history, Belgium has been invaded many times. It has been said that a Belgian way of resistance has been to keep and maintain local traditions, in brewing as in many other aspects of life.

Also in Belgium, a large proportion of the beer being drunk is bottom fermented lager. The ubiquitous Stella Artois and Jupiler are boring, industrially produced lager. Jupiler is made in Liege. But it is not these beers that has made Belgium an interesting beer country. So we leave them alone.

On the road to Liege, not long after having crossed the German – Belgian border, we pass realtively close to two berweries that are worth mentioning. The first is Brasserie Grain d’Orge, in Hombourg. I must admit that this is a brewery I do not know. There are other breweries who are also brewing beers labeled Grain d’Orge, so here there can be some confusion. Her is a rating from Beeradvoat of beer from Brasserie Grain d’Orge. Here is another rating from Ratebeer.

The other brewery is Val Dieu in Aubel. Val Dieu means valley of God. Val-Dieu Abbey is a former Cistersienser Monastry. The monsatry was established in 1216. Through the history, it has been destroyed and rebuilt many times. But the monastry was closed in 2001. On their website, Aubel claims to be the only authentic Abbey beer in Belgium. The beer is brewed within the old monastry, in the tradition after the old Abbey. I take the claim about autentic abbey beer with a grain of salt, or maybe I should choose some salted nuts with the beer.

Brewing is an old tradition in Belgian monstries. It was partly to make an income, but also for the monks. In the old days, the water was often contaminated and could be dangerours to drink. It was better to drink beer than water.

Today, there are many breweries with names after monstries. A well known example is Grimbergen. Monks in the Norbertine monstry a bit north of Brussels, started their brewing in 1128. They were known for their hospitality and their beer. When France invaded Belgium at the end of the 18th century, they closed the monstries.Then the brewing also stopped. Later, the monstry was reestablished, but they did not take up brewing. The monks bought their beer from local breweries.

In 1958 Brouwerij Maes contacted the monastry, and asked if they could market a dark beer they had developed, under the name “Grimbergen”. Until 1978 the beer was brewed in Waterloo. Later, the production was moved to Brouwerij van Alken in Alken. Maes was taken over by Heineken in 2008, and the trade mark “Grimbergen” was sold to Carlsberg. But Heineken got a long lasting license to sell beer in Belgium under the name. Beer sold as Grimbergen outside Belgium is brewed at Kronenbourg in Strasbourg, far from any Belgian monstry. When they call it Abbey Beer, “Biére d’Abbaye”, with the year 1128, is is a “truth” with many modification, maybe an “alternative fact” in today’s terminology. On the label of the Grimbergen beer I from time to time buy in France, which is brewed in Stasbourg, it says: “Brassée dans la tradition de l’Abbaye”, meaning “brewed int the tradition of the Abbay”. This is not really true, either. But if I buy a beer from from one of the large industrial breweries, which you often get in pubs and bars at airports, I prefer Grimbergen over Heineken. This is ofte the choice we have, at least at many French airports.

AffligemBlondAffligem is another “Abbey beer”, not brewed in a monastry. The monastry Affligem was established in 1074, in today’s Belgium. It is documented that they were brewing beer in 1129, and that the brewing continued for a few hundred years. The monastry had a very strategic location at the top of a hill, and it was destroyed many times in several wars. After the French Revolution, the French government wanted to strip the Catholic Church from their power. They closed monstaries and confiscated their property. When looking at the property of the Church and the monastries, it is easy to understand that kings and other rulers had other reasons than religion to fight the Catholic Church and their institution. They were not only stripped for power, but for property as well. The Affligem monastry was closed in 1796. The remains was bought by some monks in 1868, who rebuilt it. The brewing started in 1885, and the rebuilding of the monstry was completed in 1887. The brewing continued to 1940. Then they shared fate with many other Belgian breweries. After the Belgian capitulation, they were forced to give their copper kettles to the German occupanst, who needed the copper for their arms industry.

In 1956 they started to cooperate with the small, local brewery De Smedt. Today Affligem is brewed by De Smedt, in close cooperation with the monks in the monastry. The monastry owns the trade mark Affligem, and all changes, new types of beers etc, must be accepted by the monastry. But the brewery De Smedt is now owned by Heineken, who is doing the marketing and distribution of Affligem.

Leffe_blondThe probably most well known Belgian “Abbey beer” is Leffe. The Abbey (I do not really know the difference between a monstary and an Abbey in this context), was established in 1152, close to Namur in Vallonie (the French speaking part og today’s Belgium). As in so many other Abbeys, they were brewing beer, mainly made from ingrediences growing in the wild close to the Abbey. As so many abbeys, it has been destroyed and rebuilt many times through the history. After the French revolution, the abbey was destroyed and abandoned. In 1902, some monks returned to the abbey. In 1952 they took up brewing in close cooperation with the Flemish brewery Lootvoet. This brewery was later bought by Interbrew, which is part of the world’s largest brewer group, Anheuser-Busch InBev, which is based in Belgium. Today, all Leffe beers are brewed by Stella Artois in Leuven. But the Leffe abbey still gets royalies from the sale of Leffe beer.

There are some secular breweries established in monastries, brewing in the names of the monastries. Val Dieu is in this category. If you want authentic abbey beer, you should go for the Trappist beers, brewed in Trappist monastries in accordance with the regulations set for Trappist beers. But there are noe Trappist breweries along today’s stage, so we will not open any bottles of Trappist beer today.

Back to Val Dieu. They brew the kind of beers that are well known in Belgium: Blond, Brown (Bruin) and Triple. In addition to these beers, they brew a Grand Cru, a Winter Ale and a Cuvé 800.

If we had crossed the German – Belgian border a bit further south, we could have seen one of the border phenomens I find interesting. There is a Belgian corridor through what is else German territory. I do not remember the details of the history here. It was a Belgian railway line, that Belgium kept as their territory. Belgium once had one of the world’s tightes knit railway networks. But as with so many countries, the wanted to be “modern” after the second world war, and went for roads and cars. The railroad was closed down. Now it is a cycling path. Old railroads make good cycling paths.

We were here some years ago. It was not good cycling conditions this time. But it was mid March, and much more snow than usual this time of the year. We were driving from Maastricht in the Netherlands to Metz in France. The purpose of the trip was to find geocaches in five different countries in one day (the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and France). It was with mixed feelings I picked up a rental car with summer tyres at the airport in Brussels, when there was a fair amount of snow in Belgium. We Norwgians are used to drive in winter conditions, but with cars equiped for winter driving.

But back to Germany, the Rhine and German wine. The Rhine river starts in the Swiss Alps, at Oberalppass.

Men jeg vil tilbake til Tyskland og Rhinen, og til tysk vin. Selv om syklistene ikke får med seg vinen, tar vi en avstikker for å smake på noen edle dråper.

The Rhine starts in the Swiss Alps, at Oberalppass. The cycling route EuroVelo 15, the Rhine route, follows the Rhine river from its humble start in the Swiss Alps to where it flows out in the North Sea at Hoeck van Holland, a bit outside of Rotterdam. I cycled most of this route last summer. 1300 km in two weeks, a little more than a family holliday on bicycle. But you can cycle parts of this route. If you like to climb, you can ride up to the top. Or you can do as I did: Take the train to Oberalppass, and start from the top.

Part of the Rhine is the border between Switzerland and Germany, from Bodensee to Basel. From here, it goes straight north with France (Alsace) along the left bank to the east, and Germay (Baden) along the right bank to the east. Here, I turned away from the river, to visit the wine areas in Alsace, a bit further to the west. I returned to the Rhine a bit before I came to Strasbourg. Near Karlsruhe, the border turns 90 degrees west, and from here the Rhine flows through Germany until it reaches the Netherlands. At Mainz and Wiesbaden, the Rhine turns west. North of the Rhine, from Wiesbaden to Rüdesheim, we have Rheingau, which is the best wine region in Germany. (People in Mosel may object to that, we are coming back to Mosel tomorrow). Rheingau is the brown-orange area on the map.

Rheingau is the home of Riesling. In this region, riesling can give wines from light, dry and fresh, to the extreme rich and sweet trockenbeerenauslese. Riesling gives best result in regions where it is not too warm, like in Germany, Austria, France (Alasace), and some places in New Zeeland. A good reisling can be kept for a long time.

When I was in Alsace last summer, the producers had conficence in the 2014 vintage. When he who served med wine at Balthazar Ress in Rheingau was hesitating if he should serve me 2014 or 2015, I told him this. His reply was almost like this: “In Alsace, it is too warm for riesling. For them, a rather cool year like 2014 was good. For us, 2015 was better.” I did not know the neither the vintages nor the wines good enough to argue against this.

At Rüdesheim/Bingen the Rhine turns north. From here to Koblenz we ride through Mittlerhein, the most beautiful part of the Rhine, with the famous Lorelei cliff.

I Koblenz the two rivers the Rhine and Mosel flows together at Deutches Eck, (Germany’s corner).

I am planning a visit to Mosel tomorrow, so we sail past this river today. North of Koblenz, we enter the Ruhr district, the more industrialised part of the Rhine. Here it is industry and commercial ports, often causing the bicycle path to be moved av bit away from the river.

If we continue downstream, we come to Bonn and Cologne, before returning to Düsseldorf.

German wine can be a bit difficult to navigate. German wines are divied into four quality levels: Deutscher Wein, Landwein, Qualitätswein (QbA) and Prädikatswein. The latter category is subdivided according to the ripeness (sugar content) of the grapes:
Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Eiswein and Trockenbeerenauslese. In the first three categories, there are dry, semi dry and fruity/sweet wines. In the three last categories, there are only sweet wines.

We are in Rheingau. The oldest wine producer is Schloss Johannisberg. There they have been producing wine for 900 years. I have often been buying wine from Schloss Johannisberg, but I did not visit them when cycling in Rheingau last year. There is not time for everything.

I visited two producers in Rheingau last summer. I could have spent a lot more time there. The first was Kloster Eberbach.

They have vineyards many places, sometimes only part of a vineyard, sometimes the entire vineyard. Here Kloster Eberbach has put on display samples of the soil from various vineyards.

If you visit Kloster Eberbach just to taste, without buying anything, you have to pay for each glass. If you buy wine, what you paid for the glasses will be deductet from what you pay for the wine. I think this is a good system. Then you can taste their wine, without feel any pressure to buy anything. I was cycling, and could not cary some bottles of wine in addition to the luggage I already had.

The next producer I visited was Balthazar Ress. I had been to a tasting of their wines in Oslo some years ago. It is always nice to visit them at home. When I entered the tasting room, I told he who pas presenting the wines that I was cycling, and could not buy any wines. No problem, said he, and startet serving wine. When I had made it clear in the beginning that I would not buy anything, I did not feel an pressure to buy anything. Here are the wines I tasted at Balthazar Ress.

If we want to understand German wines, we must know the dristrict, the producer and the quality designation. And for the best wines, we must know the vineyard, almost as in Burgundy. The wine Balthazar Ress served as their standard wine, von Unserem, is labeled Rheigau riesling. This wine can come from any part of Rheingau.

We can user their Rüdesheim Berg Rottland GG as an example. som eksempel. On the top is the name of the producer. Under is the place from where the grapes come, in this case the town Rüdesheim, west in Rheingau. Under is the name of the vineyard vinmarken angitt. Berg tells us that it is a hill, and it is called Rottland. Rottland is a rather steep slope, ca 33% inclination, that gets a lot of sun.

GG means Grosses Gewächs, which says the same as Grosse Lage. It is almost as Grand Cru in France. On the level below we have Erste Lage, almost as Premier Cru if we had been in France.

Under the name of the vinyard is named riesling and that it is dry (trocken).

One of the most exclusive vineyards in Rheingau is Erbach Markobrunn. It is a small vineyard. Only a few producers have a part in this vineyard, among them Kloster Eberbach and Balthazar Ress.

As I have mentioned, I cycled along the Rhine last summer, from where it starts in the Swiss Alps, to where it flows out in the North Seaat Hoek van Holland, west of Rotterdam. If you should cycle a part of it, I will recommend the part from Bingen to Koblenz. Wiesbaden is close to Frankfurt. Get there, spend a few days with good wine in Rheingau, before cycling the Mittlerhein. Mittlerhein from Bingen to Koblenz is a beautiful area, and it is good place for cycling. The trip is ca 70 km. If you do not want so cycle, you can go by boat.

You of course alos go by car or by train. But then you are going too fast.

The World Atlas of Beer

This is the book I usually recommend as a global guide to beer. The second edition was published in 2016. It is an informative and beautyfully illustrated book. I only wish it could have had many more pages.

Order from

Wine Atlas of Germany

You will find the most detailed information on German wine districts and vineyards in "Wine Atlas of Germany". Here you will find detailed information. But there is a problem, and in my opinion a serious problem. The English version is an English 2014-translation of a German book published in 2007.  The English edition is not updatede compared to the German edition. This is what makes the problem serious. German wine classificaton was changed in 2012. This is mentioned in the introduction to the English version. They knew that the book was outdated at the time of publication of the English version. Then, what is the point? If you cannot update, why publish the outdated book? We get nice, detailed maps. The vineyards are still located and named as they were in 2007. But the classification and other information about these vineyards are outdated. The maps of German wine districts in i Hugh John­son and Jancis Robinson “The World Atlas of Wine” are more updated, but less detailed..

Buy from

The  World Atlas of Wine

1845336895If you will have only one book on wine, “The World Atlas of Wine”, by Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson is the one you should have. It is a classic, and it is now in its seventh edtition. It is a beautiful book with nice maps and excellent content. It covers the entire world,  but still with an emphazis on "The Old World".

Buy it from Amazon UK or  Amazon US.

Tour de France 2017

Tour de France
Giro d'Italia


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