Wine and some other drinks of Tour de France 2017: Stage 3. Verviers — Longwy

Marcel Kittel won a histoic stage win, as it was the first stage win in Tour de France on a bike with disc brakes

Stage 3 starts a bit outside of Liege, goes through Luxembourg and ends in France. The finish is uphill. Not more than a third category, but I think it will not be a stage for the typical sprinters.

This year it is 60 years since the Treaty of Rome was signed and the EEC was formed. March 25 1957, representatives from the six original countries, Belgium, Germany, France, Luxembourg and the Netherlands met where Belgium, Germany and Luxembourg met, in what is called Ouren on the German side and Lieler on the Luxembourg site, to sign the treaty. It is only a few kilometers southwest of the place the riders cross the border from Belgium in to Luxembourg.

Luxembourg is a small country, but has a central position in EU. They have the European Court of Justice, and currently the president of the EU commission, Jean-Claude Juncker. But as a wine country, it is rather unsignificant. In their “The World Atlas of Wine”, Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson have not given Luxembourg its own headline. But in the section on Mosel, they write some phrases about Luxembourg. But Tom Stevenson has included Luxembourg in his World Encyclopedia of Champagne & Sparkling wine.

I have one memory of Luxembourgian wine. Many years ago, we were driving into Luxembourg after having spent a few days in Champagne. Out of curiosity and with some trepidation, I ordered a bottle of Luxembourgian, sparkling wine for dinner. It was made by traditional method, and the person who served us assured us that it was good. After having been spoiled, by only drinking champagne for some days, it was a let down. I do not remember the wine, but I remember the disappointment. But it was more than 30 years ago, and things may have changed. According to Tom Stevenson, things have changed:

“Most Luxembourg sparkling wine used to be tank-method and very bland i style. However, the introduction of the Crémant de Luxembourg appellation in 1991 for traditional-method wines has improved standards significantly, and Luxembourg producers now make Crémant of much higher quality than many of their French Crémant colleagues.”

The production of sparkling wine in Luxembourg started in a way when the champagne house Mercier established a production in Luxembourg in 1885. They produced champagne. The regulations were probably not as strict then as they are now. They imported wine from Champagne, and the second fermentation took place in Luxembourg. By doing this, they could get covered by a custom treaty between Germany and Luxebourg, avoiding high duties on sparkling wine imported in bottles from France to Germany.

Tom Stevenson writes that the first sparkling wine made with traditional method was made by Bernard-Massard in 1921. I interpret this as this was the first wine made with grapes grown in Luxembourg, and a wine fulle made in Luxembourg. But even though they grow grapes in Luxembourg, they also produce a lot of wine from imprted grapes. Bernard-Massard also do this.

Bernard-Massard is, still according to Tom Stevenson, the only producer in Luxembourg with ambitions of getting an international reputation. But the producer who gets the highest score in his book, is Desom. I realise that I have to give Crémant de Luxembourg a second chance next time I am in Luxembourg. I do not think it will be easy to find Luxembourgian wine other places than in Luxembourg.

The wines produced in Luxembourg are mainly produced further east than today’s stage, at the west bank of the river Mosel, which constitutes the border between Luxembourg and Germany. I will jump a small, virtual boat and float downstrem Mosel, into Germany. There we can find some very ineresting wines.

When I was young, I used to drink a lot of semi dry Mosel wine, like: Reiler vom Heisenstein, Saar-Rieling and Piesporter. I think many around the same age have been drinking these wines too.

I had planned to write that Mosel is about as far north as it is possible to grow grapes for wine production, at least before we see the full effect of the climate change. But when doing research for this, I found that they are producing wine in the valley Ahr, north og Mosel. This was new to me. I was a bit surprised to learn that they are mainly producing red wine from Pinot Noir, or Spätburgunder as it is usually called in Germany. But we will stay in Mosel.

Mosel, or Moselle as it is called in France, and Musel in Luxembourgish, starts in the Massif de Vosges in France, near Ballon d’Alsace. It flows through the departement Lorraine. From where France, Luxembourg and Germany meet (at Shengen), it becomes the border river between Luxembourg and Germany, before it continues in Germany and flows out in the Rhine river in Koblenz. As the river flows through the Mosel valley, we can clearly see the effect of meandering. It is a beatuyful landscape, with small romantic towns like Bernkastel, and good wine. It is a good place to visit. I think I will cycle along the Mosel river from Ballon d’Alsace to Koblenz some time in the future.

We can start in Schengen, a name most people, at least in Europe, will think of as a treaty, and not a place. But it is a small town in Luxembourg. At the left bank of Mosel is Luxembourg, at the right bank Germany, the area called Obermosel. On German side they mainly frow a grape calle Elbling. I do not know the grape, but it is said to have a rather neutral character. It is mainly used for production of sekt. It is also grown in Luxembourg, along with Müller-Thurgau and Auxerrois. I Luxembourg chaptalising, meaning adding sugar to the must, quite common.

At Konz in Germany, the river Saar flows out in Mosel, and a bit further down, by Ruwer the river Ruwer is added. Both in Saar and Ruwer, they produce good riesling, but we will not go up these valleys. A bit down from Trier, by the small town Sellig, we enter Mittelmosel. It is from here to Zell, we find the good wines from Mosel.

In Mosel, as in many other places in Geramny, low sugar content in the grapes has lead to a production of semi dry wines. It seems like a paradox that low sugar level should lead to semi dry, and not dry wine. But low sugar gives low alcohol. Alcohol has a kind of sweetness. It does not really taste sweet, but it balances the acidity in the wine. In addition to that, it gives the wine body. Dry wines, low in alchol, tend to taste thin and sour. To compensate for low alcohol, they stopped the fermentation when it was still some sugar left. The fasion changed. The market wantet dry, white wines, and the semi dry German wines went out of fashion. The climate change has so far had positive effect in Mosel, and now they produce excellent, dry wines. Having said that, I will add: Semi dry white wines usually goes well with spicy food, Asian food and sushi.

The great wines from Mosel are made from riesling. But the riesling only ripen in ideal places, steep slopes facing south, where they get a lot of sun exposure. At the ideal places, the sun is also reflected from the river, up to the vineyards. Other plasces, they grow grapes like Müller-Thurgau and Sylvaner, which do not give as good wine as riesling.

Our first stop is Trittenheim. The best vineyard here is Apotheke. We continue to Piesport, the town that has given name to this part of Mittelmosel. Piesport is located in a curve in the river, with many south facing vineyards that create an amphi. The most well known and the best vineyard is Goldtröpfchen. Other well knwon vineyards are Domherr, Falkenberg, Gärtchen, Grafenberg, Günterslay, Hofberger, Kreuzwingert, Schubertslay and Treppchen. Further down the river, there is a hill on the left bank down to Minheim, a hill that protects the Piesport area from cold winds from east. After passing Minheim, we come to the area Wintrich and Kesten, where the vineyard Ohligsberg is the most well known. Piesport is used as a designation for all wines from the area, or as Grosslage i German. I do not think that there are many grapes from the famous vineyards in the generic Piesporter. The Piesporter from my youth was not a high quality wine. If it had been, I would not have had money to buy it. When I was young, the price of the wine was more important than the quality.

We continue downstream to Bernkastel. Here we find the most famous and best vineyard in Mosel: Doktor. Some say Bernkastel Doktor is the best vineyard in Germany. I do not know the vinyards well enough to say which is the better: Bernkastel Doktor or Erbach Markobrunn in Rheingau.

The grapes are grown in steep slopes. Most of the work must be done by hand.

If we compare Mosel and Rheigau, Mosel is “leaner”, and at their best more elegant. A good Mosel is an excellent wine.

If we continue downstream, we come to Graach and the vineyard Graacher Himmelreich. From here we come to Wehlen, and the vineyard Whelener Sonnenuhr. Further down is Zeltingen with Zeltinger Sonnenuhr. I include Reil further down. We have passed the more intesting part of Mosel. In my younger years I had many bottles of Reiler vom Heissen Stein.

I end in Zell, where they produce the wine Zeller Scwarze Katz, another wine I used to drink when I was young.

I have to admit that I have not been drinking very much Mosel wine in more recent year. But it is time to renew my relationship with these wines. I have noticed that the producer Markus Molitor, has high quality wines in many price segment.

If we continue down Mosel, we arrive in Koblenz, where it flows out in the Rhine at Deutsches Eck.

The circle is closed, and we are back where we were yesterday. We have to get back to the Tour. Those who are really fit may ride a bicyle. But it will be 225 km ride, which is too long for me. The Train from Koblenz to Luxembourg city takes 2 hours and 23 minutes. From there it is 36 km to today’s finish town. It is possible to continue by train, at least almost to the French border, but i have noe checked the schedule.

The stage ends in one of France’s rust belts. Here it used to be mining and industry. I was in the area where today’s stage ends, a few years ago. In Hussigny-Godbrange, the small town where the riders turn left before starting on the last small climbs before the finish, there were closed mines. I grew up in an industial area, and is nostalgic when it comes to industry. I find closed down industry depressing.

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.

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

Tom Stevenson: Christie's World Encyclopedia of Champagne & sparkling wine

1402772246This book is the international refernce when it comes to sparkling wines. The title says Champagne & sparkling wine, and it should come as no surprise that champage get the broadest coverage. Og the book'a 500 pages, 150 are dedicated to champagne, 50 to a general introduction to sparkling wine, and 300 pages to sparkling wines from other regions than Champagne. More than 1600 wines are rated.

Buy it from Amazon UK or Amazon US.


The Oxford Companion to Wine

0198705387If you want to have a more encylopedic book on wines, Jancis Robinsons and Julia Child: The Oxford Companion to Wine is the one to have. It is an encyclopedia of wine, with articles on not everything, but as close as you can get in one volume. It is written by on of the world's leading experts on wine.

I have the third edition, published in 2006. It is now in its foruth edition, published in 2015. A lot has happened in the wine business since 2006. So maybe I should get myself a copy of the most recent edition. It is available in hardcover edition and Kindle edition. When reading a book from beginning to end, I like Kindle. But when jumping around from one article to another, I prefer the paper version. An e-version of a book like this should be organized like a database, not as a "book".

Order from Amazon US: Kindle edition, or Hardcover edition.

Order from Amazon UK: Kindle edition, or Hardcover edition.


Tour de France 2017

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