Luxembourg's wines in a league of their own
The wine growing region of Luxembourg stretches along the banks of the Moselle some 42km from Wasserbillig to Schengen. At about 1,300 hectares, it’s smaller than a commercial Californian vineyard, and yet the Grand Duchy is home to more than 450 winegrowers and producers.
Luxembourgish wines are rarely tasted outside the greater region, given that two thirds of wine produced is consumed locally, and the rest makes it over the border, mostly to Belgium and Germany, with a few bottles reaching France.
Yet surprisingly in 2020, the French wine guide Hachette included seven wines and one Crémant from the Domaines de Vinsmoselle on its list, two of which received the Coup de Coeur.
There are six co-operatives representing the winegrowers under the collective name Domaines Vinsmoselle, and about 50 vintners who sell solely to private customers. The county produced a mere 152,000 hectolitres of wine in 2019/20, or slightly less than 20 million bottles.
Quality over quantity after WW1
Although Luxembourg’s wine history dates back to Roman times, at the end of World War One the country was largely producing low quality Elbling which it mostly exported to Germany to be blended into other wines.
After the war, customs barriers between the two countries changed everything, and the winegrowers exchanged Elbling for Riesling, Pinot and Auxerrois grapes. The winegrowing area was also reduced, and lower grade sites returned to agriculture.
In 1925 the Institut Vini Viticole was created in Remich (and still exists today) to advise winemakers, and in 1935 the Marque National de Vins Luxembourgeois was created, providing a minimum standard for colour, clarity, bouquet and taste.
Superior wines can get the Vin Classé, Premier Cru and Grand Premier Cru labels. Today the mark also designates that the wine is only made from grapes grown in the Grand Duchy. The aim for Luxembourg wine-makers is to produce quality over quantity.
Specialist wines and Crémant
Luxembourg produces Auxerrois, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Elbling, Pinot Noir, Gewürztraminer and Chardonnay, but almost a third of its wine is Rivaner – a cross between Riesling and Sylvaner grapes. Despite growing grape varieties similar to Germany, Luxembourg does not produce many sweet wines, but instead prefers ones more akin to the dryer Alsatian wines.
Crémant is a relative newcomer, and started production in the early 1990s. Grapes must be hand-picked and spend at least 9 months in the barrel before a second fermentation in the bottle.
Luxembourg started making speciality wine at the beginning of the 20th century. Late harvest wines known as Spätlese have a high sugar content. The Botyris fungus that grows on late harvested grapes destroys the skin and allows part of the water content to evaporate. These wines have a honey or caramel taste.
Äiswäin or ice wine is on many a wine collector's list. Protected from the birds by nets, the mostly Pinot and Riesling grapes are harvested in temperatures of minus 7 degrees or lower, so usually at night. Water crystalises inside the grapes, which are pressed immediately, and the wine has a syrupy taste.
Straw wine (Stréiwäin) is made from mature grapes laid out to dry on straw mats for at least two months. The grapes are usually Auxerrois and Gewürztraminer. Fiederwäissen is a white wine made only from the current harvest.
Soils and herbicides
The limestone soils of Grevenmacher and the keuper marl (layers of mudstone and siltstone) soils around Remich are ideal for vineyards of white grapes (the only red grape grown is Pinot Noir). Luxembourg’s prize winning Riesling grape can only be grown on south-facing limestone slopes.
Luxembourg has recently taken the lead in banning glyphosate. For the crop of 2020, the government promised aid to all those who stopped using this herbicide to kill weeds and 99% of winegrowers did not use it in 2020.
Wine festivals and tastings
The second week of September sees the first of the season's wine festivals, held in Grevenmacher, where the wine queen is crowned. A week later at the Riesling Open, the Riesling queen is chosen. Finally, in October, the Hunnefeier takes place in Schengen. In May, the Wine, Taste, Enjoy festival invites you to pair wines with local food at Bech-Kleinmacher.
There are various wine events and festivals held throughout the year and oenophiles can visit many of the cellars or wine estates by appointment for tastings or to purchase wines by the case. You’ll find a list of wine producers and their contact details here, and a selection of estates with private wine bars here.
The Cactus supermarket chain stocks Vinsmoselle, Bernard-Massard, St Martin, Desom and Häremillen brands and an exclusive selection of Henri Ruppert wines at its store at the Belle Etoile shopping centre.
Vinsmoselle’s cheapest wines include the ubiquitous Rivaner but also Pinot Blanc. You’ll need to splash out much more for a bottle of Domaine Thill’s Chateau de Schengen.