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Wines and Crémants de Luxembourg

Posted: Wednesday, 15 June 2011 13:27

Wines and Crémants de Luxembourg

June 15: While most Indians may not have much knowledge about Luxemburg except its now being the head quarter base of Laxmi Mittal owned Arcelor Mittal and a hunting ground for Indian scamsters to park their ill-acquired funds, the small Grand Duché does make a limited variety of still and sparkling wines which have been gaining popularity recently, writes Subhash Arora who visited the second smallest country of the European Union last month

Ask someone about Schengen and you will generally draw a blank-except from people who have travelled to Europe and need to get a ‘Schengen Visa’. Most people would not stop to think of the significance of the name-some would think it is an imaginary place. For a visitor to the country with a total population of around 500,000, barely a third of the South Delhi Constituency, this is the small town near Luxemburg (Luxembourg) where the treaty was signed in 1985 allowing free movement by 5 of the 10 countries then within the European Union with just one common visa known as SchengenVisa.

But to a wine lover, Schengen is the southernmost town on River Moselle (Mosel), about 30 kms from Luxembourg City, which marks the start of vineyards along the river that runs from Germany to France with a 42 kms stretch between Schengen and Wasserbillig in the north, along the river.

The small region thrives on the soil around the Moselle and though not known for elegance and  finesse, the 60 odd producers produce a limited range of wines and sparkling wines in an area of 1270 hA making it comparable to the Indian wine industry in size. The producers range from a huge  cooperative, Domaines Vinsmoselle, which controls over 60% of the market, with the rest spread between 3 big producers and around 55 small family producers known as ‘Wenzers’ owning around 5-10 hA of land each.

White is King

Click For Large ViewLuxembourg is known mainly for the production of white wines. In fact the 9 varietals that are popular out of a total approved number of 15, have only Pinot Noir as the red varietal. Even this grape is used mostly for making sparkling wines using Methode Traditionelle (same as used to make champagnes). Known as Crémants, they take the name from French sparkling wines made outside the Champagne region, especially Alsace.

Even out of the 8 popular varietals, Auxerrois, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris- three varietals belonging to the Pinot family occupy 40% of vineyard space while Riesling takes 12.3% of the surface area. Chardonnay, Sylvaner, Sauvignon and Muscat-Ottinel are the other popular white varietals whereas Elbling and Rivaner are used to make everyday drinking wines which are sold mostly within the domestic market. For details, visit the website of Institut-Viti-Vinicole, the official law making agency.


Although the wine industry is rather young- the quality production started coming up only in the late eighties- the appellation laws have been in place since 1935. Marque Nationale is the basic level of appellation and is known as designation of origin (Appellation Controlée).  Every wine has to pass a test- sensorial as well as analytical- conducted by a commission. There is traceability of each bottle through a unique number assigned to it. Vin Classé is a higher level.

Wines made out of the pedestrian grape varietals Elbling and Rivaner cannot be granted higher status than this. Since 2007, even the cuvees can reach this level But the higher levels based on the Burgundy system are Premier Cru with Grand Premier Cru being the highest quality in the hierarchy.

Interestingly red wines and rosé can be awarded only the basic Marque Nationale status, re-affirming that white wine is the king in Luxembourg.

Crémants of Luxembourg

Sparkling wines in this winemaking region are noteworthy-about 15-20% of the production is converted to sparkling wines. Before the nineties, when the wine quality was not an important objective, the cheaper tank (Charmat) method was adopted for making bubblies, but  after Marque Nationale was created in 1991 for Crémants de Luxembourg, most producers shifted to the traditional method of second fermentation in the bottle as prescribed by the appellation rules.

Thus Crémants de Luxembourg are younger than the Schengen Agreement for visas. As the Institut-Viti-Vinicole President conceded at a seminar he conducted for the judges at the Councours Mondial de Bruxelles at Hotel Hilton in Luxembourg, there were newer and more strict laws being worked out to ensure that the quality of Luxembourg wines was competitive internationally. Increasingly more focus is on sustainable farming.

Although the omni-present Domaines Vinsmoselle, claiming to produce two thirds of the total production, is a leader also in Crémants, Caves St Martin with whose owner Marc Gales, we had the pleasure of having lunch at his casual fine dining restaurant on the Moselle, (from where one could see the campers on the German side) is a significantly big wine producer and his old, refurbished winery Caves Gales is known for the quality Crémants. Also known for their quality, just as known for still wines is Domaine Desom, owned and managed by the Desom family.

Charta Wines of Luxembourg

Despite the appellation system being well focused, the rules seem to be quite liberal. Many producers have formed their own associations to make top end wines which are known as Chartas (Chapters). During the recent visit to Luxembourg we had ample opportunity to taste wines of three Chartas of Luxembourg, each with different memberships. They don’t have any legal standing but are known to be quality wines. Chartas have memberships of producers from Luxembourg, France and Germany- which are on this Mosel belt.

Charta Schengen Prestige has 8 members and is the first such Charta formed internationally. Each member has its own wines but also produces one or more Charta wine. For instance, Domaines Winsmoselle is a giant co-operative but is a member of Charta Schengen Prestige. Similarly, Caves St Martin is one of the three 'big' family producers who is also a member of this Charta.

Similarly, seven Luxembourg vintners came together in 1988 for an exceptional project for which they tasted blind. Only the top wines made from Auxerrois, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Gewurztraminer are allowed to use Domaine et Tradition on their labels.

Seven independent producers got together and started a Charta which they named Charta Privatwinzer. It now has 16 members and hopes to expand further. The members use sustainable methods of viticulture.

Although it may not be easy for the smaller producers to enter India, those featured in this article and are bigger in size- most notable being Vinsmoselle. Cave St Marin and Domain Desom who not only produce good quality wines and are not too expensive, but more importantly would be better equipped to handle the import rigours of the complex Indian market- are the type of producers that may succeed in the Indian market .

Subhash Arora


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