To that end I have a sort of mental list of things to keep my eye open for and for a long time I have wanted to try something from Lorraine, other than quiche. As a keen amateur historian I wanted to compare them to Alsace wines – after all the two regions get lumped together rather a lot.
I also wanted to compare them to the wines that I have tasted from Luxembourg recently – added to which I do tend to like wines made from this part of the world – in theory anyway.
Lorraine is a very small wine producing area in north east France, just slightly west of Alsace and centered around Metz and Nancy. Today the place barely shows up on our radar as a wine producer, but once upon a time vines flourished here. Before Appellation crontrôlée regulations much of the grapes for Champagne came from this area. Phylloxerra arrived here much later than Champagne, so it was of huge benefit to have this source of grapes – ‘Champagne’ grapes were also grown in Luxembourg in those more relaxed days. After 1871 Lorraine became a part of the German Empire, until 1918, and the grape growers of Lorraine became suppliers to the fledgling Sekt industry.
Today there are three levels of production, but there is a clear relationship between them all with the same grapes traditionally being grown:
Côte de Toul, just west of Nancy is the only Appellation Crontrôlée in the region,having been promoted from VDQS in 2003 and produces a mere 600,000 bottles of wine a year from its 110 hectares. It makes all three colours, but most is made in a Vin Gris or rosé style from Gamay and Pinot Noir – I have yet to try one.
Vin de Pays de Meuse produces the least celebrated wines of the region – again I have yet to encounter one, the less tight controls for this level allow them to also grow Chardonnay and Aligoté.
VDQS Moselle, formerly Vins de Moselle. The Mosel splits from the Rhine at Koblenz and flows down trough Trier to Luxembourg, where it becomes the Moselle and stays that way into France. It is perhaps unfortunate that many people still pronounce the German word for this river, Mosel as Moselle – a hang up from the 1950s and ’60s I presume. The German form is hard and short, like Iraq’s Mosul, whereas the French and Luxembourgeois form is soft and long – Mose-elle. I think that confusion makes people expect these wines to be on the sweet side – they aren’t.
VDQS, or Vin Délimité de Qualité Supérieure is like a cadet form of Appellation contrôlée, there are very few left and 2011 is the last year of their existence with the remaining few VDQS areas either achieving AC status or slipping down to Vin de Pays. However to get full AC status I understand the area must be planted with a minimum of 60 hectares and currently Moselle is only about 40 hectares.
UPDATE: I cannot find anything official, but it appears that VDQS Moselle was promoted to full Appellation d’origine contrôlée – AOC/AC – status on 16 November 2010, even though it would appear not to have enough hectares of vines.
Well, the other day I was fortunate enough to try a Moselle wine from a great producer, some would claim the best producer of the region. The Château de Vaux, just south west of Metz, is where Norbert Molozay has almost single handedly nurtured this wine region back to life. 2009 was the first vintage that Château de Vaux started conversion using completely organic methods and they should achieve full organic status by 2012.
2009 Château de Vaux Les Gryphées
VDQS Moselle – 12.5% alcohol
30% Auxerrois, 30% Muller Thurgau, 30% Pinot Gris and 10% Gewurztraminer
Quite pale, with a sort of delicate pear juice hue.
The nose was scented, fragrant and gently aromatic with some gentle spice notes.
The palate was soft and lightly textured with fleshy, succulent nectarine fruit balanced by just enough acidity to keep it fresh and lively. A touch of minerality kept it lively too
Dry and nearing crisp, it is not heavy, but not without weight either and is nicely balanced and elegant on the finish.
My first Moselle, other than from Luxembourg, and I was impressed, this was not the bland crisp wine I was expecting. This is a wine that delivers a huge amount of pleasure, if I ran a wine bar it is just the sort of wine I would offer. It lovely on its own or with almost any food – 89/100 points.
I wish more consumers would stop being put off by the Germanic look of wines from this part of the world. I love German wines and know there is great drinking to be had from there, but even if you don’t not everything in a fluted bottle is Germanic in style – other than being relatively light and generally unoaked.
Go on, see what you are missing, on this showing these wines are a little fresher and lighter than many examples from Alsace, have lovely balance, just the right amount of concentration and, unlike many Alsace wines nowadays, are bone dry.