Over the years my passion for wine has grown tremendously. The person who has had a great part in this is my dad. For many years (when he still had his own restaurant) we used to have our yearly trip to Vinitaly (Verona) or trips to Italy to visit wineries. Now that he has retired it is me taking him to visit wineries 🙂
Back in the day he used to take me to wineries in Italy, today I try to show him the rest of the world 🙂 🙂 but why should we always travel far when we have very top level wineries only a short drive away??? I invited my dad to visit some Belgian wine producers in ‘Haspengouw’. Haspengouw or Hesbaye as it seems to be called in English is mostly known in Belgium for its fruit yards. Especially during blooming season (spring time) it is a very nice region to visit… beautiful flowers as far as the eyes can see. Only for people (like myself) with hay fever a double dose of allergy medicine is required 🙂 🙂
It must be said that last few years the amount of professional wineries in Belgium has grown, especially in the Southern and Eastern part of Belgium (with a few exceptions in other parts of Belgium). The Belgian wine production mainly focusses on white wine and bubbles, although there are also a few (not a lot) wineries that produce some very nice reds (one of my favorites is Chateau Bon Baron). The success of this growth we thank first of all to the high quality products most of the wineries make, but next to that the Belgian Wines bar in Antwerp played its part too The Belgian Wines bar is a wine bar were only wines produced in Belgium are served and can be bought. Resulting in Belgian wines finding their way into more people’s homes and on wine lists in many restaurant AND we being more proud of local products!!
A winery that raised the ‘high quality’ bar very high for the others is Clos d’Opleeuw. Clos d’Opleeuw aka the life work of Peter Colemont is the only Belgian wine included in the Sotheby’s lists, being reviewed in the NY times and a Jancis Robinson favorite… So in other words a winery that I had to show my dad. (I already visited it once in 2013) Knowing the winery has only 1ha of land, around 2000 vines and a yearly production of 35Hl, it is like a shimmer in comparison with wineries where they produces thousands of bottles… but the quality of the end product is just like at the big boys. During blind tastings Peter’s Chardonnay is often taken for top Burgundy wine.
On its 1ha piece of land Clos d’Opleeuw only produces 2 types of wine, a Chardonnay (98% of their production) and a very small production of Pinot Noire.
The vineyard, as the name says, lays within walls (clos) creating a microclimate and a perfect climate to grow the grapes (or fruit in general) in the cold Belgian weather. When Peter Colemont purchased the piece of land back in the ‘90s it was far from the beautiful vineyard it is today, a wilderness with a few cherry trees in it. In a few words Peter had to start from scratch and build up everything by himself. Something he still does today as he does all the work in and around the vineyard himself. When you taste his younger Chardonnay’s you’ll clearly notice notes of oak. Yet there is more than enough freshness and fruitiness. In addition, we taste aromas of butter, vanilla, toast and a variation of white and yellow fruit. The concentration, fullness with a beautiful aftertaste… a joy as big as hearing Peter talking with so much passion about this wines! If you ever have the chance to try one of his wines please do so, you won’t regret it!!
After a wonderful lunch at my favorite Limburg wine restaurant Mondevino we set sail to the producer of the drink I started my lunch with…
Domain Cuvelier is specialized in sparkling wines. The difference between this winery and the previous is that owner Yves Cuvelier comes from a long line of fruit growers and his (together with his brother Patrick who I was told boss on the land and Yves in the Cellar) main job is still fruit grower. The wine making is a hobby that got out of hand 🙂 🙂 . For making the wine the brothers work together with Guy Geunis (who has been in the business for 25 years and is a role model for Yves) and Rik Schuers from the close by vineyard Optimbulles that I visited a couple of years ago. Just to be clear, both wineries have their own way of working, the only thing they share are the material, infrastructure and knowledge .
It was in the year 2000 Domain Cuvelier planted its first vines of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Later Pinot Meunier and Grüner Veltliner followed. It surprised me that they planted Grüner Veltliner as I read somewhere that in Germany they don’t use this grape a lot because it’s too wet for the grape kind and Belgium (and especially where the vineyard is located) is not that far from Germany… but then again you read many things 😉
The majority of the harvest is destined for their CuBiz, a traditional brut that consists of the classic trilogy (70% chardonnay, 20% pinot noir and 10% pinot meunier). It was only in 2015 that they started experimenting more with the Grüner Veltliner that let to their BizTro (mono cepage and first Grüner Veltliner in Belgium). The top of the bill is their BizJoe, a method traditional extra brut, blanc de noirs! You could also tell that Yves was very proud of his BizJoe 🙂 not he is not proud of the Cubiz, but the extra sparkle when talking about BizJoe gave it away.
When you have to compare their sparkling wines I would say that Cubiz is the ‘easy to drink’ (my dad’s favorite) one and ‘BizJoe’ the more complex’ one (had my preference) and the BizTro somewhere in between 🙂 The BizJoe is very delicate with hinds of toasted bread and full flavored. The BizTro is a dry wine with a high acidity level and a light vegetal character through the short skin contact it had. For the Cubiz it is the chardonnay that gives it elegance and finesse, a beautiful golden yellow color and rich apple flavors. The Pinot Noir provides body and structure, the Pinot Meunier adds the round and fruity touch. All special on their own and add Yves’ drive and passion to that and you have a winner.
With this festive note we ended our day and my dad was more excited than ever (he was really impressed by the drive both winemakers had and the story they had to tell).
Mission completed I’d say!