Grape expectations

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Belgian wine is becoming increasingly popular, according to wine critic Klara Slovo

Dinner party chat: “The wine’s delicious! What is it?” “It’s a Chardonnay.” “Lovely! My favourite. Where’s it from?” “Belgium.”

Sounds unlikely? Not any more, at least not to wine lovers in the know. Mig’s World Wines does a roaring trade with a white sparkling wine made the same way as Champagne, 100 percent Chardonnay, at 14.80c last season. That’s half the price of any of the basic well-known brands from France such as Laurent Perrier, Veuve Cliquot, Roederer, and the like. The only problem is Mig – and his customers – can’t get enough of it. If you are one of many fans of Cuvee Rufus from Vignobles des Agaises, you’ll have to wait until the next release, in June. Place your order now.

DEMANDING MARKE

Mig, who has long specialized in New World wines in his shop on Chaussee de Charleroi, added Belgian wines to his range about 10 years ago, reflecting the quality of what was on offer on a demanding market. When I first came to Belgium over 20 years ago, there were some producers in Flanders making good quality wines, mainly from German varieties such as Muller-Thurgau. The result was far better than those I had tasted from Germany, where that variety is popular because it is easy to grow in unpredictable weather for bulk wines. Here in Haageland, it was altogether more racy.

Since then, more producers have been making their mark, in both the north and the south of the country. There are over 80 of them, carrying on a centuries-old tradition. Wine was first grown in what is now Belgium some 1,200 years ago. The vineyards suffered climate change (cold) that shrank them, and their location made them incur collateral damage in a succession of wars. Vines were ripped up for firewood, or to make way for orchards or just plain vegetables in a country not naturally endowed with favourable conditions for growing the raw material for one of the world’s favourite psychotropic substances.

WEATHERPROOF

Now producers are making a range of high-quality wines from both top international varieties such as Chardonnay, and from those less well known to the public, but valued for their weatherproof characteristics.

“Expect to pay over 8Euro for your Belgian wine”

They are not cheap. If you are a BOGOF (Buy One, Get One Free) kind of drinker, best stick to the supermarkets which always have something good on offer. Expect to pay over 8Euro for your Belgian wine. You will be rewarded with wine that somebody in rural Belgium cares a lot about. Growers here have to go that extra mile to produce a premium product in such a hostile environment.

Among Mig’s best sellers are another 100 percent Chardonnay, from Wijnkasteel Genoels-Elderen, at 14.40Euro; a white that is a blend of Muller-Thurgau and Auxerrois from Domaine de Mellemont at 8.20Euro; and a blend of Dornfelder and Zweigelt making a low-tannin, easy-drinking red that can be served slightly chilled from De Kluizen at 8.40Euro.

WINE BOOK

“There are belles decouvertes out in them there fields of Flanders and Wallonia”

Top sommelier Eric Boschman recently teamed up with other wine experts to produce the first serious book on the state of play on Belgium’s wine, called Vignobles de Belgique (Editions Racine). It is a work in progress, they stress, encouraging readers to go out and try some local wine made by producers who are far more open-minded than those in a certain neighbouring wineproducing country we know all too well. There are belles decouvertes out in them there fields of Flanders and Wallonia.

One could interpret the words ‘Belgian wine’ as ‘wine made by Belgians’, in which case there’s a good story to tell about Belgians that liked Bordeaux’s Pomerol and Saint Emilion wines so much they decided to go out there, buy a few chateaux, and get wine made exactly the way they like it for the market back in Belgium. Vieux Chateau Certan, run by the Thienpont family, is one of these. Hugh Johnson, highly-respected author of a yearly pocket guide, thinks it is far better value than neighbouring Petrus, one of the best-known and most expensive red wines in the world.

So next time you hear someone laugh at the very idea of Belgian wine, give them a glass of Rufus, or Vieux Chateau Certan, and watch their face.


Mig’s World Wines, 43 Chaussee de Charleroi, B-1060 Brussels, T.+32(0)2 534 7703

Vignobles de Belgique by Eric Boschman, Kris Van de Sompel, Marc Vanel, Editions Racine

J. Thienpont, Hof te Cattebeke, Bossenaar 14, B-9680 Etikhove, T.+32(0)5531 17 59 www.thienpontwine.com Stocks a wide range at all prices, including wines made by the Thienpont family in Bordeaux