Belgium’s World Cup of Wine
There’s more to Belgium than their football teams and beers. Not known to many is their modest production of Belgian wines.
“Belgian Bubbles” or white sparkling wines are more commonly enjoyed by the younger generation, with the likes of Cuvée Seigneur Ruffus, the Chardonnay Meerdael, and the Schorpion Brut Zwart at the forefront.
Yes, all three are whites are made from Chardonnay grapes, and there’s more to where they came from.
A Brush into Belgian Wine History
Belgian vineyards existed in the 9th century. Prior to this, the area where it now lies had unsustainable climate and was obscured by thick forests. Vine husbandry in Paris in the 4th century was said to have spread up north to the banks of River Rine, reaching Luxembourg, Belgium and Italy. By the 8th century, vineyards were also established in Amay and on the edges of the Meuse River where sun-exposed hills endowed terroir for Belgian viticulture.
Monks, who needed clean and safe beverage for their celebrations at that time, were said to first cultivate wines in the region. In response to their efforts, the first vineyards even outside their districts were under the proprietorship of the abbeys. Seigneurs, such as the Dukes of Burgundy, also cultivated wine grapes in Brussels, Louvain, Aarschot, Namur, and Mons.
When ice age conditions happened in the 15th century, only a few vineyards with microclimates survived. This era paved the way for beer production and consumption, and replaced wine as the common people’s beverage, but only for a short time.
Mostly French and White
Belgium produces wines of different styles, but around 90% of its tipple is white.
Belgian whites from Chardonnay grapes receive the most attention, having a reminiscent quality of white Burgundy wine. The rather atypical oaked Chardonnay wines, however, are fairly received by critics.
Wine growing in Belgium occurs in both Wallonia and Flanders, happening mostly in Belgisch-Limburg, Hagueland, Haspengouw, and the Valley of Meuse. Given that French remains one of Belgium’s languages official terms for Belgian wine keep the same as those in French Wine. In fact, Belgium acquired 5 official demarcations for wine “appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC),” one each for the regions mentioned.
Popular Wineries in Belgium
A widely celebrated Belgian wine label is the Wijndomein Aldeneyck from Maaseik Limburg. In the Aldeneik village, Charles and Tine Henckens-Linssen planted on 7 hectares of sun-drenched, mineral-rich gravel, and gravel soil. It produced elegant fruity wines such as the Aldeneyck Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Pinot Sparkling Brut. The Aldeneyck Pinot bottles were repeatedly crowned as the Best Belgian wines for several years.
The vineyard of Le Domaine du Ry d’Argent sits in the countryside of Namur between Sambre and Meuse rivers. It yields 5 hectares of Regent, Cabernet-Jura, Dornfelder, and Solaris vines as high as 160 meters. Its prized red wine, the 2009 Le Boise, has the aroma of ripe grapes with hints of oak, citrus, and vanilla. Containing compelling levels of tannin and a consistent finish, the liqueur was voted “Best Belgian Red Wine” by the Flemish sommeliers of the VVS.
The Château Bon Baron, owned by Walloon-Dutch couple Peter and Jeanette van der Steen, planted 14 hectares of Divo Nanto and some classic varietals. This included Acolon (a crossing between Blaufränkisch and Dornfelder), Müller Thurgau, and Cabernet dorsa (a crossing of Cabernet Sauvignon and Dornfelder).
The couple originally planned this vineyard to be a B & B, but the wines were received well by local restaurants and other winemakers that they had to postpone it. The vineyard grew more and more into the property, fostering the production of wine varieties like Chardonnay, Auxerrois, Müller-Thurgau and Pinot Gris. Soon after, varietals of Pinot Noir, Cabernet and Dorsa Acolon were cultivated.
To make good wine, they invested in excellent equipment. Their wine cellar featured new, temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks, a bottling machine, and a hydraulic press. To date, Bon Baron Wines have won awards locally and internationally.
When it comes to fine Belgian products, Belgian chocolates and beer still rule the roost. Belgian wine, however, is not too far behind. And given its trend of success, the grape-based tipple is set to close in really soon.