A little treat from Maastricht

September 2, 2020

battleroyal

This lockdown I have enjoyed Leicestershire wine – specifically this spritely, disarmingly fruity rosé (right) from grapes grown just outside the city by Liz Robson at Rothley Vineyard. I’m not a regular rosé drinker but for me this was up with the best of that vineyard’s work, such as their Gundog white and High Hopes fizz.

I’ve come to respect English wine, but what I didn’t expect this summer was to find myself enthusing over Dutch wine. I’ve written before of my enthusiasm for most things Dutch, but it’s tended to be beer, cheese and fine restaurants. Vines? From reclaimed North Sea land that’s great for tulips?

Well that of course drastically, offensively even, misunderstands the Netherlands. The southernmost region of Limburg is quite distinct from (the province of) Holland, with gentle hills, pleasant climate and limestone soil which is suitable for wine making. It’s on the same latitude as England’s south coast (currently also making fine wines) and not that far from the Moselle region in Germany.

limburg[27160]

Not  a windmill in sight – the vineyards of Maastricht

It’s said that Napoleon grubbed up all the vineyards in Limburg because he was worried about the competition. It wasn’t until 1970 that the Apostelhoeve vineyard in the city of Maastricht started the modern tradition of winemaking that now sees 180 vineyards across the country.

apostelhoeve

As part of a virtual press tour of Maastricht from the comfort of my sofa, I tried a bottle of their 2019 Muller Thurgau. This is one of those hardy grapes like Bacchus that the French will be sniffy about but is a relatively easy to grow, productive grape that is useful for winemakers in less favourable climates. And here they have done a really good job with it – light and bright, it doesn’t hit you over the head with texture or fruit, but it has real character and is a perfect summertime aperitif. It comes in a handsome flute which makes a strong, visual allusion to those hugely drinkable Picpoul de Pinets that now crop up on restaurant lists all around Europe.

Winemaker Matthieu Hulst now produces 110,000 bottles a year at Apostelhoeve, including a Riesling and Pinto Gris, and declares himself “a happy man” as the climate warms and he can start to expand further across those gentle south-facing hills above the river Maas: “We’re now planting viognier, the first in The Netherlands, and who knows, in the future we might even plant pinot noir for a red?”

To be frank, you are unlikely to find Apostelhoeve wines in the UK – it’s all sold to local shops and restaurants. The good news is that you now have a good reason to go and explore this lovely part of the world. There’s a reason Maastricht was chosen for the discussions for the eponymous Treaty – it’s at an historic crossroads of Europe, just 30 minutes from cities such as Liege in Belgium to the South and Aachen in Germany to the East. It has a medieval heart with more protected heritage buildings than any Dutch city other than Amsterdam and its people have an enthusiasm for the good life – hence the many café terraces in its squares and its reverence for fine produce whether it’s wine, cheese or bread and pastries made from ancient-grain spelt flour milled at the 7th century Bischopsmolen water mill in the centre of town.

It’s high on my list for a real visit “when this is all over” – try Visit the Netherlands for more information.

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