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Five generations of vintners…a legacy fine wines. And according to Grégory Mio, one of Luxembourg’s best sommeliers, there are indeed “very fine things” to be found at Caves Ries.
In contrast to the sub-zero temperatures outside, it is warm and cosy on the ground floor of Nicolas and Christiane Ries’ house in Niederdonven. The family home dates back more than 150 years, and this friendly, cheerful couple took over the estate from Nicolas’ father in 1968. “You became a winegrower in the same way you became a priest… Back then, we didn’t have a choice,” smiles Nicolas Ries. This is a priesthood that the young-at-heart, passionate septuagenarian does not intend to abandon any time soon. “We’re producing a bit less than we used to, and thinking about leasing some vines in the future,” shares Christiane Ries.
The guardian of Sylvaner
Their nine-acre estate spans Maachtum, Ahn and Niederdonven. It includes “all the great Luxembourg grape varieties, except for the Saint Laurent”, explains Mio, an aficionado of the Grand Duchy’s red grape varieties. When KACHEN meets up with him, he is sitting at the winegrowers’ table to taste some of their wines. He has already put some of the wines on the menu of Le Place d’Armes Hotel, where he is head sommelier.
The tasting begins, as it should, with wines at the top of the ranking. An Elbling followed by a Sylvaner, “an ancestral grape to Luxembourg.” Nicolas Ries hopes to preserve the historic heritage of the Grand Duchy’s vineyards: “We continue to produce Sylvaner, which is somewhat shunned by certain winegrowers as it is not considered very refined. We replanted it some fifteen years ago,” he explains. What does the sommelier think of this 2020 Sylvaner? “We can smell ripe white fruit, white flowers and jasmine. The taste is supple, fresh, delicate, iodized, with a strong, thirst-quenching finish…” He thinks it would go very well with springtime asparagus dishes.
With no less than five varieties to its name, Caves Ries is also known for its certified organic vineyards: Merzling, Régent, Bio rosé, Cabernet blanc and crémant. “I tried to limit chemical processes early on. During a tasting abroad in the early 1990s, I discovered the PIWI Regent variety [editor’s note: PIWI stems from the German word “Pilzwiderstandsfähige,” meaning fungus resistant]. These grape varieties are crossbreeds, making them resistant to disease. I was the first in Luxembourg to plant them, even though the minister was not really in favour of it. Time has proved me right and it allows for much less organic treatment than if they were not so resistant.” Caves Ries now owns 15 ares each of certified organic PIWI Merzling and PIWI Regent. Mio tastes the 2020 vintage Regent, observing: “The nose has notes of violets, redcurrants, crushed blackberries, and hints of blue fruits on the palate. It is round and robust.” The perfect accompaniment to roast pigeon.
Another exciting discovery is the Cabernet Blanc planted six years ago. The 2021 vintage seems to hold promise… “The nose is exotic, floral, with a hint of green apple. It is delicate and mineral on the palate with a long, creamy finish. It would pair nicely with a sea bream ceviche.”
The Father of Waïn vum Bock
“In Luxembourg, we can’t always have organically certified products plots of land tend to be small. It’s complicated. If a neighbour uses a helicopter to spread pesticides, then our grapes will be affected too. In general, we try to take care of all our vines in a natural way,” the couple explains.
For the past twenty years, Nicolas Ries has been harvesting grapes and making wine for the City of Luxembourg whose vines are planted at the foot of the Bock rock in the Grund valley. Every year, he produces more than 200 bottles of Waïn vum Bock which is only served on special official occasions.
13, rue de la Moselle — L-5434 Niederdonven
Tel. +352 / 76 80 61