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Filtering by Tag: biodynamic

Toad Prince

scott

The dynamism of the wine world never ceases to amaze me. We often talk about "old vines" and "traditional methods" of farming and making wine, and maybe too easily forget that even in the harkening back to simpler agriculture it is the modern exchange of ideas that allows so much to change for the better in so little time. In today's global wine economy, American importers have a huge role to play in the shaping of trends and methods. How they play that role largely is a question of conscience. Many of the very large companies squeeze their producers into making wines that fit a projected market. Others push their producers to be as original as possible, and let the market come to them.

Enter Azienda Agricola Montesecondo, the small Tuscan winery owned by Silvio Messana, where innovation comes in spades. Silvio owns 8 hectares of vines that were once his parents'. He took over the vines after moving his family back to Italy from Manhattan. At first, Silvio did things the way he saw others doing them, letting the grapes get very ripe, aging them in wood for a very long time, and generally overdoing it. In 2005 he had a watershed year. It was a difficult vintage in which he was forced to harvest early. What he discovered was a knack for experimentation and a penchant for wines with more acidity and greater freshness.

bufoGrigioR

His relationship with Kevin McKenna of Louis/Dressner (importers of highly principled wines) flourished from then on. Silvio had already converted to biodynamic farming—a decision made at the behest of his wife who was concerned for the safety of her children—and now he had a taste for un-manipulated juice. McKenna encouraged Silvio to find his own personal expression of the land, and garnered enough US sales of Montesecondo to give Silvio the confidence to continue. The wines have gotten better every year, and amazingly, he continues pushing forward with innovations.

Being a fan of Elisbatta Foradori (another Louis/Dressner producer), Silvio has begun experimenting with the same amphora containers that she uses, creating anomalous Beaujolais-like wines that dazzle in their lightness. And where he saw his grapes not thriving, he has replanted new vines in a style not otherwise seen in Chianti. It is his relationship with his importer that has allowed these risks, and allowed Silvio to come into his own as a winemaker. And man, has he ever. In the shop yesterday we tasted Montesecondo beside some heavy-hitters, and it stood out as one of the best in show.

Now if we can only get to the bottom of this whole crowned toad thing. . . I'm going with the changeling nature of his once-forsaken vines.

Montesecondo Rosso Toscano ($20) Younger vines of Sangiovese, Canaiolo and Colorino. Fresh, rustic tannins, gorgeous red fruit, lush finish.

Montesecondo DOCG Chianti Classico ($25) Older vines of Sangiovese, Canaiolo and Colorino. Deep fruit profile with firm backbone of acidity and lingering savoriness.

Hervé Souhat: Does Not Intervene

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It's little wonder why Hervé Souhaut of Domaine Romaneaux-Destezet has risen to stardom within the geeky world of natural wine. He's smart, unpretentious, and very good at what he does. Formerly trained as a biologist, Hervé takes great pains to know the science of vineyard management. Not the "better living through science" type of science, mind you, that ends again and again in a cul-de-sac of monoculture. But the basic, elemental geology and ecology of the vines. Where they come from, how they got here and what they need to keep on transcending.

In doing so, he allows for what I've heard termed a 'greater transparency.' It's this idea of the wine as a lens into its beginnings, but let me back up. I haven't met Souhaut and I think his English is about as good as my French, so if we did meet it would be a lot of smiling and nodding and probably me making an ass of myself using the three expletives I know en français. So I haven't asked, but my impression from those who know him is that he keeps his theorizing to a minimum and lets his wines speak for themselves. Rightly.

Hevré Souhaut courtesy Jenny & Francois Selections

I do know he makes wines that make me feel. It's a sensual experience. And while I like to peel back the layers of the wine and find out about his soil composition and even read that he owns a wine press used by one of his stylistic predecessors and heroes Jules Chauvet—after all, this is the kind of thing that makes the man himself charming and not only his wines—it matters not to my actual encounter with what's in the glass. That's between me and the glass. And to make me feel, the wine has to win my heart every time.

Through the meticulous management of his vineyards in Ardeche (the little sliver between the regions of Northern & Southern Rhone), Souhaut brings a purer version of the elements into his cellar. The land, its history and prehistory, the dynamic ecosystem it is today, the sun and rain and wind: all that we call terroir in this business, and more. Transparency as I understand it—and that's what I'm claiming Souhaut's wines achieve—means allowing the raw combination of those elements to ring out with clear voices in the end. And it has to happen in the vineyard, because once the grapes hits the press M. Souhaut does not intervene.

It takes an exceptional amount of control. He takes his hands away, lets the juice just be. Call it alchemy (I'll call it spontaneous fermentation) but the juice, as if filled with a divine breath, comes bubbling to life. And through it we get a clear sense of the particularity of that place at that time, the special combination of the elements of those grapes. Transparent, with no smudges or fingerprints clouding our view. What makes a Romaneaux-Destezet different than an average wine? He really doesn't muck about the way other winemakers do. Even less so than many who practice organic farming, or use native yeasts. These are pure vineyard, and it's amazing to taste what pure vineyard really is.

We only get these wines every so often. So if you like stuff, and think stuff should be done right, I suggest you come face to face with a wine that will challenge your very notions of itself.

Domaine Romaneaux-Destezet

Gamay "La Souteronne " — $25 delicate like you'd think of a gamay, but inky and floral with a touch of wild animal

Syrah — $29 bacon fat and black cherry with a modest curviness for the tooth

Ch. le Puy

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A lot gets made of the contemporary reform of grape farming, the move away from so-called conventional viticulture and toward organics and biodynamics. Of course, before the onslaught of chemo-industrial management technologies, folks just had to listen to the wisdom of their ancestors and give it their best. So what does it mean for a farm to have been biodynamic for more than 400 years? (The term biodynamic comes from the 1920s, inspired by the work of Rudolf Steiner, who championed a scientific approach to the investigation of the spiritual). For an answer, I turn to the claimants, Chateau le Puy. It's "a modern way of saying of saying we tend our vines the same way our grandfathers did: no chemical fertilizers, no herbicides and no artificial insecticides." Pretty much what I thought. The lunar cycle plays heavily into the timing of their decisions, for instance, when they bottle their wines, which are not filtered. And while the idea of them having been "biodynamic" for 400 years leads us into problems with the space-time continuum, no need to go there. Point taken.

The farm has been in the family since 1610, and because of the foresight of the estate, they never went for the leveling practices of the 20th Century that have since proven to be harmful, to the wine and the world. It's a great story, one of small-scale resistance, but also fortitude. I can't imagine what it must have been like in Bordeaux in 1960, saying, Nah, I'm not gonna spray that shit on my vines. You go ahead, make your millions, to me that seems dumb. Or something like that. I don't really know how it went down, but I'm sure glad to learn that it did.

What's the wine like? Classic. Structured. Expressive. Youthful. With no added sulphites in vinification, a painstaking by-hand de-stemming process, utter care in transportation of the grapes and moon-regulated stirring of the barrels, these wines give, and give, and give.

It's a great time of year to be exploring Bordeaux, even if that might seem passé. Because these days we're gaining access to a glut of wines from that region that have never before graced American soils. Nothing says cool like something old made new. And nothing says Cheer-up! on a gray February day like a bottle of sumptuous Right Bank claret.

Chateau Le Puy "Emilien" (red) — $45

85% merlot, 14% cabernet sauvignon, 1% carménère leads with currants, follows with forest floor earthiness, finishes long and leggy

Chateu Le Puy "Marie-Cécile" (white) — $45

100% semillon leads with supple orchard fruit, fills the palate with handles and curves, finishes with a kiss of minerality

Domaine Gramenon: Impressions

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Michèle Aubèry-Laurent embodies an abstract quality that I love about wine. I have not met her, and yet in tasting what she makes I feel a connection to the land she cultivates, the life she leads, the culture she inhabits. Over vast space and time I am transported by her wines, from where I sit and commune with friends to a place between my world and hers, a third dimension that, at its most artful, is also spiritual. But it's just booze, right? Why all the metaphysics? The thing is, Domaine Gramenon captures a realness of experience that is hard to put into words, and so I can only relate it to certain other encounters, a Cezanne painting or an Antonioni film. A bottle of L'Elementaire between friends creates an impressionistic affectation, a pathway through the senses into something altogether new. No, I'm not glasses deep in a bottle just now, as I write this, but I remember the last time I was and I look forward to the next time with a fondness and anticipation. Mostly, I hope to share one of these bottles with someone who has never had one, because like playing Leonard Cohen to someone for the first time, I know the look that will fall across her face and the sense of strangeness we will share, that we are traveling together in the world without moving.

Enough of all that. At some point it is just a bottle of wine, nothing more. But even then Gramenon is something special. Michèle and her husband Philippe bought the Gramenon property in 1978 and produced their first vintage in '79. They have farmed the same way since the beginning, what she says they used to call "normal work" but is now referred to as "natural methods." Philippe died tragically in 1999, at which point Michèle took over tending the vines and raising their three children. Her son Maxime has helped since 2006, and now makes two cuvees of his own. Their vines are all organic, some biodynamic, and their cellar strategy is one of minimal intervention. No fining, no filtration, no additives. Some new oak imparts a strength to the otherwise delicate character of the wine, and in this case subtracts absolutely nothing from the wine's integrity.

If you can't tell, I'm a little enamored. Forgive the nostalgia, it's just a little case of longing, wishing every bottle of wine were as good as these.

Domaine Gramenon
Côtes-du-Rhône "Poignée Raisins" (grenache) — $28

youngish vines, concrete-tank aging, fresh and vibrant nose opens into juicy palate, subtle meatiness for a firm finish

Côtes-du-Rhône "L'Elementaire" (grenache) — $33

45-y.o. vines, more grip and grain than her other cuvees, rich red color, sun-ripened sweet fruit balanced by firm tannins

Côtes-du-Rhône "Sierra du Sud" (syrah) — $38

young and old vines, darkly colored, meaty but fresh, peppery notes, strongly aromatic, rich palate

Biodynamic Bordeaux

scott

As transparency becomes more important to a wider audience of wine drinkers, a growing number of small producers are turning to more principled methodologies. Conventions of the last half of the Twentieth Century were too often geared toward a higher vine yield, a more consistent finished product and a greater stability for worldwide shipping. That means artificial chemical fertilizers, mechanized plowing and harvesting, heavy manipulations in the cellar (adding sugar, acid, industrial yeast, tannin extract, etc.) and an increased use of sulfites. The effect isn't just unromantic, it's also commodified the experience of wine and severed the link between land and table. Sound familiar? After all, wine is a food stuff, an agricultural product, and has been through many of the same cycles as our produce over the last 75 years.

The last decade, however, has seen the rise of authentically natural farming and production methods. In some ways it's a return to the old, in other ways it's a radical approach that challenges authority in places where convention reigns supreme.

Biodynamics might be the most extreme category of conscientious viticulture, but it also seems to be the most sharply rising in popularity. Nowhere as much as France. Well, France excluding Bordeaux, that is.

With a reputation as the wine world's sweater-clad grandpa, the one you have to yell at for him to hear you from two feet away, who occasionally still mutters something so wise and brilliant you promise yourself to stop being such an idiot and call the old fart more often, Bordeaux has been a little slower than its neighbors in embracing the trend. That doesn't mean it won't, and it doesn't mean Bordeaux at its finest is anything less than transcendent, it just means in a land managed by traditionalists and financed by multinational corporations, fundamental changes in method will not come quickly.

Enter a few headstrong youngsters in the under-rated interior of the Right Bank.

Chateau Peybonhomme Les Tours "Crus Bourgeois" - Cotes de Blaye ($16) Things changed for Jean-Luc and Catherine Hubert one night in December 1999, when lightning struck (literally) and a strong wind blew down several of the sickly trees surrounding their vineyards. They decided then and there, at the sight of the devastation, to convert to a farming practice that encourages biodiversity and strength. Today it's one of the most important properties in the Cotes de Blaye. The chalky subsoils lend the wine a texture of fine-grained tannins, and despite being dominated by merlot, the cabernet franc asserts itself fully. A truly expressive wine with a tender, savory appeal.

Chateau La Grolet - Cotes de Bourg ($16) The second property from the Hubert family, who has lately become a bellwether in the Right Bank. The Grolet is predominated by merlot, and in this expression is youthful, powerful and more ripe than the Peybonhomme. Dark fruits fill the glass, a ruby red color shimmers all the way to the rim, and the spicy richness of the wine begs for hardy red meats.

Chateau Le Puys "Duc des Nauves" ($18) This property sits on the same rock structure as its very important neighbors, Pomerol and St. Emilion. And with 500 years of continuous farming by the Amoreau family, you'd think they'd feel the limitations of tradition. Instead, the current generation of Amoreau vignerons has, like the Huberts, become Demeter certified and is reaching new heights as a result. This wine, also predominated by merlot, is a youthful powerhouse. Richly layered red fruits dominate the nose, but the unfined unfiltered fullness of the wine is only apparent with the intensity of the midpalate. Demeter certified (like the Hubert properties) and righteously self-assured in its Right Bank provenance.

Taste for yourself this Saturday, January 11, 3-5pm.

Standing on Tradition

scott

Weingut Ökonomierat RebholzPfalz, Germany

I struggle with something in writing these posts: often I want to express how a particular wine or winemaker might go out of his or her way to make wine of integrity, starting in the vineyard and finishing in your glass, but I lack the shorthand to make it quick and clear. The plain truth is that too many wines today are manufactured, manipulated and otherwise put together in a way that is supposed to appeal to a certain market, maximize yields and minimize variation. In other words, made to please the bottom line and nothing else.

Wine of integrity, to me, means uncompromising methods of farming, fermenting and cellaring a wine. The best of the best don't bend their wine to meet expectations, they create a pure expression of climate, soil and culture and let the wines speak for themselves. It takes confidence, understanding and a lot of luck to make wines in this way.

Weingut Rebholz has been doing it for three consecutive generations. Even when the market trends veered in a nearly opposite direction (which was probably most of the time), the Rebholz family has stuck to their time-honored and traditional approach. Basically, get your hands dirty, don't fuss around too much in the cellar, and let the wine evolve. Everything here is done by hand. Nothing is added, nothing is taken away. (Seriously, you'd be shocked at what goes into that bottle of Mark West).

Currently, the estate is run by Hansjörg Rebholz, his wife Brigit and his mother Christine. They're craftspeople, farmers and leaders of what today we might call the 'natural wine' movement. That's probably too flaccid a term, too abstract a way to capture something ultimately simple. But the point is this: they make absolutely stunning wines that stand proudly on tradition.

The spätburgunder (pinot noir) smells really earthy and a touch smokey with little bits of red fruit hiding underneath. But the palate bursts with plump cherry and raspberry flavors, supported by lean but firm tannins, a hint of herbs and a kiss of spice. Resoundingly Old World in style, wearing its shell-limestone heart on its sleeves. ($30)

The pinot blanc is dry and crisp with flourishes of melon. One of the most mineral-driven pinot blancs out there, softened only by its lightly oily texture. Bristling with character. ($20)

Approaching Zero Intervention | Movia Lunar

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Winemaker Aleš Kristačnič had a vision so singular he had to re-engineer hundreds of standard wine barrels before he could even get started. The idea was to create a wine so essentially alive not even the skins would be taken away, not even for bottling. What drove him to such lengths? A simple quest for the purest wine possible. The result is called Lunar, and it's spectacular.

Lunar is a wine of intrigue, a wine of mystery, and quite possibly the least intervened in wine in the world. As Aleš says, "this is wine that is very close to how the hunter found it thousands of years ago." In our era of the highly stable international style, Lunar is radical, ambitious and delicious.

In creating Lunar, Aleš draws on the full breadth of modern oenology but eschews the principles that have made wine the global commodity it is today. The grapes are harvested and de-stemmed by hand, loaded whole into his customized barrels, and left for eight months to ferment and mature on their own. No pressing, no pumping, no filtering, no adding of yeasts or acids or sugars, no killing of anything that might add to the complexity of the wine.

The winery is named Movia. It straddles the Italian-Slovenian border in the area known (in Slovenian) as Brda, where the white grape rebula is king. Lunar is made in two editions, 8 Moon (rebula) and 9 Moon (chardonnay).

We recently picked up Lunar 8 Moon, the rebula wine. It's not cheap, but then it's not like anything you've had before, either. If you're interested trying Lunar, pick up a bottle and watch the video on how to open and pour this wine to preserve its full character but not get mud in your glass.

The Wines

Movia Lunar 8 Moon — $44 Movia Rebula — $34

Domaine Rimbert

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From nearly hundred-year-old Carignan vines, Jean-Marie Rimbert makes some of the lightest and most engaging red wine for under $20 from the Languedoc region of France. His reds, especially his Les Travers de Marceau, look nearly Beaujolais-like in the glass. And like the best of Beaujolais, his wines are firmly structured and just a notch funky, making a perfect choice for a summery, but not too simple, red. Jean-Marie grew up in Provence and bought his first tiny parcel of land in the village of Berlou nearly 25 years ago. Berlou is the highest village in the Languedoc-Rousillon appellation of Saint-Chinian. It also happens to be widely planted with hillside Carignan that is, in some places, over 100 years old. Greater vine age typically imparts a greater intensity of fruit, leading to more fragrant and more complex wines. In the case of Domaine Rimbert, Jean-Marie seems to play against the obvious. The intensity shows up in the form of structure, minerality, a sort of textural richness. Not, however, in the form of dark fruit or heavy tannins.

And just when you think you've got a handle on what he's doing up there, then comes the rosé. It's basically just the opposite. Deep apple-skin red in color, sweaty on the nose, firm tannins nearly like a red... A great answer to that summertime question: Hm, red or rosé?

The Wines

Domaine Rimbert "Les Travers de Marceau" Saint-Chinian — $15 (Mourvedre, Syrah, Carignan, Cinsault)

Domaine Rimbert "Petit Cochon Bronzé" — $13 (Cinsault, Syrah)

Alex Gysler

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Alex Gysler abruptly assumed control of his family's Rheinhessen estate after the untimely death of his father, Gernot. Gernot liked and was known for softer, gentler wines, but his intrepid heir sought to differentiate himself from the start, as the heirs of strong fathers often do. Young Alex was determined to make wines of a nervy, edgy character. The heir envisioned a more pure expression of his land, his father's land, and being a man of his time, he turned to biodynamic agriculture for understanding.

Objectively, the first few years were little more than a curiosity. His most devoted supporters described the wines as "exotic," the way you might comment on a friend's experimental music as "interesting" or the way you smile when a cute stranger makes a particularly flaccid joke. "Ha. That's funny," you might say, knowing something special lay below the surface but not yet knowing how to mine such a precious thing.

Fast forward to the present where we're laughing in earnest about that awkward beginning, about the painful shyness of those first few encounters. Here we are reveling in the pure drinkability of Alex's wines.

This from Gysler's US importer (and kooky wine legend) Terry Theise:

Less recherché than ‘10, less exotic than ‘08, a simple drink-the-living-fuck-out-of-it quality... It goes to the party but is a little diffident, it hardly knows anyone, but when it sees you it bursts into an incandescent grin.

You may not have a lot of experience with the grapes Silvaner (Savagnin x Österreichisch) or Scheurebe (Silvaner x Riesling), but you honestly don't need it to enjoy these sensational, hand-crafted wines. They're simply made and yet almost ghastly in their elusiveness. Just a bit of residual sugars add to the complexity and couch the hard edges of the wines acids, creating one of the most refreshing wines you'll taste all year.

The Wines

Gysler Scheurebe 2011 (1L) — $18 Gysler Silvaner 2011 (1L) — $18

Montesecondo: 21st Century Renaissance Man

scott

Montesecondo IGT Toscano Rosso 2011 — $18

The story of Silvio & Catalina Messana is a tall tale of the sort to make you ponder: at what point did my life suddenly begin to stand all but still? Theirs is a tale with a buxom arc.

Silvio was a wine salesman in Manhattan. The couple's three boys were coming into school age and with rising rents and extortion-level school costs, they decided to pack in and move to Tuscany to help nurse Silvio's ailing mother. His father had bought 49 acres in the Chianti Classico region back in 1969 and she had been selling off the fruit to cooperatives since his death. In 1999 she passed away; with both parents now gone, the time had come for Silvio and Catalina to commit full time to the family business.

Silvio took on the vines himself. And in the years since his first vintage, 2000, he's built himself (by hand) a sizeable production facility. He does it all. And he's had strong opinions all the way about spraying and mutilating the traditional practices of the area, but was at first timid about cutting orthogonally against the governing DOCG body. The grand irony of course is that Silvio has since begun making tank-aged (instead of oak barrels) Sangiovese and Canaiolo, the grapes significant to Tuscan heritage, and in the traditional style. It's complicated. But what I mean is that for a decade now he's been making wines that speak directly to the historical Chianti name. Traditional wines. Meanwhile, the Chianti consortium has been slowly turning their collective back on tradition and manipulating their wines to taste more like the streamlined products that are so endlessly hyped in the press. It's a case of monoculture on the rise. Exhibit A is the introduction of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon and the use of small, new oak barrels.

So as a biodynamic vignaiolo Silvio bumps up against some pretty hefty risks, not only in terms of the hard work it takes to farm without a chemo-industrial crutch, but with the differing opinions about what Chianti and Tuscan wines should be. Especially since his ideas don't match with the current trends. Needless to say, I'm with Silvio.

This Tuscan Rosso is 95% Sangiovese with 5% Canaiolo. It's rustic on the nose and juicily quaffable going down. With an edge of freshness, this is natural wine that needs no footnote—just pure delight. Enjoy young with salty cured meats and firm cheeses, or to wash down a spicy pizza.