Your Guide to Organic, Biodynamic and Natural Wine



Vouvray is like the girl with the Scarlett Johansson sweetness, Bette Davis wit, and knockdown Grace Kelly beauty that made all the boys in high school too dumbfounded to ever ask out (except for the dumb jocks, who’d never get a yes).

Vouvray is a thinking man and woman’s white wine because it takes brains to see through the flowery, intoxicatingly perfumed qualities of the Chenin Blanc (the required grape of this AOC), and look into the wine’s soul: the effortlessly acidic spine of the fruit grown in the Loire River Valley’s cold yet maritime moderated climate, and the deep, almost poetic substrata of flavor contributed by the soil (layers of flinty stone and clayish limestone over a plateau of solid limestone – the ultimate grape growing medium).

Earlier this month I ran into one California’s more intelligent, and artistically multiplisitc, winemakers named Larry Brooks (a founder of Acacia, former GM of Chalone, and now proprietor of Campion). I hadn’t seen Brooks in about six years, but the first thing he said to me was: “Everytime I see you, I can’t help but think of that incredible wine we shared, what, over fifteen years ago? I’ll never get that wine out of my mind.” Me, too. It was, in fact, a 1989 Vouvray Moelleux Cuvée CC by Champalou – a dessert style Vouvray exploding in a plethora of honey, scintillating acidity and minerality in spades– that will always bewitch both Brooks and me (and undoubtedly, is still doing that to wine drinkers today… I doubt that it would fade sometime soon).

Which brings us to our organic wine match of the day: the 2007 Domaine Vigneau-Chevreau Vouvray Sec Cuvée Silex (about $21; distributed by Andy Lum’s Unity Selections in Colorado). Sec refers to this Vouvray being “dry,” and Cuvée Silex refers to the flinty stones that make up a large part of the vineyard’s chalky soil, contributing a minerally, almost sea-briny nuance beneath the Vigneau-Cheveau’s honeyed apple aroma, wildflower fragrance, and mildly tart, lush, flowing, refreshingly balanced, medium bodied feel on the palate.

There is, in fact, a strong sense of terroir in the Cuvée Silex because this 69 acre vineyard has been cultivated more than organically, but also biodynamically for most of the past twenty years (receiving ECOCERT’S biodyvin certification in 1999); very much akin to the vivid, penetrating expressions of minerality and grape common to other biodynamic producers in France (some famous examples: Maison Chapoutier in the Rhône Valley, Domaine Ostertag and Marcel Deiss in Alsace, and Domaine Leflaive and Domaine Leroy in Burgundy).

Biodynamic viticulture demands turning vineyards into biodiverse farms, and applications of no less than nine specific herb and compost tea preparations in harmony with the natural rhythms of the earth, sun, moon, and seasons, observed as faithfully as the farmers who have followed the Old Farmers’ Almanac for over 200 years. But if there ever was ever any doubt about the efficacy of biodynamic growing, a simple comparison of Vigneau-Chevreau’s Vouvray with any number of other popular Vouvrays would put it to rest.

My culinary mantra has always been to fear no wine and food match: there is a perfect wine for any dish from any part of the world (I don’t believe there’s such a thing as a wine-unfriendly dish – only a lack of imagination and organoleptic openness), just as there is a delicious food match for every wine in the world. But with a wine as pure as Vigneau-Chevreau’s Cuvée Silex, I’d almost want to stick to an equally pristine, terroir expressive food match: like an artisanal, regional cheese. It needn’t be from the Loire Valley, although a Sainte-Maure de Touraine AOC goat milk cheese, coated in a slightly acidic, gunflint-gray ash, offers up an earthy purity of taste and zestiness in perfectly natural balance with this Vouvray’s earthy, crisp edged fruitiness.

Here in Colorado, I’d reach for a raw milk cheese like Windsor Dairy’s Melville; a cow’s milk cheese with a cider washed rind that positively bursts with fat, creamy flavors, with nuances of the native grass and wildflowers consumed by the Brown Swiss cows on this organic farm. Sprinkle a tiny bit of cumin on the Melville, with dabs of honey on the plate, and you’ll have wine and food match that doesn’t come down from heaven, but up from the earth so strongly expressive in both wine and cheese.

Otherwise, fresh, pearly white Chèvres like Colorado’s Haystack Mountain, Tennessee’s Bonnie Blue, Alabama’s Belle Chevre, and Georgia’s Sweetgrass Dairy (I guess you can tell that I’ve spent some time in the South in recent years) will all offer that combination of acidity and earthy, grassy fruitiness to effortlessly match this style of Vouvray. My only caveat: other than ash, steer gently away from logs crusted with pungent herbs or cracked peppercorn. You’ll want an unfettered taste of the terroir in the cheese; and generally, simple accompaniments like figs, champagne grapes, ribbons of dried apricot, or umami rich charcuterie like duck prosciutto and pork rillettes will do just fine.


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le_coq_au_vinFor Pierre Morey – the former (and legendary) winemaker of Domaine Leflaive, and proprietor of his own Domaine Pierre Morey in Burgundy, France – farming biodynamically (his vineyards Biodyvin certified since 1997) is a matter of stewardship: turning over vineyards from one generation to another at the peak of health and productivity.

Morey is particularly known for his white wines, with family holdings in Meursault and Puligny-Montrachet in Burgundy’s Côte de Beaune, the original home, and center of the universe, as far as any producer of Chardonnay is concerned. But if you are drawing the conclusion that these white wines espouse enormous body, power and concentration of Chardonnay character, let me gently say: it is in the expression of the terroir, rather than grape, that the wines of Domaine Morey excel.

You may pay, for instance, about $94 (suggested retail) for a bottle of 2006 Pierre Morey Meursault, but what you get is not a wham-bam wine stuffed with “gobs” of sweet Chardonnay sensations, but rather a wine of uncommonly delicate, refined balance and texture; everything according to a moderately weighted scale to express fresh, honeyed apples, notes of mineral, slivers of toasted nuts, and a transparent, silken backdrop of mildly charred oak draped over a foundation of polished, stony dryness.

In other words, a taste of Meursault, not Chardonnay.

Which also happens to whet my appetite for this twist of the classic Burgundian dish — usually made with a red wine, but which we make a white — that we call Coq Au Vin Blanc:

8 pieces chicken thighs (mostly) and legs (or one 5 lb. chicken, cut in serving pieces)
24-30 pearl onions
Salt and fresh ground black pepper
6 oz. bacon strips or slab, squared or cubed
8 oz. button mushrooms, quartered
1 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 bottle (750 ml.) white wine (inexpensive Chardonnay will do)
1 medium yellow onion, quartered
2 stalks celery, quartered
2 medium carrots, quartered
3 cloves garlic, crushed
6-8 springs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
2 cups chicken stock or broth

Cut off root end of each pearl onion and make an “x” with knife in its place. Bring 2-3 cups water to boil and drop in the onions for 1 minute. Remove onions from pot, allow to cool, and peel (onions should slide right out of skin). Set aside.

Blanch bacon briefly in boiling water; drain, and dice or cube. Fry to render fat; remove meat and set aside, and save fat for frying.

Sprinkle chicken pieces on all sides with salt and ground pepper. Place chicken pieces, a few at a time, into a large (1-2 gallon) sealable plastic bag along with flour; shake to coat chicken completely. Remove chicken from bag, and fry in bacon fat, just until crust is crisp. Set chicken pieces aside.

In same pan, add pearl onions to fat, sprinkle with salt and pepper, sautéing until lightly brown (approximately 8-10 minutes). Remove onions from pan and set aside. Transfer chicken into a 7-8 quart enameled cast (like Le Creuset) or cast iron Dutch oven.

Add mushrooms to the same 12 inch sauté pan, adding 1 tbsp. butter if needed, and sauté until liquid is released (approximately 5 minutes). Store onions, mushrooms and bacon in airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Pour off remaining fat and deglaze pan with approximately 1 cup of wine. Pour this into Dutch oven along with chicken stock, quartered onion, carrots, celery, garlic, thyme and bay leaf. Add all of the remaining wine. Preheat oven to 325° F.

Place chicken in oven and cook for 2 to 2½ hours, or until chicken is tender. Maintain a very gentle simmer and stir occasionally.

Once chicken is done, remove it to a heatproof container, cover, and place in oven to keep warm. Strain the sauce in a sieve and degrease (discard carrots, celery, thyme, garlic and bay leaf). Return the sauce to a pot, place over medium heat, and reduce by 1/3 (depending on how much liquid you began with, this should take 20-45 minutes).

When sauce has thickened, add pearl onions, mushrooms and bacon, and cook another 15 minutes or until heated through. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary; remove from heat, add the chicken and serve. Serve from Dutch oven with either long grained white rice or lightly buttered egg noodles; and of course, with a classic white Burgundy such as Meursault.

Note: if sauce is not thick enough at the end of reducing, you may add a mixture of equal parts butter and flour kneaded together, starting with 1 tbsp. each. Whisk this in the sauce for 4-5 minutes, and repeat if necessary.


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Collette wrote of France’s Jurançon: when I was a young girl, I was introduced to a passionate Prince, domineering and two-timing like all great seducers…

My lifelong affair has been with Domaine Tempier’s Bandol rouge, which began in the early 1980s, when I was first introduced to the French imports of Kermit Lynch. In the beginning, I did not understand the compulsion: it was a red wine that always seem to have a spirit – whether it was in the mysterious, earthy, scrubby, leathery notes that often seem to engulf the aromas of berry liqueurs in the nose, or the slightly sparkly, lively, lilting quality in the texture of the wine itself, almost belying a meatiness of tannin and dried grape skin flavor.

Whatever the case, it was like my first love, which happened to be a girl from a Hawaiian plantation – a black maned mestiza, first sighted bouncing up onto the back of a truck, work gloves belted at the waist, jeans snug around the thighs and tucked into dusty leather, steel tip work boots, and (like me) 15 years old going on whatevah. I was tongue tied and discombobulated for weeks; and even long after, incapable of understanding exactly why ordinary conversation seemed as strenuous as swimming in mud.

But conversation with the maddening mestiza did continue for some time, thank you; but with Bandol, the conversation has been going for much longer. It is, after all is said and done, a wine that never seems light or heavy, lean nor fat, zesty but never sharp, delicious with a stew of meat, and delicious with a stew of fish. In short, the ideal lifelong companion.

Many years later, reading the chapter devoted to Domaine Tempier in Kermit Lynch’s classic book, Adventures on the Wine Route, I came to understand why this wine, of all wines, retains its eternal dusty leathered youth: particularly the fact that it comes from a magnificent vineyard in Provence’s Le Plan de Castellet, close enough to the Mediterranean where the air is pungent with the smell of the ocean mixed with scrubby herbs of the chalky hillsides. How François Peyraud plowed and hoed the field by hand rather resort to herbicides, and fought mildew by spraying the vines (mostly Mourvèdre, with some grapes of the Grenache) only with natural sulfur from the soil of a nearby region so that the terroir could remain pristine and protected from artificial intrusion.

And how Jean-Marie Peyraud, following his father Lucien’s lead, aged the Bandol strictly in large, well used casks (rather than new, small oak barrels) so that the wine tasted of grapes and earth rather than freshly hewn trees, and bottled with absolutely no sulfites so that years after, when drinking Domaine Tempier Bandol, you would still feel like you were drinking directly from the cask, when the wine still tastes like it is just squeezed from the grapes.

Indeed, Domaine Tempier’s Bandol is a wine that really doesn’t age. That is to say, it will retain its deep color and fragrance – in fact, deepen in color and fragrance – even as the years fly by. I kid you not, as this very fact was driven home to me one night (oh, about eleven years ago) when Kermit himself served me a muscular 20 year old Vieux Télégraphe Châteauneuf-du-Pape, followed by a regally scented 20 year old Chave Hermitage, followed by a 20 year old Domaine Tempier… all double-blind (the identities of the wines hidden from me in decanters), and densest, darkest, most fragrant wine of the three was still, after all that time, the Bandol!

But I wasn’t surprised, because I’d already been entangled with Bandol for some time. Now are you getting interested?

Okay, then you must first find yourself a bottle of the 2006 Domaine Tempier Bandol Classique (about $40); which, although is an entry level Bandol (Tempier produces several single vineyard Bandols with even more pent-up energy and power), has all the Bandolishness you need: a nose of sweet berries (sometimes I think cassis, other times framboise) floating over the glass with wispy, invisible clouds of earth (freshly composted humus… perfume to a gardener) and gunflint mixed with a subtle ocean salinity; and on the palate, juicy, rich, medium to full flavors, tugging at the senses like that old, familiar, perfectly agreeable pain (ah, that girl from the fields).

When Kermit and I tasted that 20 year old Bandol, he and his wife Gail Skoff served up squab and a casserole of scalloped potatoes layered with truffles. Of course, the match was perfect in every way, but not exactly your normal Friday night meal. In lieu of that, I prescribe slow smoked birds, like duck or Cornish game hen. But from many years of experience, I also know that Bandol’s salt and flint nuanced berry qualities are absolutely delicious with Island style smoked pulled pork (what we call kalua pig), which differs from Southern style pulled pork in that it’s not mixed in or served with a vinegary, sweet-spicy barbecue sauce (Bandol doesn’t have the pointedly sweet, berry jam flavors like, say, California Zinfandel to handle American barbecue sauces).

No, for Bandol all you need is a fork tender, steamy pile of smoked pork dolled up with nothing more than rock salt. The ancient Hawaiians traditionally dug a 6 x 4 x 3 foot hole in the ground to make their kalua – the whole pig cooked over blazing hot rocks, covered with banana leaves and burlap, and then buried in the ground to steam a good 24 hours. I’m not suggesting you find your fatted pig, dig up the backyard or drive down to Louisiana for your banana leaves. After many years of living off-island, I’ve devised my own total “lazy man’s” way of cooking Hawaiian style pulled pork, requiring nothing more than time:

5-8 lb. pork butt
¼ cup sea salt (Hawaiian if you can find it; kosher in a pinch)
2 oz. liquid smoke (or ½ bottle of Wright’s Liquid Hickory Smoke)

Pre-heat oven to 350° F. Score pork and place in a big enough Dutch oven. Combine salt and liquid smoke and rub all over pork. Pour water half-way up side of pork; cover with heavy duty aluminum foil and roast in oven, at least 1 hour per pound.

The entire house will smell like a smoker, but that’s okay… just open a window and pop a well chilled bottle of Domaine Tempier’s Bandol rosé (some say, the finest dry pink wine in the world). Remove pork from water, place in large bowl and shred with tongs or strong forks. Mix in additional rock salt to taste. Serve with steamed white rice, collard greens or spinach, fresh sliced tomatoes, the Bandol rouge, and you’re in business!


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