Your Guide to Organic, Biodynamic and Natural Wine

Olivier Cousin Trial

Jim’s Loire has a 3 part write-up about Olivier Cousin’s day in court:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

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Outside of central Boston, beyond the new cocktailians and craft beer bars in Cambridge, the Red Line ends at Davis Square, home of Tufts University. In the past year, several cocktail saloons and organic wine bars have popped up here, including Spoke Wine Bar. As the name suggests, Spoke offers bespoke small plates, from Chef John DaSilva, in a casual speakeasy setting with an extensive organic wine list, handpicked from small wineries by the owner, Felisha Foster. This past weekend, I had the opportunity to speak with Foster about her impressive career, love of Boston, and of course, organic wine.

Falling into wine (her own words) fifteen years ago Foster has worked on the retail side, as a distributor and an importer, and most recently spent five years working as a buyer at Dave’s Fresh Pasta, a local favorite. At Dave’s she earned a reputation for building the Davis Square wine palate by choosing wines from small European wineries, but recently discovered that the retail side was no longer for her. After an epiphany on a motorcycle trip out west, Foster decided she was ready for something else.

“The space popped up right next to Dave’s, so it just kind of made sense because I knew the community already had a built-in clientele,” said Foster. “I really wanted to take the plunge.” In fall of 2012, Spoke opened its doors, with Foster stationed at her spot at the front door, warmly greeting patrons into the dimly lit cozy space. The wine list, which rotates frequently, features wines listed in order from “Light to Full-Bodied,” with knowledgeable sommeliers at the ready. During my visit, I tried a Filipa Pato 2012 Chenin Blanc from Portugal. While not certified organic, the Pato is like many of the wines Foster chooses, practicing organic production, but feel they are too small to make the leap to get certified.

“I’m interested in portfolios and the problem with the whole organic thing is that a lot of the people that I deal with are not going to get certified,” Foster said, “They’re like, ‘My family’s been doing this for eight generations, why would we pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to get a stamp on the back of our label for something that we’ve been doing forever?’”

She is drawn to these smaller importers and portfolios less by the fact that they are organic, but for the quality their smaller production yields. “I’m drawn to the way those wines taste because they have more of a sense of place – they don’t taste commercial,” she said.

Foster, who works with distributors like Dressner and Kermit Lynch, handle many wines including some that are biodynamic and sulfite-free. Her regular clientele have learned to trust her opinion and relationship with the wines over the little green label. Like the producers Foster works with, she maintains a close relationship in the Davis community – evident by her proximity to the bar – she lives four minutes away. And the feeling is mutual, “I just love the area and the community – we’ve been very well-received.”

Spoke is located in Somerville, MA at 89 Holland St.


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Organic and biodynamic wines now come from all parts of Italy, as these practices are beginning to seriously take hold in the country. One of the Sicilian wineries that has adhered to these practices for the past 20 years is Manfredi Guccione from Palermo. The winery is located at 500 meters above sea level in the hills of Contrada Cerasa, near the city of Monreale; an area in Sicily where people from Albania migrated generations ago, and where a local language is still spoken that is akin to Albanese. The area’s grapes were usually sold for blending wines, because of their high sugar content.

In 2005, Guccione decided to change the way he grew his grapes and cut yields drastically. He used both ancient Sicilian winery and natural winemaking techniques to produce his wines. They use field blends for their wines, rather than planting clones or genetically modified plants.

Harvests are done by hand and fermentation takes place using ambient yeasts. They add nothing to the wines, nor do they filter them, preferring to leave them in the most natural state possible. Additionally, they have lowered the amount of sulfur they use. This natural approach continues through bottling and packaging, putting on the labels by hand and using beeswax to seal the bottles.

Their motto in Sicilian is “Stu Vinu fa respirare l’anima,“ loosely translated to ”this wine helps the soul to breathe."

The winery was certified organic in 1996, relatively early in the history of natural winemaking in Italy. They are moving towards becoming a biodynamic winery as well.

The winery only produces mono-varietal wines, focusing on indigenous varieties such as Trebbiano, Catarratto, Perricone, Nerello Mascalese and Nero d’Avola. They choose to make only mono-varietals because they feel they reflect the perfect terroir of the area and the precise microclimate that they are blessed with.

I was introduced to the winery during Vinitaly 2013. They participated in the event as part of the Vivit group of organic, biodynamic wines – a separate section in the fair. The 2014 edition of Vinitaly will have a much larger number of “natural wines” from all over the world.

The winery has clay soils, and a particular microclimate with large thermal excursions of temperature. They produce 21.000 bottles annually, divided among eight wines. The wines are sold in a number of European countries such as France, Spain, Germany, England, Norway and Sweden, as well as in Japan, the US and Australia.

The family was truly lovely and I enjoyed the wines immensely, a good reason to go back to Palermo and Monreale to visit the winery and the amazing Monreale Cathedral.

Tasting Notes

Lolik 2011

100% Trebbiano that spends four months in 3 hl tonneaux, and then in stainless steel tanks for five months before being released. This was a beautiful white wine with floral notes and minerality. Perfect for light summer fare.They also make another version of Trebbiano called Veruzza that is only aged in stainless steel.

Gibril 2011

This is made from 100% Nerello Mascalese. It matures in 4 hl tonneaux. It was a gorgeous red wine with fresh red fruit aromas and flavors, as well as rich, chewy tannins. This grape variety grows well at higher altitudes. Many will recognize it from the wines of Mt. Etna, where it is often blended with Nerello Cappuccio. Some say that it is genetically related to the Sangiovese grape from Tuscany.

Arturo di Lanzeria 2011

This wine is made from 100% Perricone. This wine is refined in 4 hl tonneaux as well. The wine was deep ruby red in color with lovely red fruits, some oak and lots of spice. It also had chewy tannins and a hint of minerality. It also has considerable minerality for a red wine grape. Perricone is another Sicilian grape that is often used in blends. It too is supposedly related to Sangiovese. 

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Coulee de Serrant

Coulee de Serrant

Nicholas Joly is as close to a living legend as the Loire Valley gets, especially in terms of organic and biodynamic wine. He holds court in a rambling old château in Savennières, hidden behind ancient stone walls, vineyards covering the hill behind the study. He does not live here but, instead, resides in the 12th Century monastery behind the hill.

Nicolas Joly and his daughter Virginie

Nicolas Joly and his daughter Virginie

Joly is an evangelist for natural winemaking and the moment you meet him, he will challenge your ideas on the subject. Sure, people may not use pesticides, even follow biodynamics in the fields, he says about his fellow winemakers in the Loire and elsewhere, but when they go into the cellars there are almost no restrictions. That, he warns, is when the funny stuff happens – like re-yeasting, which he alleges is a common practice.

If you let him (and face it, you have little choice) he will talk about his new passion – truth in wine labels. He lists ingredients used to fine wines or additives being used and says “consumers should know.” It truly is horrifying and you can’t help but agree with him. This will go on for a while and then he might be called away to the phone. He’ll point to the wines, three carafes lined up on a tray, and simply say, “help yourself.”

All Joly’s wines are hand-harvested in four or five passes as they reach botrytis stage, and have been farmed biodynamically for the past thirty years. Compost comes from 10 cows and 2 bulls, plus a herd of Ouessant sheep that winter in the vineyards.

The three wines tasted were 2011 Le Vieux Clos, 2011 Clos de la Bergerie and the 2011 Coulée de Serrant, the last his very own appellation. The wines were open for seven days and showed exceptionally well – he posits that Chenin picked at this late stage gets better after it is opened. The Clos de la Bergerie especially shined, a very rich, very refined Chenin that clearly benefited from being open so long.


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From Dr. Vino:

Frédéric Niger Van Herck, a partner and the winemaker at Domaine de l’Ecu, posted the news that their “Expression de Granite” 2012, one of three bottlings that express the different soil types, has been denied the approval of the tasting committee. Here what he said on FB:

News of the day: Granite 2012 has just been rejected by the AOC tasting committee–and unanimously, no less… Promised for next year, full-on chemistry, mechanical harvesting, commercial yeasts, full use of enzymes, and sulphur galore… It should pass that way.

The worst thing is that everything is sold out and have nothing left… When will these official tastings end that turn the beautiful into standardized products? [my translation]

Long live the French wine!

He elaborated that the panel of five tasters judged his wine to be oxidized, adding “what a bunch of…”

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Le Bon Petit Diable

When I was in Angers in the Loire Valley a couple of weeks ago, I attended La Levee de Loire, an all-biodynamic, all-Loire Valley tasting that blew my mind. Pound for pound, it was one of the best tastings I have ever attended, and I’ve been to a few. After tasting for a couple of hours, I had to rush to catch a train to Paris, but on my way out I was grabbed by Joel Menard, who, with his wife Christine, have been farming biodynamically and making wines at Domaine des Sablonnettes in the Coteaux de Layon for over 20 years. I got to know Joel here in the States because I sold his wines at my shop, and he even hosted a tasting for my customers, thanks to the folks at Jenny & Francois Selections.

I told Joel that I had stopped by his table, but no one had been there (probably out for a smoke), and that I had to catch a train. But he wasn’t going to let me go anywhere until I tasted through all of his new releases back inside the exposition. So back inside I went to taste. The wines were all wonderful. It was such fun to see the pride on his face as I rolled my eyes with delight after each sip. To pick just one to recommend is impossible, but if I were to suggest the best introduction to their wines it would be Le Bon Petit Diable. It’s 100% Cabernet Franc that sees no wood and sits in steel tanks for about 6 months before bottling with just a touch of S02. It is a light, vibrant, gulper that cries for a slight chill before enjoying this fresh glass of raspberries and lemon zest with your favorite vegetarian or chicken dish. And you’ll like it even more knowing you can have it for about $18.

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Domaine Louis Métaireau Grand Mouton

Domaine Louis Métaireau Grand Mouton

The Grand Mouton vineyard occupies a slope of the Maine River overlooking St. Fiacre, with its ancient church perched high atop a hill. Behind it is the Sèvre River, the other component of the famed Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine sub-appellation. The domaine’s vines range in age from 30+ years to a parcel planted in 1937. To protect the vines, they are tended organically and everything is harvested by hand, a rarity in an area where 98% of all grapes are machine harvested. Today, the stewards of the domaine are Marie-Luce Metaireau and Jean-Francois Guilbaud.

Marie-Luce Metaireau and Jean-Francois Guilbaud

Marie-Luce Metaireau and Jean-Francois Guilbaud

We were welcomed to their kitchen table for a tasting. The wines (all 100% Melon) stay 6 to 8 months on lees, un-racked, living in cement casks lined with glass not unlike a bottle. The winery produces three labels – Grand Mouton, Carte Noire and Cuvee 1. In the Grand Mouton wines, the storied terroir will always shine through with the most mineral expression. The 2012 had minerality balanced with an already burgeoning elegance, while the 2011 had higher acidity and more prominent minerality on display. In contrast, the 2011 Petit Mouton (from the estate’s youngest vines, which are about 30 year old) was fresh, austere and perfect for oysters.

Carte Noire tended to be more fruit forward and rounder than Grand Mouton as it is picked later in the harvest. We tasted four Cuvee 1 vintages – the 2011 showing beautiful balance and elegance, while 2010 led with fruit. The 2005 Cuvee 1 was exceptional, a rich nose, very complex with an acid finish bringing together the full power of the wine.


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Natural Wine Tour Of Paris

If you’re heading off to Paris — and there should always be some excuse to do that — you’ll find yourself rewarded not only bythe obvious (museums, food, the sheer beauty and magnificence of it all), but also with a bounty of natural wines, wine bars, restaurants and wine shops in every arrondissement. The natural wine scene is exploding all over France. I had the privilege of being there recently, and set out on a mission to check out as many as possible. Even in a week you can’t hit them all. Some are already well known, but here are a few spots you may not be familiar with, and well worth checking out.




Six years ago, I walked past this place and saw a window full of natural wine bottles calling my name. Unfortunately, they were closed for the day, it being Sunday, but the image stuck with me all these years. Coincidentally, we met a vigneron at the Dive Bouteille in Saumur who happened to highly recommend it, so of course I had to make it a priority.

If you’re not familiar with it, the Buttes aux Cailles is a neighborhood on a hill near the Place D’Italie in the 13th. It’s more like a little village than an urban neighborhood, one where you can almost forget that you’re in a huge city. Tandem is on Rue de Buttes aux Cailles and is run by Nicolas (front of the house) and Philippe (the kitchen). They’re a charming team, and they seem to be the entire staff.

The food is extraordinary and classic, the wine list a who’s-who of the natural wine world: Henri Milan, Claude Courtois, Lemasson, Mathieu Coste, Xavier Benier, Fouassier, Gilles Bley and on and on. After your meal, take a walk down the Villa Daviel and discover a tree-lined street lined with single family homes that look like they belong in the countryside. A wonderful find and a memorable experience.

La Cave De L’insolite

Axel and Arnaud are brothers who own this relaxed, cozy wine bar/restaurant in the heart of the trendy 11th. There’s a fire going in the fireplace, communal and private tables, a spiral staircase going up to another dining area and a wall full of all natural and very affordable wines.

You can drop in and buy one to take it home, or add 7euros to the bottle price and have it right at your table. There are wines by the glass as well, of course. The food is simple, clean, fresh, not heavy or expensive, and all of the ingredients are touted as biodynamic. There’s a different killer risotto every day, and every dish comes with fresh organic vegetables. I lingered over my lunch because I wanted to enjoy it all, and I did. You walk out of there feeling very satisfied, not stuffed. Before you leave, however, stop in the bathrooms downstairs for an extra-added surprise.

Aux Tonneaux Des Halles

A 1920’s brasserie in the heart of tourist-land, Les Halles? A menu that’s an homage to classic heart attack food? Have I lost my mind? Not at all, because not only is the food good big retro grub, but someone had the genius idea to pair it with a fantastic natural wine list.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I just get a hankering for a meal that’s all wrong health-wise, something along the lines of oeufs mayonnaise to start, followed up by a hefty-sized steak frites (marrow bone on the side), and washed down with a hearty red. That’s exactly what I did, but I justified it because the red was a Mas Foulaquier l’Orphee Pic St-Loup ’11, biodynamic/organic, hence better for me, right? Seriously, the food, for what it is, was perfectly delicious, perfectly executed, and perfectly what the doctor ordered.

The wine list was a revelation. Besides the Foulaquier, there was Descombe VV Brouilly, Foillard Fleurie, and miracle of miracles, L’Anglore Chemin de la Brune, to name a few of the many surprises. It just all worked, including the décor, which looked like it hadn’t been touched in decades. So if you get tired of food that looks like foam, and portions that are the size of a golf ball, wander on over to Les Halles, plop down on a nice old red banquette and chow down. It’s open everyday, all day, and late at night. And don’t forget to order a bottle of Tribouley VdP des Cotes Catalanes Orchis while you’re at it.

Le Chapeau Melon

Le Chapeau Melon

Le Baratin & Le Chapeau Melon

If you’re heading east to the Belleville section of Paris for a great wine experience, chances are you’re going to Le Baratin, an iconic wine bar for the “in the know” foodies/winers. That was my motivation, and it did not disappoint. Le Baratin doesn’t need the PR, but it is worth saying that it’s a great spot with wonderful natural wines and an excellent menu. If you ask, you can indulge in a glass or carafe of a mystery wine to taste blind, especially if they think you know what you’re doing.

Le Baratin

Le Baratin

So enjoy Le Baratin, but after lunch wander over a few blocks to Le Chapeau Melon and check out one great cave a manger. Olivier Camus owns it, and was the former co-owner of Le Baratin. As he tells it, he just wanted to open a wine shop, but quickly found that he couldn’t do enough business just selling wines. According to Olivier, Parisians no longer travel outside of their neighborhoods to get things like food and wine to bring home. So he was forced into serving food in order to attract more customers. As a result, he’s now known more for his food than his wines.

One customer commented on how much he liked the wine bottle “decorations” on the restaurant walls. I confess I did not eat there, because I had just had lunch at Le Baratin, but I did go on a shopping spree, ending with four bottles to be enjoyed during the remainder of the week. Olivier’s kitchen has a great reputation, his wine selection is superb, and he’s one of the few places open Sundays for dinner. Another plus is that Belleville is just a great neighborhood, not yet totally gentrified – but hurry.

Les Fines Gueules

Les Fines Gueules

Les Fines Gueules

A great corner spot next to the Place de la Victoire, a creative Japanese chef, a young enthusiastic owner (Serge), a well stocked natural wine list and reasonable prices. How could you go wrong? I didn’t, on a sunny, hint-of-spring-in-the-air Sunday afternoon.

It all starts perfectly, because every wine in the place is available by the glass or carafe, as well as by the bottle. You want to try a wine, but not sure what it is, and not positive you’ll like it? No problem, they’ll pop it open and pour you a glass. Right away you’re in a good mood, and it continues with entrees like two poached eggs in a light cèpe cream sauce with shaved black truffles on top. That’ll get your attention. The rest is equally inventive and well prepared, and the ambience is just right. I can imagine it gets crazy at night being so near the Bourse, which would be fun too, but on weekends it hits the spot if you’re looking for a quiet, light bite and natural wines. Bordeaux need not apply, we’re talking the Savoie, Jura, Loire and Rhone Valley. I even had a wine I used to sell in my wine shop. It was great to enjoy an old friend.

Ah, so many places, so little time. But here are a few more that are definitely worth trying. Some of them I’ve been to, others were recommended by vignerons, waiters and owners of other natural wine bars in Paris. Given the sources, I figure they’re a solid bet.

Aux Deux Amis

Aux Deux Amis

Le Verre Vole (10e)
Le Nansouty (18e)
Vivant (10e)
O Divin (19e)
La Nouvelle Mairie (5e)
Abri (10e)
Aux Deux Amis (10e)


La Cave de L’Insolite
Les Fines Gueules
Le Verre Vole

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