Your Guide to Organic, Biodynamic and Natural Wine


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.

Website: www.muscadet-grandmouton.com


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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.

Tandem

Tandem

Tandem

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)

Websites

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


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NOBILE RISERVA BACK NEW

Il Conventino, one of a handful of wineries in Montepulciano that produce organically farmed grapes, was recently awarded the coveted Tre Bicchieri status from the Italian guide, Gambero Rosso. The winery is in a privileged location between the Val di Chiana and the Val d’Orcia, and its 5 hectares of vineyards are located at between 250 – 580 meters above sea level.

The Brini brothers – Pino, Duccio and Alessandro – bought the winery in 2003, and immediately made the decision to become organic. Today the winery is mostly run by Pino’s son Alberto and a cousin, Enzo, will soon join him. They also use a very famous enologist as a consultant, winemaker Attilio Pagli.

They were among the first in the area to farm organically, using strict pruning techniques, leaving only a few buds on the cane, exposing the vines to air and light in order to create a perfect microclimate within the canopy and choosing the right moment to harvest the grapes. They also plant grasses between the vines to stimulate competition with the grasses for nutrients and to keep the soil alive and active.

Alberto noted they use ambient yeast as well, and try to keep everything in balance on the farm. He said they used the grasses as a way to contrast humidity and to keep microorganisms, such as bacteria and insects, at bay. He said they believed in the technique of multi-crops to keep the land healthy.

The winery makes a series of wines including a Rosato, a Rosso di Montepulciano, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva, as well as a white wine, Grappa, Vino Santo, and also an olive oil.

The history of wine in Montepulciano extends all the way back to the Etruscans. Montepulciano is a hilly town with its vineyards located at 250 to 600 meters above sea level. Some 1,300 hectares of vineyards are registered in the books and are allowed to produce Vino Nobile di Montepulciano D.O.C.G. while another 389 hectares can produce Rosso di Montepulciano. There are about 7.6 million bottles of Vino Nobile produced annually and about 2.6 million bottles of Rosso di Montepulciano. An interesting fact is the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano was the first red wine to receive the Denominazione d’Origine Controllata e Garantita (D.O.C.G.) designation on July 1, 1980.

The Consorzio represents 251 producers or about 90% of the vineyards in the area. There are also 74 bottlers who are part of the Consortium. About 32% of Vino Nobile is sold in Italy while the other 68% is sold internationally. Germany is a very large market for this wine as are the Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland. About 17% of the production goes to the United States. I’m not at all surprised by these numbers, because every time I have visited the town there have been huge numbers of German tourists coming through. What I do find surprising though is that more of this wonderful wine made from a grape Americans love, Sangiovese, isn’t sold to the United States.

One of the reasons that I think Nobile isn’t as appreciated as it should be in the United States is that it tends to be tannic and astringent on the palate when it is young. Nobile is a wine that takes a long time to show its best face, something that those who like immediate gratification have a hard time with. Additionally, most Americans don’t have wine cellars where they can keep a wine for a number of years as it matures. Those that do won’t be disappointed; Vino Nobile shows its exceptional aromas and flavors with time.

Tasting Notes:

Rosato del Conventino I.G.T.

This wine is made from the first pressing of the grapes and has lovely fruit and floral aromas and flavors.

Rosso di Montepulciano D.O.C.

Made from 80% Sangiovese (Prugnolo Gentile), 15% Colorino, Canaiolo, and Mammolo. The grapes are hand harvested. The wine spends 15/20 days on the skins macerating at controlled temperature and then three months in large Slavonian oak barrels and some time in the bottle before being released. This Rosso was quite full-bodied with cherry notes and a nice finish.

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano D.O.C.G. 2009

This wine is made in much the same way as the Rosso, but macerates at a slightly warmer temperature and spends 24 months in Slavonian oak barrels and then some months in the bottle. This wine is 80% Sangiovese (Prugnolo Gentile) and 15% Colorino and Canaiolo. On the nose is a classic Vino Nobile with cherry, spice, tobacco and oak tones, with an earthy layer throughout and softer tannins than I expect from a Nobile. This is because the vintage was quite warm.

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano D.O.C.G. 2010

The 2010 version spent less time on the skins macerating, only 10 days, and had slightly rougher tannins when I tasted it, although the wine was very elegant and refined. 2010 was said to be a more classic vintage.

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano D.O.C.G. Riserva 2008

The Riserva is made in the same fashion as the Rosso and the Vino Nobile, but spends 30 months aging in Slavonian oak and six months in the bottle before it is released into the market. The Riserva was beautiful, with great structure and depth, harmonious and balanced at the same time. It also presented classic cherry, earth, spice and earthy aromas and flavors and some wood undertones.


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From Decanter:

A biodynamic winemaker who refused to spray his vines with insecticide against a dangerous disease has said he is confident of victory following a court hearing, but prosecutors want him fined.

Emmanuel Giboulot emerged from the courtroom in Dijon today (24 February) to announce that ‘our arguments were listened to and I am fairly confident’.

He was facing a fine of up to €30,000 and possibly prison, but prosecutors requested a fine of just €1,000, with half that amount suspended. A verdict is due 7 April.


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Domaine Bio Coste Biau ‘06

While in Saumur for this year’s Dive Bouteille, I found myself dining at Bistrot Les Tontons, a cozy, good-vibe place with plenty of local natural wines. Gerald Beaumont, Tonton’s owner, kindly introduced us to fellow diner Mathieu Coste, vigneron of Domaine Bio Coste in the Coteaux du Giennois, north of Sancerre.

Mathieu Coste

Mathieu Coste

We hit it off immediately, and with Mathieu desperately wanting to practice his English, and I my French, we managed to have a long conversation about his natural winemaking practices. Then, much to my delight, he presented four of his wines for tasting, one of them being the Biau ’06. Biau, he explained, is the local vernacular for “beautiful” (as well as a play on “bio”) and it’s accurately named. The cepage is 80% Gamay to 20% Pinot Noir. The minerality, which he calls his acidity, is stunning. The aroma is mushrooms and moist earth, and then comes the spice and brilliant fruit on the palate.

While it’s ready to be enjoyed now, he thinks it can go another ten years. The 2006 is his current vintage, a testament to his patience in the winery. The cost is a slight splurge, probably around $25, but well worth the experience.

And speaking of experiences, while in the Loire we also managed to swing by La Levee de la Loire, a small, superb, all-natural, all-Loire Valley wine tasting held in Angers. I’ve never tasted a more uniformly amazing assemblage of wines, many available here, and others looking for a home here in U.S. If you haven’t already, get yourself to your favorite natural wine shop and check out their Loire selections. They’re hard to beat for their diversity, their elegance, their compatibility with every cuisine, or even just as a great vin de soif.


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Marco Capitoni

Marco Capitoni

The beauty of the Val d’Orcia in Tuscany has been celebrated since the Renaissance, earning the region its World Heritage Site status by UNESCO. I had the good fortune to sit down with one of the wine producers from this area that is blessed with such beauty, Marco Capitoni.

The Capitoni have been farmers in this area for generations. They farm both grains and vines at elevations of around 400 meters above sea level. “Our wines are all created on the vine,” Capitoni noted in an interview, “We have a limited production and we want to keep it that way. When the grapes get to our cellar, they are all healthy and rich in phenolics.”

wpid-Capitoni-interno-cantina.jpg

Capitoni and I had a long discussion about the difficulties of growing a mono-crop and how it tends to exhaust the land. Captioni farms organically and works on managing the energy within the plant. He also works a lot on canopy management. “We work on managing the different phases of each plant. Not all of the leaves work at the same pace, nor do they work at the time. A three-month old leaf may not be working in terms of photosynthesis at the same level as a two-month old leaf. It depends on each plant.”

As one might expect, the wines in this region are based on the Sangiovese grape. Each year the area holds a wine festival in September called “Divin Orcia.” And every year Capitoni selects a phrase that signifies the wine and how the year went in the Val d’Orcia they print on the label. A recent one included La soddisfazione della fatica, le speranze ed i risultati… Orgoglio, which translates to “The satisfaction of hard work, hope and the results… Pride.”

Capitoni noted that each plant on his farm yields one kilogram of grapes or one bottle of wine. Captioni grows both Sangiovese and Merlot. In 1999, they added 10,000 Sangiovese plants and 6,000 Merlot plants. The Capitoni wines are aged in wood. He also used ambient yeast rather than selected yeasts. “The work is done in the vineyard, we don’t use any magic potions,” he added.

wpid-Capitoni-Orcia.jpg

Orcia D.O.C. 2009

Made from a blend of Sangiovese (80%) and Merlot (20%). The wine ferments in stainless steel tanks for 18 days and then ages in barriques for 12 months followed by five months in the bottle. The wine was deep ruby red in color, with aromas and flavors of cherry and small red fruits on the nose and palate. It also had some tertiary aromas of tobacco and spice. It was a beautiful expression of Sangiovese, warmer than some of the Chiantis I have tasted but not jammy. It was harmonious and well balanced.

Orcia D.O.C. 2010

Also a blend of Sangiovese (80%) and Merlot (20%), I felt it had more tannins and was slightly more rustic than the 2009. It also had the cherry and the small red fruits aromas and flavors as well as the tobacco and cedar notes.

The vintage was a bit different. The winter was cold and damp while spring had considerable rain. July was sunny and dry but the vines were a bit later than in previous years in terms of their flowering. September was also dry but the tannins weren’t as ripe as in some other years so timing of the harvest was crucial.

Frasi 2008:

This wine comes from just one hectare that the Captioni family farms. The vines are 40 years old and are a field blend of Sangiovese, Colorino and Canaiolo. The three grapes are all fermented together with ambient yeast. This wine undergoes 18 days of skin contact so the tannins are riper and bigger than in the two previous wines. The wine undergoes pumping over during the skin contact period. The aging of this wine is done in 33 hl barrels of French oak from Allier. The wine is deep ruby red in color with strong cherry, herb and mushroom notes but with surprising minerality, a result of the soil with is a mix of sand and limestone with marine fossils. The tannins were much grittier on this wine.

For more information, or to visit the winery, go to www.capitoni.eu.


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The director of Mondovino, Jonathan Nossiter, is releasing a new documentary about natural wine called “Natural Resistance.”

From Wine-Searcher:

While “Natural Resistance” is about wine, it is not intended to be a sequel to “Mondovino,” according to Nossiter. However, it’s likely to ruffle a few feathers. Not only does it extol the virtues of so-called “natural wine” – a term that has no agreed definition – it attacks the country’s quality system, the denominazione di origine controllata (DOC), as well as conventional grape growing methods.

“Natural Resistance” is “the most joyful and optimistic film I have ever made,” said Nossiter. But the introduction to the 86-minute documentary, published in the Berlin Film Festival brochure, will displease many Italian wine producers within the country’s DOC system: “What looks like a bucolic paradise, where intelligent people produce wine according to time-honored and organic methods, is actually revealed to be a battleground. The DOC association, which is supposed to look after the interests of independent vintners, promotes winemakers who produce vast amounts in a standardized quality; and the agricultural industry with its hygiene regulations excludes traditional methods of production.”

It adds: “The only thing saving the landscape from being totally destroyed is affluent foreigners using the old vineyards as summer holiday homes.”


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