Monday here hosted a comics-based examination of biodynamic practices in relation to wine. Following are reviews of four very different red wines from four different regions. The first two are made using biodynamic practices, and the second two are made using non-petrochemical practices.
Paolo Bea 2007 Umbria Rosso
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The complexity on this particular Paolo Bea was astounding. The tannins here are higher than on any other wine I’ve tasted. As such, it demands food (fatty salami is perfect) to help bring out the flavors, and time with open air on it. Without food the tannins make this Rosso a challenge to drink, with food the fruit is rich and lovely, accompanied by herbs. That said, I very much enjoyed drinking this wine, even with the challenge. The textures were rich, not only because of the tannins, but because of the dense sediment within the glass.
Paolo Bea is thoroughly invested in biodynamics, working a farm with grapes as only one small part of the overall estate. He is known too for saying that filtering a wine removes its soul–one is meant to experience what the grapes have to offer complete. Skimming reviews and articles on his work you’ll regularly see his wines described in this language too, as having soul with the import being that the metaphysical quality is somehow extra to what other wines would seem to offer.
Bea’s wine making practices are also manageable partially because of his focus on economy. His goals are to produce only as much wine as he can sell, rather than to push for making extra money, and also to make only wine he loves. What Bea loves is to allow nature to do its work, rather, as he puts it, than trying to dominate it.
To add to the interest of this particular Bea wine, it’s a Sagrantino blend, bringing in Sangiovese, and a touch of Montepulciano. Sagrantino is indigenous to the Umbria region where Bea grows and makes his wine.
M. Chapoutier 2005 Crozes-Ermitage
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At the end of a hard day I decided to pick the one wine I knew that would pull me in and occupy my attention with joy. I turned to this Chapoutier. The 2005 Crozes-Ermitage has just enough age on it to bring out the complexity and richness of the Syrah, but has at least 15 years more aging potential in the bottle. The flavors here bring together rich fruits, spice, and earth, with a smooth texture.
Chapoutier is known for his biodynamic commitments. He helped start a wine-focused biodynamic certification program in Europe, and freely offers critique of other biodynamic programs and their perceived limits.
The quality of Chapoutier’s wines is reliable, over a range of price-points. Currently his name carries a large presence in the wine world as he is regularly seen commenting on the current state of various areas of the Rhone, and also working with other wine makers to develop new projects.
** Post Edit for Clarification: Vineyard Practices Contrast
The first two wines mentioned in this post draw strongly on biodynamics as a system. The following two American wines utilize *elements* of biodynamic practices without carrying certification, and while allowing other non-petrochemical practices that they believe best suit their purposes. If you are interested in certified biodynamic wineries within the United States, consider the list linked at the end of this post from Wine Anorak.
Quintessa 2005 Rutherford Red Wine
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Quintessa is a beautiful estate in the Rutherford district of Napa Valley. Their Meritage red blend begins with a base of Cabernet Sauvignon, and brings in various amounts of other Bordeaux-style blend grapes, namely, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and/or Carmenere, depending on the vintage.
Quintessa’s estate utilizes biodynamic practices, without showcasing certification, focusing on diversity of plant life on the property, and the advantages of animal composts.
My sister and I visited Quintessa Estate in 2008 taking a private tour of the vineyards, and winery. They offer a barrel tasting coupled with a tasting of the vintage the relevant barrels then blend into, all alongside food pairings created by a Napa area chef. The experience was a treasure, and led to drinking this particular bottle several years later.
The 2005 Quintessa is perfectly aged now. It shows an interesting blend of both dried and fresher fruits, with earthy elements and a pleasing briny quality. Though the sardine reference might seem unusual, here it offers savory and briny elements that make the wine refreshing and nicely balanced, while still carrying the fuller qualities of a Meritage wine.
Eyrie Vineyards 2008 Pinot Noir
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Eyrie Vineyards helped start the Willamette Valley wine region. In the 1960s David Lett brought Pinot Noir, and Pinot Gris to the valley becoming the first to plant the former in the region, and the first to plant the latter in North America. Their wines bring with them consistently good quality, and I’ve become a fan of each of their grape varietals.
Jason Lett now continues the Eyrie project his father started, as well as his own. Eyrie is known and respected for its biodynamic practices showing a small but functioning farm with a range of animals (I particularly enjoy seeing how the Lett’s reference their chickens with a fondness), and other plants.
The 2008 begins with a lot of wet leaves and forest floor, and opens into a balanced range of red fruit with the spice of hatch chile, and hints of smoked bacon that surprised me. The wine is pleasantly rich flavored while medium-light bodied. I enjoyed it on its own but would be happy to drink it alongside cedar-plank or grilled salmon.
*** Post Edit: Jason Lett, the President and Wine Maker of Eyrie, has clarified that their vineyard is not strictly speaking biodynamic. My inclusion of Eyrie and Quintessa was purposeful–that though they do not showcase biodynamic certification, they do follow important aspects of biodynamic practices. As Jason Lett clarifies, they have developed “a strict set of practices all [their] own.” In other words, while the Eyrie approach strongly overlaps the focus of a healthy environment seen in Biodynamics, they part ways when it comes to the treatments mentioned on the last page of the Biodynamics comics shown here Monday. My view of these ideas is that one can share overall purposes without having to strictly follow entirely identical practices. In other words, cow manure buried in a horn in the ground might not be the only way to fulfill our goals of a healthy environment. Thanks for responding, Jason!
For a good, though partial list, of biodynamic wine makers check out Wine Anorak’s list here: http://www.wineanorak.com/biodynamic3.htm .
Again, it is good to note that some wine makers have biodynamic practices without certification. There are also wine makers that draw on biodynamic practices to develop a non-petrochemically based practice their own. In this way their goals of creating a healthy environment may be similar without the practices being entirely the same.
If you’re in the United States, for a good source of biodynamic wines online check out the following retailers:
Out of NYC
Italian Wine Merchants: http://www.italianwinemerchants.com/
The Natural Wine Company: http://www.naturalwine.com/catalog
Out of SF
Friday will take a look at how orange wines are made. Then next week we’ll review first some biodynamic orange wines, and then later in the week some other orange wines.
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