Call me old-fashioned, but when given the opportunity I always like to give organic wines a try. At Maisons des Vins, those wonderful establishments in the heart of French wine districts where a huge range of local wines can be freely tasted, I will invariably sample one or two organic wines to compare with the others on offer and I am rarely disappointed.
I was delighted to hear therefore, that on the weekend of the huge Loire Valley wine trade fair in Angers, there were also two or three side events featuring organic and biodynamic wines.
Biodynamics has much in common with other organic approaches in that it emphasizes the use of manures and composts rather than artificial chemicals and pesticides on soil and plants. Methods unique to the biodynamic approach include an emphasis on integrating farm animals, the cultivation of crops and the care of the land. It values local production and distribution systems, the use of local breeds and varieties and the astronomical calendar to guide cultivation timings. The philosophy of biodynamics extends from the field into the wine cellar and beyond.
At the tasting in the beautiful old building called the ‘Greniers St Jean’ we were lucky to bump into Nicolas Joly early in the proceedings. Joly is a leading proponent of biodynamic viticulture and he marked up our exhibitor list with a few “must-see” suggestions from the 125 winemakers at the show. The show featured a good forty Loire producers, including Jolys’ own Coulée de Serrant, now principally run by his daughter Virginie. We tasted a number of his truly splendid white wines: the sublime Coulée de Serrant, minerally Les Vieux Clos, old vine Clos de la Bergerie; these are astonishingly good Chenin Blancs.
We talked at length with organic and biodynamic growers about their principals and their wines and could not fail to be impressed by their passion. Joly felt that the consumer had the right to know what was in his wines and deplored the use of flavourings and artificial yeast, all used perfectly legally by many wine producers, both large and small.
Of the dozen winemakers from Burgundy we were directed to Pierre de Benoit of Domaine de Villaine in the village of Bouzeron. Here, they uniquely grow the local variety called Aligoté d’Or, quite a treat, especially if compared to thin and acid Aligoté Gris, which is most often served with a generous dash of blackcurrant liqueur as the popular aperitif called Kir. This was a different beast altogether. Both the terroir and the cultivation conspire to reduce yields and highlight the qualities of this grape, producing delicious wines with floral, mineral and pastry flavours.
Around 12% of wines in the Alsace are organic and we very much enjoyed a tasting of Sylvana, Riesling and especially Riesling Grand Cru Pfingstberg at the stand of Domaine Zusslin. Alsace Grand Cru wines maycome from one of over 50 villages, but represent only 4% of the total production of the region. They are well worth seeking out.
From the Minervois in the Languedoc-Roussillon we tasted white wine from another rare grape, Terret bourret, while we were delighted to see Clos du Joncuas representing the Rhone, having bought several of their wines while in Gigondas last year.