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A progress report on biodynamic wines in France

26 Dec 2006 by Guest contributor

Paul Howard of www.winealchemy.com has submitted the following report on a recent tasting of some particularly intriguing wines.
 
Frédéric Grappe of Dynamic Wines recently showed a selection of wines from French biodynamic producers at the London offices of Hakkasan, the Michelin-starred restaurant. Dynamic Wines is a new merchant supplying organic and biodynamic wines to the on-trade. Hakkasan, thanks to wine buyer Christine Parkinson, now highlights biodynamic wines as “spiritual wines” on their wine list. Naturally, Christine was also on hand to taste these wines and I, as a long time advocate of biodynamics, made up this rather exclusive trio.
 
WHITES
 
Domaine Comte Abbatucci, Cuvée Faustine 2004 Ajaccio Blanc , Corsica
12.5%Vermentino, (Rolle)
Jean-Charles Abbatucci runs this estate, with 24 hectares of vines in Corsica’s Taravo valley. This is a mixed agricultural farm, just as Rudolph Steiner envisaged when he was formulating his biodynamic principles. It is also a haven for native Corsican vine varieties such as Vermentino, Nielluccio, Sciaccarello and Barbarossa. The estate has been cultivated biodynamically since 2000, with Demeter certification following in 2003.
 
Cuvée Faustine is from low yielding vines over 40 years old. This is rich and round with plenty of fresh acidity. Sweet fruit, quite fat, focused minerality and very long. White flowers, thyme and a hint of quince and anise. A real fresh wild herb quality. Took a while to open up in the glass, after 20 minutes or so was showing more citrus and floral notes and a more-ish salty tang. Very individual and original – a truly Corsican terroir. Drink as an aperitif, or fish and shellfish will also work well.
 
 
Domaine Milan, Le Grand Blanc MMIV [2004] Vin de Table, St Rémy de Provence
13%Grenache Blanc 60%, Rolle (Vermentino) 20%, Rosusanne 20%.
Henri Milan took over from his father in 1986 and first created this flagship white wine from a single Provençal vineyard of 3.5 hectares in 1989. Milan isn’t BD; currently the property is organic but Milan may utilise BD practices in future years. This is a fabulous white wine, for me the pick of the whites shown. While it’s just a humble Vin de Table, this outclasses many a White Hermitage.
 
It immediately commands attention with its pale gold sheen. An amazingly complex nose is on offer, spice notes come through first before the floral character – broom flowers and even a hint of lavender as it opened up. The complexity continues on the palate, rich and expressive, retaining a fresh character and nerve that underlines a lovely creaminess. Very long indeed, with a slightly bitter finish. This is a very “intellectual” wine; it makes you think and yet is wonderfully enjoyable too. A very long life ahead. Superb.
 
Domaine Prieuré Saint Christophe 2004 Roussette de Savoie. 2004
13%Altesse (Roussette).
Michel Grisard is the owner of the domaine, at Fréterive in the French Alps. On this evidence it’s a real pity Altesse isn’t better known and more widely grown. Pale silver flecked with lime, this has a super aromatic nose – very leesy, showing an attractive yeasty, spicy and nutty quality. This has had 8-9 months of oak ageing and there is clear evidence of burgundian battonage at work. Nutty flavours are reprised on the palate, with good fresh acidity and minerality, finishing gently creamy with hazelnuts to the fore. Very elegant and with lots of character. This wine is said to age like fine white Burgundy – this won’t peak for another 5 years and will easily hold for 10. I imagined drinking this with a freshly caught Trout. Probably even better with France’s related Ombre Chevalier. Excellent.
 
 
AC Jurançon Sec, Domaine de Souch, South-West. 2004. 13%. Petit Manseng 50%, Gros Manseng 40%, Petit Courbu 10%.
 
At age 60, Yvonne Hegoburu, then manager of Château de Viaud in Bordeaux, planted vines on 6.5 hectares in the south west of France at Laroin. In the film Mondovino she is quoted as saying, ‘I planted vines when my husband died. Ever since then, all this love inside me, I give it to the vines. I talk to them. I have an exchange with them’. The first harvest was in 1990 and since 1994 the vineyard has been run on BD principles, certified by Demeter.
 
Pale silver-green and with bubbles showing in the glass, quite aromatic nose, pears, no oak at all. Absolutely bone dry and very fresh clean texture with an attractive sherbet quality. This is still very austere on the palate and perhaps needs another year or so to show at its best, when it will take on a rounder and richer character. Very persistent. Ideal with shellfish or better still with fresh crab and guacamole.
 
Domaine de Souch, Cuvée Marie Kattalin 2003 Jurançon Moelleux, South West France
13.5%Petit Manseng
A wonderful Sweet Jurançon - a brassy gold with just a greenish tone glinting through, this has spent 18 months in older oak barrels provided by good friend Didier Dagueneau at Pouilly- Fumé. Petit Manseng is used as this grape is best suited to the late harvest style (the grapes when harvested have been partially dried on the vine) and can also take oak maturation. The nose is stunning – biting pineapple mixed up with crème brulee and white truffles. On the palate this just intensifies, pineapples to the fore and a delicate finish with hints of Angelica, alongside a subtle toast and custardy quality. Great balance of acid to fruit and very persistent, it finishes fresh and cleansing. Although described as Moelleux it is very gently sweet.
 
Apparently Yvonne Hegoburu, now in her Eighties, was dissatisfied with this extraordinarily hot 2003 vintage, but this wine is outstanding nonetheless and has many years ahead. Ideal with light desserts or as an aperitif, I’m told it can even be drunk with a main course, Chicken in a Girolles sauce is apparently a great match. Just keep a glass for a crème brulée to follow!
 
REDS
 
Domaine les Aphillanthes 2004 Côtes-du-Rhône Rouge
13.5%Grenache Noir 75%, Carignan 15%, Mourvèdre 10%.
Until 1998 the wines from this domaine got lost at the local co-op, at which point owners Daniel and Hélène Boulle went independent. Now they’re viewed as rising stars of the southern Rhône, employing BD methods with their 37 hectares since 2003. Daniel isn’t looking for big extracted wines; instead he wants lively fruit that gives a real sense of terroir.
 
Best opened 30 minutes or so before serving. A deep garnet colour, showing a damson fruit nose before Mouvèdre’s classic gamey/animal notes show through. The palate is very pure, with no oak to mask the fruit quality. Designed for relatively youthful drinking, this is ready now but will improve a little over the next 12-18 months. Very juicy and complex, damsons again and also a dried cherry undercurrent on the palate. Dark mineral notes and an excellent texture make this wine complete.
 
This is a structured CdR, more in the style of a Gigondas (the domaine is at Travaillan, just north west of Gigondas) and with none of the flabby character so often found in more rustic examples. Excellent.
 
Domaine Comte Abbatucci, Cuvée Faustine 2003 Ajaccio Rouge , Corsica
13% Sciacarello, Nielluccio (said to be related to Sangiovese), Carignan.
Abbatucci’s companion red to the white shown above, using Corsican grapes. This wine bridges the gap between France and Italy, containing elements of both countries. A light garnet colour, very pretty in the glass, the nose has lots going on – loose tea (is this the Nielluccio?), bramble and herby garrigue plus a slight raisin quality too. This has good structure, lovely sweet plush peppery fruit and a balance towards fresh acidity. Still plenty of tannins which give a dry and slightly austere quality. Won’t peak for another 4-5 years. Demands food, rare red meat would probably be a good match.
 
Domaine du Prieuré Saint Christophe,Tradition Mondeuse 2003 Vin de Savoie
12%Mondeuse Noire.
The red partner to the white Altesse above. This provided the kind of moment that makes my hair stand on end. Although Mondeuse might have some relationship with Syrah, visually I was reminded more of Pinot Noir. The nose is however not like Pinot, with cassis fruit, a definite tangerine tang and even a fleeting hint of gingerbread. This has high acidity, silken in texture and there’s even a hint of farmyards and sous-bois. Apparently the domaine’s quality is far ahead in Savoie, and on this evidence it’s easy to see why. There’s also a “prestige” cuvée too, only made only in the best years, and sadly unavailable for this tasting. Would probably make a good match to game birds. My personal favourite red at this tasting. Superb.
 
Les Clos Perdus, Cuvée 21 2004 Corbières, Languedoc
14%Grenache Noir 75%, Mourvèdre & Carignan 25%.
The domaine was founded by Australian winemaker Paul Old and English farmer Hugo Stewart in 2002. They have three distinct sites, these had all been abandoned by local producers because they were too difficult to work, hence the name Les Clos Perdus (the hidden vineyards).They’ve been BD since the outset.
 
A true “winter warmer”, this has lots of spice courtesy of the old-vine Grenache and a smoky nose too. I thought I even found lavender but I might have been dreaming. Red and black berries show through, with meaty, savoury notes. Clever winemaking – this has all the fruit quality that typifies the New World, seamlessly knitted with the minerality and structure from the old world. Very ripe, sweet fruit and lots of earthy minerality too. The 6 months in high toast oak nicely rounds things out. Nothing rustic, unlike many a Corbières. Instead this is all poise and charm. May improve over another 12 months, but frankly, why would anyone wait? A Jancis Robinson ex-wine of the week, need I say more? Triumphant.
 
Domaine Milan, Clos Milan 2001 Les Baux de Provence, Provence
14%Grenache Noir 80%, Syrah 20%.
This AC is apparently the first in France to insist that all wines in the appellation are produced biodynamically! Looks like Henri Milan will have to move to BD methods to retain this appellation, assuming of course that such things matter to him. The eye-catching modern art label, which apparently changes every year, suggests Milan’s pride in this wine. Clearly showing some development, a garnet colour with orange and brownish flecks. At peak now, the nose is all cassis and raisiny ripe development, Achieves an effortless balance of brambly fruit, dark animal undertones and a smoky length. Swaps elegance for power. A very good wine that probably needed decanting and more time to show at its best, but not as revelatory an experience as Milan’s white wine.
 
Domaine Cosse-Maisonneuve, Le Combal 2002 Cahors, South West France
13%  Malbec
Ex-Rugby player Matthieu Cosse and partner Catherine Maisonneuve took over an ancient Malbec vineyard of 5 hectares in 1999 and were BD from the start. Now they have 15 hectares, making separate cuvées of Cahors to show the identity of different vineyard sites. This is the second vintage of Combal and is effectively their “entry-level” wine. A typical black wine of Cahors, even the rim is bluish-purple. Unlike many a Cahors though, this has elegance and balance. The nose is all delightful Agen prunes and liquorice, reprised on the palate with chewy fruit and a creamy note from some very subtle oak treatment. Very good now, at peak perhaps in another 2 years. A million miles from those big tannic monsters that still characterise so much of Cahors. Local cuisine like Cassoulet came to mind as a food match.
 
Domaine Cosse-Maisonneuve, Le Sid 2001 Cahors, South West France
13%  Malbec
The big-brother to the Le Combal above, this 2001 was the very first vintage of Le Sid. Again, a typical Malbec black wine with a deep purple rim, very similar in colour but a year older than baby brother. However, when comparing these two wines on nose and palate, Le Sid has a good deal more intensity and a great deal more tannin too. A bigger nose, altogether more muscular and medicinal. While the tannins are well managed they are still rather stiff and angular. Much less giving at this stage than Le Combal, I found this wine to be feisty uncompromising stuff that would benefit from another 2-3 years ageing at the very least. Physically speaking, a real Rugby players’ wine.
 
 
My thanks go to Frédéric and Christine for an enjoyable and illuminating afternoon and the opportunity to encounter biodynamic wines of this quality. All were good and some were outstanding. I should state that I have no commercial relationship with either Dynamic Wines or Hakkasan. Instead, my involvement was to taste and write about these wines completely independently.
 
 
Tags:  biodynamics
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