Why biodynamic agriculture doesn’t need to make sense to make great wines
Farmers who use biodynamic growing methods choose to plant, weed, treat, harvest and, if they’re winemakers, vinify in concert with the movement of the planets. The point of biodynamic growing, an agricultural movement that looks at organic farmers as folks who do something right if somewhat incompletely, is to look at the growth cycle of the entire field as one holistic unit. To those of us who bear an empirical mind and like to see cold, calculating and clear evidence to support assertions (and I do count myself among that number), biodynamic practices with their airy-fairy reliance on manure-filled and cow-horns that are buried and exhumed, water’s circular memory, and a vague tie between planetary movements and “energy” can make us roll our eyes.
Some people decry the ability of biodynamic agriculture to actually make a difference in winemaking. It’s too magical, too lacking in substance, too weird, and too unscientific, they argue. It is hard to understand exactly how or why water that has moved in one direction rather than another would affect a plant’s hydration, and it’s hard to see how burying a cow horn would do anything to affect a vineyard’s production. Being fairly empirically minded, I might accept these arguments had I not spent an afternoon with Luca di Napoli Rampolla at his biodynamically maintained Tuscan estate, Castello dei Rampolla. This afternoon changed my thinking about biodynamic methods, and even if I don’t understand them, I became a believer.
It might have been spending a couple of hours walking around the estate as Luca pulled up tufts of grass and named each plant in his hand. It might have been his patient explanation of the ways that his vines interact with the trees that surround them, with the soils that support them, and with the weather that touches them. It might have been the clear, unremitting commitment that Luca makes in every choice for his estate—from the solar panels on top of the vinification area to the placement of his chicken coop.
It might be all of that talking, walking and looking helped me grasp that choosing to prune according to how the alignment of the planets will affect the plants. Or it might be sitting on Luca’s terrace, drinking the wine that he made helped me believe. But on that Thursday afternoon, I became a biodynamic convert. I don’t really care how the science works. It’s clear to me that there’s something very special, very alive and very unique about this wine.
Italy, unlike the United States, is a place where people continue to believe in magic. I’ve never lived long enough in other areas of the world to make further comparisons, but while Americans might wistfully wish for magic, Italians feel it. It’s in the mountains and in the sea. It’s in the cities, like Venice and Rome, that shouldn’t exist, not as they do, not after all these centuries. It’s in the food and in the wine. And sometimes, I think, you just have to put science on hold, sit back, exhale, and enjoy the magic. It’s ephemeral, beautiful and vital. If it’s biodynamic, then it’s simply all the better.
IWM has the new 2011 Sammarco release coming from Castello dei Rampolla. Don’t miss this extraordinary biodynamic Super Tuscan!
Two expert selections from John Camacho Vidal
Lately I have been focusing on Super Tuscans, those Tuscan wines that don’t conform to DOCG laws. When we talk about Super Tuscan wines, we’re usually referring normally refer to red wines that producers often make with international varietals using modern forms of vinification to create a more international style. Super Tuscans tend to be big red wines, but we often forget that Super-Tuscan producers also make great white wines. I want to present two white Tuscan wines that are primarily Chardonnay-based. Chardonnay traces its origins to the Burgundy region of France; however the grape also thrives in Italy and expresses the place of origin with noticeable characteristics and its own personality. These two bottles come from great Super-Tuscan producers, Querciabella, a biodynamic estate, and Antinori, an ancient winemaking family; they’re terrific introductions to white grape Super Tuscans (although technically the Castello della Sala is a Super-Umbrian wine).
Cervaro della Sala is the flagship wine of Antinori’s Umbrian Castello della Sala estate, so you know it’s special. A blend of Chardonnay and Grechetto, an indigenous grape of Italy, the wine is fermented and aged in barriques and then matures in the bottles for ten months in the medieval cellars of the Castle. It shines a pretty yellow color and bursts with a nose full of citrus notes and sage. The palate is sharp and crisp with nice acidity balanced with stone minerality; the finish is round with traces of vanilla and a slight buttery note that lingers. Drink now to 2020.
Querciabella 2006 Batàr $89.99
An homage to white Burgundy, Querciabella’s Batàr is owner Guiseppe Castiglioni’s interpretation of Bâtard-Montrachet with an Italian twist.A blend of 50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Blanc, Batàr is very distinctive—and delicious. This full-bodied, elegant wine wafts with peaches, apples and hints of honeydew melon, followed by minerals and white flowers, all leading to slight hints of vanilla from the oak. The palate is full and clean with a nice, tart, tangy acidity that mellows out and finishes perfectly balanced. Drink now to 2020.
Two expert selections from John Camacho Vidal
Chianti Classico may feel synonymous with Italy, but it has changed a lot over the years. Once associated with the straw-covered bottle (a fiasco), Chianti was ubiquitous at every pizza restaurant. However, Chianti Classico has been evolving for over 700 years and its DOC and DOCG criteria are still changing today. Produced in central Italy’s Tuscany, the Chianti region extends between Florence and Siena with the Chianti Classico region covering around 100 square miles. For Chianti to be Chianti, it must come from the Chianti region and be made from at least 80% Sangiovese grapes. Chianti Classico can be earthy and rustic with great acidity, which allows it to pair well with an array of foods. The characteristic aromas include strawberries, violets, cherries and its high acidity on the palate.
In addition to a DOCG for Chianti, there are three DOCGs for Chianti Classico: Chianti Classico, wherein grapes are from the Chianti Classico zone and the wine must age a minimum of 12 months; Chianti Classico Riserva, where the wine ages a minimum of 24 months; and Chianti Classico Gran Selezione, wherein grapes must be estate grown and wine aged a minimum of 30 months. It’s important to note that Chianti Classico and Chianti Classico Riserva wines both have the Gallo Nero seal (black rooster) on the neck of the bottle, each with different colored borders, red for the Chianto Classico and gold for the Riserva.
Today, I’ve chosen two Chianti Classico that provide great expressions of the Classico region, one from La Maialina and one from Castello dei Rampolla. Both of these wines are delicious, and each offers insight into its individual estate and maker.
La Maialina makes its Chianti Classico to express the essence of the territory, and this wine is a deep ruby color; the nose is full of juicy red fruit followed by aromas of violet and rose petal that slowly open up to some earth notes. The palate is silky with tamed tannins that linger nicely with black and red fruit on the finish. This wine’s quality-to-price ratio is unmatched, and it drinks like a higher priced Chianti Classico. The estate’s name refers to a breed of pig (Cinta Senese) that originated in the Siena area during the 1300’s and is the only Tuscan native pig to survive extinction. This is a gem of a wine that will not burn a hole in your pocket; I suggest you buy it by the case.
Castello dei Rampolla uses biodynamic practices, which I love. Mostly known for its Super-Tuscan Sammarco and Vigna d’Alceo, Castello dei Rampolla started out making Chianti, and in my opinion its one of the best Chianti Classicos from the zone. This Chianti has a little smokiness on the nose, which gives way to aromas of cherry, red currant followed by some hints of balsamic, rosemary and slight herbal notes. The palate is full and a bit savory with notes of leather and hints of oak. The finish is loaded with spicy, raspy tannins that cling nicely. Drink now and for the next few years.
Two expert selections from Francesco Vigorito
Castello dei Rampolla’s Vigna d’Alceo is definitely a wine that flies under the radar of most Italian wine buyers, when it should sit at the forefront with Sassicaia, Ornellaia, Solaia, and the rest of the Super-Tuscan greats. Hailing from Chianti Classico, instead of the coastal region of Bolgheri, Castello dei Rampolla is a gem of an estate that utilizes a full biodynamic regimen, giving their wines a unique sense of terroir. The Vigna d’Alceo is the flagship wine, composed of Cabernet Sauvignon and touch of Petit Verdot.
This is a massive wine that displays a wealth of power, fruit, concentration, body and tannins. It’s gorgeous in stature, but this monster is going to require some time to open up in the glass. When it does, we are going to have something truly special on our hands. Get the ’97 Vigna d’Alceo while they are available. Finding vintage Vigna d’Alceo is super difficult, so if you are reading this, do not hesitate to pick them up!
Another well endowed, structured and incredible vintage for the Alceo, the ’01 has tons of class but it’s not as exuberant as the flashy ‘97. More classic in style and long lived, the 2001 has a bright, promising future ahead of it, even though its starting to drink great today. It is perhaps the finest Vigna d’Alceo made!
Two expert selections from Crystal Edgar
Although I adore white wines from the “golden slopes” in Burgundy, I also share great admiration for the lovely wines of the Loire Valley. When asked about leading producers, a certain legend immediately comes to mind—Didier Dagueneau.
Didier Dagueneau was known as the “wild man of Pouilly,” not only for his passion for car racing and for his shaggy appearance (long curly hair and a dramatic beard) but also for his ideas and determination. He was recognized as a brilliant winemaker and the best producer in the appellation. In 2008 he was in an airplane accident, leaving the reins of the estate to his children Benjamin and Charlotte. There were questions about whether or not they could carry on their father’s legacy, passion, and fervor; to the surprise of some, they have surpassed expectations in carrying the family torch.
The Dagueneau estate (not to be confused with Serge Dagueneau) makes a range of dry white wines, all Pouilly-Fumé, all biodynamic. The classic Pouilly-Fumé Blanc, deriving from a blend of several vineyards, is bright and soft. The Buisson Renard is more flinty in style, but still round, and more age-worthy. The remaining two wines are both barrel fermented single-vineyard superstars that derive from slate soils: Silex and Pur Sang (the French term for “thoroughbred,” a reference to horse tilling, which is common in biodynamic farming). We have been fortunate to secure some special allocations from the estate and are delighted to share what we believe to be some of the greatest expressions of Sauvignon Blanc. Although we currently carry a full range of the wines, I chose to highlight two of my favorites today:
This lovely Pouilly-Fumé offers bright aromas of chalk and white flowers followed by flavors of green mango, Meyer lemon, kiwi and almond. The wine finishes with vibratory intensity that pulls you back to the glass for more.
This dense wine is flinty and exhibits grapefruits, passionfruit and wood. This cuvée comes from one perfect clay-and-flint parcel located mid-slope on the southwest side of Saint Andelain, the highest village in the Pouilly-Fume appellation, and the only one to possess soil containing the perfect balance of clay and flint. This wine is barrel fermented and aged in mostly neutral barrels to create a rich, opulent wine that still maintains a classic flinty streak with a firm backbone.keep looking »