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!
A look back at the week that was
We have been living under Under the Tuscan Sun for twenty years! It’s true; Frances Mayes book was published this month in 1996, and we kicked off our week with a literary consideration of Tuscany. There’s no question that Mayes’ book, and the resulting movie, colored America’s consciousness, and in some ways, IWM itself is a result of America’s love affair with Italy. For these reasons, it’s only right that this week was mostly centered in Tusconay. On Tuesday, Sean Collins wrote about a beautiful $27 Super Tuscan from Antinori’s Maremma Estate, Le Mortelle, and on Wednesday, we discussed wines to pair with our favorite thistle, the artichoke, in honor of National Artichoke Hearts Day.
Two of our Experts stuck with the Tuscan theme. Garrett Kowalsky picked a pair of wines from Valdicava, one of IWM’s favorite makers of Brunello and Rosso di Montalcino. And John Camacho Vidal explored what’s so super about the Super Tuscan, and then he chose two that he loves, Sammarco from Castello dei Rampolla and Flaccianello from Fontodi. Only Crystal Edgar strayed outside of Toscana, but given that she calls Jean-Philippe Fichet’s Meursault wines “love at first sip,” we can understand why.
Cheers to you and your love of Tuscany, a love we share with you–and most of the world.
Two expert selections from John Camacho Vidal
Early on in my wine career I learned that Super-Tuscan wines are made in Toscana with non-indigenous grapes like Merlot and Cabernet. Because there is some truth to this, I had a common misconception that a Super Tuscan is always a Bordeaux-style blend. However, that is not always the case. Some Super Tuscans are made from 100% indigenous grapes such as Sangiovese, and others are Bordeaux blends, while still others blend international grapes and Sangiovese.
Super Tuscan winemakers are rebels who began breaking the DOC and DOCG rules in the 1960s. While DOC regulations help maintain the quality of Italian wine, there were winemakers that did not want to follow the rules and kept making wine in their own ways. But breaking the DOC rules meant that the wines had to be labeled simply Vino da Tavola, a low rating. Fast-forward to the late 70’s, when American wine journalists decided to taste these controversial, supposedly awful wines. What they found were wines that were full-bodied and more intense, aged in French barrique instead of the traditional Slavonia barrel; they immediately fell in love. The journalists were so impressed with the wines that they could not call them simply “Vino da Tavola,” so they created a term they heard being used by the local rebel wine makers. Super-Tuscan wines were born.
In honor of the Tuscan rebels I would like to recommend two Super-Tuscan wines. One made of 100% Sangiovese, while the other has international grapes. Both offer astonishing Tuscan terroir and quality.
Near the town of Panzano in heart of Tuscany, Castello dei Rampolla has been making wine as far back as the thirteenth century. Sammarco is the original biodynamic Super Tuscan, and the estate pioneered the Tuscan blend by producing world-class wines. The 2006 Sammarco is a beautiful deep ruby color with a nose full of ripe red cherries followed by earth, spice and slight notes of balsamic and smoke. The palate is full, rich and opulent, showing minerals and grippy tannins that dance together, and it ends in a smooth elegant finish. Drink now to 2024.
Fontodi 2012 Flaccianello $119.00
Located in Chianti Classico, Tenuta Fontodi can track its origins back to the sixteenth century, and its Flaccianello is one of the first mono-varietal Super Tuscans made using the indigenous Sangiovese grape. First produced in 1981, Flaccianello quickly gained super status. The 2012 is deep and dark in appearance full with aromas of plum and licorice; with a bit of air, it gives way to notes of cedar and spice, followed by slight herbal and olive tones. The palate is silky and sexy, exuding elegance with a balanced mouth feel and tannins that seem to linger forever. Drink 2018 to 2030.
A look back at the week that was
We kicked off the week with a look at the other great product from Italy–olive oil. Remembering her time in Italy, Janice Cable talked about why olive oil is good for your heart, both literally and metaphorically. Sean Collins enjoyed an under $30 Aldo Conterno wine, and you bet your corkscrew it was delicious. And John Camacho Vidal went to Umbria, where he toured the iconic Paolo Bea estate–and got to meet Paolo himself!
Crystal Edgar looked forward to spring with two white Burgundies from Michel Niellon; these Chassagne-Montrachet bottlings will make you feel like flowers in bloom! Garrett Kowalsky also selected white wines to hurry spring’s arrival, but he chose bottles from Antinori’s San Giovanni della Sala and Burgundy’s Bachey-Legros. And Camacho Vidal dove into Chianti Classico, explaining the region’s DOCG laws and picking two favorites, La Maialina and Castello dei Rampolla.
Here’s to faith in warm weather and enjoying the wine you love, no matter the season!
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.keep looking »