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 Crystal Edgar
White wine with red meat? I say yes—when the wine is Gravner. Gravner’s magical, golden wines are fascinating on their own, but they also assume different disguises when paired with food. They are some of the most versatile wines I have ever tasted, and they cause most of my senses to stir. Not only do I enjoy partaking in these wines, but also I take great pleasure in playing with spices, herbs, textures and proteins to elicit the varying flavors and nuances in these special Friulian wines. Similar to great red wines, Gravner’s amber wines have the acidity, tannins and structure that promise vitality and they’re destined to live a long life.
I had a great privilege of meeting Josko last year, tasting his prized Ribolla Gialla through seven vintages, 1998 through 2006. These mysterious Gravner wines aren’t always instantly scrumptious; instead they slowly draw you in, evolving with time, producing a feeling similar to when a book or a movie starts slowly, draws you in gradually, and next thing you know you are hooked. As cerebral as these Gravner’s wines can be, they are also just tremendously fun to drink, both in their youth and mature stages of life.
Note to those who partake: if you are expecting a fruit-forward zesty white you will be sharply disappointed. However, if you are open to Gravner’s magic, you will be greatly rewarded with wines that have gorgeous texture, depth and character.
Gravner 2004 Breg Anfora $89.99
Ripe apricots, honeycomb, red tea, wildflowers and spices abound in this Breg Anfora. Exquisitely balanced, the ’04 Breg, a blend of white grapes, is a gorgeous, textured wine. This saffron-hued wine has an unctuous mouth-feel that’s filled with velvety tannins, a deceptively chewy body, and a finish that last for what feels like ages.
Gravner 1998 Breg $125.00
This special blend of Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Riesling offers perfumed aromas of stone fruit and honey. On the palate this Breg is soft with incredible elegance, as the wine has had time to soften and evolve. This is a rare treat and, along with 1991 that my friend Mark recently shared with me, this ’98 Breg is of the most memorable Gravner wines that I have yet to taste. If you love Gravner you will fall more in love, and if you have yet to dive in, it doesn’t get much better than this!
A delicious organic under $20 rosé made from Sangiovese!
Spring is finally kicking in, so it’s time to get ready for some serious aperitivi! Italian rosé can have the reputation of being too rich and heavy, but not all of them are. I recently enjoyed Il Conventio 2014 Rosato, a fantastic under $20 rose that is fresh, aromatic and much lighter that you would think. It’s exactly the bright, succulent rosato you’re looking for for your long summer nights.
Il Conventino winery was acquired in 2003 by the Brini brothers, who started their career as attorneys but eventually realized their dream to operate a winery right in their native Tuscan region of Montepulciano. Under the guidance of a great oenologist, Il Conventio now produce high quality organic wines they ship in more than 20 different countries; these wines include Montepulciano, Bianco, Vin Santo, Grappa, and, of course, today’s Rosato!
This beautiful Rosato is made with 100% Sangiovese, which might surprise some of you because this grape is more famous for the Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino and Super-Tuscan blends, but when you vinify Sangiovese with brief skin contact it actually makes an outstanding Rosé. Clean, fresh aromas and flavors of strawberry and flowers abound, and this wine is both crisp and juicy in the middle palate. Although not very complex, this rosato has quite a persistent finish and offers an incredible value at $19.99. I recommend you served it chilled in an ice bucket–it will be your best companion for the summer!
Friuli’s food-friendly, mysterious, magical wines
White wine with red meat? I say yes—when the wine in question is made byJosko Gravner. These magical golden wines from Friuli are fascinating on their own, and they’re even more enticing when paired with food. They are some of the most versatile wines I have ever tasted. Not only do I enjoy partaking in these wines but also I take great pleasure in playing with spices, herbs, textures and proteins to bring out different flavors and nuances in these special wines. Similar to great red wines, Gravner’s Ribolla promise vitality and are destined to live a long life through their acidity and tannins.
Friuli’s Josko Gravner is an iconoclastic producer; he’s ever evolving and constantly refining his embrace of a “new-old” approach in his winemaking. Gravner’s passion for perfection through experimentation changed his philosophy; today he strives to achieve great wine through great simplicity, retaining the unique character and of each vintage, the integrity of his grapes and most importantly the “life” that exists in each amphorae and bottle of wine.
I had once had the privilege of tasting through seven vintages of meeting Josko Gravner and tasting through his prized Ribolla Gialla, 1998 through 2006. These mysterious Ribolla wines aren’t always instantly scrumptious; instead they slowly draw you in, evolving with time. Drinking them is similar to the feeling I get when a book or a movie starts slowly then gradually draws me in, and next think you know I’m hooked. These cerebral Ribollas require an open mind and time to observe and appreciate the life that each bottle has to offer.
The majority of the time people pair wine to go with their food; however, when a bottle of Gravner is involved, I believe it should go the other way around. Indigenous to Friuli, Ribolla is a somewhat obscure grape, but Gravner’s natural approach and use of amphorae give the wines weighted layers of earth, fruit and spice. When I think of pairings for Gravner’s indescribable amber wines, I immediately go to foods that will play off their texture, fruit and spice, while matching their weight and intensity. I encourage you to try it with anything from a simple steak and eggs or oven roasted chicken to French cassoulet, mushroom risotto, adobo pork, veal blanquette or ossobucco. The bottom line is to have fun and indulge all of your senses to experience the full breadth of what these special Ribolla wines can offer.
Two expert selections from Michael Adler
At IWM, we love our orange wines (also known as “skin-contact whites”). This robust, textured and complex style of wine is achieved by vinifying white grapes as if they’re red and allowing the juice to macerate on the grape skins, imparting additional color, texture, weight, complexity and tannins. The result is a highly aromatic white wine that drinks like a red, replete with chewy tannins and a dizzyingly complex, kaleidoscopic flavor profile.
These wines are not for the faint of heart, inspiring divisions between wine-lovers who are enamored with their unique characteristics and those who find them confusing. I personally enjoy introducing people to the style because whether or not a person enjoys these wines, they’re sure to be surprised. While orange wines traditionally haven’t really been given much thought by the American wine media, in recent years they have been steadily growing in popularity with young sommeliers in New York and can be found on many of the city’s most exclusive wine lists. Today I’m shining a light on two of our absolute favorite orange wines from two of IWM’s all-star natural winemakers, Paolo Bea in Umbria and Josko Gravner in Friuli.
A dense, chewy blend of Grechetto, Malvasia, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Garganega, the juice for Santa Chiara macerates (think about steeping a tea bag in hot water) on its grape skins for about two weeks, which gives it a dense, weighty mouth-feel, tannic backbone and oxidative characteristics. These sherry-like qualities make it an excellent match for a wide range of dishes that you wouldn’t typically pair with traditional white wines, and Santa Chiara will show you a whole slew of flavors and textures that you never thought you’d find in a white. It’s at once rich and savory, with a pronounced mineral component that borders on salinity and a finish that lasts over a minute. For those of you who are adventurous and love to try new and interesting wines, this is definitely something that should be on your radar!
A saffron-tinted blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Riesling Italico, the 2005 Breg Anfora is impressive. The massive ’05 Breg shows heady, concentrated notes of cooked orchard fruits, red tea, stony minerals, spices and a distinct floral note, among many other interwoven characteristics that simply defy words. It is likely that you’ve never tasted anything like this! Textured and tannic in the glass, its glossy texture coats the palate in a wash of dry extract that is balanced by ample acidity that grips your palate on the long, aromatic finish. Aged on the grape skins for twelve months in clay amphorae buried in the ground, the wine then finishes for about six years in casks before bottling. This is a meditative wine for serious enthusiasts and those who like some adventure in their wines!keep looking »