Tasting natural, organic and biodynamic wines at the Renaissance des Appellations Greniers St. Jean

Feb 05, 15 Tasting natural, organic and biodynamic wines at the Renaissance des Appellations Greniers St. Jean

What is ‘natural’ wine, exactly? Is it wine that is made without intervention – and what exactly does that mean? Is it wine that only has sulfur added at bottling? Or wine that has no added sulfur whatsoever? Or is it wine that is organically/biodynamically grown? After spending the weekend in the Loire at two of the biggest organic, biodynamic, natural wine tastings in France, I still don’t know what makes a wine ‘natural’ but it was interesting to taste through those wines. There were lots of hits but also some misses.

Personally, I don’t like so called ‘natural’ wines and that term is a massive turn off for me. Wine is by definition a man made product. Grapes don’t usually pick, crush, ferment and bottle themselves, so I’m a bit suspicious of those ‘natural’ wine people. When I first was introduced to natural wines, many years ago, I was intrigued but since then I’ve had way too many faulty ‘natural’ wines to automatically think ‘natural’ means better or quality wines.  I admit I wasn’t going into these tastings with a very open mind but as I was there and had paid to get in, I should at least give them a try.

The first tasting I attended was the Renaissance des Appellations Greniers St. Jean in Angers, France. The tasting is made of a group of mainly French winemakers with a smattering of other European countries included all of who are at the very least are organic and have to tend their vines in a biodynamic way. Some of the producers there called themselves natural wine makers, some didn’t.  Things are a bit murky when it comes to being certified biodynamic and some producers don’t want the certification because if they have to deviate one year from biodynamic principles they lose their certification and have to start the process all over again.

I’ve always been drawn to producers who grow and make their wine biodynamically. When I taste these wines, I usually find them to be of excellent quality. There are many rules and regulations which probably helps the producer make the best wines possible.

the tasting venue

the tasting venue

Unfortunately, the first wines I tasted were biodynamic wines from Bourgogne and they were frankly quite unpalatable. Acidic, unbalanced, just, why would you offer these? Luckily, the day was saved by the next wine, an excellent Chablis from Chateau de Berú. I’ve had their wines before, when I visited Chablis, and they were just as good as I remembered; textured, enticing aromas and fruit flavours, balanced wines with long finishes. The next Chablis I tasted however, were again just not right and certainly not a pleasure to drink.  After that though, the quality of the wines I tasted improved with only a few exceptions. And, of course, the ones I looked upon unfavourably were the unfiltered, unsulfured, little to no intervention wines that some producers had to offer. WHY? Sauvignon blanc should not smell and taste like apple cider – and yes, I was served that style by a few producers.

Marcel Deiss wine

Marcel Deiss wine

I tried a lot of great stuff from Alsace. Alsatian wines are, in my opinion, an overlooked region as they can make excellent wine. A few of the producers who stood out at the tasting included Domaine Ostertag, Domaine Zind Humbrecht, Domaine Josmeyer and probably my favourite of the tasting, Domaine Marcel Deiss. What is unique about Deiss’ wines is that they are all field blends. Many producers might have one or two field blends but Deiss does only field blends. His wines were so well integrated, each of the varieties in the mix seeming to come out and then be replaced by another while tasting them. I a big fan of Deiss’ wines now.

There were also a number of Champagne producers on hand who were mostly biodynamic with the exception of one who hasn’t been officially certified. To be biodynamic in Champagne is difficult and not just because of the cool climate. Champagne is about large yields, producers are paid to produce large yields for the big houses of the region. Biodynamic producers may still produce large yields but in general their yields are usually lower but not always. They also have to not only stay within the parameters of the appellation but they also have to stay within the rules and regulations of the biodynamic organizations.

There were 6 producers present, Champagne Courtin, Champagne Francis Boulard, Champagne Fleury, Champagne Larmandier-Bernier (who is organic but not certified biodynamic) Champagne Bedel and Champagne Franck Pascal. All of the champagnes I tried that day were excellent. There was not a clinker in the bunch. Many of theses producers make their champagnes with zero or low dosage which means that the champagnes themselves often have a laser like purity and intensity and are very dry. I like very dry champagne but the average consumer seems to like a bit of residual sugar. That said, these are very well made and very drinkable champagnes.

Franck Pascal

Franck Pascal

Franck Pascal champagne

Franck Pascal champagne

I was happy to end the tasting on a high note with all those wonderful champagnes. The next day we were headed to Saumur for one of the oldest biodynamic/organic tastings in the Loire, Le Dive Tasting. My thoughts on the wines there in my next post….

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