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In "The Pour" of July 7th, Eric Asimov discusses the new documentary film by Lori Miller "Living Wines" which hopes to change the stereotypical arguments about natural wines.
"Forget funkiness. The focus here is farming, culture, the environment, climate change and, yes, great-tasting wine," says Mr. Asimov about the film. This is an important point when considering wine and our role as consumers. Most wines are produced with only the finished product in mind, offering the purchaser an experience that conforms to certain standards - how we think a wine should taste. But if we think of wine as part of a culture that seeks to preserve the life of the soil - the microbes, flora and fauna that make life on earth possible - as well as the vineyard environment and the vibrant diversity of life that is possible in and around it, then wine and our experience of it becomes something different.
For me, in this way a wine that would seem flawed to some people can become something beautiful, because as I drink it I'm sensing the work of the vigneron(ne) and seeing the soil teeming with life, the grasses, plants and trees in the vineyard - which is covered with vegetation all year round, absorbing atmospheric CO2 - and I'm tasting the wine as a natural living product that is good for me (despite the alcohol!) and that is good for the planet as well. And while most of my favorite wines have sulfur-dioxide added, in small amounts preferably, the wines offered today are free of additives and are genuinely "living wines" from living soils.
Nadia and Christian Charmasson at Balazu des Vaussières in Tavel quietly produce some of the most extraordinary natural wines of France. The estate practices natural winemaking at it's very finest, beginning in the vineyard, where they work with organic and Biodynamic methods and refuse to apply the permitted organic treatment of copper-sulfate as it is harmful to the life of the soil. (This is a key difference in farming as soil fauna are essential to the conversion of minerals in the bedrock to usable compounds for plants, and for us.) Vinifications here are totally without additives, essentially semi-carbonic, with the red spending three to four years in vat and bottling is without SO2. This the work of intelligent, hard-working people who have the courage of their convictions to produce a pure and healthy wine from living soils. Each year they produce one red, one white and one rosé, with different blends depending on the character of the vintage. The new releases: 2017 Rouge "Hysope" 50% Grenache, 20% Mourvedre and 20% Carignan and 10% Cinsault from 94 year-old vines surrounding the house and 70 year-old vines on clay/galets soils in Roquemaure; 2021 Blanc "Hibiscus" 50% Grenache Blanc with Roussanne, Viognier, Clairette, Marsanne and Bourboulenc; 2021 Rosé "Bois de Rose" direct press Grenache and Cinsault from sandy and clay/limestone soils in Tavel. (For more information and great photos, please see the excellent article in Wine Terroirs.
Domaine Pierre Frick - Pioneers of organic and Biodynamic agriculture (organic since 1970 and Biodynamic since 1981) and among the first producers of natural, zero-sulfur wines. The Fricks continue to experiment, creating new and wonderful skin-contact and orange wines, small quantities of which are offered today from our recent shipment. This is an estate which epitomizes the concept of "Living Wines" and was instrumental in spreading the ideas and techniques throughout France and beyond.
Clos des Vignes du Maynes With vineyards dating back to 910 AD that have been farmed organically since the 1950s, and three generations of experience vinifying without additives, Julien Guillot is producing some of the most unique and delicious natural wines of France! "The Clos has never been treated with chemicals and has always been cultivated in the greatest respect for the earth. From the beginning, my grandfather decided to make wines in organic agriculture, without chemical products, without herbicides, without pesticdes and without sulfur." - Julien Guillot. Learn about the estates philosophy and techniques by visiting their website. (Mostly in English!) A new shipment of these beautiful natural wines is arriving in mid-August - today we can offer a case of the 2018 Morgon "Charmes," (in stock) and a small quantitiy of their unique "Cuvée 910" on pre-arrival.
Christian Ducroux in Thulon (Beaujolais) was one of the first in France to produce natural no-sulfur added wines and has been practising regenerative agriculture - organic and Biodynamic farming, with minimal or zero plowing, since 1985. It's hard to communicate the committment and energy at this estate, showing that viticulture can be healthy, almost totally self-sufficient, and beneficial to its environment while producing vibrant natural wines at the highest levels of artistry! Lookout for his 2021 "Exspectatia" and 2022 "Prologue" in the fall.
Wines arrive 7/26, "Cuvée 910" arrives mid-late August
For lovers of natural wines - The new Rouge from Balazu des Vaussieres is the Cuvée Hysope, recently bottled after a brief passage in wood, then four years aging in tank. It's from 50% Grenache, 20% Mourvedre, 20% Carignan and 10% Cinsault, grown primarily in Tavel with additional vines in Roquemaure, nearby. The wine needs 1 - 2 hours of aeration (after it's four years in vat) then shows lovely black cherry, plum, violet, citrus peel and earth. The palate shows firm acidity and a dense earthy texture with ripe cherry, red currant and licorice with herbal and citrus notes. The finish is long and complex with earthy red fruits, citrus and brown spice. This is a beautiful living wine which will be fun to taste over many days, recorked in the fridge. Ten years of cellaring should be interesting...
The 2021 Balazu des Vaussières Blanc "Cuvee Hibiscus" is from 50% Grenache Blanc and 10% each of Roussanne, Viognier, Clairette, Marsanne and Bourboulenc. The wine shows an opaque pale bronze color with aromas of almond, ripe pear, apple blossom, lemon verbena, a touch of honey and stone. The palate is dense with dried pear, herbal and mineral flavors, showing the Grenache Blanc, with hints of apricot and mint. On day two the other grapes are more evident, with a long finish of stone and citrus. This is a delicious full-bodied natural white that is delicious now and should cellar nicely as well...
The 2021 Balazu des Vaussières "Bois de Rose" Rosé is made from Grenache and Cinsault grown in Biodynamic vineyards in Tavel and Roquemaure. This is a fascinating, refreshing and delicious natural wine and if there is any "gout de souris" it's well hidden by lovely fruit! The wine shows an opaque pink color, slightly petillant, with aromas of tart cherry, wild strawberry, grapefuit pith and rose blossom. Candied cherry and raspberry on the palate with green apple and watermelon, refreshing and bright with nice density of fruit and a long sappy finish. Delicious! No SO2.
(Arrives 7/26) Though it seems like a relatively new category, it turns out winemakers in Alsace have been making skin contact wines for some time. The first may have been Bannwarth, who experimented with qvevri (georgian clay anforae). Then, along with the Fricks, JP Rietsch, Patrick Meyer, and Bruno Scheuller. This is Pinot Gris with 10 days of skin contact and no sulfites added. A lovely reddish-pink hue in the glass, with notes of dried fruits and subtle tannins.
(Arrives 7/26) The Frick 2020 Pinot Noir "Strangenberg" is from grapes grown at the summit of a dry hill, with brown calcerous soils over hard limestone bedrock. The grapes undergo a fifteen day whole-cluster fermentation and are then pressed, with no addition of sulfur, followed by six months aging in 100 year old foudre. Bright, deep garnet color, lush aromas of ripe raspberry liqueur and elderberry with violet, brown spice and toasted almond. The palate if full with ripe firm tannns and saline flavors underlying vibrant red currant, cassis and sour cherry. A beautiful Pinot Noir - pure juice, zero additives! Serve with duck breast, roast lamb with garlic, beef carpaccio, smoked meats, eggplant tian with goat cheese.
The Pierre Frick 2020 Muscat Sec is Pur Vin Nature, zero added sulfur, 11.8% alcohol, zero RS. Electric, chiseled, and oh so dry. In many ways, true to all the varietal characteristics, but with a sharp and very refreshing side. No density or ripeness here, just pure lip-smacking acidity and mineral backbone.
(Arrives 7/26) 100% Sylvaner, Pur Vin Nature with no added SO2, from the lieu-dit "Bergweingarten" on brown calcerous soils, mid-slope, aged on the lees for seven months in old foudre. This is a vibrant dry Sylvaner, drinking more like a dry Riesling.
(Mid August arrival) Starting with beautiful biodynamic grapes from Roland Pignard on "les Charmes" in Morgon, Julien worked his magic in the cellar with his zero-sulfur semi-carbonic vinification and the result is this superb Morgon from great terroir. The wine shows the ripeness of this excellent vintage in Beaujolais and the intense flavors of terroir always present in the Pignard wines over the years. Julien's vinification has created a beautifully balanced and pretty wine with fabulous length - drink now or cellar 5 to 10 years. DL
(mid-August arrival) This special cuvée is a commemoration of eleven hundred years of winemaking, the vineyards in the Clos des Vignes du Maynes having been planted around AD 900 and wine first produced for the Abbey of Cluny around 910. This "medieval" wine is a field blend of Chardonnay, Gamay and Pinot Noir, including the old varieties Gamay Petit Grain and Pinot Fin. The grapes were carefully hand-harvested then pressed by foot, vinified and aged without sulfur and bottled by hand in the spring. Zero added SO2.