The pendulum is always swinging.
Trends constantly adjust the wine market. Wine styles are so diverse that if you’re looking to project trends and make a buck on it, you’re fighting an uphill battle.
At your local Meijer or Kroger, you’re surrounded by hundreds of very dependable wines, made from wineries owned by enormous companies like Gallo, Constellation, Wine Group, Altria (fka Philip Morris), Diageo and Trinchero, who collectively dominate the market share. Constellation, especially, often has a “guiding” hand in directing chain store wine offerings.
In order to find an exciting niche, many bored restaurateurs and indie retailers have historically sought out non-corporate wines made by small producers, usually sold in Michigan by boutique-oriented wine distributors. Many of those wines are made in ways that are representative of the land where the grapes come from.
But there is a new wave of producers who make wine a different way. And those wines come with buzzwords like organic, biodynamic, natural wine and sustainable. There are subtle differences between these, and biodynamic wines are often the most puzzling. So lets see what’s going on here. Make no mistake, there are great and crap biodynamic wines, just as there are great and crap corporate wines.
As simply as I can state, biodynamic winemaking is a nearly century old philosophy that draws on core organic pillars — not using chemical fertilizers, fungicides, etc. — and incorporating the idea that the vineyard, as a microclimate, always provides the best resources for the produce.
But there’s more. Here are some examples of biodynamic preparations:
1. Cow manure is placed in a cow horn and buried in the ground for the winter. (Cowhorn, a biodynamic producer and one of the best syrah producers on the West Coast, is named after this practice.)
2. Chamomile blossoms are stuffed into cow’s intestines, then buried.
I get it if you’re like, “Wait ... what?” Strange as these preparations may seem, more than 700 vineyards are embracing this approach, and many of them are the best in the world, Domaine de la Romanée- Conti being the biggest example.
One of the best deals I’ve tasted this year is a biodynamic wine. Marcel Lapierre’s Raisins Gaulois is all gamay from a 4-acre vineyard in Beaujolais, France. It says “Vin de France” on the front label, because they can’t call it Beaujolais anymore. Most of the fruit comes from the village of Morgon, a place that over the last 25 years has an argument for producing the best red wine for the money in the world.
A bit funky, but never tasting “dirty,” this wine is tart and savory and will murder expectations if you drink it alongside your favorite smoked meats and cheeses. This is a light red wine that’s all about cranberry bogs and raspberry juice. There’s a refreshing amount of complexity for a $15 bottle. If you can’t find this wine, head to your trusted retailer and ask for Beaujolais imported by Kermit Lynch.
A steal of a white biodynamic wine is just across the French border in Catalonia, Spain. Celler Credo’s Miranius is a unique find. Credo is the non-sparkling wine project of maybe the best Cava producer, Recaredo. Miranius is almost all Xarel-lo, the most important Cava grape, but unlike Cava, there ain’t a bubble in this bottle.
Rather, you get a captivatingly complex fruit-and-earth cornucopia for just $20. Dried flowers, fresh bread, d’Anjou pear and lemon pith seem to be the core flavors. Seriously, if you told me this was a $50 Burgundy, I would’ve believed you. It’s a stupid great deal.
Reaching for the stars here, we have to look at Germany. Deutschland possesses nearly half of the world’s biodynamic vineyards. One of the best examples of location specificity is Dr. Bürklin Wolf.
His 2013 Gaisbohl is one of the most dense rieslings I’ve tasted that doesn’t cost north of $100. This one will cost you around $50, but its gorgeous fleshy peach, lemon, perfumed jasmine, yellow apple flavors are mouthwatering now and will continue to be in a decade.
From the Pfalz region of Germany, just a half hour drive south of Frankfurt, this wine is maybe the best representation of what dry German riesling can taste like.
Lastly, don’t leave the world of biodynamics without drinking Nicolas Joly. The former J.P. Morgan investment banker somehow became an incredible chenin blanc producer. He’s been doing this since the early 1980s, and the 2011 Clos de la Coulee de Serrant is at the axis of this movement. Cerebral, lush, weird, fantastic — this is Coulee de Serrant, a speck of a chenin blanc vineyard in the Loire Valley in Savennieres, France. It’s worth the money to check out these wines.
It’s important to highlight the great biodynamic winemakers and the unique, specific product they put in bottles every year. Blindly featuring biodynamic, natural or organic wines is virtue signaling of the most clichéd kind and serves no heightened service for the consumer. But if you find a shop or restaurant who has your interests in mind, you’re likely to find deals from invigorating producers.
Justin King is a certified sommelier and owner of Bridge Street Social, a wine and cocktails focused restaurant in DeWitt.