Tag Archives: biodynamic

Old World Wines

Philip Reddaway, The Whistler’s wine columnist, is musing on old vs new world wines…

Red wine maturing in oak barrels
Checking the progress of a red wine maturing in oak barrels
In the past few years, French wine sales have taken a battering in the UK. Australia has now been joined by California as the most popular supplier of wine to the Brits. The attraction of New World wines is obvious: the consumer knows what to expect from varietal labelling (chardonnay, shiraz etc are recognizable brands in their own right); the wines deliver consistency – just as a true brand should; and, in these tough times, promotions discounting wine to less than £4 is clearly attractive. But those who wouldn’t tolerate sliced white bread in their diet would do well to apply their discernment more often to wine – for only a few pounds more you can savour artisanal products that ooze character, flavour and satisfaction – not just a quick fix alcoholic fruit bomb.

This is where France really comes into its own, in the mid-range price bracket £7-£12. Why are these wines generally superior? One reason is that the typical French winery is a small family business where the focus is on driving quality and reputation before profit, with an average 2/3 family members and 2 employees farming just 25 hectares of vineyard. Compare this to Australia where 15 giant wineries now make 86% of the wine produced.

Take one example of the difference a focus on quality can make: hand vs machine harvesting. I recently helped pick the harvest at Domaine des Anges here in the Ventoux and even this year when the fine summer had left the grapes in great condition we were still leaving about every tenth bunch on the ground, rejected for showing some signs of minor rot. A harvesting machine – ubiquitous in Australia – can make no such discernment; all the bunches go into the hopper together and in order for off-flavours not to appear in your glass, ‘corrective’ procedures are then necessary in the winery. When the French talk loftily about the importance of a wine “expressing its terroir” it’s too easy to scoff, what they really mean is they aim to reduce intervention (chemicals, modern techniques for softening tannins, wood substitutes etc) in the wine-making to an absolute minimum. The result is wines that are as infinitely different from each other as the terrain is different from farm to farm – it’s what makes wine-drinking such fun: the continual discovery of different nuances of aroma and flavour from different producers.

So, what are my top tips for characterful wines from our area, available in the UK, in that price bracket? At Majestic the 2006 Clos de Mont-Olivet Cotes du Rhone, £8.99 (or at time of writing £6.99 each if you buy two): big, savoury and warming. As an aside, Cotes du Rhone level wines from Chateauneuf du Pape producers are a great source of bargains. From M&S the earthy, spicy Perrin brother’s (another CNDP house) Rasteau 2007 at £9.99; and, finally, from the Devon wine merchant Christopher Piper, available online, the Cotes du Rhone Villages Visan 2005 from Roche-Audran at £11.16, a bio-dynamic wine of great complexity and character that will convince you that your extra pounds have been wisely invested.

If you are interested in one of our Provence based wine holidays please visit http://www.rhonewineholidays.com, or if you just want a fabulous place to stay as you drive through France we now do bed and breakfast – see www.bighouseinprovence.com.

Is there something fishy in your glass?

Philip Reddaway, The Whistler’s wine columnist, muses on what might be in your glass…

Here in the Rhone valley we are surrounded by organic wine domaines. The combination of hot, dry summers and the fierce Mistral winds that follow any rain that does fall, provides the perfect conditions for organic viticulture. We also encounter an increasing number of biodynamic producers. All very confusing for the English visitor as the French word for organic is ‘bio’, but woe betide those who mistake the biodynamic vigneron for just an organic producer. He will make a Gallic gesture and tell you in a heavy Provencal accent that the ‘AB’ (Agriculture Biologique – organic to us) label may certify that a wine comes from grapes free of chemical treatments, but it tells you nothing about what kind of interference goes on in the winery.
But surely wine making is a natural, even vegetarian product? Not necessarily so. Organic and non-organic aids to wine making have a long history in the industry. Here are a few of the unexpected interlopers that might be in your glass of wine tonight:

  • Egg Whites: used for red wine clarification, especially top Burgundy or those French wines expected to age. About 5 eggs are used per barrel. The object of fining? To coagulate and absorb those microscopic particles, known as colloids, that, left within, might lead the wine to become hazy or cloudy.
    Whole Milk: possible fining agent for some red wines.
  • Gelatine: used to clarify either red wine, white wine or beer and also used as a finishing agent to add the final touch of quality and clarity to the wine without impacting the taste.
    Isinglass: a particularly pure protein prepared from the bladder of the sturgeon fish and other fresh water fish, used to fine mostly red wines. As early as 1660 King Charles II of England regulated the use of Isinglass by merchant vintners.
  • Gum Arabic: from the acacia tree, a natural clarifying agent more often associated with the soft drinks industry but used by many wine makers.
  • Bentonite: a fining agent used primarily in white wines, made from a compound of aluminium and silicon which is mined in Wyoming, USA.
  • If all that sounds a bit worrying, no need to switch to Vodka and tonic just yet; these curious wine-making tools are used in the most miniscule quantities. You would have to be born on the planet Krypton to detect a whiff of “soupe de poisson” in your glass of burgundy!

    If you are interested in one of our Provence based wine holidays please visit www.rhonewineholidays.com, or if you just want a fabulous place to stay as you drive through France we now do bed and breakfast – see www.bighouseinprovence.com.