During a short stint from January 23rd to 25th, I had the opportunity to once again attend Millésime Bio, an annual organic wine exposition in Montpellier, France. It not only proved to be an exciting and challenging experience with my struggling French but offered me a closer view into the diverse world of wine. A wide range of regions, traditions, styles and levels of quality were represented at the show. My goal this year was to further develop an appreciation for these differences and find language to capture them for my colleagues and our customers. For example, organic, biodynamic, and even no-sulfur added wines can be made quite conventionally through machine harvesting and high yields, with poor terroir, additives and invasive cellar techniques. For me, it is an ongoing effort to understand and be able to explain the differences between industrial, conventional, artisanal, natural, and heirloom even within the categories of organic, biodynamic and no-sulfur added wine. It takes tasting, re-tasting, traveling, and speaking directly with producers to be able to speak to these qualitative differences and really comprehend who is doing the work to make great wines. With this mission in mind, I reconnected with many of my favorite growers – and discovered new ones too. Here are some of the highlights!
Many Formaggio Kitchen customers will be familiar with Az. Agr. Lo Spaventapasseri for their unique and delicious biodynamic tomato sauce, “Cugnà” grape must preserves and/or Mostarda d’Albiccoca that we have carried for the past few years. Soon we will have Simone’s wine as well! I look forward to their characteristic yet simple reds made from Barbera and Fresia grapes that they farm organically. They are meant to be fruity and easy to drink alongside pizzas, pastas and young, fresh goat robiole. I love them for their freshness, acidity, and drinkability as well as their trueness to their beautiful, remote, hilly Piedmonese terroir just outside of Asti.
I also had the opportunity to taste with Jo Landron, devoted Muscadet specialist who makes a number of wines that range from his young, perky Amphibolite, a wine that retains a bright, frisky palate of refreshing citrus fruit, to his more serious cru bottlings that involve old vines, elevation in foudres and longer aging – giving Muscadet a surprisingly more substantive presence on the palate. For me, his ’10 Clos du Hermine really stood out as it is cultivated on argillaceous soil and enjoys extended lees contact, allowing an almost Burgundy-like richness to emerge.
As usual, it was a pleasure to taste with Julien Guillot of Domaine Vigne du Maynes, France’s first certified organic farm in 1964. Each time I taste with Julien, I understand a little more about why his table is always a throng of people trying to sample his wines. To me, he and his wines represent the top 1% of the growers at Millésime Bio. Hardcore Burgundians may dismiss his more southern terroir located in the Mâconnaise but, make no mistake, these wines are serious. First established in 1910 by the monks of Cluny, wine growing isn’t new to his tiny, six-hectare domaine that has been in the Guillot family for six generations. Though his Chardonnay and Gamay admittedly produce more interesting wines than his small, conscientiously-farmed plot of Pinot Noir, the small quantity of red Burgundy that he does produce is nevertheless noteworthy, especially for its simplicity and authenticity. His Mâcon Cruzille Blanc “Aragonite” is made from 28-65 year old vines that are low-yielding from the top of his domaine’s clos. This wine is pressed as gently as possible – for six hours! – in their historic press that dates back to the late 19th century. This heirloom wine is round, rich, detailed and persistent in flavor, not to mention that a top quality white Burgundy like this couldn’t have a more humble, dedicated individual to whom its purity and deliciousness can be credited. Many of our customers may also be familiar with his Mâcon Rouge, “Manganite,” that he only makes in good vintages. This is another rare wine. It comes from vines with yields of scarcely more than nine hectoliters per hectare – meaning each vine makes a miniscule one and a half bottles
Each day at the show I would taste and re-taste with Jean-François Deu of Domaine du Traginer, a small, biodynamic producer in Collioure and Banyuls that I visited in 2010. Describing his operation as a “one mule farm” is no joke. He does all of the vineyard work himself and let’s just say that plowing with a mule at 50 gradient steepness is no easy task. His wines, like Guillot’s, are mind-blowing. Flavors move between ripe, dark fruit, leather, smoke, game, flowers and tobacco – a level of complexity that is only possible from low-yields, privileged terroir and a very thoughtful grower. Available in limited quantity are a few magnums of his ’07 Collioure Rouge but I hope to have more of his wines in the coming months. (*Look for his ’05 Collioure Rouge Ottobre!) There is no one more capable and dedicated than Deu and I’m almost positive that when this founder of Millésime Bio retires, there is no one to continue his rather thankless, almost hero-like efforts in those extreme vineyards.
Around the shop, Formaggio Kitchen customers have astutely noticed the wine signs with green borders, indicating a sustainably/organically farmed wine, not to mention the wine signs with ladybugs – those that are made without any added sulfites. The conversation, however, goes beyond green borders and ladybugs. It is really about authenticity and humility and the extent to which a wine – or any product – can express these notions. Every department at Formaggio Kitchen prides itself on bringing in products of distinction and quality at every price level and the wine program is no exception. The excitement for me lies not only in discovering unique wines that have a logic of their own, but also wines of quality and value for everyday consumption. Millésime Bio this year will slowly offer its fruits in the coming months, hopefully giving you more options at these various levels and undoubtedly some interesting wines to look forward to as well!
Gemma Iannoni is the wine buyer and a cheesemonger at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge.