While biodynamics is like organic farming in many ways, it's different in its association with the spiritual outlook, and in its emphasis on farming practices intended to enrich the farm, its products and its inhabitants with life energy. This is also where biodynamics starts to sound a little, um, far out to the average person. Some of the concepts, like subtle energy and chi, sound like some of the more speculative ideas in alternative medicine.
But we can get back to earth very quickly: A fundamental tenet of biodynamic agriculture is that food raised biodynamically is nutritionally superior and tastes better than foods produced by chemical farming. If we could taste biodynamically grown wines, we might be able to tell if there was anything to this stuff.
And so we gathered at the cozy Blue Angel for a tasting of the wines of Michel Chapoutier. The Chapoutier name is familiar to anyone who enjoys a Cote du Rhone with his summer barbecue and in 1990, Chapoutier switched over to biodynamic farming in his vineyards.
The wines that we tasted were unconventional, the flavors smaller than usual for Rhone wine, but also subtler, more complicated. They were wines that became more interesting with food. Here's a selection:
Chapoutier Hermitage 'La Sizeranne' '98 ($80). The star of the show. Smoky, peppery flavors with a restrained hint of cherry. The tannins were soft and integrated into the rest of the taste. Chapoutier claims that this softness and the drinkability of this wine at such a young age are direct results of the biodynamics' effect on the soil. If this wine really tastes like the soil it's made from, I wouldn't mind ordering a plate of the soil to go with it.
Chateauneuf-du-Pape 'Le Bernardine' Blanc '98 ($35). Austere and interesting, this wine had a peppery nose on a thin fruit structure with a nutlike presence in the bouquet.
M. Chapoutier Banyuls, Vin Doux Naturel 1 '96 ($17/500 ml). This red is one of the most charming and versatile dessert wines I've had in years. Rich cherry-berry flavors and earthy hints make it a formidable companion for most desserts and a perfect nightcap when it's too hot for port. Banyuls is said to be that rarity - a wine that goes with chocolate. No matter what you pour it with, it's a great bargain.