Clean organic wine from the beautiful south of France and beyond

18 Feb

The Wine Wanderers have been taking a break exploring some of the world’s greatest spirits and brews at the heart of their origins. Mezcal, bourbon and craft beer were highlights of our trips to Mexico, Kentucky and Copenhagen in 2017.
Being wine wanderers, however, we couldn’t stay away from France, and winter has seen us re-evaluating malbec in Cahors, discovering Bugey in Bourg-en-Bresse and tasting some great biodynamic drops at Millessime Bio, the world’s largest organic wine fair, in Montpellier.
Why Montpellier? It’s in the heart of Languedoc-Rousillon, where more than half France’s organic wine is produced, fuelling a movement that is gathering pace across the globe, with a 20%-plus sales increase last year in the UK and France alone. In 25 years the fair has grown from 10 to 1000 exhibitors, and although local producers dominate, contingents were present from 15 countries includer Spain, just across the border, and Italy to the east, which vie with France as leaders in organic wine production. Surprisingly, labels from as far afield as Washington and Oregon in the northwest USA and Australia were represented.
Stefano Lubiana actually came all the way from Tasmania in person to present his chardonnays which have all the finesse of a fine white Burgundy;
close your eyes and you could be sipping a buttery Meursault. It’s why he thought it was worth risking a punt to travel 11,000 miles to take a stand in a country which has plenty of its own exquisite chardonnay just up the road in Burgundy. “Younger buyers are fascinated by our own take on chardonnay and the fact it’s all-organic,” says Lubiana, whose ancestors hail from Croatia.
Are they buying? “It’s hard to tell where our wines are going, but they’re certainly being distributed in Europe,” he says. “After our first showing at Millessime Bio we shipped a whole container to Sweden,though we have no idea where the importer sent it from there, so we definitely thought it was worth coming back.”

Lubiana
When it came to sampling more local offerings, the Wanderers headed straight for the stand of Alain Chabanon, whose biodynamic offerings first brought us to Languedoc. After taking his time to decide it was worth converting to organic production, this once conventional grower went the whole hog and now does the full mystical biodynamic thing. This involves watering, pruning and harvesting in harmony with lunar cycles and anointing the soil with water stirred for an hour with powder from cow horns which have been stuffed with manure and buried for a winter. Weird? Blame the Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, who created the biodynamic movement; winemakers all around the world who have embraced it swear it’s worth all the love.

Chabanon Haut de Cote
Visiting Chabanon’s vineyards by moonlight years ago was romantic, but the tasting which followed was sublime, and no less so in the harsh light of day at a trade fair. Chabanon’s reds are out of this world, the Wanderers particularly fond of Les Boissieres – mainly grenache with 10 per cent each of syrah and mourvedre – and his newest creation Saut de Cote, an unexpected, rich but fresh confection of 80 per cent mourvedre with 20 per cent syrah.

Chabanon les Boissieres
The Wanderers always prefer to taste wine with food, which changes its character completely, and so saved our appetites for the fabulous pale golden-toned roses which are the glory of the south of France for dinner at Le Petit Jardin, a highly agreeable restaurant in Montpellier’s old town. Chateau de Luc is a classic blend of cinsault and grenache from the Fabre family, winemakers since 1605. The rose perfectly partnered a sumptuous cream of chestnut soup, and the duck which followed was greatly enhnaced by Ignis, a superb biodynamic Cotes du Rhone from Chateau de Bastet made from 50 per cent of the syrah you would expect in this region and 50 per cent of the grenache which is so evocative of the neighbouring south.

Ignis
Any notion that organic wine is only for the elite was banished the following night, when the Wine Wanderers enjoyed a succulent plate of local grilled shrimp at the casual Cafe Panacee in the eponymous cultural centre, washed down with a glass of local organic white wine. The price? All of 3 euros, the going rate all over Montpellier; the fact this drop of grenache blanc blended with other indiigenous grapes was “bio” was simply par for the course, a growing fact of life in this student city where the young are underpinning the growing call for organic everything.

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