The Successful Collector, Julian Hitner – VSO wines and biodynamic winegrowing

VSO Wines – A Friendly Reminder:

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

For those unfamiliar with the Vintages Shop Online (or VSO) programme, several years ago the LCBO began offering wines exclusively over the internet, with all payments to be made directly online. As mentioned previously, the programme has not been all that successful, due in no small part to the fact that so few wine aficionados are even aware of its existence. An additional problem is that all purchases must be picked up at local LCBO outlets of customers’ choice, for there is currently no home delivery. Finally, it was only a year or two ago that the LCBO even began permitting members of the press to taste VSO wines in the lab at Queens Quay on a regular basis.

Last month, we at WineAlign were privy to examine a neat selection of VSO wines at reduced prices. In contrast, recommendations for this month are a bit more pricy (at least in some cases), but no less worthy of purchase. Curious buyers – not to mention those willing to go through the drudgeries of creating a VSO account (a prerequisite for participating in the programme) – will be sufficiently rewarded.

Shop On-lineCritic reviews for many of the VINTAGES Shop Online wines can be found on WineAlign. The wines can be identified by this shopping bag symbol. Clicking on the symbol will take you directly to the VINTAGES website where you confirm availability and place your order.

Great Wines of all Types

Gabriel Meffre Laurus Gigondas 2010Baigorri Reserva 2005Gabriel Meffre 2010 Laurus Gigondas ($30.00) comes from one of the finest appellations in the Southern Rhône, from a producer that has shown steady improvement over the past several vintages. A blend of Grenache and Syrah (percentages unknown), a vigourous decanting is well advised if consumed young.

Baigorri 2005 Reserva Rioja ($38.00) is crafted from 100% Tempranillo and represents a growing trend in Rioja toward placing greater emphasis on freshness and body instead of excessive maturation in oak barrels. Of considerable quality, many of the best reds nowadays are derived from much better fruit and will probably keep much longer in the cellar than many of their more ‘traditional’ counterparts. From the best vintage of the mid-2000s (along with 2004 for those who are interested), decanting is highly advisable.

Jean Fannière Grand Cru Extra Brut ChampagneDomaine Du Grand Tinel Cuvée Alexis Establet Châteauneuf Du Pape 2010Domaine du Grand Tinel 2010 Cuvée Alexis Establet Châteauneuf-du-Pape ($54.00) is crafted from 100% Grenache and hails from one of the most celebrated appellations in France. For cravers of full-bodied red wines, a great Châteauneuf-du-Pape is hard to beat, and will often perform brilliantly even in youth. Just be sure to enjoy at the proper temperature (around 17°C or perhaps slightly lower), otherwise the alcohol may seem a tad overwhelming. Decanting is almost always recommended.

Jean Fannière NV Origine Grand Cru Extra Brut Champagne ($62.00) has got to be tasted to believed. Based out of Avize in the Côte des Blancs, I have only examined a handful of champagnes from this small-scale producer, yet they have all been of exceptional quality. Crafted from 100% Chardonnay, what really stands out is the frothiness. I hope to taste more from Fannière sooner rather than later, as well as add a few bottles to my personal collection.

Biodynamic winegrowing

For those unfamiliar with the subject, Biodynamic winegrowing is best described as an extreme form of organic wine production, replete with environmentally friendly initiatives and (more controversially) a wide range of holistic practices. These days, an increasing number of quality-minded producers are embracing Biodynamic principles in order to improve the quality of their vineyards and make better wines.

Demeter InternationalThe principles of Biodynamic winegrowing were first promulgated by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) in the mid-1920s. Nowadays, in order for an estate to be certified as Biodynamic, they must apply to one of several institutions, the most common being Demeter, an organization formed in 1928. Though it may come as a surprise to some, official government regulation of “Biodynamic” (a registered trademark of Demeter) practices is essentially minimal in most jurisdictions, with France being a major exception.

So what are some of those quirky rules we’ve all heard about in order for an estate to earn their Biodynamic certification? As pointed out by Caroline Gilby MW, perhaps the most seemingly bizarre of these is the practice of inserting specially treated cow manure into a horn (also of a cow) and burying it in the ground. The reason: to stimulate root growth and humus formation. However, at roughly one horn per hectare, more than a handful of individuals have claimed this to be an entirely bogus procedure. Another questionable practice? The spraying of specially prepared (or ‘dynamised’) herbal teas onto compost in order to make nutrients more available to the vines. According to Demeter: “The preparations develop a strong yet subtle power whose effect may be compared to that of homeopathic remedies.” Take from this what you will. For my part, I have absolutely no idea what this means, nor do I exactly comprehend the reason for which the use of teas and cow components are only administered at certain times of the year, according to “life forces” dictated by the phases of the moon.

These reservations notwithstanding, there is absolutely no question that Biodynamic practices have resulted in an incredible improvement in quality at many estates. I just don’t attribute these to cow horns or teas (the jury that comprises my brain cells is still out on the moon stuff). Instead, the vast improvements in winegrowing at estates fully or partially engaged in Biodynamic procedures may be largely attributed to a colossal leap in what many of us in the business would simply call “conscientious winegrowing.” This involves placing far less emphasis on the need for aggressive fertilizers, pesticides, and unnecessary machinery. Instead, winegrowers seek to utilize more natural means of crafting better wines, from managing pests by intentionally introducing predatory insects to using horse-drawn ploughs in lieu of tractors to deal with the soil.

(Two Biodynamic examples worth a look: Château Maris Las Combes Minervois Cru La Livinière 2009 and Domaine Zind Humbrecht Calcaire Gewürztraminer 2009)

The moral of the story? While Biodynamic certification might look good on a winery’s résumé, many of the holistic practices are perhaps better omitted than included. At very least, they merit a more scientific, less “dynamised” examination.

Julian Hitner

P.S. “Dynamisation” is the practice of rapidly stirring mixtures in one direction to create a vortex and then quickly reversing the direction. This is carried out for roughly one hour, the purpose of which is to “energize” the mixture.

Editors Note: You can find our critics reviews by clicking on any of the links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 30 days to see new reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great reviews.

Julian’s VSO Wines
All Julian Hitner Reviews