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Buried cow skulls, valerian tea and the lunar calendar—it might sound like hocus pocus, but these are all elements of the holistic farming method known as biodynamics. And with more growers across the world jumping on the biodynamics bandwagon, how do you know which bottles best benefit from the practice? We chatted with Etty Lewensztain, whose web-based wine store Plonk features biodynamic wines, as well as other organic and naturally produced bottles. Here are her top tips.
1. Go global. In the past few years, winemakers from Austria to Argentina have embraced biodynamic winemaking, so where do you begin your tasting tour? If you’re new to biodynamic wine, Lewensztain suggests looking to France. “To me, biodynamics automatically connotes France,” she says, “and the Loire Valley in particular stands out for its concentration of growers who embrace this style of winemaking.”
2. Follow your fancy. Prefer a Merlot to Cabernet, or a Sauvignon Blanc to a Chardonnay? Your tastes might discriminate, but thankfully biodynamic farming doesn’t. “I’ve seen stellar examples of biodynamic wines made from a whole host of grape varieties ranging from Chenin Blanc and Pinot Gris to Barbera and Carignan,” Lewensztain says, “I’ve never thought of biodynamics as working better or worse with particular grape varieties.”
3. Don’t be cheap. As with most purchases, when it comes to wine, you usually get what you pay for. “Biodynamic wines are not particularly cheap,” says Lewensztain. “Still, you can find some fantastic examples in the $18 to $45 range.”
4. Bring in the funk. You’ve picked out your bottle and popped the cork—but what is that smell? “Biodynamic wines tend to show earthy, savory, funky or barnyard aromas,” Lewensztain notes. “So people who try these wines for the first time shouldn’t be surprised if they smell a little bit like a farm.” Some people really enjoy these more rustic notes, but if you’re looking for a little less farmstead, simply swirl the wine around in your glass a few times to help the funky aromas dissipate.
5. Stay young. While many wines benefit from a few years of aging, most biodynamic bottles taste best when fresh. “Keep in mind many biodynamic wines are bottled using little or no additional sulfites,” Lewensztain says, “which act as preservatives to help extend shelf life of a wine.” Without added sulfites a wine’s nuance can fade quicker than its more conventionally produced counterparts, so it’s usually best to drink biodynamic wines within a few years of bottling.
6. Variety is fine. Keep in mind that all agricultural products have a tendency to change, especially those crafted with minimal chemical intervention, like biodynamic wines, so if the same wine tastes a little different from bottle to bottle, don’t fret. “These wines may show some bottle variation,” says Lewensztain, “and can evolve more than commercially produced wines.” But that’s part of what makes biodynamic viticulture so inherently dynamic. “Wine is a natural, living product, and biodynamics really demonstrate this concept well.”