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Cosmoculture for the grape

Neil Sowerby samples some biodynamic wines from France, including one the product of Cosmoculture (over to you, Doctor Who)

Written by . Published on April 1st 2010.

Cosmoculture for the grape

In biodynamic viticulture grapes are grown according to the lunar cycle, the alignment of planets and the rhythms of nature in 100 per cent organic soil. We are not talking mass-produced commercial products.

But since some of France’s top winemakers espouse such principles we are also not talking cranks, more an extremely scrupulous alignment with traditional practices.

And then there is Cosmoculture, an agricultural system inspired by Mayan civilisation. This takes a bit more swallowing (literally). It’s practised by the Viret family, pere et fils, in the Southern Rhone and necessitates their cellar or ‘cathedral of the wines’ to be constructed of huge blocks of granite weighing between three and six tonnes arranged according to 'the golden number' method of Greco-Roman temples.

Natural yeasts, hand-harvesting, no filtration, all form part of 'the unique biottrope' that made them according to Andrew Jefford’s seminal wine primer, The New France.

Cheshire-based Artisan Wines (www.artisanwines.co.uk) stock a range of the Domain Viret’s reds as part of the UK’s finest online portfolio of biodynamic wines.

It is the developing project of Andrew Kerr, whose day job is with the Co-op financial team in Manchester.

On the evidence of Domaine de Viret Renaissance Cotes du Rhone Villages 2005 (herby nose with plenty of dense grenache fruit, £10.99) and a sample of his other bottles, the Artisan list ought to be much, much better known.

The lion’s share of Andrew’s wines come from the Rhone and the Loire with those not qualifying as biodynamic invariably organic.

I am a sucker for the earthy, slaty Loire reds, particularly the cabernet franc-based ones the slighter ones lightly chilled. That’s not required with Domaine des Roches Neuves Saumur Champigny Terres Chaudes 2008 (£14) a dense purple explosion of blackberry fruit, which may take a year or two to settle.

Served cool, the elegant pinot charms of Domaine Phillip Gilbert’s Menetou Salon 2007 (£10.50) are in complete contrast. Both this and its white stablemate are biodynamic and are a match for many a Sancerre.

Rocket fuel: cosmoculture wine has arrived

Other stand-outs include the biodynamic reds of Chateau Montirius, particularly Les Garrigues Vacqueras 2006 (£10.50), from 55-year-old vines, that could give Chateauneuf du Pape a run for its money. Tar, blackcurrant licorice and herbs (garrigues are herb-covered southern French hillsides).

Artisan’s whites are equally characterful. From the Loire the Ferme de la Sansonniere’s La Lune 2007 may seem expensive at £16.50 but exhibits a startling depth of flavour and long aftertaste.

Marc Angeli’s holding is a mere eight hectares, much of it dedicated to traditional sweet Anjou whites, so stocks are small. Chenin blanc perfection.

A discount introduction to Artisan’s wines is their Biodynamic Box 12-bottle selection of seven wines from five producers. For full information about the range visit artisanwines.co.uk

Amazingly more South African wines are now sold in this country than French. I still find that hard to believe but the regular evidence of my tastings shows where the best value is to be had at ‘entry level’ Boland Cellar Five Climates Chenin Blanc 2009 has won a clutch of gold medals, including one for national best young chenin in its native South Africa.

Those quirky operators Carrington’s (Didsbury and Chorlton) are stocking it at £5.99 and it’s a steal.

The grapes are hand-harvested, often from bush vines with no irrigation. Yields are kept low. Vinification includes three months on the lees, generating intense pear and guava flavours with a lick of fresh acidity.

Best bargain in the current Co-op promotion, down from £11.99 to £5.99 until April 13, is La Grange St Martin, Reserve Cotes du Rhones 2008. Its vibrant deep red hue is matched by intense dark berry fruit and spice, making it a perfect warmer as pockets of winter linger.

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Mark MottramApril 5th 2010.

Good article this. Just slipping on my shoes to go to Carringtons n Co Op

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