I attended the Return to Terroir tasting last week in New York City (2/23) and was very impressed by the quality of the wines that were presented. There were a large number of biodynamic producers from around the world showing their wines, but I mainly focused on the French offerings. The event was a lot of fun, but I did have an uncomfortable discussion with Oliver Hunbrecht of Zind Humbrecht. A woman standing next me at the domaine’s table asked Olivier why his wines were dark in color. Olivier responded that there was a great deal of botrytis present during the vintage, which resulted in darker wines. I followed that logic to a certain extent, but I had hoped that this Master of Wine could give the exact reasoning behind this theory. Many wines from Sauternes are very light in color when first released and they contain a very high percentage of botrytis. I mentioned this to Olivier, but he apparently was not happy with the question. He asked me to identify the color the 1967 d’Yquem. Unsure of where he was going with this, and against my instinct, I said that the wine was light in color. Olivier immediately snapped that was incorrect and to the contrary, the wine very dark. “But the wine is 40 years old,” I thought. Rather than add fuel to the fire, I decided to bite my tongue and moved on to the next table.
The winemaker from Nikolaihof in the Wachau region of Austria smiled when I said hello, so I decided to dive into his selections. I was rewarded with a stunning line-up of wines that showed elegance and restraint (12.5% alcohol). A 1993 Gruner Veltliner, which had rested in large barrels for 15 years, was remarkably fresh and complex. I really had come to taste the Burgundies, so I moved over to Domaine Leflaive. The wines showed terrific potential, but were young and tight. The highlight of the tasting proved to be the wines of Domaine de Villaine from the Cote Chalonnaise, which may represent the best values found in Burgundy. While the domaine is well known for its brilliant Aligote, I found the entire range to be outstanding. Each wine showed a distinct character and purity that was enticing. These are the type of wines I could drink routinely and never grow tired of. I had intended to attend Nicolas Joly’s seminar on biodynamics, but the room where he was scheduled to speak was overflowing when I arrived. My disappointment was quickly forgotten when I tasted Joly’s excellent Coulee de Serrant, which was rich and steely. The Return to Terroir is great opportunity to learn more about biodynamic growing practices and, more importantly, to taste some excellent wines.