Saturday, February 28, 2009

Question of the Week: Biodynamics and Acidity

Earlier this week, I went up to Craon de Ludes to taste some 2008 vins clairs with Raphaël Bérèche. Bérèche is scrupulous about vinifying his various parcels separately in order to preserve their distinctive identities of terroir, and he also vinifies wines in both barrel and tank, making for a diverse collection of base wines. Furthermore, he is becoming increasingly focused on natural viticulture—no chemical herbicides or pesticides have been used since 2004, and since 2007 he has begun farming a portion of his vines biodynamically. An intriguing component of this is that for the past two years it has been possible to compare his vins clairs from biodynamic parcels with those from other parcels on similar terroirs (which are now essentially farmed organically).

2008 is a classic Champagne vintage in many ways, not the least of which is that after a decade of somewhat kinder, gentler vins clairs, we’re back to that tooth-clattering, enamel-stripping briskness that one expects from five month-old still wines harvested at 10.5 degrees close to the 50th parallel. Among the wines that we tasted was a chardonnay from a biodynamic parcel in Ludes—we tasted this wine from four different barrels, and while each of the four barrels had a slightly different personality, a consistent theme was that the acidity was even more notably pronounced in these wines than in the other chardonnays from Ludes that were not farmed biodynamically.

I’ve noticed this happening with many biodynamic wines around the world, irrespective of variety or region. Some winemakers say that their biodynamic parcels consistently produce wines of higher acidity, while others say that the acidity is analytically comparable between their biodynamic parcels and their other ones, but the perception of acidity in the biodynamic wines is somehow always more pronounced. Either way, the acidity almost always feels higher in a biodynamic wine. What do you think are the reasons for this?

12 comments:

Jeffrey said...

Being a believer in the higher quality of biodynamic wines, could this be a case of bias on all of our parts. We want the wines to be a specific way and in our minds make them that way? Since the analysis between non and Bio-D wines are comparable this could be the case. Another thought could be the types of acids that make up the total acidity level in the wine? Have you ever tried blind tastings to see if is a bias towards a type of production?

I am going to try set up a tasting with my group to see if we perceive the same differences in acidity. Thank you for the post!

Jeff
www.drinkeatlove.com

Josh said...

I have no idea what the underlying mechanism is...assuming it is a real finding and not our own bias as Jeffrey suggested.

However, here is a stab at it. I find that wines that have a high degree of minerality tend to seem more acidic. The intensity of the minerals gives a focus and clarity to the fruit which I think has a similar effect to acid. Maybe they are one and the same, but it feels different. Anyway, if we assume that biodynamics enhances the impact of the site, the soil and the underlying minerality on the wine, then perhaps this increased minerality conveys a sense of greater acidity.

Just a though...could be completely wrong!

Cheers!

jackhott said...

Interesting observations lead to interesting questions, don't they. I wonder if the perception of higher acidity in biodynamic wines is due to some other factor, like ripness, rather than biodynamic approaches alone. I take it that many biodynamic growers are more interested in phenolic ripeness than brix readings. Where many non-bio producers might let fruit hang an extra day or two (or more) many bio producers might be harvesting.

So, I guess, a question back. Do biodynamic growers tend to harvest earlier than non-biodynamic growers?

Peter Liem said...

Jeff,
I fully admit that bias could be a factor here. But while I have been accused of being an "acid-head" by some, in truth I don't crave acidity. I crave balance, and a wine that is too high in acidity is as imbalanced as a wine without enough acidity. So I'm not specifically looking for wine to be higher in acidity, or necessarily preferring those that are.

Josh,
I've heard this from many producers, and in Champagne, actually, many hold this belief to be true, that minerality reinforces the perception of acidity. As I also find biodynamic wines to generally be more pronounced in their expression of minerality, I'm willing to believe that you could be on to something here.

jackhott,
Good point. Biodynamics does seem to impart better ripeness in general. Whether producers tend to harvest earlier or not, I have no idea. But it's something to think about.

MarkJanes said...

Humm...

Most likely explanation in my mind would be lower polysaccharide and alcohol levels present in many BD wines. The perception of acidity is affected by many other components of wine, especially polysaccharide and ETOH levels. As most BD people harvest at lower sugars (and make wine differently), the resultant wines tend to have lower polysaccharide and alcohol levels which would increase the perception of acidity. Roederer had some BD vineyards and found the wines to be more acidic though acid numbers were similar... know of no other such data.

jeff... BD and higher quality? depends on how you define quality... lots of people don't like BD grapes because the resultant wines seem harder....

peter... "minerality reinforces acidity..." what if it is the other way around... that high acidity is a key factor in the perception of increased minerality in wines? Begs the question of what minerality in wines really is.

Mark

genevelyn said...

One answer to the "harvest early" question is "no", according to Nicolas Joly, who advocates harvesting late when using biodynamics.

Kelly said...

I don't particularly like high acidity either, and have to agree with peter that a good balance is more the goal.

MR said...

I've been thinking about this post for a while, and I must say that I disagree with the notion of higher acidity in BD wines; it's not my impression. But I do agree that there can be a sensoric connection between acidity and minerality.

No, I don't believe - as suggested by MarkJanes - that BD growers in general harvest at lower sugarlevels. In fact I've experienced a lot of growers turning to BD, getting a sugarlevel a bit to high in the first years after conversion, leading to wines with more alcohol or residual sugar. Like if it take them some years to get used to a better ripeness of the grape.

I do agree that a BD grower should be very aware of phenolic ripeness, but isn't that just the same for any quality concerned grower?

If BD wines has a generel quality that nonBD wines lack, I'd say that they have a certain livelyness or vivaciousity. I'm tempted to also consider a better balancy as a BD mark, but I believe that is probaly more a sign of a good vignerons; BD or not BD.

Mads Rudolf

Anonymous said...

Usually, pH are lower in biodynamie.
The quantity of Potassium (K) non-combianted is usually lower; so that the pH decreases.
Further more, mineralité and freshness are higher due to an increased energy in the wine.
Even if acidity analitically is the same, it isn't felt the same: the human taste feels more the acidity inside the wine.
If you come and taste in our cellar within a few months, you will notice this.
See you,
Franck PASCAL

Anonymous said...

Hi Franck,
I'm looking forward to that.
MR

Michael said...

Pascal has it right. Generally when one moves away from synthetic fertilizers, potassium levels in the must go down. This means more tartaric stays soluble in the wine and the total acidity goes up. It's not strictly a function of biodynamics, you'd see this in organic or even conventional vineyards not using potassium based fertilizers.

nimi parker said...

I am really enjoying reading your well written articles. It looks like you spend a lot of effort and time on your blog. I have bookmarked it and I am looking forward to reading new articles.
www.hospitality-cushion.com |