Wine of the Week, Part 2: Orange Wine by Nicolas Joly, on a Mission from Nature

Yesterday, after we posted our Orange Wines 101 primer, Elgreco54 noted that "Joly does knockout stuff." As it just so happens, I tasted the new vintage, 2008, of Joly's entry-level wine, Les Clos Sacrés (the holy cloisters), over the weekend. (In France the wine is called "Les Vieux Clos," the old cloisters; according to Joly, his U.S. importer insisted that he change the name for the North American market, fearing Americans wouldn't want to buy anything labeled "old.")

Like all of Joly's wines, the Clos Sacrés is made from 100 percent Chenin Blanc grapes grown on the legendary Coulée de Serrant estate in Savennières in the Loire Valley, France. Of all the wineries I have visited in Europe (and they are many, as you can imagine), Joly's is one of the best equipped for wine tourism. I highly recommend the journey to you. Joly wants to sell his wines like every other winemaker, no doubt. And you can taste and buy his entire line of wines at the winery.

But there is a much more important reason for his family's gracious hospitality: Nicolas Joly is on a mission from Nature.

The father of contemporary Biodynamics in Europe, Nicolas Joly encourages wine lovers and enthusiasts to visit his family's winery because he wants to share the gospel of "the rebirth of appellations." In the late 1970s, Joly gave up his lucrative career in banking to return to his family's estate and make wine. Initially, he embraced commercial, chemical-based farming. But after a chance encounter with an essay on biodynamic farming on the banks of the Seine, he decided to convert and restore his farm to a chemical-free state (although some would dispute certain practices he employs). A bullet-point primer on his approach to biodynamic farming and winemaking can be found on his website. And his epiphany resulted in a book, Wine from Sky to Earth, first published in the late 1990s (and translated into English by the Austin, Texas publisher Acres, USA, "a voice for eco-agriculture").

Of the three tiers in the Joly line of wines, the Clos Sacrés is the most approachable in its youth. The gentle orange color of the wine is not due to oxidation as many would think. In fact, it's due to the fact that he allows botrytis (noble rot) to form on the bunches before harvest. In a sense, you could say that he's allowing gentle skin contact during maceration while the grapes are still on the vine. And when they are pressed, the skins impart some of their color to the wine along with the full expression of their ripeness.

While his flagship wine -- the Coulée de Serrant, grown in his top vineyard and picked last -- is prohibitively expensive for most of us (me and Tracie P included), many consider it one of the greatest wines of the world (you can find it for around $100 at the Houston Wine Merchant). I've been fortunate enough to taste older vintages of the Coulée de Serrant and have always been astonished by its longevity, its vibrancy, and its nuanced layers of aroma and fruit -- a life-changing wine, when cellared properly.

The entry-level Clos Sacrés will set you back about $50 in Houston (currently, the 2007 is in the market). And it's worth every penny. If you decide to buy a bottle, I recommend that you do what they do at the winery when you visit there: Open the bottle; pour just one glass each for yourself and someone you love; put the cork back in the bottle and put the bottle in a cool place (doesn't need to be a refrigerator but in the Texas summer, it's the only place cool enough); the next day, pour another glass; on the third day, pour the third glass for yourself and loved one. With each passing day, the wine will only get better, as it begins to reveal more of its fruit aromas and flavor and its rich minerality will begin to emerge.

The 2008? Still way too young to drink, but so delicious that my friends and I slurped it down in one round.

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