12 January 2011

if you must buy wine at a supermarket: naturalia

I know I rail against supermarkets constantly. It's kind of my raison d'être on this blog, simply because of the frequency at which I am asked the question: 'What is the best wine I can find at (insert horrid cynical supermarket chain where not in a million years will you ever find one honest wine)?'

But a few months back I noticed some actually very nice biodynamic wine available at Naturalia, the 39-location-strong Paris organic market chain. If I didn't mention it then, it was only because I wanted to observe a little longer to see whether perhaps it was a one-off blip, whether they hadn't just purchased some back-stock from some agent's stock liquidation or God-knows-what...

In fact it's true. I passed through a Naturalia again the other day and saw no less than three wines I'd happily drink, at predictably competitive prices.*

Jean Claude Rateau is the pioneering biodynamic vigneron in Burgundy whose Beaune I enjoyed so thoroughly at Le Baratin a few months ago. His basic Bourgogne from 2008 is lean, wiry, bright, and perfectly acceptable. It's not Burgundy that will fill your heart with mystery, but it's a treat for washing down raclette.

Alsace vignerons François Barmes and Genevieve Buecher have run Domaine Barmes-Buecher since 1985, and converted the estate into full biodynamy in the early 90's.  I can't count the number of times I've enjoyed their range of Rieslings, which are all reliably expressive, sturdy, and well-crafted. In a region where even my favorite vignerons sometimes surprise me with swooning, jittery alien wines, either strangely sweet or impossibly high-toned, Barmes-Buecher's devotion to balance is admirable, not to mention remarkable, considering their drastically hands-off approach to winemaking.

In stock at the Naturalia I visited were Barmes-Buecher's basic Riesling from 2008 and a 2007/8 Cremant d'Alsace. (They seemed to have both vintages in stock, all jumbled together, which admittedly does support the idea that Naturalia is getting someone's backstock. My instinct is that either should still taste fine, if perhaps a tad appley.)

I still can't endorse the idea of shopping at Naturalia regularly. The bread is overpriced and cement-like. Many of the products are Demeter-certified but totally tasteless, and the amount of German writing all over many of the products (Bretagne sardines, even) will always perturb me. But in a pinch, I'd be thankful to have access to any of the aforementioned tasty simple wines for non-occasions.

Lastly, I will take one moment to point out that it is very much in keeping with my general philosophy of wine buying (buy from good cavistes! only!) to list not which broad types of wines to buy at supermarkets, a terrible idea, but rather the three acceptable wines I have ever encountered at a supermarket.**

*Supermarkets of all kinds - even the supposedly ethical ones - are notorious for leaning particularly hard on their suppliers when it comes to wholesale prices. I'm told the Italian specialty supermarket mecca in Turin, Eataly, of which another location has just opened in partnership with my former employers in New York, is paradoxically known for totally screwing many of the small producers whose products it intends to celebrate. 

**Okay, a lie. I once found two bottles of Fattoria Zerbina's stunning 1997 Sangiovese di Romagna "Pietramora" at a Whole Foods in LA in 2007. I have no idea where they got them, since at that time to my knowledge Zerbina were not even distributed in LA. I bought them both. Also Whole Food and Trader Joe's both stock Ridge, last time I checked.

(Pretty much all over Paris.) 

Related Links: 

The blog of Barmes-Buecher
A profile of Jean Claude Rateau @ BurgundyReport
Epic digressions into biodynamic architecture (!) in a profile of Barmes-Buecher @ WineTerroirs

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