Noëlla is one of an ever expanding gang of small natural wine vintners in the Loire Valley I discovered while vacationing there in August. As Jean-Marie Puzelat, of Clos du Tue Boeuf, explained it to me… it’s one thing to talk about organic wine, which denotes that the grapes used in a wine were grown organically but speaks nothing of the methods used in vinification in which chemical and technological interventions — chaptalization (where sugar is added), the introduction of foreign yeasts, the addition of ample doses of sulfur dioxide, as well as clarification, fining, and filtering of the wine — are so often the norm; and quite another to talk about natural wine, which starts with biodynamically grown grapes and then skillfully vinfied with as little intervention as possible on the part of the winemaker: — The fields are low-yielding, the grapes hand picked. Chaptalization is strictly out, as is the addition of foreign yeasts. No fining or filtration is undertaken, and little or no sulfur dioxide is added – for the purists, sulfur dioxide is off the table. The grapes are left to their own natural process, somewhat of a miracle like the turning of water into wine at the wedding at Canaan. Passionate wine makers, all alchemists of a sort, crafting beautiful wines that sing on the palate and sensually wrap their earthy mineral tones and fresh acidity around the most subtle of dishes.
Early Monday morning, Sept. 14, I showed up at Noëlla’s farmhouse, where she and her partner Laurent Saillard were busy with final preparations — she of course was beaming, as this is the first harvest of grapes from her own estate — and joined the congregation of other vendangeurs et vendangeuses. Each supplied with a pair of secateurs and a pail, we started down the long rows of sturdy grape vines, filling our buckets with plump clusters of Chardonnay then Sauvignon grapes. Kneeling down amidst the thistles and grasses harmoniously growing alongside the grapes, the hours shimmied by; the calisthenics bore into my body a heavy yet luxurious fatigue; the sky, earth, and stillness stretched out and around me.
The sky Tuesday morning was heavy with the promise of rain — good thing I’d brought my galoshes! We got to work plying our pruning shears on the heavy hanging bunches of Cot then Gamay grapes while heavy mist came and went. And though I had planned on picking grapes for the duration of the vendange (10 or so days), by the end of the 2nd day my back was obstinately dissenting. Disheartened, I threw my farrago of old pants and worn T-shirts back into my bag and made my way home to Paris, but not before having sampled Noëlla’s 2008 Cot (from purchased grapes) : smooth, round, with spicy earthiness, it reminded me of a wonderful Dolcetto "little sweet one" from Italy’s regione Piemonte.
I had promised Noëlla to make up a batch of Baci di Dama cookies (a délice created back in 1893 at the Zanotti Bakery in Tortona, a small town in Italy's provincia di Alessandria) for one of the vendange-afternoon coffee breaks. Alas, I’ll be sending them to her through the mail, wrapped with care. Which brings me to this newsletter’s recipe… Seems only fitting that it should Baci di Dama…
Of course there's a plethora of variations on the recipe; the one below is my preferred.
A note: I’ve decided to longer convert the grams, millilitres and litres in my recipes into cups and ounces… The reason being simply that most measuring cups now show multiple measuring units, and measuring grams with a scale is just so much more accurate, and enjoyable — exactly for that reason. I’m all for everyone having a scale in their kitchen! They range from $15 - 100 ... can easily be ordered on Amazon, Sur la Table, Williams Sonoma... A few brands I recommend: Tefal, Salter, Oxo.
— Here is a list of natural wine makers (some whom I visited) in the Loire Valley (many have no website, but Bertrand Celce's wine blog Wine Terroirs is a great source of information) :
Béatrice et Michel Augé : Domaine des Maisons Brulées
Benoit Courault : Benoit Courault
Brendan Tracey : les vins de Sainte Anne
Catherine et Pierre Breton : Domaine Breton
Catherine Roussel et Didier Dagueneau : Clos Roche Blanche
Christophe Foucher : la Lunotte
Claude Courtois : les Cailloux du paradis
Eric Nicolas : Domaine de Bellivière
François Blanchard : le Grand Cléré
Jean Pierre Robinot : les vins d'Ange vin
Joël Courtault : domaine de Bel Air
Mard Pesnot : domaine de la Sénéchalière
Mikael Bouges : Mikael Bouges
Noëlla Morantin : Noëlla Morantin
Olivier Cousin : domaine Cousin Leduc
Olivier Lemasson : les vins Contés
Pascale Potaire : Les Capriades
Pascal Simonutti : Pascal Simonutti
Philippe Tessier : Domaine Philippe Tessier
Renaud Guettier : la Grapperie
As for addresses importing and selling French natural wines —
in NY, but not exclusively :
jenny and francois
clean skin wine
chartrand imports - Maine
the ten bells, bar à vins, NY
chambers street wines - wine shop, NY
discovery wines - wine shop, NY
— Bay Area
farm wine imports
arlequin wine merchant
A few good natural wine blogs:
more than organic
that crazy french woman
Baci di Dama- makes 20
70 unbleached white flour (I substitute brown rice flour, for its gluten free-ness)
70 gr hazelnuts or filberts (you can substitute lightly toasted blanched almonds)
50 gr cold unsweetned butter, cut into small pieces
50 gr cane sugar
30 gr pure 72 - 85% dark chocolate (depending on the sweetness you want)
Pinch of salt
— Toast the hazelnuts in the oven at 180 °C (350 °F) for 10 - 15 minutes, or until skins darken and begin to blister and the aroma of roasted nuts begins to seep from the oven. Wrap them in a kitchen towel and let steam for a couple of minutes. Vigorously rub the towel against the nuts to remove the skins. Don't worry about the skins that don't come off. When cool, finely chop to the consistency of coarse flour, or grind them into meal a coffee grinder or the chopper of a hand blender, just don't overdo it or the meal will turn to butter.
—Combine all the ingredients, except for the chocolate, in a bowl; I use my hands to make sure the butter is incorporated You can also use a flat beater in your mixer. Flatten the dough into a slab about 1/2-inch thick and set in the refrigerator, covered, for 1 hour.
— Preheat the oven to 160 °C (315 °F). Remove the dough from the refrigerator and cut into 3 small squares, each weighing approx 5 gr. Squeeze each piece into a ball with your hand, then gently roll it between the palms of your hands onto a nice round ball. (If it breaks apart during the process, tightly squeeze it together again then gently roll between your hands). Place on a baking sheet, either lightly buttered or lined with parchment paper, spacing them a slight 1-inch apart. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 12 - 18 minutes. The cookies will flatten out a bit, the tops should begin to crack slightly, and the bottoms should be gently golden. Let them cool on the baking sheet before removing.
— Break the chocolate into pieces and melt in a bain-marie. Drop the tip-of-a-teaspoonful of chocolate onto the center of the flat side of one cookie and cover with a second. Carefully lay each Baci di Dama down on its side until the chocolate has hardened.
— You can keep them in an air-tight container for up to 1 week.
Wine note: A bottle of Moscato d´Asti from the provincia di Alessandria would make great company with a plate of Baci di Dama.