TOURS, France — The task ahead of me was a two-day tasting marathon of wines with a welter of confusing labels: natural, organic, organic practice and biodynamic. But for Jean Bardet, a semiretired chef with two Michelin stars to his name, there was little confusion about the worthiness of such bottles.
“You have all these young people with rings in their noses who don’t know wine and say, ‘If it’s organic, it’s better,’ ” said Mr. Bardet, an expert on Loire Valley wines. “That’s crazy. Either wine gives pleasure and happiness or it does not. It’s all about taste.”
The night before the weekend tastings, Mr. Bardet hosted me and a friend at his sprawling home near Tours, which doubles as a cozy hotel where he cooks for his guests. He explained that he’s not pro-pesticide — after all, his huge fruit and vegetable garden here is pesticide-free. He is just anti-bad-winemaking.
The use of pesticides has become a major issue among French vintners and drinkers. Many dismiss the sudden cascade of new wines that proclaim their environmental virtue as New Age gimmickry. Others condemn the resistance to pesticides as a potential threat to other wines — the equivalent, some say, of refusing a vaccine.
But the weekend salons I attended bore witness that these wines are more than just a splash in the glass; they attest to a movement that has been growing for years in France and elsewhere to produce quality wine that is as pure as it can be.
In Saumur, about 26 miles away, a much larger group of nearly 200 winemakers from 15 countries displayed its wares in a warren of cold, damp troglodyte caves. Called La Dive Bouteille, it has become the world’s largest annual natural wine exposition, with 3,000 visitors this year.
“Every year, it gets more exciting,” said Camille Rivière, a New York-based wine importer-distributor of natural wines, as she strolled the aisles in search of that new, fresh, brilliant taste. “These salons allow growers to exchange ideas, and we’ve seen the quality improve over the years. Some like to say it’s a fad, but people who start drinking these wines never go back to the traditional.”
An earlier version of this article misstated the years of the vintages studied by scientists in a 2013 French wine report. They were 2007 and 2008, not 2009 and 2010.
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