One of the best wine tasting events I have attended, perhaps the sunshine and warmth put me in a good mood but I know that my thoughts were echoed by many others. Real Wine Fair is organised by Caves De Pyrène the merchant which has done so much to promote organic, biodynamic and natural wines in the UK. It took place in Tobacco Dock the same venue as a couple of years ago when I attended. There are two large halls offering plenty of space, break out areas for food stands and a useful shop as well as rooms for masterclasses. It was interesting to read tweets by Jamie Goode and Oz Clarke, probably the two wine writers who have influenced me most, praising the event, the enthusiasm of the producers and the way in which natural wines are continuing their growth and influence despite the expectations of some that they would fall away as a fashion trend.
I tasted just under 200 wines from producers in 17 countries of the 23 represented at RWF. That such a broad spectrum gathered together is, I believe, proof of how wine is changing, producers are looking to make wine in as clean and environmentally sound ways as possible all around the world. Countries such as Germany, which were well behind the natural wine trend of France, Italy and Spain, were well represented. Interestingly most of the producers from these countries were young, enthusiastic and eager to learn.
One of the welcome sights of the Fair was to see the number of producers tasting around the stands of colleagues from different countries. I was privileged to be in a discussion with producers from New Zealand, Australia, and the Languedoc comparing their thoughts and methodology. I saw many other such exchanges. This can only be a benefit. A well known French producer lauding a German Riesling to its young producer was one more example.
It was also good to catch up with friends. Corinne and Carole Andrieu from Clos Fantine and Gareth Belton of Gentle Folk are people I have visited with in recent times and got to know a little.
I do not intend to publish long descriptions of dozens of wines though I shall write about some of the many wines and producers which excited me. However, let me start with just 3 wines, my podium wines for the event. Bear in mind that I tasted with less than a quarter of the producers present, I imagine that I missed out on some other fabulous wines.
My wine of the event was a sherry, though not a typical sherry. Cota 45‘s Agostado Palo Cortado 2016 is not fortified as sherries are these days. Is it a sherry? Is it a wine? Whatever, it is brilliant. This is an old, traditional method of wine production and its producer Ramiro Ibanez Espinar explained to me that he is making wines rooted in history. I would add that he is making wines of immense quality. The other Cota 45 wines were excellent but Agostado stood out for me.
A Palo Cortado in style but made from only 10% Palomino , the usual sherry grape. Older varieties make up the majority, grapes such as Mantuo Castellano and Perruno. That is music to my ears of course, being a devotee of rare grapes. The wine is made under flor but then allowed to age oxidatively, hence the obvious sherry style. Since it is not fortified though Agostado is lighter, fresher than other Palo Cortados, much as I love that style of sherry. This was a revelation to me but my ranking as wine of the Fair is based on sheer quality rather than novelty.
Alice De Moor has built an enviable reputation in the natural wine world for her excellent Chablis. I had tasted some before, I particularly enjoy her Aligoté wines. However at this event it was the Chablis which really shone and the Chablis 1er Cru Mont De Milieu 2017 in particular. The De Moors have suffered from frost damage a lot in recent vintages so this is a welcome example of their own skill in growing and making top Chablis. Fresh, zesty and mineral. Yes, mineral. I know the science says soils don’t make it into the flavour of wine but this Chablis reflects the limestone soils of the vineyard. It doesn’t make sense but it’s true. And then plenty of fruit and a round, almost creamy, nutty flavour. This will age well for sure and develop more complexity but it is a superb wine even in its relative infancy.
And completing the podium? Another white wine, the Riesling I mentioned above (which incidentally was being praised by the very same Alice De Moor). The wine was Riesling M 2017 from Weingut Schmitt. Bianka Schmitt explained to me that this was picked slightly later than their other Rieslings and spends a year in old oak. It was a stunner. Aromas ranging from floral to citrus, initial flavours of zest, yellow and green fruitgums. However, what made the wine stand out was what happened next. The wine continued to release flavours even after I had swallowed the liquid (some wines you just do not spit). Lingering melon, grapefruit and even tropical fruits grew and developed for a full minute. I love Riesling and this was a truly special example of its complexity and generosity.
I shall focus on more top bottles and ranges of wines in the next couple of articles. Interesting to note that my friend David Crossley selected the first two of these wines amongst his favourites, that gives me confidence that I made wise choices.
I should register my thanks to Doug Wregg and his team for such an excellent event.