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Learning about wine, vines and vignerons whilst living in the Languedoc


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Ode to joy

 

This weekend was Real Wine Fair time in London. I did not attend as I am travelling to France in the next few days and didn’t fancy a long round trip followed by another. I would have loved to attend and taste more great wines from around the world, with an organic, biodynamic and natural core. I have already seen some interesting reports but as so often it was Jamie Goode’s which caught my attention because he touches on one very important aspect of wine tasting – pleasure.

I have attended many tastings over the years and very often they are held in hushed, reverent surroundings. Nothing wrong with that, it is easy to appreciate the wines and concentrate upon their strengths or weaknesses. However when I have attended tastings such as RAW, RWF, La Remise or Les Affranchis there is a much more boisterous atmosphere. People enjoy the wines and are not afraid to show that. There is laughter and pats on the back. As Goode says it must drive some natural wine haters nuts “to see consumers having such fun drinking these natural wines. The future of wine is bright, I reckon.”

He goes on to discuss the term ‘natural’ and how it has become divisive and argues that SO2 levels are a moot point. I don’t wholly buy the last point as I know it matters a great deal to many natural producers and I respect their choices and philosophy. Nonetheless, as I have said many times in these pages, the influence of natural wine on others is now clear.

However, Goode’s point about the sheer pleasure which people take from these wines is what I think deserves repeating. Wine is meant to be enjoyed, the younger crowds at natural wine fairs are not afraid to do just that. Good on them.


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Decanter’s first natural wine tasting

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A sign of acceptance in the mainstream wine world? Decanter magazine held its first tasting of natural wines recently. Simon Woolf, Andrew Jefford and Sarah Jane Evans were charged with the tasting and I think that is a very fair minded trio of experienced tasters.

The first issue they faced was how to classify a selection of natural wines and Simon explained on his very good blog themorningclaret.com how they adopted the rules of RAW, the natural wine fairs organised by Isabelle Legeron. That means organic/biodynamic production (preferably certified), hand harvesting, no modern techniques such as reverse osmosis, no fining or filtration and no cultured yeasts. Of course the issue of sulphites was central to discussion, as it so often is, and RAW’s rules allow up to 70mg/l so this tasting allowed the same. When I attended and reported on RAW this spring I made it clear that I view this as too high but that was the rule laid down here.

Decanter tasting

122 wines were tasted mainly based on bottles provided by UK retailers. Interestingly, and inevitably, the three tasters produced very different results. Being a Decanter tasting they were required to give marks (which I increasingly dislike) but the comments and selections are well worth reading. The results and top ten wines for each of the tasters is available on Simon’s blog here along with a link for a pdf of the Decanter article. The full list of wines tasted is here.

I have obviously been drinking too much wine as I know the vast majority of these 122 bottles. Their top wine turned out to be La Stoppa’s Ageno 2011 and I have praised this domaine before as well as that wine, so no argument from me. My own views would differ from all three but that is the nature of tasting (and why marks make little sense to me). Kreydenweiss, COS, Occhipinti, Haywire, Meinklang, Muster, Sainte-Croix and Testalonga are all firm favourites of mine so, in fact, I would agree with many of the selections.

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I highlight this event because I think it is a landmark in that a very conservative magazine (I didn’t renew my subscription many years ago because of its very traditional bias) has brought natural wine on board. I believe natural wine should be willing to accept constructive criticism from such fair minded critics and so this is an important step in the right direction.

Also worth noting is the sheer spread of producers from all corners of the globe, natural wine is not going away it is growing in popularity with consumers and producers. Note too that some big producers are making  versions of natural wine, a trend mentioned on these pages before. Whilst I personally may not regard them too sympathetically at least it is a sign that the philosophy behind natural wine is winning support.

So, well done Decanter, and Simon Woolf in particular, for promoting this tasting.

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Wonderful wines which definitely pass muster with me

 


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Mas Coutelou 2016

Version francaise

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Tasting September 27th

It was a year of difficulties as I have reported on here many times. From a virtually arid winter and spring to a chilly early summer and then a very hot summer the vines had a struggle to cope with the bizarre climate. Add in a hail storm, snails eating away large numbers of grapes and mildew. No surprise then that the quantity of wine produced was much reduced, bottles will be much scarcer than previous years – so when you get the chance buy them. If quantity is down then what about quality?

I have had the good fortune to taste through the range of wines on two occasions. On September 27th the wines were in their infancy settling in tank, the team got together to gain first impressions. In late January and in February this year I tasted them again with a number of visitors. What I tasted was the wine from the different vineyards before it was then assembled into the various cuvées which Jeff will eventually put out. Therefore, my notes are about the ingredients rather than the finished dish.

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Tasting January 28th

I decided to simply publish my notes as I wrote them on the two occasions – no editing, just my personal impression at the time. Already these wines had changed a great deal after 4-5 months and they will have changed again even before being assembled into Le Vin Des Amis etc.  I have chosen only the main wines, there are several other cuves with other wines but these are the main wines of Mas Coutelou.

September 2016

January / February 17

  1. Muscat Petits Grains – 2 weeks maceration, fairly neutral nose but fresh Muscatty flavour with tannins / texture. Orange flavour in there – G

Nose is Muscatty and orange blossom. No real grapey Muscat flavours but a dry                   wine, fresh,  direct and clean. Little drying on finish but coming together well. – G

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  1. Carignan Blanc – little reduced on nose, nice fresh acidity and appley fruit. Still cloudy – G

This has improved, white flower aromas, fresh, white fruits, very long – VG

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  1. Maccabeu/Grenache Gris/ Muscat – Lovely pears and red apples. Fresh acidity, lovely. Full, nice texture – VG

Some residual sugar still but direct fresh fruit – pears and apples – G

  1. Cinsault (Segrairals) – assembled with marc from Syrah. Nice fresh acidity – OK

Not tasted 

5. Grenache Ste Suzanne – Little green, quite acid, some spicy after notes. A bit tart –             OK

 11.5%, light but fruity and grapey, lost its tartness, more round – QG

Lovely grenache

Grenache just picked

6. Syrah Ste Suzanne – Nice, perfumed, red fruits, good acidity and soft tannins – G

Very attractive red fruit nose, has some heft yet only 12%, rich and easy to drink – G

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Syrah from Ste Suzanne

 7. Flower Power (plus others) – Round red fruits, lively, red fruit flavours – QG

Syrah and Cinsault in there too, nose is lovely, really attractive with red fruits and              floral. Nice round easy fruits – G

8. Syrah Segrairals – Still fermenting, quite a lot of residual sugar. Nice, fresh acidity,              red fruits – G

Not tasted

9. Syrah La Garrigue – Slight acetate nose, Round dark fruits. Nice texture and mouth             filling – G

Dark, ripe round fruits on nose and flavour, plummy, a little closed, good tannins –             G

10. Grenache La Garrigue – Nice ripe cherry aromas, good acidity and texture. Ripe –                G+

Very fresh and open, round ripe fruits. A little residual sugar still – G+

11. Mourvedre – Very attractive floral aromas, some sugar still, raspberry fruit – G

Improved a lot, a little reduced but liquorice flavours, dark and how it builds in                  the mouth, could be a surprise star – VG

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Mourvedre I picked

12. Carignan – lovely dark fruit, very fruity and fresh flavours. Very clean finish,                      almost slatey minerality – VG

Still working, a little spritz. Quite acidic as yet but there are dark ripe fruits and                  these are playing together on the palate, will develop well – G

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Still fermenting

Overall, the general impression is of good quality with plenty of freshness and fruit to balance. Mourvedre could provide the star wine of the year which would be a surprise, though the Carignan will no doubt improve and be a star once again. The whites, in various styles, are again showing how good white wines can be in this region.  After a very problematic year it is surprising that the wines emerged so well, testament to healthy vines and a skilled winemaker.

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Celebrating 2016 with a lovely Bibonade rosé

 


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dRAW conclusions

Vionnet (RAW link)

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I had heard good reports about Karim Vionnet’s wines and I enjoyed the lighter non-oaked versions in particular. Du Beur Dans Les PInards 2015 had well balanced fruit and depth, very good Beaujolais. The light, straightforward Chiroubles ‘Vin De KaV’ 2015 would please anyone, though added sulfites seemed unnecessary.

Riberach (RAW link)

The Roussillon is home to many excellent winemakers and I had seen some rave reviews about Riberach so it was good to taste their wines at last. Riberach is a collection of grower, winemakers and others with 20ha of vines certified by Ecocert. I liked the wines in general especially the white wines. Hypothèse Rouge 2011 had good fruit and mineral mouthfeel but top for me was the Hypothèse Blanc 2014. The red is based on Carignan Noir, the white on Carignan Gris – a Carignan whitewash for me.

Château Massereau (RAW link)

The highlights of the Montpellier tastings in January included Chateau Meylet from St. Émilion and, perhaps, Bordeaux based wines are making a comeback in my affections as Chateau Massereau based in Barsac was a favourite here. Certainly the Sauternes wines were a real delight (La Pachère lighter than Cuvée M) but the reds were the core wines, I liked them all but especially the Cuvée Socrate 2009, picked early for freshness which shone in the glass. A word too for a really good Clairet 2015, weightier than a rosé with 48 hours of skin contact, fruity, light and delicious.

Gut Oggau (RAW link)

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Another Austrian producer makes my list, it really is a source of some of the best wines at present. I presume Eduard Tscheppe is somehow related to the excellent Andreas whose wines I have praised so often on here. Together with his partner Stephanie they make very attractive and drinkable wines. So popular that they ran out of wine early on the Sunday so I made a bee line for them on Monday morning. The Theodora (weiss) 2015 was very mineral but plenty of fruit too, complex and good. my other favourite was Emmeram 2015 made from Gewurztraminer, not everybody’s favourite grape but this was long, fruity, exotic and just a touch of residual sugar to add a pleasurable finish.

Meinklang (RAW link)

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Tasting with my good friend David Crossley

More from Austria and amongst the best of its producers, another to run out of wine early. Delicious Foam White 2015, a petnat with superb freshness and depth after 15 months on lees. Graupert Pinot Gris 2015 had chewy fruit (2 weeks on skins) and a lovely clean finish. The two Konkret wines (raised in concrete eggs) were particularly good, proof that ageing wines in this style does work well. The white had lovely peachy aromas and long fruit, the red was clear, direct and long. The Zweigelt 2015 was a highlight, beautiful precise fruit and a mineral, clean finish. I should also praise the delicious Foam Cider.

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So much did I like the wines and cider from Meinklang that I immediately ordered some.

Batic (RAW link)

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I tried wines from quite a few East European producers and was a bit disappointed by them. However, Batic, a Slovenian producer, was outstanding. A lovely 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon but the real star was Angel 2011 a blend of 7 varieties complanted in the vineyard, 31 days on skins and 4 years in barrel. How does that make such a light, fruity, pleasurable wine? I don’t know but it was a terrific wine.

I Mandorli (RAW link)

Excellent Italian wine based on Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon. Freshness was the hallmark of the wines. Particular favourites were Vigna Alla Sughera Rosso 2013, lovely sharp cherry flavours. The Vigna Al Mare 2013 had real Cabernet profiles of blackcurrant. Vino Rosso Base 2014 was a light blend of the 2 grapes and very drinkable.

Conclusions

A very good tasting offering the opportunity to taste wines from many countries. Natural wines are on the up, producers emerging not just in the traditional hotspots of France and Italy. One well-known wine writer recently suggested in a description of one wine that natural wine is a fashion. Apparently she is unaware that they have been made for almost 40 years, they are no fad. More producers, more customers, more restaurants – the demand for natural grows every month.

I remain unconvinced by amphorae, some producers are mastering the technique but there is a lot of clumsy, inexperienced use at present. Concrete eggs on the other hand do seem to be more sympathetic to the wine.

Most producers at RAW were certified organic or biodynamic. It is important that consumers should be confident that their wine is really natural. The wine described by the critic was made SO2 free but not organic, to my mind (and in RAW’s charter) that would not be a natural wine. I also did wonder why some producers continue to feel the need to add sulfites to the wine.

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Natural wines are here to stay, they will hopefully become known as simply very good wines. The wines described in the last 3 articles should help to provide many examples of such very good wines. And that is without covering the wines of such illuminati as Cornelissen, Gravner and Texier.


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RAW too

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And so to the wines at RAW which contain sulfites above 20mg/l, in other words sulfites added. Reading Alice Feiring’s book ‘Naked Wine’ she tells of how the founding father of natural wine Jules Chauvet used SO2 as do some of the movement’s well-known figures such as Foillard and Puzelat if they feel they need to do so in order to protect that particular wine. Natural wine is about more than just sulfites though its reputation seems to be bound with that additive. RAW’s own charter is worth reading on the subject.

I did enjoy many wines at RAW which are above my artificial 20mg/l mark. There are a dozen domaines worthy of mention so I shall be brief in describing them. Again I refer you to the RAW website for more information (via links) and also to David Crossley’s website for more detailed descriptions on some.

Vinca Minor (RAW link)

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Sonoma Chardonnay (from domaine website)

Confounding all my prejudices about big, sweet California wines this domaine’s hallmark was freshness and a light touch. Whether a peach aroma Sonoma Valley Chardonnay 2016 or a juicy, red fruit Redwood Valley Carignan 2015 and even a Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 Santa Cruz Mountains – all these wines delivered everything you’d want in flavour and drinkability together with some complexity. Together with The Scholium Project I am converted to West Coast wines.

Okanagan Crush Pad (RAW link)

And Canada too. This is an interesting project where as well as making their own wine new winemakers are helped to make theirs too. Read more at the link above. Their Haywire wines were very good, providing an interesting contrast for me. As stated before I am not the biggest fan of extended skin contact wines, but here was a Free Form Sauvignon Blanc 2015 of 9 months maceration which was fruity as well as having texture, very good. I preferred it to a more traditionally made Pinot Gris. On the other hand the red skin contact was outshone by a beautifully fresh Water And Banks Pinot Noir 2015, classic grape character with red fruits and an earthy crunch. Lovely.

Vins Du Jura Thill (RAW link)

Jura wines are very on trend and with good reason, there are many excellent wines being produced there. I visited the region 20 years ago when Jura wines were hard to find because nobody was interested, now they are hard to find because they are in demand. I have had the good fortune to taste many excellent producers before including La Pinte, present at RAW. This domaine was new to me however, and another name to add to my list of must buys.

The Crémant Cuvée Adrian 2014 would certainly fit nicely into any occasion, refreshing tasty sparkling Chardonnay. The Chardonnay Sur Montboucon 2015 was even better with round , green and yellow fruits, great character. Perhaps my favourite wine was the Poulsard 2014, very light like a rosé in colour but packing dense rose and red fruit aromas and long red fruit flavours. One of my wines of the event. A word too for Vinum Paléas 2015, Éric’s straw wine with a slight honey note but dry and refreshing. Skilled winemaking.

Yves Duport (RAW link)

I don’t recall drinking wines from Bugey before. I will again. Again wines marked by a freshness and pure fruit . A lovely, fresh Chardonnay les Côtes 2016– more direct and zesty than the Jura style but a good food wine. The Pinot Noir Tradition 2016 made another comparison with the Jura and again it was more direct, good red fruits, ripe and clean. My favourite was the Altesse De Montagnieu “en Chinvre” 2016 which is quite a mouthful! Roussette is the grape and there was a grapefruit, citrus attack with a soft finish, really good.

It really is good to see a region fighting back led by a producer who lets nature speak.

Le Vignoble Du Rêveur (RAW link)

I was delighted to bump into Mathieu Deiss again. I have met him at a couple of tastings before when he was showing the wines of the family domaine with his father at the helm. I love those wines and their philosophy of place rather than grape. He is a passionate young winemaker and I am happy, but not surprised, to say that his own wines are crackers too.

Singulier is a blend of various white grapes, mostly Riesling made by carbonic maceration. The 13 was nice but the 15 was even better, singing with zesty fruit and character with mo SO2 either. It was another skin contact wine which made sense adding that characteristic texture to the fruit. Vibration 2013 was a Riesling with quite the best aromas of any wine at the Fair. Classic Riesling, zesty and long fresh flavours which grew in the mouth. Pierres Sauvages 2013 is a blend of Pinots; Blanc, Gris and Noir but made as a white wine so no long skin contact with the Noir grapes. This filled the senses, it is still developing in bottle I would say, lovely.

Hauts Baigneux et les Tètes (RAW link)

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To the Loire, that hotbed of natural wine and another new domaine to me based in Azay Le Rideau. I liked the reds but Loire reds are often a blindspot for me and it was the white wines which really stuck out, based on Chenin Blanc. The Azay Le Rideau ‘Les Chênes’ 2015 was a classic Loire white with zest and minerality, textured and fruity. I also liked the Blanc Chenin 2015 made in concrete eggs which seemed to have a richer depth. More young winemakers making an impact, the future looks good.

Chandon de Briailles (RAW link)

I have bought wines from this domaine in the past and was pleased to see them here at RAW. This is a classic Burgundy domaine and I love good Burgundy. No disappointments here, lovely Savigny and Pernand Vergelesses but there were two stand out wines. Corton Blanc 14 was a reminder of why Chardonnay in Burgundy can be just about perfect. The aromas and flavours seemed to have limitless depth, from apple and green fruits to rich, round hazelnuts. A stunner. And the Corton Bressandes Grand Cru 2014, just makes me smile thinking of it. Still a baby, but delivering forest aromas, dark red fruits, earthy notes – it’s one of those Pinot Noirs which just says this is as good as red wine gets. Tannins aplenty still but in a few years? I would love a supply of these to follow the wine’s progress. Top class biodynamic wine with producers cutting back on sulfites too. Love it.

Wines from classic old world regions and new world upcoming areas too. The world of wine is embracing natural wine.

Final selections soon.

 

 

 


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Naturally RAW

As my last article said RAW promotes wine “in a natural state; not treated by manufacturing or other processes.” However, those vignerons who do work to make wine as naturally as possible might argue that wines with SO2 levels over 20mg/l are not truly what they would mean by natural. No doubt Isabelle Legeron would regard measures of one particular substance as not the whole issue about natural wine and she would be correct, especially regarding work in the vineyard. Nonetheless the RAW guide itself listed producers with no added sulphites, those with <35mg/l and the others. Some producers cross these boundaries making some wines with added SO2 especially at bottling whilst other bottles are sulphite free.

My favourite producers who mostly add no SO2 are described below, apologies to those I did not get to. I have included links to the excellent RAW website which has details of all the bottles. Have a look to at David Crossley’s articles, more detailed and descriptive than I can manage.

My favourite wines were those of The Scholium Project as I described last time, some of whose wines are sans sulfites. However, of those producers working wholly without sulphites, top of my list was the Aosta Valley producer Selve.

Azienda Vitivinicola Selve (RAW link)

Since this domaine was taken over by the Nicco family in 1948 they have been making wine naturally, in the early days selling it to local people on tap! Three generations later the wines continue to be made with respect to the terroir and nature. The grape here is Nebbiolo, one I often find difficult to like but here it was stunning, such vibrant, pure wines with structure typical of the grape but also delicious round dark fruits.

The main bottling is Picotendro. The 2012 was deep and complex but very drinkable even now. However, Jean louis also produced a 2012 aged in chestnut wood rather than oak and that was on a higher plateau altogether. Four years in old wood had softened and rounded the wine and added a nutty complexity,. In special years the family produce a cuvée called Pantheon and I tasted the 2003. Certainly there were signs of its 14 years, a brown edge to the colour but the wine was youthful, in good form and full of life ahead. It was simply delicious, balanced and pleased palate and brain. This is the domaine who showed me that their analyses show virtually no sulfites in the wine, less than 2mg/l mostly.

A great discovery for me, salve Selve!

Uva De Vida (RAW link)

I  had planned to taste more Spanish wines at RAW and I must admit I failed to do so. Of the half dozen I did taste Uva De Vida stood out a mile. Based near Toldeo, Carmen López and Luis Ruiz manage their vineyards biodynamically (Demeter certified) and I love their quote from the RAW biography, “The earth does not belong to man, but man belongs to the earth”. That should be the philosophy of every winemaker, indeed everyone.

The wines are made with the Graciano grape. It was the Latitud 40 wines which impressed me so much. The 2012 Crianza had real energy and the 14 months in old oak added spice to a red fruit profile. The Castilla cuvée was offered from 2014 and 2015. The 14 was bigger, spicier and had lots of power and depth but always balanced by fruit and life. I actually liked the 15 better, no oak and there was actually even more spice and complexity. Pure, well made wines.

Alexander Koppitsch (RAW link)

Austrian wines have rapidly become amongst my favourites in the last 2-3 years, producers such as the Tscheppes, Preisinger, Meinklang and Pittnauer have really excited me. The same was true at RAW and this was a new domaine to me. Low intervention, including virtually no use of machine in the vineyard together with no added SO2 is not an easy choice for a young winemaker but Alexander and Maria succeed in producing lovely fresh wines, white and red.

There were numerous cuvées on offer and all were good. My white wine highlights included a skin contact wine which still had plenty of fruit and zest as well as complexity (Welschriesling Maischevergoren 2015), a fascinating, lively field blend of varieties Gemischter Satz Maischevergoren 2013 again made with skin contact and best of all a beautiful Weissburgunder Unfiltriert 2016, loads of grapefruit, melon and long flavours.

My favourite reds were both from the St. Laurent grape, the Unfiltriert 2015 had beautiful clarity and fruit whilst the vat sample 2016 was as good if not better. 2016 was a harsh year for winemakers in Austria with yields well down and this St Laurent is testament to Alexander’s skill. My liking for recent vintages suggests that the wines are improving as the domaine progresses.

Rennersistas (RAW link)

Two sisters, Susanne and Stefanie, in the early years of their winemaking and already producing very good wines.My two favourite wines here were both called Waiting For Tom, in tribute to the two men with whom they learned about winemaking, Tom Lubbe and Tom Shobbrook. They clearly were good teachers and students. The rosé 2016 made from Zweigelt was one of the best rosés I have tasted, lovely aromas of fresh red fruits and citrus carried into the taste. Light, refreshing – a perfect rosé wine. The red 2016 combines Pinot Noir with Blaufrankisch and St. Laurent and has so much life, freshness and joy.

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Champagne Laurent Bénard (RAW link)

Champagnes formed many of the highlights of the January Montpellier tastings and again here at RAW. This domaine works organically (Ecocert) and uses horses to hoe the soils, no dosage, no added sulphites either. The Vibrato 2012 was lovely, slightly yeasty (which is how I like champagne). Refreshing, long flavours and bettered only by the 2013 where the fruit was even more prominent. I’d have these in my cellar every time.

Domaine Alexandre Bain (RAW link)

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I have sung the praises of this domaine a few tomes on this blog, Alexandre works biodynamically (Ecocert and Demeter) and adds nothing to the grape juice. His pure way of working has got him into trouble with authorities in the past even though these are the purest examples of Pouilly Fumé! All 3 cuvées on offer were excellent, my favourite the Pierre Précieuse 2015 with its clean fruit and , yes, minerality. I do think he is a winemaker at the top level.

La Maison Romane (RAW link)

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Oronce De Beler makes wines in Vosne-Romanée but is not a vigneron, he makes his wines from bought in grapes from organically grown sites. He works naturally with little or no SO2. Let’s face it when red Burgundy is made well there are not many better wines, hence the high prices these days. I liked all the wines here they showed good balance of fruit and complexity, promising long life in bottle as well as pleasure now. Favourites were the Fixin Les Clos 2015, tannins bolstering lovely fruit and a top class spicy Vosne-Romanée Aux Réas 2015 of great depth, all spice, red fruits but plenty of ripe tannins too.

Mas D’ Alezon (RAW link)

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I admit to some partiality here as I know these wines well, they are amongst my favourite Faugères wines and, if you know this site you will know that Faugères is my favourite Languedoc region. Catherine Roque made wines at Clovallon (now run very well by her daughter) and acquired Mas D’Alezon in 1997. Demeter certified and working sans sulfites has added zest to the wines and the classic Faugères is lovely but the wine which wowed me here was a new one to me. Le Presbytère 2016 has Cinsault and Carignan but also Lledoner Pelut as the major part. I only know of a few domaines working with the grape and, if winemakers drink this bottle, they will be clamouring for the vines. Delicious, drinkable, clean red fruits but with a depth and coffee notes on the finish. One of the wines of the tasting.

I should mention Clot De L’Oum in the Roussillon and Domaine Rapatel in the Gard who also offered some lovely wines. Also special mention to Olivier Cohen whose excellent wines I described here from a previous tasting.

 

 

 


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The RAW and the cooked

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Version française

French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss proposed that cultural commonalities and differences and similarities are based on everyday opposites such as raw and cooked. I was reminded of that in attending the annual RAW Fair in London March 12th and 13th. It too served up some opposite emotions, to mix my metaphors a game of two halves.

RAW was formed by Isabelle Legeron whose book “Natural Wine” would be the best starting point for anyone who wants to find out about low intervention wines. On its website it describes itself thus: “RAW WINE (rɔː) – adj in a natural state; not treated by manufacturing or other processes.”

There begins my reflection of opposites after attending. Yes there were many wines there which were not treated by manufacturing or other processes but there were also many which, to my mind, are about wines being manipulated by various techniques and by additives, as up to 70 mg per litre of added sulfites are allowed for RAW. Are these natural wines? As there is no actual binding definition then I suppose they are but I doubt that some of the wines at the Fair are truly in the spirit of natural wine. During the posts which I will write about the event, the most important Fair in the UK based on natural wines, I shall be writing about different categories based on the amount of SO2 used.

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No added sulfites for Italian producer Azienda Vitivinicola Selve

The game of two halves? Well, that refers to the two days. Sunday was open to the public as well as press and trade and it was very, very busy. Crowds around the tasting tables, wines running out, no seats for eating, very warm conditions do not make sense of for an optimal tasting experience. Plans for the day (to taste everything bar France, Italy and Spain) were put aside as it was more a case of find a table where it was not necessary to barge through to the wine. The effect was that I was probably too harsh in judging the wines that day, my mood was affected. Monday was much more like it, more opportunity to access the tables, talk to the producers and, it was when I tasted my favourite wines of the weekend.

Other opposites?

  • Amphorae. It is THE most trendy winemaking technique, ferment and age your grapes in clay amphorae, usually 800l or bigger. I have tasted and enjoyed quite a few amphorae wines but generally I am not partial to the drying effect they have on wines (in my opinion). They do seem to give a sense of licking the clay container before drinking the wine ( a description given to me by my friend David Crossley). Winemakers do add a manufacturing process to their wine and quite rightly experiment to make the wines they want, but I don’t necessarily always enjoy the results. I prefer my wine truly raw rather than cooked earth.
  • Young and old. The natural wine movement is growing. Producers from all around the world, traditional producers experimenting with lesser amounts of sulfites (it was interesting to see a big name from Burgundy  at RAW) and most of all amongst younger wine drinkers. It seems to be true that younger wine drinkers, perhaps less weighed down by conventional expectations of what makes good wine, are attracted to natural wines. Those who predicted its demise are being defied by this growing band of supporters. I heard accents and languages from all around the world, long may it continue. And, meanwhile, older wine enthusiasts like myself can appreciate the energy and life in the wines and the people linked to them.
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One older drinker enjoying his wine

  • Faults. Critics of natural wines most often levy accusations of faulty winemaking. I tasted several hundred wines during RAW and I found faults in less than a dozen, mainly mousiness and two corked wines. Some are a little volatile and acidic but personally I enjoy such wines if the volatility is not completely out of control. The winemakers should be praised for their skill, the % of faulty wines was certainly a lot less than the % of dull wines I taste at many conventional wine tastings.

The two days were very enjoyable overall despite the crowding on day one. I was able to get round most tables and to taste some excellent wine. The next posts will describe some of those and some conclusions I drew from the event. The RAW website has excellent profiles of the producers and the wines on show, I will provide links to this site whenever I can. Let me start with my favourite range of the weekend which epitomises the feeling of opposites I had after RAW.

The Scholium Project (California) RAW link

Abe Schoener is a winemaker who pushes the boundaries, restless in trying to improve his wines. The wines are superb, very drinkable yet with great complexity. They made me smile, gave me great pleasure but also made me think. By accident as much as design it was found that by not topping up the barrels and not using pigeage the juice protected itself, the cap of skins helping rather than hindering. Indeed the Chardonnay, Michael Faraday 2014, developed a flor like sherry does. The result was pure juice, no hint of off notes either in aroma or taste. I liked all four wines on show, but especially the 26 day skin contact, no SO2 added Sauvignon Blanc, The Prince In His Caves 2015, and the Petite Sirah, Babylon 2013, which spent 3 years in barrels, again not topped up. I would normally be put off wines aged for so long in wood, I am not a great fan of too much skin contact yet here the wines were full of life and energy. Truly outstanding wines.

See what I mean about contradictions and opposites! RAW played with my expectations and prejudices.

Next time: the sulfite free wines which pleased me.