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.
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)
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)
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)
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.