amarchinthevines

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


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Natural wine – a victim of its own success?

That natural wine has always been a source of controversy is a given. From the outset people have sniped at the term ‘natural’ wine (I lost count of the times I heard that old trope “wine doesn’t make itself”), the faults of the early wines, not being certificated etc etc. Many critics would now admit that faults are rarer and that natural wines have enthused many, especially younger wine drinkers. I am almost proud to be a 61 year old natural wine advocate, at last I am on trend!

Amongst a crowd of younger wine enthusiasts

The growth of natural wine across the world, the increase in winemakers and certainly in media attention (he writes) has been dramatic in the last few years. That growth brings its own problems however. Big companies using the term to promote wines which are really not natural (no certification makes that possible so something of an own goal to be fair) I have mentioned before. The large number of new winemakers rushing to join the trend often with little experience means that there have been some questionable wines, I have tried quite a few.

So why continue? Well the sense of drinking wine more reflective of the actual grapes with minimal intervention, the stories of the producers which are consistently more interesting than those of big brands) and the sheer excitement of many of the wines. I remain as enthusiastic for natural wine as ever.

However a couple of recent stories make me sad. In an article on the excellent Little Wine website (paywall I’m afraid) Jamie Goode reported how one of my favourite natural wines has reached alarming prices on the grey market. I was fortunate to taste a bottle of Domaine Des Miroirs’ Mizuiro Les Saugettes 2013 and meet its maker Kenjiro Kagami at a tasting in 2016. It was memorable for its razor sharp, precise Chardonnay, a joy. I have sought bottles ever since without luck.

Jamie reported that bottles were selling for £600 in bond (tax still to pay) on the Berry Bros & Rudd website. These are bottles people have bought and traded on for profit. Other big stars in the natural firmament are seeing huge mark ups too and this on top of prices which are often relatively high due to the extra costs involved of organic and natural winemaking.

Inevitably, with many natural producers farming just a few hectares the small scale production means that bottles are fewer in number. With demand having grown exponentially it often exceeds supply. I recall one merchant, having been told by Jeff Coutelou that he had no more wine to sell replying that Jeff should simply produce more, as if he could wave a magic wand or lower quality to achieve more bottles. This is the market sadly, good wines will cost good money. The task is to seek the next great producers before their bottles reach collector status. It is sad but inevitable.

Then last week another story. the actress Cameron Diaz has been linked with a wine which has been branded as ‘clean’. Interviewed she explained how many additives are allowed in wine, so far so good. The wine uses organic grapes and this has been verified, Penedes in Spain is the source, mainly Xarel.lo a variety I really like. Still all good. However, alarm bells ring when Diaz expressed surprise that grapes should be used which had not been washed. Grape skins bring yeast into the vat to help ferment the wine, washing them means that the wine uses commercial yeast. It is far from natural, they have carefully avoided the term, clean being an alternative which in these extraordinary times will resonate with many.

Unwashed Carignan heading into tank to ferment

Wines being linked with celebrities is not new. My wife recently tried a very ordinary, dull Provence rosé retailing at £10 due to being named after a celebrity. Some celebrities have vineyards making good wine, Sam Neill’s Two Paddocks in New Zealand is one example. As someone sceptical of anything celebrity I am not the target consumer but I really am uncomfortable with the ‘clean’ wine designation even if the intentions are good and especially when the wine costs $24 (£19).

I love natural wines, implore you to seek out the good ones (just not too hard or you’ll drive up the price!), Jeff’s being especially good though I may be biased. However, beware of imitations. Reliable recommendations can be found from many sources, including here I hope.


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The Real World

RWF

Whilst making a brief return to the UK I noticed that The Real Wine Fair was taking place in London, a showcase for organic, biodynamic and natural producers. Thus, I endured a 5.30am start to the day to travel down to London, returning home at 11pm – but it was worth the long day. Above all it was an opportunity to taste outside of my usual wine list of France, wines were on show from all around the world. My plan, therefore, was to taste from these other places to give myself a better context and understanding of wines.

I liked the set up where producers were set out across the rooms by country and region. It allowed easy movement and planning, the catalogue was well set out and there were good food stalls available too from the likes of Ottolenghi and Galvin. The seminars were another good feature, I’d have loved to hear Alice Feiring or Jamie Goode on the Sunday but it was a real pleasure to listen to Wink Lorch speaking on the Jura.

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Wink Lorch with Kenjiro Kagami and Julien Maréchal

So these were the wines I enjoyed the most, as ever it was impossible to get round all of the producers I would have liked to visit.

France

Mouthes Le Bihan, Cotes de Duras Les Apprentis 2010 Merlot 60% with Cab Franc, Malbec and Cab Sauv – rich cassis nose and blackberry fruit. Nice whites especially 100% Semillon Pérette et les Noisetiers 14

Roc Des Anges, Maury Blanc Terres de Fagayra 14 (GrGris/GrBl/Macc) dense fresh, a lovely style of vin doux naturel – I liked this white version a lot

Domaine Romaneaux-Destezet (Hervé Souhaut), whole range good especially the 2014 VdP Ardèche wines Roussanne/Viognier and Syrah and the 2 2014 St Josephs, Cessieux and Saint-Epine with great depth yet balanced and fresh

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Foillard, Morgon Classique and Cote De Py both 14s both classic Beaujolais, the latter very concentrated

Lapierre, Raisins Gaulois, VdF 2015 – lovely fruit, simple style but extraordinary freshness and flavour from this top Beaujolais domaine

De Moor, Chablis Vendangeur Masqué 14, lovely zesty but round finish with long, dry finish

Derain, St Aubin Blanc ‘En Vesvau’ 14, concentrated, fresh, long and round

Buisson, St Romain Blanc especially the 13 (no so2) and the Meursault ‘Marguerite’ 14 with lovely aromas and fruit and good use of oak

Domaine de la Borde, Arbois. 2014 Chardonnay ‘Caillot’ lovely, 14 Savagnin lively, zesty but yellow fruit and balance, 15 Ploussard Les Charmines looked to be older but very good soft red fruits

Domaine Des Miroirs (Kagami), Chardonnay Sonorité du Vent 13 – terrific, textured, light golden colour with fresh nutty white fruits

Alexandre Bain – all wines especially ‘Pierre Precieuse’ with 30% botrytised fruit yet still dry with roundness and length

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Italy

Proseccos from Casa Coste Plane di Loris Follador and Casa Belfi especially latter

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Princic, older wines, they do need time eg 11 Vino Bianco Trebez (PinotGrigio/Chard/SauvBl) 8 days on skins showed long, stone fruit flavours

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Vodopivec, 12 Carso Vitovska Anfore with textured pure fruit, 12 Vitovska Solo MM12 over 6 months skins, 2.5 years in foudre – orange colour lovely minerality, almost liquorice

La Stoppa, Reds best, eg Trebbilo Rosso 14 with fresh cherry acidity and best of all the intense red fruits, long maceration and years in foudre of the 07 Macchiona (possibly my favourite wine of the day)

COS, 14 Rami Bianco zesty and golden, 14 Cerasuolo deep, dark red fruits with lovely acid and best of all 14 Nero di Lupo, darker still, raspberry and cherry

Occhipinti, favourite of the Italian producers; SP 68 Rosso 2015, bright vibrant fruit and colour, tremendous Frappato 14 rounder than COS with red fruits, almost menthol freshness, lovely

Spain

Forja del Salnes, Rias Baxas – brilliant wines from old vines Albarino, 13 Leirana Finca Genoveva great concentration and depth (100 year old vines) yet still zesty, 2011 Golliardo A Telleira (60 year old vines at highe altitude) concentration, rich flavours but still clean. Red 13 Bastion de la Luna Tinto (Caino, Espadeiro and Loureiro grapes) – pure red fruits.

Celler Batlliu de Sort, Costers del Segre – reds a bit woody but lovely 13 Biu Riesling pure slatey Riesling, almost piercing citrus freshness

Germany

Thörle, excellent range, the dry Rieslings were all good especially Saulheimer Kalkstein 14 and impressive Schlossberg 14 (slate dry mineral). The Kabinett Riesling 15 was gorgeous, green apple with 56g of residual sugar. Spätburgunders too especially Kalkstein 14 and the single parcels 13 Probstey and 13 Holle with good concentration and depth.

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Austria

I said hello to Messrs. Tscheppe and Muster but did not taste due to time pressures as I had tasted their wines in Montpellier at Les Affranchis. They remain top of the class for me.

Warnung, 2013 Skin Contact Grüner Veltliner and 13 Riesling Berg especially the latter with spicy freshness. Nice Portuguieser Feldspiel 13 with round fruit and 13 Etsdorf Blauer Zweigelt, a rosé wine with citrus freshness and white fruit flavours.

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Schnabel, Morillon 14, a golden Chardonnay, mineral / texture and long nutty flavours, good Pinot Noir Hochegg 14 classic Pinot Noir

Georgia

Okro’s Wines, Rkatsiteli 14 more rounded than some of the other whites, tighter, Rkatsiteli Pet Nat 15 also very good appley fruit

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Bitarishvili, 14 Iago with skin contact was actually fruitier than the non contact version, a little reduced but nice

Mandidli, 2015 Mandili Mtsvane grape, fruitier and rounder than other examples of this grape elsewhere, fruity, balanced

Revasashvili, 15 Chinuri clear pear / apple fresh and textured.

South Africa

Testalonga, lovely range. El Bandito skin contact 15, lovely Chenin Blanc, apple fruit and clean. Sweet Cheeks 15, Muscat d’Alexandrie skin contact, dry, fruity clean (impressive for a grape which can become very blousy). Dark Side Syrah 15, spicy, coloured. El Bandito, Mangaliza apple and pear with lovely balance.  Keep On Punching 15 Baby Bandito, Chenin, stainless steel dry, fresh clean apples. Baby Bandito Follow Your Dream (Carignan) 15, fresh, spicy light. Very keen on these wines from Craig Hawkins, a good man to talk with too.

Australia

Patrick Sullivan, Haggis 15, assemblage of leftover wines but really good fruit

USA

La Garagista, Vermont – Unusual varieties due to climate. Harlots and Ruffians 14 – Frontenac Gris 5 weeks contact but nice and fresh. Frontenac Noir (related to Aramon) in Loups Garoux 14 lovely aromas but a bit foxy and wild.

Kelley Fox, Oregon – Momtazi Pinot Noir 13 with concentration, depth and flavour. Maresh Pinot Noir 13, lighter colour but more fruit and elegance

Clos Saron, California Sierra Mountains– Carte Blanche 14 (Albarino) green, zesty fruity. Blue Cheer 14 nice blend with Cinsault lifting the Carignan to a lighter feel, spicy. Heart Of Stone Syrah 09, truffley, good deep and balanced. Stone Soup Syrah 12, fresh, tannic but good fruit

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Ambyth, California Paso Robles – nice whites especially Grenache Blanc 13 but best was Venustas 11, (Tempranillo/Sangiovese) lovely balance of fruit and spice, complex and long

Overall impressions. Well it was good to see how the world of wine is being influenced by organic, biodynamic and natural ideas. Whatever your thoughts about these influences they are making winemakers think about the way they produce wines. Interesting to see how producers as far afield as Oregon and Georgia, South Africa and Wales have embraced similar ideas and thinking, encouraged by events such as this no doubt.

There were some negatives for me. Skin contact is fine and clearly very fashionable for white wines. However, there were a lot of clumsy wines made in this style with overlong maceration or over extraction. They ended up tasting harsh and lacked fruit or freshness.I know some people like that, but not for me. Other producers did long maceration but kept fruit, freshness and balance. Maybe it is a learning process but I had really heard enough about skin contact wines by the end of the day. There were also some reductive wines, others with brett and mousiness. However, these were few in number in a Fair where I tasted over 300 wines.

There were many interesting wines, there were many very pleasing wines, and some excellent wines. I particularly loved the ranges from Occhipinti, Testalonga, Thörle, Clos Saron, Alexandre Bain and Romaneaux-Destezet. My top half dozen wines were:

  • La Stoppa, Macchiona 2007
  • Forja del Salnes, 2013 Leirana Finca Genoveva
  • Thörle, 2013 Schlossberg Riesling
  • Romaneaux – Destezet, 2014 St. Joseph Cessieux
  • Clos Saron, 2009 Heart Of Stone Syrah
  • Testalonga, 2015 Baby Bandito Follow Your Dream

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