amarchinthevines

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


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RAW impressions

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Two days at RAW London, the natural wine fair which has become part of the establishment with fairs now taking place around the world. Isabelle Legeron’s work in organising the fairs as well as her excellent book ‘Natural Wine’ and other media work has helped boost the reputation of winemakers who work organically, biodynamically and naturally and she deserves much credit.

In a way that success is a two edged sword, Sunday afternoon’s public session was very crowded and parts of the The Store were very hot, not the best tasting conditions. Monday’s trade day was much more manageable and I was able to get to almost all the producers I had shortlisted. I shall be commenting on some of those in the next article, however, I wanted to give some general impressions first.

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Simon Woolf interviewing Isabelle Legeron

Perhaps it was the fact that I spent a bit of time and lunch with Simon Woolf that orange or amber wines were to the fore of my RAW experience. Seemingly every producer is working with skin contact wine, some have been doing so for generations, some for years, some making their first experiments. Simon’s book ‘Amber Revolution’ is one of the best written wine books of recent years and I highly recommend it. As for the wines themselves, well they varied greatly. Once again I was struck by the success of skin contact wines using aromatic varieties which seem to add extra layers of aroma and flavour compared to others. Successful examples here included Riesling (Domaine Brand in Alsace), Gewurztraminer (Brand and the Alto Adige producer Grawü) and Silvaner (Franken producer Weigand). Make no mistake orange wines are here to stay.

Hybrids and cross bred grapes are gathering some attention in the wine world with climate change and disease resistance amongst the reasons for their cultivation. It was interesting to taste a few examples here notably two examples of Souvignier Gris. This grape is a cross of Cabernet Sauvignon and Bronner, the latter a white grape produced from hybrids Merzling and GM6494 (a romantic name if ever there was one). Slovenian producer Batic and Alto Adige’s Thomas Niedermayr both had examples (they were unaware of each other’s bottles until I told them). The results were excellent in both cases, creamy but fresh white wine with plenty of good aroma and flavour. This is certainly an area of winemaking which will be interesting to see unfold.

Niedermayr wines to the left, the left bottle is Souvignier Gris, a photo showing its pink grapes is in front. The Batic example is the white bottle.

The growth of quality winemaking in Central and Eastern Europe has been well documented, the evidence was clear once again at RAW. Austria has been a source of excellent wine for a few years now, Georgia too. Add in the Friuli / Slovenia region for orange wines, Czech, Hungarian and Swiss producers too. There were some lovely wines and the story behind wineries such as the Czech Jaroslav Osicka is inspiring, a family working in organic ways, determined to do things right whilst struggling against bureaucracy and attitudes from those in authority and colleagues too. Osicka, Batic, Balog, Natenadze’s were all wineries which offered good wines from these regions and which I would recommend. My friend David Crossley regularly reports upon the growth of such wines and I recommend his report on Osicka and others here.

IMG_1599Miha Batic with Jaroslav Osicka

The continued success of natural wine’s big guns continues unabated. The likes of Radikon, Gravner and Cornelissen attracted large crowds on both days, rightly so. These are fascinating, unique wines. Cornelissen wines have become more consistent to my taste in recent vintages and they were showing very well. In the hunt for the new let’s not overlook the established stars.

Similarly I was struck by how much classic wine regions shone for me at RAW. My favourite ranges of wines were probably the Burgundies of AMI and the Saint Emilion wines of Château Le Puy and Château Meylet. I would not have imagined that to be the case even a year ago. These classic regions have a new wave of producers, such as AMI, who are working in organic, biodynamic and natural ways and the results are great. Expensive, perhaps, but delicious.

Finally, fairs such as RAW always throw up surprises and new discoveries. I had no intention of visiting Sicily producer Marino but an empty table on a crowded day proved fortuitous. I really liked the two wines of this small domaine, the Turi Bianco in particular. As is so often the case lovely people make lovely wines, a young couple deserving of success. I was pleased to see David liked them too in his report. Other pleasant surprises: the Welsh producer Ancre Hill, with a terrific Orange Wine (of Albarino grapes) and two PetNats; a new Languedoc producer to me, Mas Lasta with fresh, flavoursome wines including a white wine made from Grenache Noir; the excellent Banyuls wines of Domaine Du Traginer.

By Monday afternoon my tasting abilities were exhausted. As usual there were regrets at missing one or two producers but I had enjoyed myself and came away confident that RAW winemaking is in a healthy place with new, exciting producers and ideas emerging to join the wealth of talent already established. I shall be sharing more of my particular findings next time.

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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.