Perhaps, I am laying my soul bare when I say I do not like the term ‘natural’ wine. Perhaps, my soul has at least some essential coverings with the next statement. I am not necessarily against the wines themselves or the philosophy of minimal additives, processes and other types of intervention used in their production however. Being the curious soul that I profess to be, in the pursuit to discover more about these wines I attended the RAW Artisan Wine Fair in London in May 2015.
There was an amazing cornucopia of wines to be found that day in the Old Truman Brewery. All made with as little artifice and as much passion as possible. This is a great wine fair if you can get to one, I believe there will be another in Berlin, Germany later this year. Surprisingly, there were plenty of wines, organic and biodynamic wines, that you might buy any day without knowing that they fall into this category. Wineries such as Cullen, Seresin, Larmandier-Bernier and Chateau le Puy were all present.
To my way of thinking, to use the term ‘natural’ to categorise a wine is misleading and results in much confusion in the minds of wine drinkers.
I have written about this category of wine here, including some definitions that might prove helpful.
The philosophy behind the ‘natural wine’ movement, however, is something to be applauded. Creating wines that are made with minimal intervention should in the end produce a wine that reflects the terroir from where the grape are grown… As long as they are made skilfully and the resulting wine has a minimum of faults to detract from the wine’s drinking pleasure. There are times when poorly made wine is forgiven by some more passionate advocates because the term natural is on the label. I have tasted some whites that command a high price that all too closely remind me of my own failed elderflower wine experiment made with baker’s yeast in my lounge room. Highly oxidized and just unpleasant.
There are plenty of great examples. Unfortunately there are a number of detractors too, sometimes with cultish followers amongst those who have that responsibility of getting these wines into drinker’s glasses.
To my way of thinking, to use the term ‘natural’ to categorise a wine is misleading..
The advocates of natural wines are also about transparency: of production, of labelling, and not just about provenance and potential allergens. This I can only see as a good thing, something to be welcomed, adding to the importance of this category. If only there was another buzz word to use other than the misleading ‘natural wine’ but I guess, ‘minimum interference wine’ does not roll off the tongue so easily.
In essence, the term covers a multitude of wines and styles from wines made from organically or biodynamically grown vines with more modern techniques through to wines made using an amphora as a vessel to ferment the wine in the way of the ancient winemakers. There is some more detailed information on the RAW website that may help you to better understand these wines.
With no officially recognised certification for natural wines, the organisiers of RAW published a Charter of Quality that each exhibitor had to fulfil to be included in the line up at the fair. This charter specifies that the estate’s production must be entirely organic and/or biodynamic, hand-harvested, no added yeast (unless a sparkling wine), no winemaking additives except for low levels of sulphites (total sulphite may not exceed 70 mg/l), no ‘heavy manipulation’ of the wine and any fining agents or chaptalisation or acidification to be detailed on the label.
This seems a good place to start in the description of how these wines gain entry into the category. I attended this fair with expectations of seeing a lot of ill made wines under the guise of being made with little intervention by inexperienced winemakers as well as a few excellent examples. Instead, I discovered few ill made wines and many excellent wines and realise that I had probably been caught up in all the sommelier hype about a few esoteric producers and did not think to find a showcase of biodynamic and organic producers amongst the exhibitors.
I think that what remains is to highlight some of the discoveries found at RAW – the good, the bad and the ugly!!
The first one for this week is….
Cullen Amber 2014 (AUD$39)
This is the first vintage of this wine made by one of Australia’s best wine producers, who happens to be biodynamic. This is a Semillon (64%) Sauvignon Blanc (36%) blend with fruit from the renown Margaret River region’s Mangan vineyard. 2014 was a great vintage for Semillon and thus a great opportunity to make this inaugural release wine.
One of the things that makes this wine so unique is that it has been made with a variety of different vessels: open fermenters and stainless steel tanks before moving some into new oak, plus a portion spending time in amphora. What makes this wine work so well is a much awarded team in both viticulture and winemaking who know how to bring out the best fruit expression in a wide range of wines including this complicated blend. They are certainly not new to winemaking and this experience adds to the expression of winemaking detail in Amber.
By making this wine like a red wine, the Cullen team have given it a silky polish, intense fruit punctuated by creamy oak spices and subtle tannins. The extended skin and oak contact has given the wine an amber hue as well as extra body and depth. Lush floral, creamy whipped honey, mandarin and white peach fruit, is spiced up with cardamom and ginger while soft acid lengthens the fleshy palate.
There is an abundance of complexity, texture and detail to this wine. This is an intriguing wine that should be enjoyed with food.
Seresin Pinot Noir Leah 2012 (NZ$38)
Owned by cinematographer, Michael Seresin, Seresin is one of Marlborough’s hottest wine producers, particularly of cool climate Pinot Noir. The easily recognisable label brings to mind Saruman’s hand print from a film from another famous New Zealand film maker. Pinot Noir grape variety from the Marlborough region is often overlooked by drinkers, often shadowed by the fame of that region’s Sauvignon Blanc and Central Otago’s reputation for Pinot Noir. It is also a cellar door that has an amazing view over Marlborough. Seresin’s grapes are both organically and biodynamically grown.
The Leah Pinot Noir is hand picked, fermented with wild yeast and then has spent nearly a year in barrel, of which only around 20% is new. The older oak has allowed the prettiness of the fruit to shine through. The nose is fragrant with ripe cherry and plum, violets, spicy black pepper, mushroom, and a hand full of green herbs.
The perfumed notes continue on the palate adding vibrancy to the fruit. Some very fine powdery tannins fill the mouth giving Leah a very appealing and lasting sleekness. This is a wine that is built to take some age gracefully. However, if like me, you really like that perfumed freshness drink it over the next few years to capture it.