Seven weird & wonderful natural wines
The first Raw Natural Wine Fair is over. It came, it saw, it conquered. Over two packed-out days at the Truman Brewery in Brick Lane, it regaled amateur wine lovers and trade buyers with more organic and biodynamic wines than have ever before been brought together in the UK (800+ wines), and in doing so made two things clear.
One, it demonstrated several hundred times over, what life and imagination organics and biodynamics can breathe into our experience of wine. And two, with many of the wines already featured on the lists of some of the most discerning restaurants in London or gaining representation from an influential group of passionate and principled retailers (Aubert & Mascoli, Caves de Pyrenes and Gergovie Wines, to name but three), it made the scoffer’s notion that natural wine is just a marketing gimmick or a sandal-wearing moon-worshipper’s fancy seem, well, ill-thought through. With more than 800 wines to choose from, I tried fewer than 50, but navigated my way through the fair, following hot tips from producers, from distributors and others in the know about what was weird and wonderful. This is a highly selective list and many more wines were worthy of mention. I would suggest you check out the websites of natural wine distributors such as those mentioned above for a fuller picture of what wonders and weirdnesses are out there.
Here are my top seven:
1. Frank Cornelissen Rosso del Contadino 8 2010
“See if they’ve got any of that crazy wine from Mount Etna,” my cousin insisted when I told him I was going to the Raw fair. It was there and I’m so glad I found it. It was an atavistic experience, as if I was drinking wine the Caesars of ancient Rome might have drunk. Made on the northern slope of Mount Etna in Sicily, this ‘red’ is made using both red and white grapes, with no intervention whatsoever – not even any added sulphur. Subtlety sherry-like and smoky on the nose, with burgundy acidity and light tannin on the tongue. Quite bizarre. (Price: £15 - £25, available from Raeburn Fine Wines).
2. Albert Mathier & Fils Amphore Blanc 2009
‘Bronze-Age booze’ – a stunning white wine made in the Alpine valley of Salgesch at the source of the Rhone in Switzerland. Made from rèze and marsanne grapes macerated in clay vats called amphoras, which are buried underground for eight months. The result is a journey of flavours and aromas from a liquid that glistens like liquid amber. Superb structure with notes of quince, apricot and tea. (Not yet available in the UK but with the exposure from the Raw fair that is surely set to change. For more information see www.mathier.ch).
3. Domaine Vinci Coyade 2007
A white wine from the Agly Valley in Roussillon with lovely balance and freshness, but with the added intrigue of certain ‘phenolic’ flavours that make natural wines so compelling. I got Vaseline. Also hints of dry white sherry and yeastiness, which comes from the lees (yeast residue) on which the wine is matured. (Price: £25, available from Aubert &Mascoli).
4. Domaine Etienne et Sebastien Riffault Les Quarterons Sancerre 2009
Think you know sancerre? Think again. Huge flavour, thumping floral notes, crunchy fruit, and only a murmur of minerality. This is really the anti-sancerre, and it’s delicious. Vive le différence! (Price on application, available from Raeburn Fine Wines).
5. Damien Laureau Bel Ouvrage Savennieres 2008
I tried a couple of champagnes, but neither they nor any other wines I tried could match the luxuriousness of this savennieres. Honey, pear and floral loveliness is reined in from total decadence by a mineral robustness. Made from 100% chenin by a producer the wine press has been getting pretty ‘oh la la!’ about. (Price: £32, available from Aubert & Mascoli).
6. Domaine Guillot-Broux Macon-Cruzille Beaumont 2010
I had to include one burgundy, and this is some of the best organic burgundy you’re likely to find. From the very first vineyard in this revered region to be certified organic, in 1952, it's a beautifully balanced gamay wine with flavours of pepper, bay leaf and red berries. (Price: £20, available from Aubert & Mascoli).
7. P-U-R Marne Jaune Cote du Rhone Village 2010
I told Guillaume Aubert of Aubert & Mascoli I was looking for ‘weird and wonderful’ and he pointed me in the direction of P-U-R. The wonderful: Marne Jaune. A 100% Grenache red with a luscious mix of caramel and cherry flavours. The weird: Cote Rotie 2009. Totally savoury, reminiscent of tree bark and Walkers Worcester sauce crisps. (Price and where to buy: Marne Jaune: price on application, Aubert & Mascoli; Cote Rotie: not yet available in the UK).
Written by: Darren Smith