iLoveMyGrub’s wine expert sips his way through RAW 2013, to bring us the best glassfuls from this natural wine show’s most promising winemakers.
Several hectolitres of merry-making later and the sun has set on RAW 2013. With sobriety more or less restored, it’s time to reflect on what the fair told of the progress of the natural wine ‘thing’. And to answer that all-important question: what were the best wines there?
I’m a big fan of natural wine, but it’s only fair to point out that the controversy surrounding it hasn’t gone away. Some say it’s an empty trend (not true), others that it’s just “hippies defending the making of bad wine” (seldom true), still others that there’s no agreement on what the stuff is (more true, but they’re working on it: RAW has its own charter, which all its producers conform to).
Yet for all the barbed criticisms, natural wine is thriving. The UK has two major natural wine fairs – RAW and the Real Wine Fair. Both have attracted more visitors this year than last. This year RAW even drew in the high priestess of wine commentary herself, Jancis Robinson MW. If she’s there you know it’s important.
Meanwhile restaurants continue to either dabble in or completely convert to natural wines. Noma’s head sommelier famously switched his focus to natural wines last year; in the UK, the list of high-profile restaurants espousing them is growing all the time.
Yes, some of this is pure trendiness, the latest buzz for the Crunchy Granola Set, but it just might be part of a more fundamental consumer trend. I see three reasons why interests in natural wine and the RAW way of things will continue to grow:
**i) Transparency **
More and more people want their food and drink fresh, and free of artificial flavourings and preservatives - and labelled as such. It’s already happened with food, but not wine (where the list of permissible additives is a mile long). This is something RAW would have changed.
**ii) Sustainability **
Natural wine makers promote biodiversity by turning their vineyards into little ecosystems. Natural winemakers also tend to do things by hand rather than using big fuel-guzzling machinery. Most interesting from this year’s RAW was the precedent of using sail power to transport wines. Trans-Oceanic Wind Transport shipped 3,000 bottles of wine over from France with no carbon emissions whatsoever. When you consider that 3.5% of global CO2 emissions are from conventional shipping, this is something ethical producers, importers and consumers will be very interested in.
**iii) Consumer savviness **
More and more wine drinkers are educating themselves about what they like. As they look to develop their knowledge, they will seek out new things; in tandem with this, more and more consumers are thinking about health, about carbon footprints and about living sustainably. Natural wine fits the profile.
That’s enough chin-stroking: without more ado, here are those vineal nectars I hinted at up top – aka, my top seven bang-on, back-of-the-net winemakers of RAW 2013.
**Top seven winemakers at RAW 2013**
***1. Vignaioli Contrà Soarda ***
From Veneto. Try the Contrà Soarda 2009, which sings with cherry and blackberry ripeness. Some herb too. Soft-textured and balanced by light tannins and strong minerality; also try the Sarson Torcolato sweet white: aromas of citrus, apricot and honey, and mineral hints. Serve chilled. Available from thewinemakersclub.co.uk
***2. Fattoria Mondo Antico***
Unfined and unfiltered, these are rich, rustic Lombardy reds that ask, nay beg, to be paired with a hearty roast dinner or spicy stew. Try the Sinodo 2009 Oltrepo Pavese and the Pernione 2010 Oltrepo Pavese. Available from drinkitaly.co.uk and ethicaledibles.co.uk
***3. Azienda Agricola Malibràn ***
Try: Sottoriva col fondo prosecco (‘col fondo’ means it’s matured on the lees). Prosecco made as it used to be. A naturally cloudy drink, it should be allowed to settle before opening. Whoever has the last glass gets to enjoy the ‘leesy’ bit that’s intense with biscuity flavour. Available from passionevino.co.uk
***4. Château Moya Cotes de Bordeaux ***
Close to St Emilion (so mostly merlot). In a region referred to by Noma’s sommelier as “the biggest chemical factory in Europe”, Damien Landouar is a young wine maker offering a true taste of the Bordeaux terroir. Try the Castillon 2010 Sainte Colombe. Available from winestory.co.uk
***5. Casa Raia ***
A friend and I tried the Casa Raia Brunello di Montalcino 2007 sangiovese and agreed it was special. There are only a very limited number of bottles available and it’s not cheap, but it’s a Tuscan you won’t easily forget. Available from Toby Owen at email@example.com and southdownscellars.co.uk
***6. Le Clos de la Meslerie ***
An American romantic making Vouvray chenin blanc. His first vintage, in 2008, was picked out by the standard-setting Revue du Vin de France as one of the country’s best 100 wines. So was his 2009. And his 2010. Available from dynamicvines.com
***7. Mythopia ***
From a paradisiacal High Alps vineyard full of fruit trees, rare birds and butterflies, they produce outstandingly vibrant pinot noirs and indigenous white chasselas using “grapes, air and nothing more”. Not yet available in the UK, but remember the name.
For more information on RAW visit http://www.rawfair.com
**Written by:** Darren Smith