Natural wines get something of a mixed press: the image of a glass of cloudy, odd smelling, odd tasting wine persists in some quarters. It also doesn’t help matters that there is no actual definition of what natural wine is.
However, if there isn’t a strict definition, there are least some common traits which will mark out a wine as ‘natural’. For example, the grapes themselves will usually have been grown either organically and/or biodynamically. But this alone will not mark out a wine as natural; the criteria extends beyond the vineyard into the vinification process, and it is this which marks the key difference between natural wines and the rest.
For a wine to be considered truly ‘natural’, it should be made with minimal chemical intervention. So the use of yeasts to kickstart the fermentation process is a no, as are manual adjustments to the sugar or acidity levels and the manipulation of the wine through various industrial style processes (reverse osmosis , micro-oxygenation etc). The wine should also have minimal levels of sulphites.
Proponents of natural wines claim that those made in this fashion provide a true reflection of the of the terroir and origins of the wine, rather than something which has been engineered to taste in a particular way, through the use of certain strains of yeast for example. This remains a bit of a moot point, but interested drinkers will be able to make their own minds up later this month, because ‘Raw – The Artisan Wine Fair’ is taking place on the 20th and 21st May at the Truman Brewery in East London.
Founded by Isabelle Legeron MW, Raw will be a showcase for natural wines from around the world, with growers from all over Europe and the New World taking the opportunity to try and bring their wines to a wider market.
I was fortunate enough to go to a preview tasting with Isabelle featuring some of the natural wines from the Languedoc, in the south of France, which will be on display at Raw. So if you’re planning on heading down, here’s a quick heads-up on a few of the thirteen wines we tasted to look out for.
A common trait in almost all those on offer was that they were pretty serious wines, Isabelle had decanted quite a few of them before serving (including the whites), and meant for drinking with food, rather than on their own as an aperitif for example. The exception to this was the Montmajou 2010, a Grenache Blanc and Marsanne blend from Domaine les Eminades, which had enough fruit, acidity and finesse to enjoy either on its own or with food.
Of the reds we tasted, two in particular stood out: the 2006 Corbieres from Domaine Ledogar, and the 2008 Ellipse from Domaine Zelige-Caravent. I particularly enjoyed the latter, which had a nice freshness from a decent amount of acidity, while providing a real taste of the garrigue, with a herbal quality that was very enjoyable.
So, if your curiosity has been piqued and you fancy checking out some natural wines, head down to the Truman Brewery that weekend. Amongst others, Soho joint Ducksoup, Elliot’s Café and Hansen Lydersen are providing the fodder, and if that isn’t enough to persuade you, some people claim that the lack of additives in natural wine means less of a hangover!
Just as a quick aside, the tasting took place at 40 Maltby Street, a bar cum restaurant, selling natural wines, in Bermondsey. The guys there put on a very good spread to go with the wines, including some of the best purple sprouting broccoli I’ve had a in a while! So it is worth checking out next time you’re in the area.