I’ll start with the punch line: natural wine does NOT give you a hangover.
And trust me, yesterday morning I should have woken heavy headed, screaming: “Why? Whyyyy is it Monday?!” while using my duvet as a shield from life. But this was not the case. My fear had been grounded, for the following reasons: a) on Sunday I was invited to experience the UK’s biggest independent wine fair at the Truman Brewery, east London; b) I was handed a glass on entry and there was no restriction on the quantity consumed; c) I was not a fan of the “spit bins” dotted around the arena. This is probably a good time to point out that I am not a wine connoisseur (if you hadn’t already guessed), but I do like my wine, and there was no way a drop of this was going to waste. With that in mind, off I trotted.
What Makes a Natural Wine?
I was more than a little intrigued to see if natural, organic and biodynamic wine (all with low intervention in the cellar) was as good as the regular-made vino we find on the supermarket shelves and know so well. After all, we are programmed to think anything that is made “naturally”, perhaps without even being filtered, is bound to lack a little in the taste department. These wines are made from hand-harvested grapes, have little or no added sulphites (excess sulphites means that the liver has a harder time processing the wine and noxious elements get stuck in our system longer, hence the usual dehydration and hangover), they sometimes aren’t even filtered so have a cloudy appearance, they remain untouched by “heavy manipulation” (meaning winemaking gadgetry is a no-no) and there are no additives. These wines have not misbehaved, pure and simple.
Our Top 3 Natural Wines at RAW…
There were over 200 stands, so I’ll spare you my sauntering and cut to the chase: the following are the wine producers that, to me, really stood out. And not purely on taste… It was a delight to chat to the people who cultivated the land that the grapes were grown on, they knew the terrain through and through and each had a story to tell. It was obvious from the start that these artisans cared about their produce, the origins and keeping as much of the heart of the region in the final product as is humanly possible.
1. Butterflies and all things nice…
Breaking all of the rules about judging a book by its cover, the beautiful illustrations on the bottles of Weingut Andreas and Elisabeth Tscheppe’s Austrian wine selection (above) caught our eye. Made in Southstryia, near to the border of Slovenia, the producer told us that each wine label design, matching names such as Salamander and Green Dragonfly (our favourite smooth white), is based on what he feels when he sees that particular insect or animal. It was true that the Butterfly Yellow Muskateller 2013, Vin de Pays did taste as floral as a butterfly’s life, and that the Stag Beetle 2012 Vin de Pays reflected the earthy tones of its underground journey – having been buried in the ground in a barrel from November to May. In this case the book matched its cover perfectly.
The reds at Domaine de Cébène gave our taste buds a run for their money as we tried one with vines grown in sand (above left) and a second grown in schist (above right). The sand produced a smooth, fresh finish, while the schist reflected its hard nature with a sharper, fuller flavour oozing with berries. I’ve never given a moment’s thought to the ground in which my wine originated, focusing more closely on the way it pairs with specific food and how refreshing it is for the summer, and warming and spicy for the winter months. But RAW opened my eyes to SOIL. That’s right. In many cases, soil seems to be the root (excuse the pun) to my pairing queries.
3. Donkeys and birds
Carussin, made by the Ferro family (assisted by their 10 donkeys) in vineyards over four villages around San Marzano Oliveto, Italy, took us through what you’d say was a traditional journey from a fuller red all the way down to a refreshing, easy-drinking wine. Asinoi 2014 Barbera D’Asti, our favourite (above left), was produced using grapes from all four of the family’s vineyards and was the most full-bodied wine of the selection – each bottle with their own homage to the place they were created, be it a donkey or the birds which you’ll find nesting in the vineyards.
We ended where we started, with our feet firmly on British soil. Davenport (above) first planted its vines in the UK in 1993, making it one of the older, and larger, vineyards in the UK. The vines have been organic since 2000 and we tried the organic dry white 2014. Knowing very little about English wine we were surprised that this topped our rankings of whites at RAW. And so we ended on a celebratory note with Davenport’s delicious English sparkling wine. Cheers!
It didn’t take long to realise, while wandering round RAW tasting and testing (and doing very little spitting) that natural wines really do what they say on the tin. Or bottle. What I initially thought could be a journey through a collection of wines that were unique, but a little lacking in the flavour I was used to, actually turned into a trail of discovery.
With natural wine, what touches our lips is a pure memory of the environment in which the grapes were grown – it is the closest we will ever come to the authentically produced vino of times gone by. And a little history, and personality, goes a long way.
The sun and soil resonate long after the wine bottle has been corked. And that’s the only hangover I need, thank you.
For more information on RAW and all the artisans and wines featured at the wine fair 2015 visit: www.rawfair.com
Did you know it is LONDON WINE WEEK from 18-24 May 2015? Find out more HERE.