My experiences with natural wine have been few and far between. A brief yet memorable encounter with Marcel Lapierre’s Morgon in Antic Wine in Lyon in 2002 (I don’t remember much else that year), and more recently a few introductions to some of the players at the restaurant Terroirs in London, which specialises in that field. But with all the press that natural wine has been getting in recent years, It was with especial interest that I turned up to Roberson’s Organic, Biodynamic and Natural Wine tasting. Would I encounter the “faulty” wines that have so shocked the purists, or the expression of wine as mother nature intended?
I suppose the answer is a bit of both. There was certainly some heavy reduction on the nose in a fair few of the wines, the irony of which was not lost on me. The catch goes thus, one avoids using So2 in the wine making process but therefore has to avoid oxidation wherever possible, the resultant wines therefore become reduced and smell of sulphur. However, there were also some beautifully characterful wines showing great typicity, and some unique wines too.
Here’s my précis of the, unfortunately, diminutive selection that time allowed me. The Chardonnay from Ganevat in the Jura stood out amongst the whites, with beautiful earthy oxidised qualities reminiscent of Arbois, yet still crying Chardonnay. As did the Blanc from Domaine de l’Escarpolette; herbaceous stone fruit, spice and perfume – Macabeo and Muscat masquerading as Gewürztraminer.
The Italy section was interesting to say the least. A pink Pinot Grigio reminiscent of Pinot Noir that would have kept many an MW guessing in a blind tasting and the Nero d’Avola Frappato blend from Occhipinti, affectionately named after the SP68 motorway that runs near to her vineyards, and which was that rare combination of delicacy and rusticity; lively acidity and earthy red berries allowed to perform without any heavy oak or alcoholic overtones. At the other end of the spectrum was the Munjabel from Cornelissen, which had broken free from the natural wine stables and was certainly running wild. A massive mouth of yeasty red fruit, bubblegum and prickly pettillance with a finish reminiscent of cheese, extraordinary.
Languedoc stood out too, and made me wonder if this is perhaps a region that lends itself openly to natural wines. The warm Mediterranean climate and aromatic grapes of higher alcoholic potential (Grenache, Mourvedre, Carrignan etc.) affording more protection for the wine? The Rouge from l’Escarpollette was magnificent. Broody black fruits and gamey guarrigue, beautiful body and silky tannins that polished the teeth.
So at the end of the day, where do I stand in the natural wine argument? I am all for organic and biodynamic farming, it’s better for the planet and it’s better for our bodies when we ingest the results. I’d also be keen on the removal of inorganic techniques used for fining, but am not so sure that So2 and oak (especially oak) are additives we need worry about. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.
When I drank Lapierre all those years ago I thought it was stunning wine, but I didn’t drink it because it was naturally made, and to he honest, I don’t think one should drink wine on any proviso other than that it will hopefully be a good, interesting wine! Strictly speaking, wine is not a natural state, it’s a mid point on the descent into vinegar, and therefore keeping it in its wine state is in many ways unnatural. To reach and maintain this state, winemakers use technology and science, and although natural wine makers may apply chemical science less, letting mother nature do her thing, it’s fair to say there’s still a vast application of technology. We therefore have a “spectrum of natural” with the likes of, say, Domaine de l’ Escarpolette at one end and perhaps Mondavi at the other. As long as they create decent interesting wines that abide to health regulations, then long may their differences be encouraged.