By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 21 July 2018
What is the closest you can get to fermented grape juice with nothing added or taken away? The answer is a Natural Wine.
You might think that most wines are ‘natural’, but in reality even organic wines can add up to 50 additives including tannins, acids or colorants to the winemaking process to ‘correct’, and supposedly improve, the wine.
The idea with Natural Wines is that they are made with minimal technological intervention both in the vineyard – and crucially – during winemaking. The most they add is a dash of sulphur, a preservative widely used to prevent re-fermentation and protect wine from oxidation.
Some natural winemakers like James Erskine of Jauma (pictured right) in Australia’s McLaren Vale or Paul Esteve of Domaine des Miquettes in France’s Rhone valley are even willing to risk eschewing sulphur altogether.
Other winemakers like Christelle Guibert (pictured below) who works in Loire Valley in France and Itata Valley in southern Chile uses just a dash of sulphur. She made the wonderful Tierra de Itata Muscat which did well in our tasting (see below).
Wines have been made this way for over 6000 years. Only in the last two centuries, have technological processes and chemicals been introduced, but recently the idea of making wines naturally has become popular as a reaction to blanket crop-spraying and over-use of sulphites.
Natural Wines tend to be made by independent producers in tiny batches from low yielding dry-farmed (unirrigated) vineyards using handpicked organic or biodynamically-grown grapes. The craze began in the 1970’s in Loire, Beaujolais and Languedoc Roussillon and has become popular in Slovenia, Friuli in north east Italy and Georgia – and is infiltrating the New World.
The issue many critics have with this modern movement is that it is self-policed. Unlike organic or biodynamic viticulture which have certification bodies, there is no strict definition or certification body for Natural Wines – yet. L’Association des Vins Naturels are lobbying the French government to introduce legislation.
The danger with no definition or certification is that as the movement becomes popular, winemakers will jump on the bandwagon using the term ‘Natural Wine’ because it has become trendy.
So what does a true ‘Natural Wine’ taste like? Some are hazier than conventional wines as they have not been filtered or fined. Some whites can have a deep amber colour (some call them orange wines) which derives from lengthy skin-contact. Natural winemakers often treat a white wine as if it was red, macerating skins in contact with wine for long periods up to 6 months in the case of Josko Gravner, an influential Friuli natural winemaker.
Tastewise, the best Natural Wines remind me of cider and some have a wonderful clarity, purity of fruit and linear quality – evoking the ‘terroir’ in which they were grown.
But – some natural wines can taste funky, wild, almost feral – and at worst just smell of urine and cow-pats.
If you fancy experiencing natural wines, head to a specialist merchants like Raeburn Wines, L’Art du Vin and Henris of Edinburgh or online, Les Caves de Pyrene www.lescaves.co.uk and Buon Vino www.buonvino.co.uk.
Natural wines have become the latest craze with sommeliers, so you can now find them on bar and restaurant winelists. Timberyard, Good Brothers and Henris in Edinburgh, Terroirs in London, Bar Brutal, L’Anima dei Vi and La Volatil in Barcelona or Via del Vi in Perpignan in France all specialize in natural wines. To taste a cross-section of natural wines head to Wild Wine Fair at Timberyard in Edinburgh on Sunday 29 July or Real Wine Fair and RAW in London, Berlin and New York.
If you want to learn more, the best bible is ‘Natural Wine: An Introduction to Organic and Biodynamic Wines made Naturally’ (£16.99 CICO) by Frenchwoman Isabelle Legeron, a fellow Master of Wine and passionate natural wine advocate.
NATURAL WHITE WINES
McLaren Vale, Australia: JAUMA SAND ON SCHIST CHENIN BLANC 2016 ***STAR BUY***
(£24 Les Caves de Pyrene www.lescaves.co.uk)
No sulphur, filtration or fining, bottled under crown cap. Made by James Erskine from 80 year old ungrafted vines grown on white beach sand in Blewitt Springs, originally planted in 1940 to produce white port. Hazy appearance, appealing green apple and elderflower aromas, a distinctly cidery flavour, earthy undertones and moderate alcohol level – very appealing: 11.5%
Itata, Chile: TIERRA DE ITATA MUSCAT 2016 ***STAR BUY***
(£18.95 Henris of Edinburgh www.henrisofedinburgh.co.uk)
Astounding vibrant Muscat made by Leonardo Erazo and Christelle Guibert from 150 year old bushvines in Chile’s southerly Itata. Beautiful amber colour (from 42 days skin contact), unfiltered with a dash of sulphur. Exotic intense grape and barley sugar aromas, palate like biting into a fresh melon, so fresh, minerally and light-bodied considering the alcohol: 13%
Primorska, Slovenia: RIBOLLA GIALLA OPOKA 2015 Marjan Simcic
(£33 Woodwinters www.woodwinters.com)
Pale yellow, nutty appley aroma, earthy, soft textured with minerally notes. Marjan Simcic is on the Friuli/Slovenia border with vineyards on both sides. He uses 60 year old vines, fermented in concrete eggs with 14 day skin contact, no filtering and just a dash of sulphur: 13%
Asturias, Span: FANFARRIA BLANCO 2016 Dominio de Urogallo
Unusual blend of local Albarin Blanco and Albillo from steep ocean-side vineyards in Cangas del Narcea tended by Nicolas Marcos. Unfiltered, unfined, no sulphur. Fresh pear, apple and citrus fruits, with a waxy creamy undertone; light on finish: 12%
NATURAL RED WINES
Oregon, USA: EVOLUTION RED 4TH EDITION Sokol Blosser ***STAR BUY***
(£16.95 www.buonvino.co.uk; www.lescaves.co.uk)
Popular with tasters for its juicy, soft texture and light oak notes. Syrah is dominant with raspberry and peppery notes, but remaining grapes in this bizarre mix include red Sangiovese, Montepulciano and white Riesling, Semillon and Gewurztraminer. Quite funky, but deliciously gluggable: 13.5%
Northern Rhone, France: ST JOSEPH AMPHORA ROUGE 2016 Domaine des Miquettes
Vivid earthy pure Syrah with vibrant raspberry and violet notes, dense textured palate with grippy tannins. Paul Esteve and Chrystelle Vareille use 50 year old vines from St Joseph’s highest vineyards (ploughed by horse), fermented and matured in clay amphora. No fining, no filtration, no sulphur: 12%
Join Rose’s Eggs & Amphorae Wine Tasting in Edinburgh, Fri 23 November £42 www.rosemurraybrown.com