Now this is as controversial a subject as you can find in the wine world. You either love it or hate it, despise it or live by it. This is a topic that I am really fascinated by and I have no idea what started the fire or caused the curiosity, but i am almost obsessed with the subject of natural wine, much to the dislike of my fellow wine geeks, sorry Tim and Graeme…
So what is natural wine you may ask? Basically it is wine making with minimal-to-no intervention; taking nothing away from the wine and adding nothing to the wine. Wine in its simplest and purist form. No filtering, fining or additions to the wine which alters the way the wine looks, tastes and even matures. Only natural yeast that lives in the vineyard among the vines and on the berries, or in the cellar is allowed and it is left to take its natural course, meaning fermentation can be a lengthy process taking anything from 3 weeks to 10 months to complete. A lot of skin contact is also used for white wines similar to that in making red wine. This enables the juice to extract as much flavour, tannin and colour from the skins which in turn also helps to stabilise the wine without any additions.
Now many of us will say, But intervention is needed to produce a consistent product that will age in a predictive and controlled manner and reach the consumer exactly as planned. Wines that taste the same from one vintage to the next… I do not know about you guys, but to me that does not sound like something I am interested in. The allure of wine to me is the purity, the vintage variations, the bottle difference and the unpredictable nature of wine, opening a bottle of wine among friends or peers and waiting in anticipation to see how this one’s gonna turn out. To me that is what wine is all about; not a manufactured product that gets pumped out at a million litres a day and reaches me tasting exactly like it should. It is just not exciting.
Which brings me to a very interesting wine evening myself, Tim Butler, Graeme Broom and Christina(our fellow wine geek from Luvians) had when I celebrated my birthday a few months ago. Needless to say there was some stunning wines on the evening, with an ’85 Dom Perignon nearly stealing the show. The theme of the evening was South African wines and we had some gems on display. Among them was Eben Sadie’s Palladius, Sequillo white and red, Donavan Rall’s Wondering Beeste and then came 2 very special wines from Lammershoek winery The Cellar Foot Mourvedre and The Cellar Foot Underwater, our wines of the evening. Both are made with minimal intervention and using natural wine making techniques. This was surely something different. The palate was alive and fresh and the wines had an edge to them which none of us could explain. The Cellar Foot Mourvedre was the most discussed and at the end of the night got the award for wine of the night, not based on absolute quality, complexity, lengthy finish or purity, but based on interest and being unpredictable. Is this not what excites us as wine drinkers and geeks? It surely excites me.
Any wine writers website you go to nowadays, you are sure to find an article about natural wine and the very different opinions it stirs. I would go as far as saying heated discussions and arguments among peers and sommeliers all over the world. Why does this subject ruffle so many feathers and get even the most seasoned of wine drinkers and connoisseurs hot under the collar??? I surely do not know the answer. All I know is that it is the ‘in thing’ at the moment on the wine scene and definitely a favourite subject of sommeliers across the UK and Europe. I am awaiting a delivery of natural wines from Craig Hawkins from The Swartland in South Africa, where he produces wines under his Testalonga el Bandito label. These wines are receiving rave reviews from the likes of Tim Atkin MW and Jamie Goode and I have not been this excited about a certain wine, since I went to my first Penfolds tasting a year ago.
Watch this space for a review of these wines and I’ll try and share my experience the best I can with our readers. First I have the ominous task of convincing Tim Butler and Graeme Broom that natural wines are not as scary as they think ;-). And then maybe get some of them on our list at the restaurant!
To read and find out more about natural wine follow Isabelle Legeron on twitter or have a look at her website www.rawfair.com, or get her latest book called Natural Wine. I am currently busy reading it and can not put it down.
Till next time.
Your sommelier @pieterpinotage