Natural wines are quickly gaining in popularity, but is this just a new fad? The latest in “green” credentials for wines and winemakers? Or are natural wines genuinely being appreciated for their natural taste, aroma and balance, over normal wines which have been artificially manipulated to achieve an end result?
There are plenty of people no doubt who are happy to enjoy a glass of wine because they like the taste (and the effect), who do not care if it is made with natural yeast, or whether chemicals are added. After all most foods contain artificial additives so why should they be bothered about how their wine is made?
But there is also a quickly growing movement of people who want to consume natural, healthy produce as nature intended, without harmful additives. Farmers’ markets and independent delicatessens are thriving, selling quality handmade produce. And this is also true in the wine world.
I have been a fan of natural wines for a long time, and I’m always keen to learn and try new experiences. I’ve just returned from a very short trip to France (Rhone/Languedoc) where I was fortunate to taste some stunning natural wines, and also unfortunate to have to drink some mass produced over chemicalled plonk in a couple of cafes. I used to be able to drink this stuff without a problem but I found this time I simply couldn’t drink it – despite a hefty 7 Euros a glass price tag! I could really taste and feel the sulphur – it was like drinking a chemical cocktail! I believe the more natural your diet becomes, the more your body rejects artificial foods (and drinks!). The thought of going to the pub to watch the six nations “with the lads” and drinking six pints of UK brewed lager fills me with dread. “Why not come to my house and have some decent wine instead…..?” It ends up costing me a fortune of course but at least I’m not ill all day on the Sunday.
“Normal” wine (I’ll use white wines as an example here) is generally produced using manufactured strains of yeast which artificially enhance aromas, and flavours on the initial palate. You pour the first glass of Sauvignon and get that big hit of gooseberry on the nose, then on first sip you get intense flavour. However the sulphur then kicks in and dulls the end palate, so you take another sip and it refreshes the taste buds for a moment, but then fades again. But overall it’s a pleasant enough experience, and it’s what we’re all used to.
Natural wne is different. It’s made with natural yeast which works in almost exactly the opposite way. On the nose the wine is nothing remarkable – in fact it can smell slightly oxidised. Sip the wine and you’ll get the true flavours but they won’t be big and aggressive, more subtle. But then you notice the lack of sulphur – it doesn’t kill the end palate and you can still taste the wine. You begin to savour it, then you notice the overall balance of the wine, the lack of added tartric acid on the finish so there is no “afterburn”. It’s simply a lasting concentrated true flavour of the grape. Then you take another sip and this magnifies the initial experience. I found myself virtually unable to stop drinking it. It felt like a delicious healthy tonic! But then I was drinking Philippe Viret’s Amphora white, 100% Viognier fermented in traditional clay amphoras, as used in Roman times. Domaine Viret is a dedicted producer of natural artisan wines. Philippe is pioneering his amphora method in France with some incredible results. He then casually mentioned I couldn’t buy any of the wine as he only makes it for a few “special” customers as he only has very small plantings of Viognier. The wine is all pre sold at least a year in advance.
However we then moved onto his Amphora red, 100% Mouverdre – it was just spectacular. I didn’t dare ask if I could buy any as I doubt I could afford it! I was then whisked off for a BBQ with Christophe, who produced only natural wines throughout the evening. We started with a delicious pale rose, then moved onto another 100% Viognier. It was lovely. Christophe then casually mentioned I couldn’t buy any of that either as the producer only makes 900 bottles which sell for 40 Euros a bottle each – to trade. It was a great evening, we drank a fair bit and had a lovely meal in great company. However we woke the next morning completely fresh, raring to go, not even the faintest hint of a hangover or lethargy (well I’m not exactly lightning in the morning, but I was even more lively than usual).
I then travelled round a few other villages and took a glass of rose in two cafes, both of which tasted OK flavourwise, but the heavy, viscous style and the chemical aftertaste put me right off. I longed to be back to natural wines.
Philippe Viret has plans to expand his production of amphora fermented wines, which is great news. With luck we will be able to buy them in the UK in a year or so. In the meantime check out his other excellent natural, chemical and sulphur free wines from www.goodwineonline.co.uk