This weekend saw one of the big events on the London food & wine calendar – the annual Spring tasting by Tutto and Gergovie Wines, which took place in Clapton’s Round Chapel. The tasting always causes a buzz, partly as lots of amazing winemakers come to showcase their wines, but also because it’s one of the best ‘natural’ wine tastings in town.
So what exactly is natural wine, and why is it causing such a stir?
Natural wine is made with no chemical or technological intervention and little to no sulphur. In the same way that certain foods can be processed or over-processed, so too can wine, and there are all manner of manipulations that can occur throughout the winemaking process. Egg white, gelatin, isinglass (that’s fish bladder) calcium carbonate, tartaric acid, acetaldehyde and dimethyl dicarbonate are just some of the things that are totally legal to be added to wine. They’re used to cleanse, stabilise, add or reduce sweetness, alter acidity, or adjust the alcohol levels. And unsurprisingly, they can also impact the after-effects of drinking wine, with some of the additives being linked to severe headaches, nausea and allergic reactions. Not surprising, seeing as we can’t even pronounce some of them!
Natural wine on the other hand is made without these nasties – absolutely nothing is added or taken away. Just grapes, fermented naturally. The topic has been controversial with conventional winemakers and sales companies claiming that natural wines are unstable, faulty products, while fans of natural wine claim that our palates are just so used to the processed product, that we’ve forgotten how wine is supposed to taste!
Does natural wine taste different?
In a nutshell, yes. But once you get used the natural version, the processed version tastes, well, processed.
Due to their flavour profiles not being manipulated and controlled, natural wines have a greater spectrum of flavour. The results can be wild, complex and at times ethereal, ranging from light whites to funky reds, and encompassing the in-vogue ‘orange wines’ – whites fermented and aged with skin contact. The popularity makes sense – as we’ve become more interested in responsible food sourcing, we care more about what we’re drinking too, seeking fewer chemicals and a greater understanding of what’s beneath the labels.
Are natural wines faulty?
There are many common wine faults that can occur, in both natural and conventional wines. Cork taint, oxidation, reduction, brettanomyces and bacterial infection are some of the quality issues that can take hold of a wine and change it’s flavour, causing unpleasant-smelling or tasting wine. Some of these issues start in the winery and squeeze their way into the bottles before closure, settling in to spoil your wine before it’s gotten to you. Others can happen along the way, if a wine hasn’t been stored correctly. Because natural wine is made without chemical stabilisation, it can be more susceptible to faults. My advice is to get familiar with all the styles and trust your gut – don’t feel pressured to drink something just because it’s natural, or not, if you’re not enjoying the taste. That goes for all wine.
It’s also worth mentioning that natural winemakers put utmost care into their wines and look for ‘natural’ ways to stabilise them, that faults are not that common and there are many more wonderful examples out there with elegance and clarity.
So, now we know a bit more about natural wines, why not get sipping? Here are some of our favourites from the Spring tasting:
Ca’ de Noci, Emilia Romagnia
Ca’ de Noci is a tiny, family owned winery in Emilia Romagna currently run by brothers Alberto and Giovanni. They work with ancient, native grape varieties such as Spergola, Malbo Gentile, Sgavetta and Montericco, but our favourite wine is Notte di Luna, a blend of Moscato Giallo, Spergola and Malvasia fermented and aged on skins to become an ‘orange’ wine, with brisk citrus acidity and ripe pink apple flavours with a complex and savoury finish.
Philippe Jambon Beaujolais
Philippe and Catherine Jambon make amazing Gamay wines from their small plot of land in the northern Beaujolais, and have been ‘natural’ ever since they started back in 1997. Their wines are beautiful expressions of Gamay at it’s finest – with depth and structure that can only be achieved when made with the utmost care.
Gabrio Bini – The Legend from Pantelleria, Gabrio Bini. 19 months skin contact
Gabrio Bini’s vineyards and winery are situated on the volcanic island of Pantelleria, off the coast of Sicily, where the local Zibibbo grape makes aromatic and lively wines. The old vines are planted on terraced vineyards high up in the hills, and are tended by hand and by horse and cart. The handpicked, handmade Zibibbo results in otherworldly wines that are highly coveted.
Jean-Pierre is a one of a kind and a real living legend. In his 70s, he’s the original enfant terrible of the wine world, with the infectious enthusiasm of a teenager. The eccentric farmer opened one of the original Parisian natural wine bars and now tends to his tiny hectare vineyards in Loire, breaking the rules and applying all kinds of weird and wonderful methods. It works – his wines are some of the most sought after in the best bars in Paris, Copenhagen and New York.
Thank you to Marcus at Noble Fine Liquor for the recommendations!
Words: Abbie Moulton