Yesterday (Monday 9th May 2011) was the start of Natural Wine Fortnight an event in which roughly 150 bars and restaurants are taking part, serving natural wines by the glass. The main event, however, will be a wine fair from 15th to the 17th May in London’s Borough Market boasted over 100 individual producers. The first day of the fair is open to the paying public (10am-6pm http://www.naturalwinefair.com) while the next two are restricted to the trade. Importers taking part include Yapp Brothers, Dynamic Vines, Wine Story, Aubert & Mascoli and Les Caves de Pyrène. I had a chance to chat with Tim Wildman of Les Caves about the event:
He began by explaining that the natural wine movement has been going for about thirty years, which it started in Paris was originally mainly confined to wines of the nearby Loire Valley. In more recent years it has spread, taking root most firmly in regions such as the Jura, Alsace, the Rhône and Italy generally. Paris is still largest centre for the consumption of such wines with over 40 restaurants partly or entirely dedicated to promotion with Tokyo following not too far behind. London at present about half a dozen or so such establishments. There are several annual natural wine fairs – two based around Vin Italy and two around Salon des vins de Loire. This year will be the first UK event, arranged to compliment the massive wine fair at London Excel.
Natural wine grew out of the organic movement but marks itself out from it and the more mystical tenets of bio-dynamism by concerning itself not only with practices in the vineyard but also those of the winery. Practices such as (de)acidification, the use of commercial yeasts, tannins and so on are therefore avoided. All use a minimal amount of sulphur and a few reject its use altogether, so therefore incredibly healthy grapes are essential to avoid any natural chemical spoilage. There is no legislation which governs the awarding of natural wine status, unlike Organic wine. Instead, much like the bio-dynamic movement, it is made up of a dislocated community of producers adhering to a fluid set of principles dependent upon common consensus.
I asked Tim if there are any stylistic threads which run through the wines or would a natural approach partly negate commonality between wines of diverse regions. He answered that some natural wines do indeed have a particular style; “they are like drinking milk straight from the cow…they are sometimes cloudy and often funky.” The motivation for the producers is to make a wine you can drink a lot of, so the style is based around straightforwardness and drinkability. In a way it is a return to “peasant wine”, wine that are not only young and fresh (if a little stinky) but also of some nutria value. It is, Tim continued, “a return to the soil and a return to simplicity.” Their character is perhaps more evident in the whites than the reds as “often they are more serious and of an oxidative style – they sometimes repay carafing.”
Anyway, from my own limited experience of natural wines I would say that, unlike the majority of wines I get to taste, are never boring. We opened ten bottles from diverse regions with Tim, the majority of which were excellent. Quite a few displayed the kind of funkiness which one might just as easily tempted to put down to winemaking fault as to character. However, the fact that they actually developed and improved after 24 hours open clearly indicates that these nuances were far from being imperfections with pretentions of grandeur. I will therefore certainly look forward to reporting back from the Natural Wine Fair next week.