I’ve just returned home after spending the earlier part of the day in The Old Truman Brewery on Brick Lane, sampling my way through some of the most interesting wines I have tasted.
‘Interesting’ may come across as a rather diplomatic adjective, but I do mean it in a positive light.
Today is day 1 of the RAW wine fair which sees around 150 growers of organic, biodynamic and natural wine, come together and display their creations for the public to taste and celebrate.
What makes these wines different?
The main theme is that the producers use as little intervention in the vineyard and winery as possible. No synthetic pesticides, herbicides or fertilisers in the vineyard and little or no additives in the winery. The producers tend to have a holistic perspective on production. Healthy soil = healthy vines = healthy grapes and most would agree this gives us healthier wine.
So what’s the big deal and why don’t all producers go down this route?
Well, some of the wines that are made with little intervention often have aromas and flavours that we don’t come across in conventional wines. These can include more oxidative notes like the nutty tones that you might find in a sherry, damp earth, moss and funky notes, or perhaps a slight spritz in a wine that is usually still.
It is also easier to use a more natural approach to grape growing and wine making in drier climates. Where damp is an issue, more sprays are often needed to prevent fungal disease.
Some people would consider these aromas and flavours in a wine to be technical faults that make the wine unpleasant and perhaps even undrinkable. I say we need to broaden our minds and palates and make our own judgements about the flavours we enjoy, or don’t, in wines.
I’m sure we can all agree that taste is subjective. So many factors influence it – how many taste buds we have, the foods we’re used to eating, our sensitivity to bitterness or sweetness, and even the mood that we’re in on the day or the lighting in the room. Who is to say that somebody is a better taster than someone else? When did we decide who the judge of this is?
Most people who work in the wine trade study through the Wine and Spirit Education Trust and we are taught the systematic approach to tasting, as a guide for determining the quality and style of a wine. I do believe this a great foundation for learning how to taste wine and discover the common characteristics that grape varieties or wine styles share. It also gives us a common language for discussing wines. However I do believe it’s okay to go beyond this template and form your own.
One of the highlights of today’s tasting was being able to discuss the wines with the winemakers themselves. There is no better sales person than the winemaker! Their passion is natural, there is no hidden agenda with their enthusiasm and they are straight up.
With so much of a persons (or peoples) life going into making wines with less intervention, (and I must point out that less intervention doesn’t mean less work. Often it’s more!) how can we often be so quick as to deem the wine ‘faulty’ or ‘unclean’ without taking the time to remove our often blinkered view of what an ‘acceptable’ aroma or flavour in a wine is.
One of the producers I enjoyed the most today was Charlie Herring. An English wine producer based in Hampshire, where they have a walled vineyard of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Riesling vines and produce both still and sparkling wine. I sampled the 2012, ’13 and a tank sample of the ’14 Sauvignon Blanc and liked all three. Mostly because they were all so different and demonstrated the climate of the three years well. The 2014 was slightly nutty and this was matched with vibrant green apple, refreshing acidity and a yeasty twist. So different to the 2013 which was softer and riper – indicative of the sunnier and warmer summer we had. For more information on how you can sample their wines, check out http://www.charlieherring.com.
From southern Austria, Weingut Andreas Tscheppe was outstanding. Beautifully crafted Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Yellow Muskateller and Goldmuskateller. Their wines often spend a couple of years ageing in old oak barrels, are unfiltered and where possible sulfur-free. There was a freshness, clarity and enjoyable texture to the whole range.
There were a few producers from the Loire Valley showing some complex and enjoyable Chenin Blanc – both still and sparkling, vibrant Gamay and Cabernet Franc . Lively wines that you could imagine indulging in quite a bit of whilst having a long, late lunch with friends. A la Votre Vins is a great Loire producer to check out.
New Zealand and Australia both had some fantastic producers at the show. Seresin from Marlborough have an outstanding range of biodynamic wines, as well as a couple of sulfur free numbers. The Chiaroscuro was imaginative – a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Riesling. Gorgeous creamy texture, aromatic and floral with ripe fruit. Their Pinot Noir are always rewarding, with ‘Leah’ being the icing on the cake for me today. Solid red fruit with underlying earth, spice and herbal tones. An elegant weight and fine tannins.
From Margaret River, Australia, Cullen had a great line up but it was their new ‘Amber’ wine that raised one or two eyebrows. ‘Amber’ is an orange wine. Which is basically a white wine made like a red, where the skins of the white grapes are left in contact with the juice to extract tannins and flavour. Made with Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon this is a big wine! Textural and rich with structure and complexity. For the Kiwi’s out there, it had a slight Burger Rings edge to it, along with intense acidity, mango, honey and orange notes.
There was so much good stuff and I encourage all of you to give organic, biodynamic and natural wines a go. Some you will love, others you won’t, and that’s okay. The fun is in the sampling. Let’s change our wine language from grouping wines into categories such as faulty or clean and instead, celebrate the differences that all wines offer us.
Sure, some of these wines may technically have a ‘fault’. But if you enjoy the wine and its flavours, is it faulty to you?