Kilkenny purveyors of all things yummy, Le Caveau, put on a very interesting tasting last week with Dario Poddana from London merchants, Les Caves de Pyrene to talk about and taste a range of natural wines. This is a hot topic in the wine world at the moment and I have to admit I know generally what the idea is, but my knowledge in this area is sadly lacking. So I was keen to learn and taste some natural wines and see what the fuss is about.
So, what are natural wines? I like to think of it as three steps:
1. Organic Wine - made from organically grown grapes
2. Biodynamic wine - organic with bells on - follow the lunar cycle, bury cowhorns in the ground and lots of other dodgy sounding stuff
3. Natural wines - some or all of 1 and 2 but also brings this thinking into the cellar, so we are talking minimal intervention, natural yeasts, no filtering, little or no sulphur etc etc
I'm not sure organic makes much difference and I don't really fully understand biodynamics, but I have to admit that producers who use these methods very often produce very nice wines. So, it does seem to work. Does it work because it creates extra work and all that extra love and attention shows through in the wines? I'm inclined to think this is a factor.
But all I'm really interested in is what is in the bottle - this is where the truth lies. So what were they like?
Prosecco Coste Piane
Made in the champenois method and without filtering, so all the dead yeast etc gathers at the bottom of the bottle, which explained why my sample was slightly cloudy. Funny stories about the sediment is the best part didn't convince me as to how we would explain that as we poured it for a customer. It tasted quite nice, but not any better than a regular good prosecco. Unconvinced.
2010 Vouvray Sec La Dilettante, Breton €19
Very funky and animal nose, I didn't like this at all and I thought it didn't taste anything like Vouvray - I would have returned it as faulty, but I was informed this is what it is supposed to be like.
2010 Montlouis Minerale +, SAumon €19
Now this was delicious, wild and aromatic, but clean. Great intensity of fruit and length. Really good, but it tasted like a wine that was about 4-5 years old, quite evolved. Wouldn't hang around...
2010 Cotes du Rhone, Renaud €19
Amazing rich wine with nice acidity which holds it together. As usual with white Cotes du Rhones, I like it, but I don't think I could sell it. Very good wine.
2009 Morgon Cote du Puy, Foillard €28
Very nice, complex nose, slightly funky but clean. Palate disappointed slightly, but still very nice wine with decent weight of fruit. Very classy, but twice the price of what Morgon is supposed to be.
Gran Cerdo Tempranillo €12.50
Very jumpy Tempranillo, really fruity style - very good, actually. I liked this very much.
2010 Ribeira Sacra Adega Cachin €18
This is too funky for me I'm afraid, I just don't get it. Again, I would return this as faulty.
2008 Touraine "In Cot we Trust" Puzelat €20
This was billed as extreme, even by natural wines standards, but it was my favourite red so far. Crunchy red fruit, crisp acidity and nice balance and freshness - I just thought it was a nice Loire red.
2008 Malbec Familia Cecchin €17.50
Nice Malbec, but again tasted older than it was - not sure it would last much longer. Would prefer Catena at the same price....
2009 Vino di Anna, Sicilia €20
From Mount Etna, this was a light aromatic wine that was perfectly pleasant, juicy simple red wine. Well made and good.
2008 Rosso di Montalcino Pobitzer €30
Really nice rich wine, very nice fruit and balance. Soft tannins which made me think it was quite atypical for Montalcino. Still, nice wine.
Overall, it was a fascinating tasting and kudos to Pascal and Le Caveau for putting it on and bringing such interesting wines to the Irish market. In a time when the market is more and more dominated by industrial gloop sold on promotion in the supermarkets, the more interesting wines we can choose from the better.
From my own point of view, I am still a bit of a sceptic. We have always focussed on the juice first and foremost - our line of thinking is as follows:
Is it good?
Is it value for money?
Can we sell it (do people want it?)
It is typical - does it reflect its origin/grape variety?
Are the people nice?
Is it organic/biodynamic/natural?
And of course the question that overshadows all of the above questions is: Can we afford it?!!
But the point I am making is that organic etc is taken as a bonus rather than a reason to buy. We always try to keep the focus on what is in the bottle.
The truth is in there.