From British Airways’s High Life – Isabelle Legeron chooses the ten best places for natural wine in London.
Your Guide to Organic, Biodynamic and Natural Wine
From British Airways’s High Life – Isabelle Legeron chooses the ten best places for natural wine in London.
South American wines have enjoyed quite a run in the United States, thanks to their reasonable prices and their boringly even quality. They aren’t terrible, but they aren’t, for the most part, the least bit special. So when one comes along that truly breaks the mold, it really stands out.
Louis-Antoine Luyt is a winemaker who saw an opportunity in the sea of completely ordinary wines he tasted in Chile. Bored with living in France, he arrived there as a 22 year old, got a job as a dishwasher and worked his way up to wine buyer. After studying winemaking in a class, he decided to go back to France to learn more. He studied in Beaune and worked five harvests under the tutelage of Mathieu Lapierre (the son of the legendary Marcel Lapierre) in Morgon, and then returned to Chile determined to make extraordinary wines. He found a number of small vineyards with very old vines (some as old as 300 years), but their grapes were either being sold off to huge wineries or being made into so-so wines by the locals for their own consumption. So he took over the vineyards and employed Lapierre’s techniques, converting to organic farming, plowing with horses, and staying away from irrigation. Now he makes arguably the most interesting and complex Chlean wines out there.
In the winery, Luyt uses only natural yeasts and minimal sulfur. The wines undergo carbonic maceration and they are all remarkably low in alcohol. The result is Chilean wine that can stand up to the finest red wines anywhere in the world. The Carignan Trequilemu is made from 70 year-old vines, and is a rich, dark, earthy beauty that’s amazingly vibrant and alive. 12.9% alcohol levels are a big reason why.
We sneak slightly over the $20 a bottle criteria with this one, but for a couple of bucks more you’ll get a whole new take on Chilean wines. I remember all too well my reaction to Luyt’s wines when I first sampled them, and I know you’ll enjoy that same revelatory experience. The label, inspired by the Santiago transit system, is a standout, too. You can’t miss it in a retail environment.
The Real Wine Fair 2014 happens next week in London – and there are a lot of events, tons of great wine and even a Georgian Supra to keep track of. Let the Organic Wine Journal break it all down for you:
The Real Wine Fair
This is the main event; two days of celebrating organic, biodynamic and natural wines with 150 winemakers and growers pouring for consumers and professionals.
Sunday, April 13th: For Consumers and trade. Consumer tickets are £15 in advance and £20 at the door. Purchase tickets here.
Monday, April 14th: This day is for trade and media only. So consumers – make sure you plan on going on Sunday.
The fair is located at Tobacco Dock, Wapping, E1W 2SF. Sunday is the day of the London Marathon – so public transport is your best bet. For that day they also recommend Wapping Station, rather than Shadwell, so you won’t have to cross the marathon route. Here are full transportation details.
150 Winemakers from France, Italy and Spain make up the majority, but also represented are Portugal, Chile, Argentina, South Africa, England and a whopping 10 wineries from Georgia.
From France, you’ll see a lot of OWJ regulars, like Domaine Audrey & Christian Binner, Clos du Tue-Boeuf, Domaine Cousin-Leduc and Domaine de la Tour du Bon. From Italy, there will be Cascina Degli Ulivi, Tenute Dettori and Colombaia. And from Spain, be sure to say hello to our good friends at Vinos Ambiz.
The full list is incredible though – see it here.
A Georgian Supra!
What’s a Georgian Supra? It’s a celebration of Georgian food and wine – and you don’t want to miss that. There’ll be Georgian dishes such as red beans with wild thyme, oyster mushrooms with tarragon and green plum sauce, chicken livers with caramelized onions and white wine, lamb chanakhi and churchkhela with honeycomb. All the Georgian wineries at the fair will be pouring their wines and you’ll experience traditional Georgian songs and toasts.
The dinner is April 14th at the pop-up restaurant The Unfiltered Dog, and tickets are £55. Get them here.
Seminars and Master Classes
2.00 – 3.00 pm – Daniel Honan – “The Secret Australian Wine Revolution”
In the past couple of years the artisan wine scene has positively exploded in Australia. Daniel will be talking about a group of young, iconoclastic Aussie winemakers, who share a love of music, poetry, food and natural wine.
4.00 – 5.00 pm – John Wurdeman, Rafa Bernabe, Giusto Occhipinti
“Feats of Clay” – a winemakers’ perspective on qvevri, tinajas and amphora wines.
2.00 – 3.00 pm – Salvo Foti from I Vigneri
Viticulture and winemaking on Mount Etna.
3.30 pm – Wink Lorch, author of “Jura Wine”
The hidden treasures of Jura.
Reserve your place by notifying the front desk when you arrive. Full class descriptions here.
Food & Drink
With all that great wine being poured, you need something to eat. Serving great dishes at the fair will be:
Duck Soup – lamb shoulder cooked in milk, broad beans & wild garlic and tarama and shaved kohlrabi and sesame salt on warm flatbreads.
Donostia – small plates such as slow-cooked pigs cheeks and arroz negro plus variations on a jamón theme.
Zucca – Cianfotta (a seasonal vegetable stew from southern Italy) and pork cooked in milk.
Handmade Food – beetroot borani & feta with crispbread; marinated pigeon breast in flat bread with watercress and pickle, and Simnel cake.
Morito – cooking lamb on the plancha with labneh, pickled chillies and green olives and serving grilled Tetilla cheese with membrillo and walnut bocadillo.
Burro e Salvia – signature fresh pasta from traditional family recipes.
La Cour de Rémi – Pressed oxtail, mustard vinaigrette & roquette leaves; fried cuttlefish and pork belly ‘à la Ibaiona’ and Scallops, marinated with lemon infused olive oil.
Also on hand will be Workshop Coffee, Camden Town Brewery and Sacred Microdistillery.
The Unfiltered Dog
The folk behind Terroirs, Brawn, Soif and The Green Man & French Horn are popping up again with a pop-up restaurant at this year’s Real Wine Fair, where consumers can rub shoulders and knives and forks with wine growers and trade professionals.
The bistro, winningly named The Unfiltered Dog, will be open for dinner on the evening of Sunday 13th April. It will serve a short-but-punchy à la carte menu of charcuterie and cheese platters, as well as hot & cold dishes and desserts featuring such comfort food as chicken noodle soup; courgettes, artichokes & broad beans; quail, bitter leaves, anchovy, chilli & garlic; bacon chop & baked beans; squid, chickpeas & chipotle salsa; chocolate mousse, chewy hazelnut meringues, and banana bread, salted butter caramel & raw crème fraiche.
Dinner will be served from 6pm ‐10pm (last orders). Unfortunately, advance bookings will not be taken but customers will be seated on a first come, first served basis.
Did we miss anything?
Probably – so go to the website www.therealwinefair.com to find out more.
Organic winemaker Emmanuel Giboulot has been fined €500 (around $685) for refusing to spray his vineyards, located in the Côte D’Or region, against insects spreading the disease flavescence dorée.
From The Guardian:
Scores of Giboulot’s supporters, including Green MEP Sandrine Bélier, had gathered outside the court in Dijon to hear the verdict. The judge ruled in line with the prosecution’s demand that he should receive a fine of €1,000, with €500 suspended. Giboulot, 51, announced that he would appeal, and said after the hearing: “I still don’t feel guilty. It’s intolerable today to be forced to hide and to be frightened for taking a stand.”
The case has aroused strong feelings in France among the winegrower’s supporters and opponents in the wine industry. An online petition criticising the potential penal sentence gathered more than half a million signatures.
Giboulot refused to comply with the official instructions on crop spraying on the ground that the insecticide caused collateral damage among pollinating insects, including bees.
Mannucci Droandi is a winery in the Valdarno area of Tuscany near the town of Montevarchi. The Valdarno is an ancient wine making region and is part of the province of Arezzo. Wine has been part of Arezzo’s history for centuries. The people living in this part of the peninsula were the mysterious Etruscans. An official registry from the 15th Century indicates that wines from the Valdarno di Sopra (on the hills) were considered to be of superior quality while the wines from around the piano di Arezzo (in the valley) sold for a lesser price. In fact, in 1716 Cosimo III de ’Medici announced ‘ a “Bando” designating four areas dedicated to the production of quality wine, – Chianti, Pomino, Carmigmano and Vald’Arno di Sopra.
The Mannucci Droandi family has been farming their land for many years, but used to sell their grapes until the 1990s, when they began making their own wines. The owner Roberto Giulio Droandi and his wife Maria Grazia Mammuccini run the estate They have two properties: the first is the Campolucci that has 6.5 hectares and is located on the eastern slopes of the Chianti Mountains at about 250 meters above sea level. The family has owned this property since 1929 and its alluvial, sandy and silt soils are organically certified.
The second property is called Ceppeto, and is surrounded by dense woodland. This property is on the western side of the Chianti Mountains at 450 meters above sea level. The soils are a mix of clay and stones and are also organically certified.
Mannucci Droandi has been practicing organic viticulture since 2000. They use what is known as “sovescio,” or composting between their rows and have an integrated pest management regime. They believe in a balanced ecosystem on their farm. Hunting is not allowed on their property and they told me they have numerous hare, wild boar and other animals that move throughout their land. Roberto told me that his winery is a “happy island unto itself.”
I visited with Roberto and his wife on a very rainy night in November. They were lovely and fascinating to speak with and the wines were exquisite. Roberto reminded me of both a gentleman farmer as well as an explorer.
The winery has been a hub for a project with the Consiglio per la Ricerca e la Sperimentazione in Agricoltura; they are working to bring back extinct and nearly extinct Tuscan varieties. Because of legislation and market forces, Tuscany, and the rest of Italy, now have many fewer varietals. Roberto said he used to have field blends throughout his lands and, at one point, grubbed them up. He is now quite sorry he did that. He also found numerous grapes growing on his land that are unique.
The study with the university is to see how some of these older varieties can grow today. According to the University, the change in viticulture is a negative consequence of specialization, and is harmful for the genetic patrimony of the vine. Some of the grape varieties that were growing did well on the property while others did not. L’Orpicchio was one that did not do well while others such as barsaglina, pugnitello and foglia tonda did.
The winery makes interesting Chianti such as Chianti Colli Aretini, a blend of Sangiovese 90%, Canaiolo 5% and ancient Tuscan red grapes 5%, as well as a Chianti Classico, thanks to their privileged location between Arezzo and the Chianti Classico area.
They also make mono-varietal wines from the rare varietals. The Barsaglina comes from three hectares of alluvial, medium-textured soil located 250 meters above sea level. They work the land by short-spurred cordon training, summer trimming, bunch thinning and leaf removal and harvesting in stages. The wine is made from 100% Barsaglina – a Tuscan grape variety originally from the province of Massa Carrara.
They also made a 100% Foglia Tonda, a Tuscan grape variety originally from the province of Siena. They use the same viticulture techniques with this variety as the Barsaglina. In the cellar, the grapes are de-stemmed and gently crushed and then fermented in small vats (10–15 hectoliters), with prolonged maceration (20 days) and pumping-over alternated with delestage; a two-step “rack-and-return” process in which fermenting red wine juice is separated from the grape solids by racking and then returned to the fermenting vat to re-soak the solids. This step is then repeated daily. The wine is aged for eight months in French oak barrels used for the 2nd and 3rd time and then in the bottle for three months.
They also made a 100% Pugnitello, a Tuscan red grape variety also originally from the province of Siena. The selected grapes macerate for 25 days in 10-hectoliter barrels used for the 2nd and 3rd time and then age in the bottle for 6 months.
“We talk so much about sustainable agriculture and the foods that we’re putting into our bodies,“ says Lauren Friel, wine director at the Cambridge restaurant Oleana and its sister restaurant Sharma. ”To not extend that to wine is a really big gap in the conversation."
The decision to create an exclusively organic wine list emerged naturally from the restaurant’s organic menu. Chef Ana Sortun’s locally sourced ingredients,
which primarily come from her husband’s farm, have contributed to Oleana’s success over the past decade, and represent the restaurant’s dedication to sustainable practices.
What started out as an environmental decision for Friel, however, soon grew into a personal preference. To her, the presence of the terroir is much more striking in organic and biodynamic wines. "The wines are more expressive, period.”
Oleana’s Mediterranean cuisine requires wines that do not overpower the subtle tastes of their menu. To find this balance, Friel seeks out wines that have high acid and low alcohol, preferring wines from cooler climates with thinner-skinned grapes, “more kind of nuanced wines.” She says organic wines perfectly fit the bill because “they do tend to be lower in alcohol and higher in natural acidity, and nobody’s using really aggressive oak treatments.”
The wine list at Oleana features a wide variety of grapes and regions, taking risks that Friel does not believe would be possible if Boston were a larger city. "If Boston had that larger reputation, it would feel the pressure to have big ticket wines all the time.” Flying just under the radar, Friel is able to provide bottles from smaller natural producers, many of which she finds through the importer, Selector Naturale, owned by Matteo Mollo.
Mollo, who according to Friel “hunts down wines on his own, in little restaurants and villages throughout Italy,” provides wines from grapes that no one is using, from obscure regions like Friel’s current favorite, Boca. ”They are feminine, elegant, pure and unique – they’re just gorgeous.” Their growing place on the market has facilitated Friel’s ability to add more wines from Boca to the wine menu. “They just sing with our food."
The Cambridge community seems to agree. Guests at Oleana are enthusiastic about Oleana’s all-organic wine list, which Friel attributes to the way Oleana educates its staff, and to their higher-learning location. “We have the advantage of being in an intellectual city. We have Harvard and MIT right down the street, so we have adventurous people looking to try these things.”
When these graduate students and professors frequently ask Friel ‘What’s your favorite wine?’ she struggles to find a response. “You have wines being made by one person, and you know about their families and about their dogs and children and about their lineage… it’s like picking your favorite child.” Friel concludes that the beauty in representing so many organic wines from smaller producers is that “it’s not just a beverage, it’s a story.”
I first I stumbled upon the grape Rkatsiteli years ago at a New York State wine fair in Watkins Glen. It was made by the mega Finger Lakes winery Dr. Konstantin Frank, and I loved it instantly. As for the grape, all I knew was that it came from eastern Europe, it was very old and that Dr. Frank was one of the only wineries around making wines from it. I carried Dr. Frank’s Rkatsiteli in my shop each year, while supplies lasted, and those who were courageous enough to take my word for it shared my enthusiasm.
Flash forward several years later, and along came Our Wine Rkatsiteli into my life. Now we’re not only in love but engaged. This is an Rkatsiteli of a different color, literally. While Dr. Frank’s is white, slightly fruity, fresh and crisp, Our Wine is a classic amber (orange) Georgian wine, and is savory, smoky, leafy, resiny, deep and full bodied. Night and day, as it were.
The wine is made as it has been since as far back as 8000 B.C. – so they’ve had time to work out the kinks. First and foremost the grapes are farmed biodynamically. While the American version is fermented in stainless steel, in Georgia it’s fermented in qvervri, or clay pots, similar to amphorae but without handles. The qvervri is lined with a thin layer of beeswax, and the grapes are put inside with skins, stems, seeds and all, crushed, and then sealed and buried in the ground. Combining all of the parts in fermentation gives the wine enough stability to make preservatives unnecessary. This is natural winemaking at its most natural. The grapes can remain in the qvervri for years, but the Our Wine is fermented for just six months, and then bottled without filtration.
Our Home is made with 90% rkatsiteli, along with 10% mtsvane and khikhvi. If fruit-driven wines are your thing, forget you read this review. When I say savory, I mean savory. It has wonderful acidity, a long tannic finish, and is the perfect partner to creamy sauce-based dishes, fatty fish and hearty meat dishes like pork ribs. This wine makes the price cut at $20, so be brave, buy a bottle, and enjoy a taste of true antiquity. If you like this wine, there’s more where that came from. Pheasant’s Tears is another excellent Georgian winery, and the winemaker is an American (Jonathan Wurdman). His wines are superb. Only small quantities are made and imported, so grab them when you can.
Already certified organic, Domaine Le Fay d’Homme is in the midst of converting to biodynamics. Making wines for over 27 years, fifth generation winemaker Vincent Caillé is an enthusiastic spokesman for the region’s wines, yet his wines don’t always fall into the traditional Muscadet box. His plantings are 80% Melon de Bourgogne, 10% Folle Blanche (Gros Plant) and 10% various red varietals, all spread over four towns with three different terroirs.
We started off with the fresh 2012 Gros Plant du Pays Nantais then jumped into 2012 Muscadet, which had nice minerality and a long finish. Things got interesting with the 2012 Vieille Vignes from 60 year old vines; though young it drank like a much older wine, already round, with a balanced minerality – and great aging potential. The 2010 Clos de la Fevrie, which Caillé deservedly calls “Grand Muscadet,” underwent a long fermentation and spent 15 months on lees. It drank beautifully, with supple, deep flavors and richness. The 2009 Monnieres Saint Fiacre, from vines on gneiss, yielded a high acid yet elegant wine after 39 months of lees contact.