The currently most divisive topic in the wineworld is without a doubt the natural wine movement. You are either for it or against it, and middle ground is seemingly non-existent. Attentive readers may have noticed that I have not really partaken in the whole debate, and I have no intention to, as I lack the deep understanding of the winemaking process that is in my opinion required to make a substantial and significant contribution. Even though natural wine is often presented as an ideal or a way of life, it is also a view on the making of wine. Can we as consumers really make statements about what techniques are appropriate or inappropriate in the making of wine? I think that more often than not, people overestimate themselves. Therefore I’m taking the safe route and refrain from commenting on the detailed how and why of natural wine, at least for now.
Nonetheless, it is undeniably an exciting time to be into wine and the natural wine movement does deserve the larger part of the credit. I visited RAW, the Artisan Wine Fair, the world’s leading event in the promotion of natural wine and what really stuck with me was the energy, the enthusiasm and the shared love for good wine that emanated from the event. I was given the privilege of attending for two days and was very impressed with what I tasted. I finally got the chance to touch base with a couple of winemakers that I really admire such as the wonderful Elisabetta Foradori (Trentino) or the excellent Sebastien Bobinet (Saumur). I also encountered new and interesting people from all over the world, some of them presenting wines that really force you to reconsider your thoughts on a certain type of wine, grape variety or region. I was even introduced to some of the best chocolate I tasted in a long time thanks to Cocoa Runners, which will be the topic of a future post. For now, allow me to present some of the wines that really stayed with me and that anyone would do well in checking out.
Aside from riesling, the single greatest white grape variety out there is chenin blanc. Difficult to get right but with the potential to be mindblowing. Europeans tend to focus on the Loire region to get their fix. I therefore have very little experience with South African chenin, and what I do know has failed to excite me. Going in then, I was not expecting much of Ezibusisweni (Stellenbosch). I could not be more wrong though. Angus McIntosh is a farmer who also happens to make wine. 2012 was his first vintage, which he presented together with 2013 and 2014. Whereas 14 showed a bit too young, 13 already started to get in balance but 2012 really floored me. Exhilarating fruit on the nose followed by a little touch of honey that serves as the perfect counterweight against the acidity as soon as it kicks in. This is simply excellent but unfortunately there are less than a 1000 bottles made. Chances are slim that they will find their way to Belgium, which is a real shame, as I’d buy them in a heartbeat!
I know nothing about Greek wine. One of my favourite importers carries exactly one xinomavro, and Notos, a Greek restaurant in Brussels, imports its own wine but that is really as far as my experience goes. Nonetheless, from what I’ve tasted, there really are some exciting wines out there. The wines presented by Domaine Ligas were therefore eye-openers for me. They presented a 100% Roditis 2013, a local white variety that offered the type of fruitiness you would expect of a Rhone valley wine although it was supported by an elegant freshness. The highlight for me was the Bucephale 2007, 100% xinomavro. Cassis, hummus and a little bit spicy on the nose, this comes off a lot younger than you’d expect. The tannins are clearly present but start off smooth, a bit too punchy in the middle but adding to the complexity instead of masking it. This is really a glass that keeps you occupied, shifting, changing and offering more joy with time.
The Rousillon had been associated with the Languedoc for too long. The Languedoc-Rousillon was and is a clusterfuck of too many appelations, too little structure and too much disappointing wine. Presenting Rousillon as something distinctively different from the rest of the South of the France is only just, as a lot of the wines produced here cannot be compared to anything else. It was at the Real Wine Fair last year that I first realized what potential the region has with Olivier Pithon, and this year again, some of the most exciting wines I tasted where Rousillon-wines. The Collectif Anonyme is exactly what its name implies, a collective of biological winemakers who do not want to be named as they feel that this would detract from the wine they make. The CA Rouge 2012 is exemplary of what Rousillon, and more specifically the region around Banyuls is capable of. 70% carignan and 30% Grenache, elevage in oak. Open nose, spices and blackberries, a bit austere on the palate with tannins that have not completely found their way, but a lovely freshness that kicks in towards the end, showing a distinct minerality that keeps on lingering. Only 220 bottles though, this one will be a challenge to track down!
Of course, these are only three of the more than 100 wines I tasted at RAW. They are not necessarily the very best (although I like them a lot), but just a glimpse of the diversity and novelty that I encountered over the two days. I see RAW as a stepping stone, allowing me to step outside of my comfort zone and to discover what exactly wine can be capable of. It is a vast world out there and the preview I got at the fair will only serve as a source of inspiration for future explorations and writings of course!