RAW, the Artisan Wine Fair 2016

IMG_3625The 2016 RAW fair took place in London this weekend, and just like last year, it was an intense but terrific experience. An increasing number of winemakers seems to realize that it is a unique opportunity to showcase their wines to both old fans and people who are a lot more open-minded than the ones attending Prowein or Vinexpo. Of course, estates come and go but the showing does remain impressive. Those with long-established reputations stand side by side with those who are only just stepping into the world of wine, often presenting their first vintage to the public, nervous about the impression that they’ll make or the feedback they will receive.

There are a couple of observations to be made. First, the number of real stinkers, of wines that were incorrect even by the most extreme standards (unless you really love vinegar) has been decreasing. Second, globalization is often blamed for industrialization or an impoverishment of quality but has in my view also contributed more to knowledge sharing. Winemakers have it a lot easier these days to get advice or criticism from likeminded winemakers. Third and what was for me the most important one is that natural wines, especially from younger winemakers, are coming to grasp with the expression of a sense of place. Simply being drinkable was the bar set by aspiring natural winemakers in the past, without venturing into the identifiability of variety or even country (like the Sylvaner from Franken talked about here). Of course, if you are just getting started with a first vintage, I can imagine being thrilled that it actually tastes like wine. Nonetheless, there is more to it than just that and it was inspiring to taste wines that have come a long way.

1Anyway, on to a couple of memorable wines!

The Austrians were well-presented. As I did not have the time to explore their wines last year, I made sure to get to them in time. Quality in general was high with a first highlight being Weingut Werlitsch (Sudsteiermark) showing highly energetic blends of Sauvignon Blanc (normally not high on my priority list) and Chardonnay but I was most surprised by Claus Preisinger (Burgenland). 2015 presented on the table, which is in need of a couple more years but massively structured and intense already. The Weissburgunder may be one of the best I have ever tasted, earthy and wild but with refinement hidden underneath. Not the easiest of wines, nor the easiest winemaker I think, but it is what you find in the glass that counts!

I first met Peter Hahn at last year’s RAW and was thrilled with the wines he presented then. After a consultancy/finance career in the States, he chose a different path when purchasing the neglected Clos de la Meslerie in Vouvray. Aside from a sparkling wine (2013-based), he showed three different vintages of the one wine that he produces, 2009, 2011 and 2013. Starting with the youthful 2013 I was immediately struck by the purity and smoky minerality on the palate. Things only got better going back and the 2009 was a highlight, really striking the balance between weight (residual sugar at 31g/l but nothing too sweet about it) and acidity that can make Chenin Blanc so vibrant and energetic. Absolutely delicious and to buy in a heartbeat.

3It has not been noticeable on The Wine Analyst, more due to lack of activity than anything else, but I have fallen in love with South African wines. Earlier this year I organized a tasting of Swartland wines and participants were absolutely floored by the quality, originality and sheer deliciousness. (I would seriously consider repeating the tasting just to give me another excuse to postpone an article on it). Only one estate attended RAW but luckily their wines were a discovery. Mother Rock is a collaboration between the founder of Indigo Wine, a UK importer and Johan Meyer, a South African wine maker destined for great things. On the entry level we find “Force Majeure” in white (Chenin Blanc), rosé (Cinsault) and red (blend), all of which are just excellent. The “Mother Rock” range kicks the quality up a notch consisting of terroir-focused wines from selected parcels. Standouts were the Carignan/Cinsault 2015, stunning minerality with delicious fresh fruit and a backbone to support it, and a Chenin Blanc-dominated white blend that I would have emptied right then and there.

This is only the surface of the great wines we tasted. As I mentioned before in my article on Dive Bouteille, the point of a wine fair like this is not to get overly analytic on a wine but to make new discoveries, set out new starting points for new journeys or ventures. The ones mentioned above (out of many great winemakers encountered) triggered my interest in their philosophy or region, so new interests have been piqued and a great time has been had, what more can I want?

6 thoughts on “RAW, the Artisan Wine Fair 2016

  1. Nice article. Don’t know if I agree about the open-mindedness of the natural wine scene though. Some of these people show almost religious fervor: they will drink nothing else than “natural” (whatever the precise definition of that is) and hold in contempt everything “conventional”. But good to read that the share of obviously faulty wines is decreasing.
    As to sauvignon blanc from Steiermark, this region really sublimates that varietal. Nothing to do with the typical NZ grassy style. I was with Wohlmuth in march, and he confessed that he privately almost never drank sauvignon from other parts of the world, because he does not like them. Steiermark really stands out, and a beautiful region as well!

    1. I do get the impression that the zealots are gradually pushed towards more open-mindedness, more by not being able to sell their wines as they would like (because of instability or plain faults) than because of an actual change of heart though. I talked to one winemaker a couple of weeks ago who said that he had to rethink some of his non-interventionism because importers sent back some of his wine by the dozen as it just turned brown almost instantly in the glass.
      There are certain winewriters or importers who only seem to strengthen in their zeal though. Having tasted a couple of wines they rave about I remain skeptical and agree with you that there is a large portion of the wineworld where the black and white version of conventional vs. natural prevails.
      Austria is really one of those countries that seems to disappear from my radar from time to time only to pop back up with more enthusiasm. Great wines, lot of originality and in my opinion one of the few places where they really get orange wines as well!

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