Doug Wregg here
Claude Bosi here Romain Henryhere The Murano and sommelier here The Scarlet Hotel here
Recommended wines here Caterer & Hotelkeeper links here My glass of red wine stinks here Comment here
Some readers may not be familiar with natural wine.
Extract from the Caterer & Hotelkeeper weekly trade magazine 20 – 26 May 2011
NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK
AN INCREASING NUMBER OF WINEMAKERS ARE
PRODUCING NATURAL WINES, WITH NO ADDITIVES,
BUT THEY CAN BE VERY DIFFERENT TO CONVENTIONAL VARIETIES, BOTH IN TASTE AND APPEARANCE.
SO HOW CAN YOU ENTICE YOUR CUSTOMERS TO TRY THEM?
FIONA SIMS REPORTS
How to sell natural wine
Communication is important some natural wines are highly esoteric
If you can tell the story behind the wine it helps to sell it
Remember (and accept) that wines (especially natural Wines) will show differently on different days
Always store and serve natural reds on the cool side
Carafing the whites is a good idea, especially those with long skin contact
Reds also need to breathe — some can be reductive on the first sniff but this should dissipate in the glass
Virtually all the wines are unfiltered - don't be surprised to see deposits or crystals in whites or reds
Virtually all the wines are unfined and therefore may be cloudy— this is not problem
Suggest appropriate food and wine matches to enhance the experience
If a customer doesn't like a wine take it back and suggest an alternative
"There is a preconception that all white wines should be clean and frisky, like newborn lambs. Well, some of us prefer mutton," says Les Caves' Doug Wregg.
An increasing number of winemakers are trying to do as little as possible to their products. I'm talking natural wines - those made with little intervention, eschewing chemicals both in the vineyard and the winery, and using the bare minimum of additives, or none at all.
It's the next stop past organics and biodynamics, and a poke in the eye to Robert Parker link, the powerful US critic, and his love of big, show-off wines. It's winemaking laid bare, faults and all.
And natural wines are quietly working their way onto UK wine lists, from pubs and bars to fine-dining restaurants. This week London played host to the inaugural Natural Wine Fair at Borough Market. Five natural wine importers brought their products to the wider public, showing over 500 different wines from 120 growers, from France to Australia.
PEOPLE WANT TO DRINK LESS AND BETTER
One newcomer to the business that took part in the event is supplier Aubert & Mascoli link, which started selling natural wines two years ago and now has 70 restaurants on its books. It reports a significant increase in interest since last summer.
"It's not just about where food comes from and how its produced that's interesting people now; it's about wine, too," says co-founder Guillaume Aubert.
"It was tricky to sell these wines at first, but I think people want to drink less and better. When we sell wine, we sell a story. It's not just about whether it tastes of chocolate or smells of bananas; there's the human story, which is often intense, and people like that."
Spearheaded by the country's largest natural wine supplier— Guildford-based Les Caves de Pyrene link, which is credited for putting natural wines on the map in the UK - the Natural Wine Fair attracted plenty of interest, not least from dozens of participating restaurants, from Glasgow to Cornwall, who agreed to carry natural wines by the glass over a fortnight.
This is a big step up for natural wine. Until now, it's mostly been a London thing, as a growing number of natural wine bars have popped up around the capital, garnering rave reviews, from Green and Blue in East Dulwich link, Artisan and Vine in Clapham link, to Bar Battu link in the City, and trailblazer Terroirs in the West End linklink, and its newly opened sibling, Brawn, further east.
They were inspired, in part, by the natural wine bars of Paris link. The French capital is an obvious hub for the country's natural wine producers, which far outnumber those in the rest of the world. And they sell the full gamut of natural wines, warts and all.
It's the warts - or rather the funky, feral aromas and oxidised palate of the more extreme natural wines, that have prompted wide debate in the wine industry. Critics
dismiss them as faulty and undrinkable, with the harshest words reserved for the whites. They're not cheap, either, with many between £7.50 and £12 per bottle (ex-VAT), and a few topping £10.0 per bottle.
The spectrum of natural wines ranges confusingly from cloudy, earthy and feral to vibrant, fruity and elegant, and many are just there for glugging, made with the sole purpose to express the most primary fruit possible. To the converts, it's the so-called faults that imbue the wine with its character.
"There is a preconception that all white wines should be dean and frisky, like newborn lambs. Well, some of us prefer mutton," says Les Caves' Doug Wregg link. "Oxidation is not necessarily a fault when it is part of the wine- making process, and wild yeast fermentations can provide signature flavours to a wine."
There's the issue of sulphites, too, or rather the lack of them. Natural winemakers use the bare minimum, and in some cases none at all, which increasingly appeals to the health conscious.
Sulphur dioxide is used by 99% of wine- makers, mainly as a preservative. The disadvantage is that it can whiff a bit, and is blamed for causing many a hangover, and it can, claim some, even trigger an asthma attack, though the scientific evidence to support this is rather flimsy.
But natural wine is moving beyond the geeky wine bar to upscale brasseries and fine-dining restaurants. The latest chef to make the switch is Claude Bosi, of two-Michelin-starred London restaurant Hibiscus link, who announced recently that his new wine list is almost entirely devoted to natural wines.
Bosi had a Damascene moment - during a visit to renowned Italian natural wine producer Josko Gravner in Friuli link last summer. "These wines are alive, and they make my food taste more alive," he declared.
Bosi drafted in French sommelier and natural wine enthusiast Romain Henry link, who has built up the 320-bin list with a mix of organic, biodynamic and natural wines, including an eight-strong section dedicated to orange wines, the most hardcore of natural wines, deliberately oxidised and delivering challenging flavours for the natural wine novice.
"I've not taken a bottle back yet. It's all about giving the customer confidence," reveals Henry "But not every sommelier can sell these wines. They are scared how customers might react when faced with a glass of something funky, fizzy or oxidised. But if you explain to the customer that theres a little drawer in their brain that is not yet open to these wines, which is full of flavours they have yet to recognise, they grow more confident and leave here surprised and excited."
Henry also advises anyone who wants to start selling these wines that it helps if they get
to know the winemakers first. "Little anecdotes you can share make all the difference," he suggests.
Another Michelin-starred restaurant increasing its listings of natural wine is Angela Hartnett's Murano link. Head sommelier Marc-Andrea Levy link offers a large selection of natural wines - albeit the less hairy ones.
"For me its a quality issue. I'd say 300 of our 500-bin list are now organic and biodynamic, though I only have six that are completely unsulphured," he confesses. "While I personally like some of those wines they aren't right for Murano - they're just too rustic, often with earthy, farmyard aromas that aren't acceptable in a fine-dining restaurant," he reasons.
CAPTURING THE IMAGINATION
While listings of natural wine are creeping up around the country, the South West has become a particular hotspot. "I think it's because we are particularly focused on the environment and local sourcing down here," ponders Oliver Gibson, food and beverage manager of the Scarlet Hotel in Cornwall link, which has twelve natural wines on its 130-bin list.
The Scarlet Hotel won the AA Guide's Eco Hotel of the Year and Gibson was keen to make sure that this philosophy extends to the wine list. We have no New World wines on the list and most people think it's because we are concerned about food miles, but its more that we wanted to highlight some of the exciting things going on in the Old World, with its small, crazy growers. There's a move back to more traditional ways when people didn't add so much and we're interested in minimal environmental impact," he explains.
To help sell the wines, Gibson and his team impart as much knowledge about the producers as they can, explaining natural wines at every opportunity, even including them in a weekly tasting for guests, and on the wine-pairing menu. "It does require a lot of selling but once they get it, they're hooked. There's something about these wines," he says.
The Scarlet Hotel's wines are supplied by Cornish supplier Ellis Whartonlink, who is also taking part in the Natural Wine Fair. "It's something we are moving into more and more - though we've always been drawn to organic and small growers," says Ellis Wharton's Lucy Comes. "It seems to have captured people's imaginations. It fits in well with the eat local and eat organic philosophy, plus people are only just realising what is added to wine?
Natural wines may have a way to go before they become mainstream, but then mainstream is probably the last thing that these winemakers want.
The term 'biodynamic' translates roughly from Greek as working with life energies. Biodynamic wines are made from grapes grown following the principles of biodynamic agriculture, which stems from a series of lectures delivered by Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), linking man the earth and the cosmos.
A biodynamic farmer sees the farm in the context of wider pattem of lunarand cosmic rhythms. They don't use any synthetic fertilisers or pesticides: instead they use a range of special preparations - from oak bark to the more crazy sounding yarrowflowers fermented in a stag's bladder - to boost the soil which are diluted then applied in homeopathic quantities according to the position and influences of the sun moon and stars.
Confused? Often so are the winemakers "It's like Japanese if you jump straight into it—its too esoteric, too strange offers renowned biodynamic winemaker Andre Ostertag in Alsace which isn’t veryhelpful.
It sounds mysterious, but grape growers who have embraced it report huge improvements in the health oftheirvineyards while wmemakers claim cleaner, morevibrant wines.
"At first, you can't believe the stories that you hear, but once you see for yourself what is going on in the vineyard you are more ready to accept it," adds another convert, Dominique Lafon from the great Meursault estate of the same name.
It certainly helps that these superstar winemakers have converted their vineyards to biodynamics lending weight to the legions of small unknown growers who are also embracing the movement.
Many natural winemakers work with biodynamic or organic grapes However being certified doesn't apply to the techniques or products the winemaker may use back in the winery. This is where the term natural wine comes in - it means the w,nemaker minimises intervention and manipulation during the winemaking process, with reflecting 'terroir' the main aim.
Though your natural winemaker also has far less control over the finished product, which increases in a difficult year, so conventional intervention may come into play to prevent the wine from spoiling. In short they have to be very clever winemakers - and a little bit bonkers.
Fiona Simms wrote an article on natural wine published in July 2010here.
It begins thus:
Natural wines have no sulphur dioxide, sugar or foreign yeasts and are making their way onto a wide range of wine lists, everywhere from small independent bars to Michelin-starred restaurants. Fiona Sims explains how to select and sell them
My glass of red wine stinks a bit - but in a good way. Think sour cherries mixed with well-hung game, dusted in cocoa. And it's a bit fizzy - it's unlike any other wine I've ever tasted before and I'm hooked; so are a growing number of people. Welcome to the world of natural wines.
The general reader may not be familiar with natural wine, the Caterer & Hotelkeeper (C & HK) magazine or the International Wine & Food Society (IWFS). The most up to date coverage of natural wine is in the C & Hk mag. The IWFS has its own magazine and there is more here.
Some readers will be professionals within the hospitality industry and also IWFS members. The C & HK source has been selected, among other reasons, to give non-professionals an insight into the advice given to professionals. It remains to be seen how many professionals have listened.
Feedback from all readers on this or any other page is always welcome. Contact
With such items as clean and frisky, like newborn lambs here and funky, feral aromas here, the descriptors page looks as if many more need to be added.