May is the month to celebrate organic, biodynamic and natural wines. Restaurants, wine bars, and retailers are backing this nationwide campaign to bring awareness to these “real” wines. The month culminates in two dedicated wine fairs ahead of the London International Wine Fair next week. They are the “Real Wine Fair” (realwinefair.com) held at Victoria House, Holborn May 20-22, and RAW (Artisan Wine Fair, rawfair.com) May 20-21, at The Old Truman Brewery, Brick Lane.
With two dedicated wine fairs, and a month devoted to the drink, what is real wine?
Similar to ‘real ale,’ it is about small producers that grow their own grapes, or have long term-contracted growers. The growth and production area define the wine. The wine depends on land, weather, growing conditions and the people creating it. It can be boutique, artisan, organic, biodynamic or natural.
Organic wines are the most common, however, certifications, definitions and regulations are still being debated. Deciphering the EUs new regulation of organic wine from 8 March 2012, is as confusing as understanding Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem or the Laws of Cricket.
It relies on the normal rules of ‘certified organically grown grapes’ (chemical free), the bans on additions and processes to the wine, and then continues to specify the amount of sulphur added depending on the residual sugar.
By definition Biodynamic wines must be organic, but the growing process of the vines follow astronomical cycles that determines the best time to grow, prune, and harvest the grapes.
Natural wines go one step further. They must be either organic or biodynamic. According to Douglas Wregg, the Director of Sales and Marketing for Les Caves de Pyrene, “the most important element in natural wine (other than no chemicals added or elements subtracted) is that the fermentation should take place with "wild yeasts" (the ambient yeasts on the grape skin, in the vineyard and winery).” He adds, “Natural wines will tend not to be fined and rarely filtered. Occasionally, there will be a light filtration in order that less sulphur may be used.”
There is no defining body for natural wines yet.
Neil Palmer, Director of Vintage Roots, Reading, states, “natural wines’ strive to maximise their expression of terroir or ‘sense of origin’, idea being that there’s nothing extra in the wine to interfere with its purity. Bottom line must always come back to the quality of the wine itself.”
Recently I got to try the natural wine, Raisins Gaulois Lapierre 2010 (£11.99, virginwines.com). It’s made from Gamay grapes in Beaujolais. It is bright ruby in colour, but slightly cloudy which is disconcerting. I was assured this is normal due to its natural nature. It is a light acidic wine with tart cranberry flavours and feels like there is a bit of spritz to it. My first thought was that it had a slight “home brew” taste. The finish is long, and the wine matches well with the duck, pork and mashed potatoes, however, avoid it with any fruit compote or sauce, as it tastes very sour.