Okay, another corny quote, from a film this time (guess?), but seriously, I’m wriggling with anticipation for the Raw Wine Fair this weekend at Brick Lane’s Old Truman Brewery (public day, Sunday 15 May), especially after the success that was the Real Wine Fair a month ago. There are all sorts of events going off around this second fiesta of natural wines in London, and last night I visited the official Raw Wine pop-up in the basement of the London Edition Hotel (in Berners St, off Oxford St).
The pop-up is open until the end of the week. There’s a good selection of wines by the glass, including “skin contact”/orange sections, plus perhaps the largest selection of natural wines by the bottle that I’ve ever seen, including a fair number of older or mature vintages. This is all under the watchful, enthusiastic and hospitable eye of Severine Perru, Jura native and Wine Director at New York’s well known Lower East Side wine and tapas bar, The Ten Bells. The food at the pop-up has a lot in common with a typical French bar à vins, offering cold meats, cheeses, pork pie and Scotch Egg, and also good bread.
On arrival one descends from the tall-ceilinged grandeur of the hotel lobby into a basement, which at first seems very dark, lit mainly by soft up-lighters and small table top candles. A selection of low tables with leather sofas are the seats to head for. Without a reservation they found us a space at 6pm, but by 8pm it was very full so a reservation might be in order. There are winemakers on hand every night this week, and their wines are added to the by-the-glass list if they are not there already.
by the glass or bottle, the winemakers’ wines, changing every night
Accompanied by Dave Stenton, who wrote the Argentinian article published here recently, we managed to get a taste of each other’s selections. We began with two sparklers to quench the thirst of a muggy London day. The “Saperlipopet” from Damien Bureau (Anjou, Champ-Sur-Layon) is a very clean Chenin sparkler, refined and elegant with good acidity, yet a softness as well. The second sparkler was the very different Lambrusco dell’Emilia of Denny Bini. Denny has a tiny vineyard, a couple of hectares if that, which form Podere Cipolla. This really is good stuff, frothy blackberry and blackcurrant fruit with a rather special intensity.
Denny Bini’s super refreshing Lambrusco
Next, a real treat, Vinos Ambiz Albillo 2014. This is an orange wine from Spain’s Sierra de Gredos. To get an idea what it might be like, have a read of the blog post by Fabio from Vinos Ambiz (28 April this year). He sent one bottle of Garnacha for the Wine Advocate tasting of Gredos wines. He says “I was satisfied that my quality is remaining constant. My Garnacha 2014 was ranked 118 out of 118 [wines submitted], with 80 points. Well, I don’t expect them to understand wines like these. The orange Albillo has more in common with apricot beer than the kind of wine they appreciate. Suffice to say, it’s bl**dy wonderful stuff. Amazing, in fact. Only 279 bottles were made in 2014, but the 2015 gave a more promising 1,500. If it’s on taste at Raw, see whether you agree with me.
not so orange with the flash in the darkness – Vinos Ambiz Albillo
A couple of reds followed. Damien Bureau’s Chenin sparkler impressed enough to tempt us to try his Pinot d’Aunis “La Poivrotte” 2014. A lover of hyper-clean wines might flinch as there’s certainly some volatility, but as with all natural wines, fresh acidity and outright fruitiness combine into a wine of supreme glugability. It’s the sort of wine which you can treat like a fruit juice, making it both a wonderful picnic beverage, and great for the kind of charcuterie and cheese platter you can see I devoured with relish.
Bureau Pinot d’Aunis and Cauzón Carbonicus Tempranillo (again, bad flash)
By way of contrast, Bodegas Cauzón‘s “Carbonicus” 2015 is Tempranillo, but hardly like any Tempranillo I’ve had before. Cauzón is based at Cortes y Graena, in Granada Province, high in the hills. The vines, a mere 2.5 hectares, are around 1,200m above sea level, and the mountain freshness is apparent. This particular wine is fermented by carbonic maceration for 18 days and at around six months of age is quite dark in colour, yet fresh and light, though rich at the same time. Another really impressive wine. There’s a cuvée made from older vines by a more traditional fermentation, which I hope to be able to try at Raw itself.
Ramon Saavedra of Cauzón, with Severine Perru
This is just a tiny selection from a truly enormous list of wines to try, and to be honest I could easily go back several times, if I had the time. The wines by the glass are around the £7-£9 mark, with a few exceptions. The bottles may not look cheap at the top end, but if you don’t have mature versions at home it’s a great opportunity to try some of the masterpieces of the natural wine world. The food is perhaps a little more expensive – you can get cheese for around a fiver but it’s a small piece. The meats are a little more generous, for less than £10, and the duck which I ordered was very good. That tranche of pork pie was £10, and the whole platter came with bread, olives, dried apricots and a few walnuts. The best thing about the pop-up is the atmosphere once it starts to fill up. Lots of enthusiastic fellow lovers of non-intervention wines, a gaggle of winemakers to answer questions, and Severine and her staff to offer a genuine welcome. And you get used to the darkness.