In the run up to last weekend there was palpable excitement in the London wine fraternity, and doubtless beyond. Raw Wine was in town. Raw, founded and run by Isabelle Legeron MW, is one of the two big annual “natural wine” fairs. Whilst many wine trade people still knock natural wine, the immense popularity of these big wine tastings (Real Wine is the other one) prove without doubt that, especially among younger drinkers, natural wine is a genre to be reckoned with. The fact that people like myself, and fellow blogger Alan March, were among the oldest people there (and I’d like to state categorically that I’m not old), shows how out of touch many of the older generation of wine professionals may be.
Raw’s main stated aim is to promote transparency in wine – tell us what you are putting in it. Contrary to what some assume, the producers at Raw are not all at the extreme end of natural wine, far from it in some cases. Yet if you visit Raw you generally get to taste purity, in wines that seem somehow alive compared to many dull commercial offerings. That is the potential of natural wine. It’s also usually refreshing and, a word I use a lot, gluggable. That’s why so many people new to wine enjoy it, without pretense. And it is new and different. That is really at the core of what puts off more conservative palates, brought up since the 1980s on oak, tannin and thick “over ripe” fruit.
There is doubtless a little rivalry between Raw and its competitor, the Real Wine Fair (which takes place in May this year), and Raw had put in place a few tweaks for the 2017 edition. First, a change of venue. On the whole, the space at 180 The Strand was an improvement on the Truman Brewery. Not too many tables in direct sunlight, a reasonably large space, and quite a reasonable food offering upstairs. I hear it was horribly crowded on the public day (Sunday), when many producers ran out of wine quite early, as some did on Monday. However, the Trade and Press day was a lot better on the floor, and we could grab a quiet lunch break in relative comfort upstairs.
The problem the organisers had last year was the theft of glasses, which left them in a difficult position. Apparently someone even took a suitcase full. The remedy was to charge a £5 deposit. Fair enough, but it had unforeseen consequences to which I fell victim. Around 4pm I was talking in depth to a producer. He’d run out of most of his wines and we were discussing a future visit to taste. I’d put down my glass along with a pile of brochures and my tasting book. When I went to scoop up my things my glass had gone. Someone, in the general ruck, had seen a way of making some money. I was told at the desk that one person had tried to cash in five glasses. I told them one was probably mine. As another attendee said, what a shame for this to happen at an event where the exhibitors, at least, promote positive human values.
As always at big events like this, it is impossible to taste everything. I’m going to split this up into two parts, as I usually do, to prevent fatigue for me as well as the reader. Even so, I have counted 33 producers I would have liked to have tasted that I didn’t visit. These include the likes of Alexandre Bain, Cornelissen, Emideo Pepe, Riecine, Foradori, Radikon, Gravner and Vionnet, and especially Claus Preisinger (but I’ve written a fair bit about Claus recently). I’m guessing most readers will know those. You’ll also know some of the estates I write about, including some I do so several times a year. But I know that among them, in these two Blog posts, you’ll find some exciting new names as well. In Part 1 I’ll begin with Austria, Switzerland, and North America, and in Part 2 we’ll put the rest of Europe.
Rennersistas are two brave young ladies, Susanne and Stefanie, from Gols. From the 2015 vintage they took over their parents’ 14 hectares, which their father had begun working in 1988. Their parents must be unusually confident in their talented offspring because the first thing they did was to change the wines completely. Not only are these all natural wines, but no sulphites are used or added.
In a Hell Mood 2016 refers to father, Helmut, who one can imagine having a small fit on tasting the first wine they made, from the thankfully ripe and plentiful 2015 vintage. This is their pét-nat, a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. I didn’t try a better pét-nat all day.
Waiting for Tom 2016 is a rosé which name checks two influences on the girls, Tom Lubbe (NZ/Matassa) and Tom Shobbrook (Barossa Valley). It’s a salmon pink, cloudy, Zweigelt which is just like pure juice and so refreshing. Several people said this was their favourite wine on their table. Its joyous simplicity speaks volumes about the winemaking here.
Two 2016 whites contrast Weissburgunder (aka Pinot Blanc) with Welschriesling. The former, nicely rounded fruit but so alive, just shaded it over the latter wine, soft and appley. A Waiting for Tom red blends Pinot Noir, St-Laurent and Blaufränkisch, fermented with some whole bunches on the bottom of the tank. There is some early picking too, and boy is this fresh. This is a hallmark of all the wines. There’s also a very fruity Zweigelt and a Blaufränkisch which has a bit of additional spice.
I was sorry not to be able to get to a tasting of these at Newcomer Wines as part of the activities surrounding Raw Wine Week (lots of popups, dinners and tastings around London’s natural wine haunts), but here at the Fair they were a revelation. I really enjoyed the wines, so much so that their Weissburgunder was my one purchase at the in-fair shop. I’m sure the infectious enthusiasm of their creators helped a lot.
Rennersistas are imported by Newcomer Wines. The 2016s should be arriving in June. These were samples, so their fine performance here is all the more remarkable. I shall be purchasing some myself when they arrive.
Gut Oggau (Burgenland)
Stefanie and Eduard, winemakers in the tiny village of Oggau, next to Rust, appear frequently in my Blog, and as you probably know, are one of my favourite half-dozen Austrian estates. I’d been forewarned that they had run out of wine early on the Sunday, and as I had been devoting the morning session to new producers, I shot over to Table 58 straight after lunch. Even then, there were only three wines to taste when I was there.
Two whites – Theodora 2015, which I buy a lot, is a wild natural wine with real character, which blends Gruner Veltliner with Welschriesling. It’s slightly spritzy to begin with (which I like), and is off-dry. It comes in at only 11.5% alcohol. This wine ages nicely, but it’s a cracker when opened young, like a bracing cold shower in Tokyo’s humid summer heat. Emmeram 2015 is quite a contrast. Round and rich (especially in ’15) Gewurztraminer from limestone. If you are not a Gewurz fan, this is one to try. If you are…
The red was Josephine, from 2013. This blends the rare Rosler variety with Blaufränkisch. It’s a nice elegant wine with dark fruit and a touch of spice, with grip to go with it. Gut Oggau’s wines somehow taste biodynamic. They have a very special life in them, which is either something you identify with, or you don’t. In some ways it transcends everything else when tasting them. I don’t know how they do it.
Dynamic Vines imports Gut Oggau. I’m sorry I don’t have a decent photo from this time, but my Blog is spattered with them, like the wine splattering from the very small spittoons we were using. Their labels are unique as well, so I’ve dragged one over, in case anyone is reading about them for the first time.
Alexander Koppitsch (Neusiedlersee)
Eight wines were on show from this producer, completely new to me. Alexander and his wife took over an estate with over 500 years of history in 2011 and, like the Rennersistas, moved swiftly to low intervention methods. Most of their vineyards lie on the exceptional soils of the Leithaberg, on the northwestern side of the Neusiedlersee.
We began with their Authentisch wines, a Zweigelt aged in acacia, and Rot No 3 (both 2015). The latter blends 60% Zweigelt with Syrah and St-Laurent, plus a tiny bit of Blaufränkisch, aged in large wood. Both were in a pure fruit style.
The three white wines were all more complex. Welschriesling Maischevergoren ’15 has two weeks on skins to give colour and texture. A Gemischter Satz (2015) field blend mixes Gruner, Muscat, Pinot Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc with a handful of other local varieties and a few very rare ones. This mixed site was planted in 1934 and, like much of the fine Gemischter Satz from Vienna, it has potential to age. Weissburgunder had a lovely nose on a 2016 bottle sample, whilst the warmer vintage 2015 was less acid but had a nice richness to it.
The reds here are equally impressive for an unknown producer. I tried the varietal Blaufränkisch, St-Laurent and Zweigelt, all from the Unfiltriert range. All 2015s, the first of these was the most complex, but the other two were nice fruity examples of their respective grapes.
At the end of the tasting Alex pulled out the pét-nats. Called “Pretty Nuts”, there’s a St-Laurent and a Pinot Noir and they are just lovely. Real summer lunch wines to slosh in a glass beaker. Sadly, like so many Austrian producers, the Koppitsch family lost a lot of grapes in 2016 (60%), and there will only be around 300 bottles of each of these (we tasted samples as the rest of the wine is not yet disgorged).
These wines are available in three of Vienna’s more interesting wine shops, but they don’t currently have a UK distributor. I think they deserve one, if anyone has a hole in their Austrian portfolio.
Okay, here we go again. Yes, the Michlits family also make some of the most frequently appearing wines (and beer) in this Blog. But if you don’t know these wines, then you really have to try them. Ultra environmentally aware, their Pannonian estate near Pamhagen on the southern side of the Neusiedlersee not only grows wild vines left to regulate themselves, but also ancient grains (like spelt), fruit orchards, and grazes a famous herd of Aberdeen Angus cattle.
With apologies to regular readers, here’s a short precis of the Meinklang universe. Vines in Hungary, on the strange volcanic stub of a plateau called Somló, produce a stunning wine from the rare Juhfark variety, labelled as J13 (for the 2013 vintage). The Austrian vineyards produce, among others, the famous Graupert wines. The vines here are left wild. Rather than over produce, in time they self-regulate to produce excellent grapes. On taste yesterday was the magnificent Graupert Pinot Gris 2015.
Konkret is a pair of wines made in concrete eggs. They both have that texture which is a little bit like amphora without the full on “licking a terracotta pot” sensation. Konkret White is more of a pale orange colour, made from Traminer. Konkret Rot is St-Laurent. Both were 2014s. These are expensive but truly exceptional wines. I have all the above in my cellar (though J12), along with the Graupert Rot (from Zweigelt).
We finished the reds with a very pure fruited Zweigelt 2015 before out came the Foam. Foam is a pét-nat style. It comes in white, red and cider. Buy all three. The two wines come from the Graupert vineyard with a year and a half on lees. The white is a regular chez-nous, but the red (95% St-Laurent) is gorgeous, like a brambley real Lambrusco. The cider comes in at just 7% alcohol and is as refreshing, zippy and frothy a cider as you have ever tried. For good measure I have a Meinklang Urkorn-Bier in the fridge as a reward for finishing Part 1 tonight.
Meinklang’s wines are currently split between Winemakers Club and Vintage Roots in the UK. Apart from the wines mentioned above, both importers stock a few more oddities, and the family’s range of value varietals.
Albert Mathier & Fils (Valais, Switzerland)
The Mathier family farm their vines at Salgesch in the Valais (Wallis in Swiss German). This is some of the most beautiful vineyard scenery in Europe, and the two-and-a-half hour walk from Salgesch to Sierre is one of Switzerland’s best known vine trails.
The simplest wine here is also one of the most effective. Forestier 2015 is a pale, vibrant, cherry-packed Pinot Noir. It contrasts with the darker Cornalin 2015. Cornalin is a very good local variety, perhaps only topped in the region’s local varieties by Humagne Rouge. This is a much darker wine, still in the cherry spectrum but black cherries with a bit of nutmeg and spice. The finish has a slightly rustic grip which is not unappealing. Bring out the charcuterie.
The final red is Vinum Lignum Salconio 2013, altogether aiming to be more serious. It’s a blend of Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, certainly of interest, but whilst I like much of the very good Syrah produced in the region, the other two reds appealed more. It might be something to do with the oak on this cuvée.
Petite Arvine is my favourite Valais white variety, which is most often vinified dry. Here, as Aphrodine 2015, it is distinctly off-dry with a bit of residual sugar and richness, but it retains its freshness. I liked it despite a previous preference for the dry style of Petite Arvine, which tends to mineral. The nature of this cuvée could perhaps be in part down to the very warm 2015 vintage.
There are two amphora wines here, quite unusual for a Swiss producer, and they use original Georgian kvevri. Amphore Blanc 2012 is a blend of the rare local variety Rèze with Ermitage (a local synonym for Marsanne). After ten months maceration on skins the wine is amber-orange and highly textured, but softening. Spice, herbs, honey and tea tannins all come through. A sophisticated and complicated wine which I imagine might not appeal to everyone, but if you like orange (like the Georgians, the producer prefers the term amber) wines, you won’t find too many Swiss ones. Slip it into a blind tasting.
Amphore Noir 2012 is 100% Syrah in this vintage. It’s tannic and grippy, but refreshing too. It has exactly the same texture as the blanc. Maceration in the terracotta makes it seem like a blend of blackcurrant fruit with soil. That may not sound appealing, but I assure you that to the adventurous palate it is. The rarity of amphora reds makes this appealing in itself, but it is a well crafted example. Mathier’s passion for the kvevri wines of Georgia shines through.
Albert Mathier & Fils is imported by Alpine Wines (they are currently out of stock of all his wines but expect more soon, contact Joelle or Ben for details).
The Scholium Project (California)
Much has been written about Abe Schoener and his unusual project to produce singular, striking, single vineyard wines from some of the (often) hidden corners of Northern California. There used to be a bewildering range of wines which trickled into the UK. Of late the range has shrunk, but the wines remain both fascinating and challenging, in a good way.
The first wine here is one of my favourite Scholium whites, Michael Faraday 2014. Made from 100% Chardonnay from a vineyard at the base of the Sonoma Mountains, owned by the Matthiasson family. It’s totally unique. Don’t think California, think Jura. This Chardonnay has not been topped up whilst ageing, and it has aged under flor. The effect isn’t as striking as a Jura wine aged sous voile, but it’s there. It isn’t a world away from Brash Higgins Bloom, Brad Hickey’s wine from McLaren Vale in Australia. Astonishing! Horribly expensive though (£60+ retail).
So is the rather famous The Prince in his Caves 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, also from Sonoma. We are in the territory of skin contact here, and it’s like no other Sauvignon Blanc you’ve tasted before. Fermented in puncheon, then two whole years in barrel. In this vintage regular drinkers will be pleased to know it’s back to its old wild self. Others should approach with caution, but prepare to be delighted.
1 mn 2015 is made from 125-year-old Cinsault from Lodi, planted on its own roots (ie not on American rootstock). Whole clusters, just simply delicious. Babylon 2013 is a more complicated red. It comes from the sandy and rocky Suisun Valley, which I’m told (no, never heard of it) is somewhere between Sonoma and Napa. The variety is Petite Syrah, but made gently, with no heavy extraction, and then just left alone in barrel for three years. There’s a lightness which would shock any of the old guys schooled on 1990s Petite Syrah, fashioned as a Zinfandel lookalike.
Scholium are imported by The Sampler. The only wine currently in stock from those tasted at Raw appears to be the Michael Faraday, although they list other equally fabulous Scholium wines. Have a chat with Ben to see what’s due in when, and curse that you missed last weekend’s Scholium tasting in-store.
Okanagan Crush Pad (Okanagan Valley, Canada)
You may have read about the Crush Pad last year when I tasted them at Winemakers Club’s Vaults Tasting. This increasingly highly regarded crush facility has been going for around five years. Native New Zealander Matt Dumayne makes the wines, joint-founder Christine Coletta proudly travels with him to show them off. Their success is helped in no small part to their twin consulting team of Alberto Antonini and Pedro Parra. Matt will tell you how amazing a viticulturalist Parra is. “You plant the vine variety Pedro recommends on a particular site and three years later the wine will taste just as he says it will”.
The Crush Pad makes its own range of wines in addition to acting as a contract crush facility, Haywire (pure, refreshing, natural wines), and Narrative (from more specific Okanagan sites). Some stainless steel is used, but they specialise in large format amphora and concrete, the latter a range of impressive, black, concrete eggs from Nico Velo in Italy.
Christine brought out a lovely selection for Raw. Waters and Banks Sauvignon Blanc 2015 and Switchback 2015 (the latter a Pinot Gris) are both whole bunch fermented in 4,500 litre concrete and spend eleven months on lees, but there is no skin contact. They both have good colour, but are in the straw spectrum. All wines here go through malolactic. Both are tasty whites with personality.
Free Form White 2015 is the same fruit as the Sauvignon Blanc but kept on skins for nine months with two punchdowns a day. It is high toned, cloudy from early unfiltered bottling, and shows the kind of success this producer is getting from what is quite brave winemaking for Okanagan.
Free Form Red 2015 and Waters and Banks Pinot Noir 2015 also both come from the same fruit. Waters is made simply, fruit coming from granite and limestone, four weeks on skins and then straight into concrete for eleven months. Fruity. Tasty. Free Form, like its white partner, gets 40% whole bunches into 800 litre amphora for nine months before it is pressed. Altogether different in texture and complexity.
Narrative Ancient Method 2015 is a pét-nat (made by the same method as the French Ancestrale wines), 100% Pinot Noir from a 300 acre block currently planted to 20 acres. It’s the first crop off this site and they are really pleased. It’s a concrete egg wine full of fruit and texture. After a natural fermentation it spends eight months on lees, in bottle, before disgorgement and is very good. Foamy, with apple dominating citrus plus just a little pear skin and pebbles.
This is a small selection of the wines Okanagan Crush Pad produce. Crush Pad is imported by Red Squirrel.
Part 2 will follow in a few days, featuring wines from Italy, Spain, France, Slovenia and Greece.