This Franken wine is maybe perfect to exemplify the natural wine movement. Not only are the words Pure & Naked that make up the name among the most dominating when describing these wines. It’s also a pét-nat, a style that has come to prominence in this era, and it’s un-filtered, murky as a morning mist.
Ludwig and Sandra Knoll can be found in Würzburg, on the river Main, where they practise bidynamic vituculture. Among their most important vineyards are Würzburger Stein, and maybe even more famous: Stettener Stein, hence the name of the company.
The wine is made from sauvignon blanc and cabernet blanc (a Swiss hybrid) in equal parts. It was cold-macerated 6 days, un-filtered and un-sulphured.
Pure & Naked2019 (Weing. am Stein – Ludwig Knoll)
Cloudy yellow-greenish, lightly bubbly. Aroma of pineapple, going towards lime and grapefruit, a flowery component too. Juicy, lovely acidity, nice grapefruity aftertaste. Pure fun!
Food: Fish, shellfish, sushi, salads, some strawberries, on its own…
Who has not experienced that sweet, uninspiring stuff called lambrusco? Now thankfully more and more producers try to lift it from that bad reputation. In the past it was made by what is now dubbed the ancestral method, that involves bottling before it is finished, sometimes with a small addition of unfermented must, and the bubbles were developed during this process. Some are also made by the “traditional” (champagne) method. But most are made with the second fermentation in steel tanks.
Lambrusco is a family of grapes that has also given name to several DOC regions in Emilia-Romagna. This wine here comes under the less specific designation Lambrusco dell’Emilia.
Camillo Donati is found in Langhirano, just south of Parma, where he cultivates 21 hectares of vines biodynamically. It was his grandfather who first planted vines. The soil here is calcareous clay, and this particular vineyard was planted in the 1970’s. They were spontaneously fermented, with the secondary fermentation in bottle. It’s unfined and unfiltered, and the certification is organic.
Il Mio Lambrusco 2018(Camillo Donati)
Dark red, bubbly. Aromas of cherry, raspberry, flowers. Fresh, slightly textured, yet juicy and appealing in the mouth, with a good natural acidity.
Food: Characuterie (don’t forget the prosciutto of Parma), light meat, pasta, salads, aperitif…
I was touring the Veneto region in the summer of 2018. One of the producers I would have visited was the unique Leonildo Pieropan. But sadly he passed away only two months before. But he had given me many good memories with his wines, from the lovely entry-level Soave and up to the vineyard wines. La Rocca was a regular when I was responsible for the wine selection at a restaurant during the 1990’s, and it was a delightful revisit when the latest issue appeared in a private tasting lately.
Founded in 1880, the Pieropan family was thought to have been the first to use the term Soave on the labels, several decades before the DOC was born. Leonildo Pieropan was among the first ones to recognize the potential for single vineyard wines, and for the ageing potential of Soave wines and the much overlooked garganega grape.
The Calvarino vineyard was bought by his grandfather in 1901. This was the first single vineyard Soave Classico in 1971.
The La Rocca vineyard is located on the hillside of Mount Rcchetta near Soave’s medieval castle. The soil is calcareous, the south-west, and there are several long, narrow terraces. The harvest is usually done in late October. The harvest is manual, the maceration short but some skin-contact. After fermentation the wine is aged for one year in old barrels of 500L. And the variety? Garganega, obviously.
La Rocca 2018(L. Pieropan)
Golden yellow. Aromas of yellow apples, white flowers, white peach, a touch of tropical fruit, and a nutty touch. Full, glyceric and juicy on the palate, with a pineapple-like acidity, and some bitter almond in the end. It’s complex, quite concentrated and long.
Food: Grilled and tasty fish, light meat, cheese, risotto…
Let us start with the conclusion this time: This monastrell is a modern, juicy, “gluggable” wine way up the natural road – but at the same time it is the Mediterranean, slightly spicy, Provencal-herbal, hearty and quite recognizeable.
This particular wine is made by 30 year old wine maker María Jover (born in nearby Alicante) who has a modern approach. The vines are between 20 and 40 years old, organically grown, in the old system of “terraje”. This concept involves renting the vineyard to the farmers, who take care of the quality of the vines. As a bonus the landowner in this specific project 7% of the production is given back to the farmer. This is a very common practise in Jumilla for old vines.
The producer owns some 80 hectares, mostly monastrell. The grapes for this wine were de-stemmed, lightly pressed and fermented with indigenous yeasts on steel, before malo-lactic fermentation and a short ageing in cement.
Parajes del Valle Monastrell 2018 (Parajes del Valle)
Dark colour with a young blueish hint. Aromas of dark and red berries, like blackberry and cherry, aromatic herbs (rosemary, thyme), and a hint of lickorice. Juicy in the mouth, it has a coolness to it, like a fresh, natural acidity, but at the same time a serious southern quality hinting to coffee, or maybe tea leaves.
Food: Light meat dishes, bacalao, Murcian paella, pizza, hard cheeses, and almost everything from the grill
This is the tallest skyscraper of Nieva York in the ResPublic of Verdejo. In fact this one has a twin tower, because the white version has already been there for some years.
I have written about Ismael Gozalo and his wines several times, so I will not repeat the whole story. But in short, he comes from a family of vintners in the small settlement of Nieva (Segovia province), one of the highest in altitude in the Rueda area. So he has taken the verdejo variety to new heights, but he also makes wine from red varieties such as such as mencía from Bierzo, garnacha from Gredos, and rufete from Sierra de Salamanca. (You can read here about some of the reds, and here about some whites).
This pét-nat is made from 90% tempranillo planted in the 1990’s on slate, and 10% verdejo, from the more than a century old ungrafted vines on sand and clay. It’s an early harvest wine, fermented at a cool temperature to keep the turbidity down. The alcoholic fermentation is finished inside the bottle. After a few months in the bottle the lees are removed, and the bottle is filled up with dry wine from the same lot. No sulphur added.
Nieva York Pét-Nat Rosé2018(Ismael Gozalo)
Peach coloured, bubbly. Also peach on the nose, together with white flowers and wild strawberry. Luscious fruit, but also with a nice acidity, some texture (feels like citrus peel, such as clementine) concentration and length. Citing the back label: Good bubbles = good moments!!!
Food: Excellent on its own, try with all kinds of salads, tapas from “ensaladilla rusa” to charcuterie, pizza, light meat…
Marc Pesnot is located in the Muscadet part of the Loire valley. I didn’t know much about him, but two wines in a private wine club tasting made me look him up. There was the Miss Terre 2018, an impressive, concentrated wine. Here I chose the lighter one, Cœur de Raisin, meaning grape-heart, that I took home and watched the development over two days.
Marc Pesnot says that at first he was not particularly fond of the wines of the region, but realized it didn’t have so much to do with the grape variety as the methods, the industrialized way they were normally treated. The main objective of this wine is to use the melon de bourgogne grapes, bottle it early to produce a light, low alcohol wine, a so-called “primeur wine”. But ok, this is maybe true compared his other wines, but it has plenty of character still.
Pesnot now has 22 hectares of ﬁfty year-old melon de bourgogne grapes in schistous soil. This gives a perfume and minerality very rare for Muscadet. He doesn’t recognize it as a particularly fruity grape, but seeks for a can be very complex treated the right way. To achieve this he starts with old grapes, treats them in a natural, artisan way, uses light pressing. He allows malo-lactic fermentation in all his wines.
Cœur de Raisin 2019(Marc Pesnot)
Golden colour. Mature apples, flowers, clementine and apricot on the nose. Textured, balances between lightness and a glylceric fatness, with good acidity and a lovely mineral touch.
The Institut National de l’Origine et de la Qualité (INAO), France’s official agricultural organization, has launched the first ever official certification of natural wines. There are also plans to include Spanish and Italian winemakers in a relatively short period. The scheme will run a three year trial period before it is evaluated.
Natural wines have always existed, but the activist movement emerged as a reaction against the industrialized wines that were dominating from the 1960’s on. This movement has been inspired first of all by some Beaujolais producers. For every decade it has become more popular and spread to new countries.
There is no consensus about whether this is a necessary, or wanted, step, or not. It is widely understood that a natural wine comes from organically or biodynamically farmed grapes, and has little or no additives in the cellar. There is however a continuous debate among the natural wine producers as to whether a small amount of sulphur before bottling should be allowed or not.
To evit going into this debate the Syndicat de Defense des Vins Naturels (an independent group originating in Loire some ten years ago but officially founded in 2019, and that has penned the new regualations), has included both views – one category for zero additions, and one for additions up to 30 mg/L of sulphites.
Writer and chemist Jamie Goode asks in the publication Wine Enthusiast 19/5, whether this is a needed, or wanted, step. He also points out that there are weaknesses. He says, “yeasts can produce varying amounts of sulfites during fermentations (…) it’s also not rare for yeasts to produce more than 30 mg/L of sulfur dioxide, which means that the wine cannot be certified”. I think that Goode is right. Here is a possible weakness, or something that can be amended: Although the intention is to allow a maximum of 30 mg, the current edition does not specify 30 mg is maximum or added sulphites.
Other than that Goode sees several positive sides. Accountability is a possible benefit, he points out, as those who use the Syndicat’s natural wine logo have legal obligations.
There are growers that finds the whole natural wine activist movement a bit strange, a bandwagon, a hipster movement of something they have been doing forever. In continuation to this, Goode also cites Doug Wregg, of leading British natural wine importer Les Caves de Pyrene (co-organizer of the Real Wine fair). Wregg says, “the certification could be used by companies simply in search of a commercial opportunity”.
Goode concludes that he “(applaudes) the effort, but (is) very much not sure of the result”.
One who mounts his stool to speak in favour of the new regulation is Simon J. Woolf in his publication the Morning Claret 2/4. “One of the biggest bugbears in natural wine”, says Woolf, “is the lack of organic certification amongst growers – an honour system is all well and good if one is on first-name terms with the grower, but it doesn’t help the end consumer very much. Your wine might have zero added sulphites and a funky label, but how do I know what goes on in your vineyard during a rainy year, if you decided that getting organic certification was just too much hassle?”
First he points out that it’s too easy for “bandwagon-jumpers, weekend warriors and the organic-when-I-feel-like-it brigade” to join the club only when they feel like it, and he sees this as a means to make it more difficult for those who are not fully determined.
And regarding the differing opinions within the natural wine producers, Woolf sees no problem. “It is important to note that the labelling scheme is entirely voluntary. Winemakers working within the natural wine oeuvre are not under any obligation to apply for the label, or to change the ways that they currently produce or label their wines.”
Woolf points out that, “the biggest clue that a scheme like this is required is that it’s been instigated and hard-fought over by winemakers themselves”. An appropriate example is Sébastien David himself, who had his Coëf 2016 Cabernet Franc confiscated and destroyed (!) by the Bureau d’Invéstigation de Enquêtes Vinocoles (BIEV), because of too high levels of volatile acidity. The laboratory results were also debated by David. As Woolf continues, “the new charter would not necessarily have saved David’s wine, but one can understand him wanting to have at least one system which is on his side”.
Woolf concludes: “The approval of this charter is a massive step towards more general acceptance of natural wines, as a valid segment of French wine. They are no longer just something just to be legislated against, but now have a seat at the table.”
Hannah Fuellenkemper, also in the Morning Claret 21/4, lists some points of what could be considered after this: Water imprints (who are recycling?), the use of plastic (and throwing it away), bottling (is it always necessary?), transport (does a winemaker deserve the karma of an organic winemaker when most of his production is trucked around the globe?),
What do I think? It seems to me that Simon Woolf has put must valid arguments on the table, and I hope this can speed up the process of recognition of natural wines (that I think will come anyway, in the end). Still, like Jamie Goode, I doubt that these regulations will have a great effect. Because the spirit of the natural wine movement is that of freedom, not regulations. They will get acceptance in the end, same as the environment activists, but they will take it further towards a world where a holistic view reigns supreme.
There is no end to all of the fascinating orange wines on both sides of the Italian-Slovenian border. But Sandi Škerk isn’t “just another”, he is one of the modern torchbearers for the style. Located in Carso, with a cellar in carso rock, he grows vitovska, malvazija, sauvignon blanc and pinot grigio. This wine is a blend of all four varieties in equal parts, each contributing their specific characteristic, such as the aroma of sauvignon and the blushing colour of pinot grigio.
The must remained in contact with the skins for two week, and it was aged in big, old barrels – and bottled unfiltered.
Ograde 2017(Az. Agr. Škerk)
Light pink-orange colour. Very aromatic, with flowers (roses), citrus, (dried) apricot, white pepper. Quite full and smooth, but also with a lovely natural integrated acidity, persistent. A stunning, up-lifting orange wine with a remarkable personality.
I wrote about an orange wine of Valentina Passalacqua’s last autumn. In short she makes natural wines from the family farm inside the Gargano national park. The grapes are biodynamically farmed, the fermentations are spontaneous, and there is no fining, filtering or sulphur addition.
Ca signifies that the vines are grown in some isolated Kimmeridgian calcareous soil. 20 is the atomic number, and the atomic weight is 40.08. Most of it has a Greek, or Hellenistic, inspiration, not least the grapes. This one is a varietal nero di troia.
Read more about the project and especially the orange falanghina here.
20 Ca 40.08 Hellen Rosso 2019(V. Passalacqua)
Dark cherry. Mature fruits, mulberry and plums, with a certain acidic edge. Luscious, grapey, some texture, light bitterness towards the end, finishes dry.
Food: Salads, bacalao, other white fish, light meat…
I must admit that Quinta dos Roques and Quinta das Maias of Dão have been neglected during the latest years, from my side. They haven’t been in the news for a while, but now it seems that something is happening again. They are both property of Luis Lourenço and his family, and he is also winemaker.
Maias is noted for the grape variety of jaen, because it’s higher and cooler than Roques, and more easily gives the grape the acidity and focus that it needs. The soil here is granite and sand, and the estate is now certified organic.
The name is derived from flor de maio, mayflower.
It’s only 40% of jaen in this wine, and in good Dão tradition it’s accompanied by touriga nacional (30%), alfrocheiro preto (20%) and tinta roriz (10%). It’s made in steel, with spontaneous fermentation.
Maias Tinto 2017(Quinta das Maias)
Cherry red. Mature berries, plums, some herbs, a bit anis. Fruity, juicy in the mouth, some tannins.
Food: Bacalhau, chicken salad, everything on the grill, its freshness also invites to be served chilled on a summer day