Tillingham is one of England’s most innovative producers. Their minimal intervention approach to winemaking and often surprising presentation have given them a strong following amongst matural wine lovers. This wine was tasted in a local wine club quite recently.
I visited them outside Rye, Sussex in March this year, one of the last days before lockdown and my first quarantine. Ben Walgate and his companion Serena showed me around and explained about their organic farming, also with certain biodynamic practises, and we had a tasting of all their original wines (and ciders) in their own bar and restaurant. In a wet climate like England’s, the threat of mildew is ever-present, so some copper and sulfur-based sprays are often used.
Aside of winegrowing, not only ciders, but also animals are part of the project, so is the bar and restaurant.
While some sparkling wine specialists have “owned” the headlines so far, I am very sure that the recognition of Tillingham will exceed far beyond the natural wine scene in the future. The grapes for this lovely low-alcohol when are müller-thurgau 35%, ortega 32%, bacchus 17%, chardonnay 12% and schönburger 4%, grown in chalky clay soil. There is no filtration nor fining.and minimal sulphur added before bottling.
Tillingham White 2018(Tillingham)
Yellow. Aroma of yellow apples, apricot, some lime. Luscious, light and superbly drinkable.
Read more about one of their rosés here. http://winechords.com/?s=Tillingham
We have also visited nearby Davenport winery. Take a look here. http://winechords.com/still-british/
This has been a favourite since I tasted it first time at a London fair. In spite of that it has not been highlighted since the 2015 vintage. (Reed some background information here.)
We are in Swartland, Coastal South Africa. In this generally warm climate winemaker Craig Hawkins harvests early. A very short version goes like this: The wine is made according to quite strict non-intervention principles, and just a little SO2. Also, whole bunches are pressed, and spontaneous fermentation occurs, and it’s kept in big oak vessels and steel. And now in its 2019 vintage it is as alive and “punching” as ever.
Baby Bandito “Keep on Punching” 2019(Testalonga)
Light golden. Aromas of citrus, flowers, yellow apples. A flavourfull wine with light tannin structure and nice acidity.
It’s not often that we present natural wines from this ancient country, but here is a good Greek pét-nat. It’s the Kioutsoukis family, originally from the coast of the Black Sea, that brought the knowledge about winemaking with them to Greece. Now, here in the modern world they completed their conversion to naturals in 2015.
The traditional use of herb sprays are used if necessary, but wine responsible Dmitri Kioutsoukis’ ideal is to use as few treatments as possible.
They own 10 hectares of vineyards in the hills of Mygdonia in Northern Greece, not far from Thessaloniki. They have a strong focus on Greek grape like assyrtiko, malagousia, roditis and xinomavro. In the low hillside an all-year northernly wind secures healthy vineyards. The soils vary from clay-sand to small stones and schist. This slightly off-dry (15 grams) ancestral style sparkler is made from xinomavro and the whites malagousia and assyrtiko.
Kamara Pure Pét’ Nat 2019(Kamara Estate)
Blood orange colour, turbid and quite bubbly. Smell of red berries (raspberry/strawberry), lime, grapefruit and mango. Good acidity, slightly bitter finish that balances the residual sugar.
I met Julien and Angélica at Barcelona’s Vins Nus fair for the first time. (See here.) This time a meeting in Madrid called for a festive start of a wine trip, even though the city itself was calmer than usual due to the coronavirus and the heat. Carlos Campillo at his Cascorro Bistrot never fails to deliver, and Coruña del Conde‘s rosé pét nat was one of his best offers. It was strange to see the Plaza de Cascorro that empty though, and he admittedly said it had been a tough time too.
Back to Coruña del Conde: The vineyards are located on the slopes of Alto Otero, in the village with the same name as the wine company. Coruña del Conde, at a height of around 1.000 meters above sea level. They now have 9 hectares, divided into 36 parcels, in a calcareous clay terrain with a typically continental climate. The viticulture is organic since 2007, no pesticides, only copper and sulphur.
The rosé pét nat is made from 100% tempranillo. After 24 hours of maceration, the grapes are pressed, and fermented in vats without any additions.
Rosadito 2019 (Coruña del Conde)
Light cherry red, a little bubbles. Full of red fruits (raspberry, cherry), some herbs. A little residual sugar and lots of fruit. Very juicy, with a slight texture and a nice natural acidity.
Goyo García Viadero has become one of the most respected winemakers in the natural wine field of Ribera del Duero. I would in fact say that for me these are some of the most inspiring wines of the whole area. And not only the Ribera DO, he also makes wine from Cantabria, from his mother’s birthplace high up in the Picos de Europa. One of these is an amazing, fruit-packed field blend of mencía (red) and palomino (the white sherry grape that is found to a certain extent near the northern coast), called Cobero.
Inspired by natural winemakers, like some from the Jura, Goyo started making his own wines in 2003. Together with his wife he farms small plots in the central part of Ribera, basically field blends with white grapes amongst the red, in varying altitudes and soil types. The focus is thus on the peculiarity of the vineyard rather than the grape varieties themselves. He harvests several times, to get some wine with acidity and some with body, to finally blend it all together. All this is a nod to the past of this area.
As indicated in the beginning, these are minimal-intervention, natural wines. This means fermenting with wild yeast, no additions (almost never SO2), no fining nor filtration. Most wines are raised in old French oak though, in an ancient underground cave in located in Gumiel del Mercado. Add to the story that Gumiel’s Bodegas Valduero is run by his family, with his sister Yolanda as winemaker, and we are a step nearer to a complete picture.
The Joven is his non-oaked red, from a dry-farmed tempranillo vineyard planted some 40 years ago at 860 meters altitude. The grapes are hand-harvested, destemmed and fermented with wild yeasts in steel tank with 3 months of skin-maceration, with little extraction. It’s then raised in tank before being bottled without fining, filtration or any addition of SO2. Don’t be fooled by the word “joven” (young), this wine is as serious and well-made as they come.
Joven de Viñas Viejas2018(Goyo García Viadero)
Dark cherry red. Aroma of dark berries (blackberry, morello), and some wilder red ones too (cranberry), flowers, and some mineral notes (crayon). Quite fleshy in the mouth, with young, elegant tannins, and a vivid acidity. Wonderful drinking now, but will keep.
Food: Lamb, other tasty and light meats, tapas that includes hams and sausages…
A visit at Apotekergaarden, Grimstad on the southern coast of Norway is always a highlight. This is a popular place in every sense of the word, with a fascinating mix of people coming for great natural wine served by manager and sommelier Ida Konradsen, and people coming in from the street for burgers and pizza, served by the staff, some of them really talented. There are also concerts in the backyard during the summer season. We were there last Sunday, when our meal was followed by a gig with Norwegian folk-rock band Valkyrien Allstars. I have played there myself too, in fact it was one of the last things I did before the lockdown in March. A more detailed background to the restaurant you can read here.
On Sunday they made a special plate of Italian cheese and ham, olives and other stuff for us, followed by a main course of duck with a compote of red onion and a burger with spicy mushroom and onion, and on Tuesday we shared various pizzas.
Here are some of the wines, some of them in fact outside the official menu, but generously offered by Ida and the staff.
Foam Somló 2019(Meinklang), Somló, Hungary, made by Meinklang of Burgenland, Austria who owns vineyards on both sides of the border. This is a pét nat from Hungarian grapes hárslevelű and juhfark.
Light golden; aroma of yellow apples, hints of pumpkin and gooseberry; concentrated, with a sweet-irh sensation, inspiring indeed.
Brut Nature Reserva Anne Marie(Castell d’Age), Cava, Catalunya, Spain
A traditional cava from one of the pioneers in organic farming in the Penedès area, named after Anne Marie Onyent, one of today’s leading ladies of the company. The grapes are the three usual cava “suspects”.
Slightly bubbly; fresh and appley; fine natural acidity.
La Croix Moriceau 2018(Complémen’ Terre)
A full and concentrated, mineral muscadet full of character.
Yellow; waxy, with mature apples and white peach; quite full, mineral (chalky), a nice bitterness in the aftertaste.
Palmento 2019 (Vino di Anna), Etna, Sicilia, Italy
Skin-contact wine made from the Sicilian carricante grape in fiberglass tanks.
Golden towards orange; aroma of citrus peel, clementine, apricot, mango; full in the mouth and slightly textured. Not too acid, low alcohol (11,5) and perfect while waiting for the main course.
Light yellow; aromas of apple, citrus (lime), with a mineral touch; rich, with a good acidity and splendid concentration. Superb with the duck plate.
A light, fruity barbera that comes in a full litre bottle (hence the name), made by the producer behind the famous “donkey wine” Asinoi. At best when chilled.
Lght cherry red; light berries (strawberry), herbs; lively in the mouth (slightly pétillant), juicy, with a good natural acidity.
Montesecondo 2018(Montesecondo), Toscana, Italy
Located in the Chianti area, but not always classified as such. This is an entry-level wine, with 2% of trebbiano blended in with the sangiovese. If my memory doesn’t fail me it’s a light vintage for this wine.
Rather light cherry colour, aroma dominated by red berries; juicy and refreshing.
Made from tempranillo grapes in Arnedo in the lower part of Rioja. Not completely natural, but with a low amount of sulphur added.
Dark red; blackberry and spice; full, fresh and fruity.
After a few wines I often like to round it off with a beer, to “stabilize” the stomach that by now feels like full of acidity. So I asked Mathias S. Skjong, the in-house brewer, if he had something special, maybe something personal. So he produced Terje (made by Mathias himself in collaboration with Grimstad’s successful brewery Nøgne Ø and given a wide distribution by them, for the restaurant’s 10 year anniversary. It’s a very very hoppy, citrussy and dry India pale ale. Perfect to round off another good meal at Apotekergaarden.
Jean-Pierre Robinot is for many one of the most classic in the pét-nat style, and his wines are for every producer, call it old or new world, or whatever, to look up to and seek inspiration from.
Robinot used to run one of the very first natural wine bars in Paris called L’Ange Vin, implying that he is from Anjou in the Loire. After deciding that he wanted to make wine himself, and searching all over for vineyards he finally ended up in Chahaignes, Coteaux du Loir, the village he was raised, just north of Saumur.
There he makes many different wines from chenin blanc and pineau d’aunis, some from own vineyards, others from bought-in grapes. Everything is without additions. He makes a number of sparkling wines from the methode ancestral, nowadays mostly called pét-nats.
Fêtembulles is made from chenin blanc, mainly from 60 year old vines in chalky clay and old marine soil. They are located within AOC Jasnières, but the authorities consider the wines to be atypical, so Jean-Pierre label his wines just Vin de France.
The yield is low (20 hl/ha.). It stayed almost a year on the lees, was degorged by hand, and only topped up with more of the same wine. Unfined, unfiltered and without any additions.
Fêtembulles L’Opéra des Vins 2018(Jean-Pierre Robinot)
Golden, light amber, small bubbles. Mature fruits (yellow tomatoes), mature apples, breadcrumbs and flowers. Quite full mouthfeel and lightly textured, very clean, lovely acidity, mature apples, long.
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…
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…
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.