Our Blood is Wine – film review

This recently released documentary is about the revival of ancient winemaking traditions in Georgia, traditions that never disappeared despite suppression by Georgia’s Soviet rulers in the last century. There is now something of a renaissance, riding the wave of enthusiasm for so-called natural wine, and the ancient is now hip.

Georgian winemakers rebuilding their wine cellar. ©EmilyRailsback c/o Music Box Films

The two key people associated with the making of the documentary are its director Emily Railsback, and sommelier Jeremy Quinn, who narrates and features on-screen. Neither Emily nor Jeremy stamp their egos on the project too hard, allowing their subjects plenty of space to take centre-stage. The action meanders across Georgia, introducing us to those involved with small-scale qvevri wine production one way or another, mainly the winemakers themselves and their families, but also potters who make the qvevri, and more-academic experts such as archaeologists and ethnographers.

But even if winemaking is overtly the subject of the documentary, the winemaking details are not delved into too deeply, and that is fair enough in a way I suppose – to concentrate on the technical would be to miss the most essential message of wine’s cultural significance in Georgia. To quote Emily Railsback from the press blurb: “Things don’t always make sense in Georgia, but the hospitality and love that people show each other through eating and drinking is transformative. Jeremy and I had worked in the restaurant industry for years, and never experienced anything remotely similar. My first meal in Tbilisi was at a traditional restaurant where Jeremy was the sommelier. When guests were moved by their food, or by the company of their friends, they would break into song; the deep, heart­‐felt polyphonic song of their ancestors. It brought me to tears. I had never been around a culture that felt their highs and lows so vividly, and in community over toasting and song.”

So far, so good, but I was still left wanting more detail. Was that a qvevri base we saw being made? I thought qvevri bases were thrown, but that one did not seem to be made like that? Where is that archaeological site we visited, where the Soviets sliced the tops off buried qvevri? How did all the wines taste? What, if any, are the links between the people we met? Etc, etc. But maybe those concerns are specific to me – someone who is a bit geeky and already knows a bit about the subject matter, and who is eager to know more. If you are less bothered about that sort of thing, and are prepared just allow the impressions wash over you, I am sure you will get on better with the documentary. Either way, it undeniably gives a good general feel for the country and its culture – wine culture in particular.

If you wish to see the documentary, and are based in the USA, for screenings click on theaters here. The documentary will also be available there on demand (iTunes etc) from 20th March 2018, and on DVD from 22nd May. For more details, and other countries, announcements will be made on the film’s website and Facebook page in the next few weeks.

I was given free access to see it online as a member of the press. More significantly, I must disclose that I am totally biased as, even before seeing the documentary, I was irredeemably enthusiastic about Georgia and these wines 🙂

Update 16/03/18: Here’s a trailer for the film, published as I was writing this post

A tasting of natural qvevri wines from Georgia

A couple of weeks ago we had a Georgian evening at our local tasting group, first tasting the wine, and later drinking it with Georgian food using recipes in the excellent book Tasting Georgia. All wines were purchased directly from Les Caves de Pyrene. Below I quote their standard retail prices, excluding the 10% discount I got for spending more than £200.

They were all natural qvevri wines which, as discussed in my previous post, make up a small percentage of Georgia’s total commercial wine production. They were also made using skin-contact to varying degrees. As this type of wine goes, I think the selection was fairly representative of what is produced in Georgia, with the emphasis on the Rkatsiteli and Saperavi varieties and the Kakheti region.

I thought the wines all showed very well. I have had some of them before, when I did not enjoy them nearly as much. Is this the fickleness of natural wine, or were the previous examples faulty or served at the wrong temperature, or was it just me? Or maybe it was a combination of all those factors? For example, I think I managed this time to hit on a good serving regime, which you might want to reproduce… they were all taken out of my 12°C wine fridge, double-decanted, and then left in my garage at 15°C for one or two hours before serving. On this occasion, they all got at least 5 stars, while Okro’s Rkatsiteli, Iago’s Chinuri and Zurab’s Saperavi particularly impressed with 6 stars. Yes, I know they are very high scores, but I do not pretend to be objective – it was a good evening and I enjoyed the wines. That is the important message to take away. It could be regarded as pay-back time for the occasions when I was not so impressed by the same wines.

Here are my rather sketchy tasting notes for what they are worth, in the order of tasting. Click on the image above for a hi-res view of the labels.

Pheasant’s Tears, Rkatsiteli, Kakheti, 2016, 12.5%, £18.30
From vineyards in Bodbiskhevi, around 3 km South-West of Sighnaghi, in the hills above the plains of the Alazani Valley.
Medium amber. Intense, fresh, phenolic. Honey. Medium low acid. Dry. Orange. Medium low astringency.

Pheasant’s Tears, Rkatsiteli, Kakheti, 2011, 12.3%, £18.20
Also from Bodbiskhevi.
Medium amber. Intense, mature. Medium low acid. Tad cheesy perhaps, but it didn’t put me off. Medium astringency.

Okro’s Wines, Rkatsiteli, 2015, 12.5%, £22.45
Vineyards in Nukriani. Around 3 km from Sighnaghi, but further up in the hills, to the West of the town.
Bright golden amber. Intense, fresh, fragrant. Medium acid. Dry. Gentle, subtle, rounded. Medium low astringency.

Ramaz Nikoladze, Tsitska-Tsolikouri, 2015, 13.0%, £23.55
Blend of two varieties, Tsitska and Tsolikouri. From Nakhshirghele, in Imereti
Medium orange. Slightly sulphurous. Medium high acid. Medium high astringency. Lemony.

Iago’s Wine, Chinuri, 2015, 12.5%, £19.20
Chinuri is the grape variety. 5,000 bottles, from 50 year old vines in the village of Chardakhi, around 20 km North-West of Tbilisi, in the southern part of Mtskheta-Mtianeti.
Medium yellow gold. Medium intense, fragrant. Medium acid. Medium high astringency.

Pheasant’s Tears, Saperavi, Kakheti, 2016, 14.0%, £20.35
This is from Tibaani, around 5 km South-West of Sighnaghi, just above the plains of the Alazani Valley. Tibaani is actually the name of a smallish appellation in Georgia but, as the name is not writ large on the label, I think the claimed appellation is the much larger Kakheti.
Opaque purple. Medium dark fruit. Medium high acid. Medium high astringency. Fresh. Sharp and refreshing.

Zurab Topuridze, Saperavi, 2015, 13.0%, £23.55
From the Guria region, which has a Black Sea coastline.
Medium pale purple. Intense, sweet berry fruit. Medium acid. Gentle, sweet. Subtle, spicy.

Okro’s Wines, Saperavi Budeshuri, 2015, 11.0%, £23.55
Most Saperavi grapes have red flesh, but Budeshuri is a white-fleshed clone. The vineyard is in Manavi, around 40 km West of Sighnaghi, high in the hills, and possibly facing away from the Alazani Valley.
Medium purple. Intense, fresh, sharp black fruit. High acid. Intense on palate too. Medium low tannin. Sharp and tangy.

Some wines from Vinnaturo

They first caught my eye at love + labour’s natural wine tasting at Salut Wines the other week. There were several nondescript pouches of wines sitting on one small table, and it was largely that low-key presentation that piqued my interest. As you might perhaps expect from an importer called Vinnaturo, all these wines are natural – at least organic, and using “low intervention” winemaking. They are all packaged by the company in bag-in-box, bag without box, or keg, with the intention of reducing CO₂ emissions from transportation and keeping costs down. Bag alone is currently how they sell most wines.

I shall leave it to others to consider how appropriate it is for natural wines to be packaged in plastic, but it is fine by me. I do however wonder if the presentation could benefit from being more standardised. The three wines I bought after the tasting had slightly different bags, different labels (click to enlarge the picture and read them), and different label positions. I like the idea of simple design, but this was close to just looking like no one cared. The same applied to the way they were delivered. They came in three separate boxes padded out with mountains of plastic chips and bubblewrap. Any one of the boxes would probably have been large enough to hold all three pouches, and the largest of the three boxes certainly would. The smaller boxes were very flimsy, one with a side torn open, and the tape holding the lid of the larger box was coming off. Doubtless most of the packing was reused, so not contributing further to landfill, and the pouches actually arrived in good condition, but it nevertheless did not give a great impression. For natural wines at least, I believe the presentation of the wines in bag is a USP, and I suppose all I am really saying is that a lot more could be made of it. Perhaps the on-trade is their biggest customer, and they do not care about such things?

While in whinge mode, could I also say I would appreciate vintage information on their website? This does exist on some of the labels, and I would appreciate knowing the vintage, if only so that if I reorder I know I am getting the same wine. I was also looking in vain for best-before dates and advice on how long the bags last after opening. Unless things have improved vastly in the last few years, I know deterioration over a period of months can be an issue with this technology.

Anyway, let’s now get down to the important business – the wines themselves.

At the tasting, I tried all five of the Vinnaturo wines on show. Afterwards bought two of the ones I liked best, and additionally their skin-contact Trebbiano as I thought that sounded interesting. The prices given below are for the 1.5 litre bags I bought. Unless I say otherwise, assume they were tasted after pouring from my wine fridge at 12ºC. Also a quick reminder that my star ratings are for enjoyment at the time of tasting or drinking. Reassuringly, I scored the red wines the same in both locations: the love + labour tasting, and drinking at home. It does not always work out that way!

Vinnaturo, #6, Trebbiano, Skin Contact, IGT Toscana Bianco, Biodynamic, Cosimo Maria Masini, San Miniato (Pisa) Italy, 2016, 12.5%, £22.00
The Vinnaturo website says “straw, earth, floral, apricot, delicate.” My tasting note begs to differ. Medium pale orangey caramel colour. Intense tangy smell of sherry-like oxidation. Possibly an walnut nuttiness. Highish acidty. Bone dry. Low but detectable astringecy. Aromatics as nose. Good but mono-dimensional length. Drink now. Not too unpleasant if you want a simple low-alcohol sherry-like experience. Amontillado I think. Little of the phenolic character and astringency that I woud normally associate with skin-contact wines. I tried later straight out of a normal fridge – it had a very subdued nose, and seemed a little more astringent and refreshing. If it were sold as a “normal” wine I would return it as faulty, but given the usual slack accorded to natural wines I would more politely say it is too dominated by the oxidation **

Vinnaturo, #9, Trepat, Catalonia, Spain, NV, 11.0%, £20.00
This one is supposed to be “wild, without being too crazy” according to the website, and the description is pretty spot on.  Medium pale crimson, with violet edge. Intense and fresh on the nose, and bretty in a band-aid sort of way. Blackberry fruit. Highish acidity, and low but detectable astringency. Intense aromatics very much as nose, but with the sharp blackberry fruit being a lot more dominant. refreshing to the last.  Sharp and bitter finish. An excellent food wine that is difficult to tire of. For me this is the epitome of natural wine. Traditionalist still would not like it, but I could drink a lot *****

Vinnaturo, #4, Tempranillo, Fermented and aged in amphora, Dionysus Agricultura Biologica, Castilla La Mancha, Spain, 2016, 13.5%, £20.00
Spicy and dark but still juice on the website for this one. I’m not sure what still juice means, but yes it is spicy and dark.  Medium ruby colour.  On the nose, medium intense dark fruit with a slightly sweet effect, a fresh slightly vegetal quality, and a touch of spice.  Medium acidity. Medium high astringency, and a tannic bitterness with the dark spicy fruit still showing through. And the fruit comes out more as the wine warms. Bitter finish.  This is altogether a much more serious wine, and if it were in bottle I would say it needed another 5 years or so to show its best. You don’t have to be into natural wine to like this one ****

So, a couple of wines I liked, including one I liked a lot, and one I didn’t like, which could easily be the outcome for a selection of three wines from any merchant. But Vinnaturo is very different in terms of image, and in the way it packages its wines. And despite my niggles, I still have a good feeling about their general approach, and I wish them luck, and hope to see them grow and succeed. Will I buy from them again? I think so – I would really love more of that Trepat.

Wine, ideology and quality

Particularly in recent months this topic has been on my mind a lot, as I have been drinking more natural wines, thinking about them, and listening to what others have to say. I’ve been wanting to write about it for a while, but couldn’t quite find the right angle. I’m still not convinced, but here goes…

I totally understand that people like the idea of organic and biodynamic viticulture – that it is less harmful to the environment and vineyard workers for example, and results in better wine. I certainly do not agree on all points, but I see where they are coming from. Similarly with natural winemaking. Absolutely there are moral issues associated with wine production, and there is also the possibility that more ethical forms may lead to better-tasting end product.

However. I am increasingly getting the impression that the ideological sense of the word good is getting conflated with good as an indicator of quality. For some, if a wine is ideologically good then it tastes good, and if it does not conform to their worldview then it tastes bad. Not merely because ideology and quality are correlated, but almost as a matter of definition. This ideological quality, as I shall call it, has nothing to do with the smell and taste of the wine, its price, the environment in which it is served, or any number of other possible factors, but is almost exclusively dependent on the ideology of how it is produced.

I was being deliberately coy when I wrote “getting the impression that” at the top of the last paragraph, because it is difficult to find direct and unambiguous quotes. But when you hear some people talking about natural wines the implication is clear. The well-known proponents of natural wines may be a little more guarded in what they say, but by the time these ideas filter down to their followers the message can be a lot more blatant. Some really do believe that anything made with zero percent sulphites is delicious and everything else is crap.

Let me be clear that I am very aware that many lovers of natural wines do not espouse this ideological quality. And actually I am not even necessarily criticising those that do – I just find it an intriguing phenomenon that I am struggling to understand. In many ways it would be surprising if ideology did not colour our judgement of quality in a wine, but for me the shocking aspect is how massive the influence can be.

The idea of ideological quality seems at the moment to be most closely associated with the natural wine movement. But it can be broadened. There is for example the excellence of all wines awarded 100 points by [insert name of favourite wine critic here]. If it seems too far-fetched to regard points as being part of an ideology, just remember Parker’s rhetoric about the democratisation of wine. Also, stretching the concept of ideological quality possibly a little too far, some drinkers seem to worship wines only from the classical regions of France, while others make a virtue of drinking wines from more out-of-the-way regions, and from rare grape varieties.

I absolutely don’t want to tell you which wines you should like, and why. But I do firmly believe we should develop a greater awareness of why we like the wines we do. In that awareness lies the route to greater vinous enjoyment.

Natural wines – my two penn’orth

Firstly, let’s take a look at what natural wine actually is. While the term is not standardised, and there is no universal agreement on how it should be used, the principle is clear: it is used for wines made with minimal intervention. So in principle, the grapes are grown with no artificial fertilisers or pesticides, and in the winemaking nothing is added to the grapes or removed, and there is no new-fangled winery technology. Here are some of the more important practices that distinguish natural from more conventional winemaking:

  1. No chemical-factory vineyard treatments, apart from the traditional sulphur and copper sulphate
  2. No bought-in yeasts
  3. Minimal additions of sulphur in the winery, or none at all
  4. No chaptalisation or acidification
  5. Minimal fining and filtering, or none at all

So far, so unremarkable. But of at least equal importance is that natural wine has become something of a movement, with hip winemakers, jazzy wine labels with provocative names, and trendy natural wine bars, riding the wave of concern for the environment and free-from foods. All this has ruffled the feathers of more conservative members of the wine establishment, who poo-poo natural wines, pointing out that they are the faulty products of poor winemaking.

I present all of the above with no comment. I just want to give an impression of what natural wines are, and how they have polarised opinion, in some circles at least. Now for the two penn’orth from me. From my experience with wines that are marketed as natural, they do seem to have distinctive flavour profiles. That factor alone is for me a big positive. Unless a wine style threatens to kill off other ones, and that is hardly yet the case with natural wine, it only serves to offer choice – no one is forced to drink natural wine. I personally would definitely chose to do so, occasionally at least, if only for the additional fun it contributes to my wine-drinking. And if you want to do it as a life-style choice, well there are worse options.

With natural wine being so vaguely defined, and also allowing for all the different grapes varieties, wine regions and producers, you will understand there is quite a lot of variation between natural wines. I agree to an extent with some of their detractors about wine faults – I think natural wines do tend to show off-flavours more commonly than conventional wines. But such wines are still in the minority, and I am of the view that these so-called faults are generally a good thing because they add interest. Or to put it another way, if I like a wine I do not care that other people chose to say it is faulty.

Without wanting to generalise, other features you might find in red natural wines are sharpness, astringency and vibrant fruit. The whites often suggest apple to me. Yes, sometimes the over-ripe apple flavours of oxidation, but crunchy fresh apples more often than not. They can also often gain interesting leesy characteristics from the sediment. And look out for the orange wines, much beloved of some natural wine producers, with their phenolic flavours and often high astringency. If you are old enough to remember carbolic soap, you might think the phenolic nature of these wines is a nod in that direction. Don’t let it put you off though, as it will be the merest of nods. Natural wines can also just taste like, er, well, wine – the common or garden unnatural stuff.

Another objection is that natural winemaking obliterates terroir and varietal typicity, with the result that it all tastes alike. We can right away knock on the head the idea that all natural wines taste alike: they simply do not. And to the extent that some wines might seem to taste similar, could it possibly be that we have not yet allowed our palates to tune into the styles? As a community, wine enthusiasts have invested a lot of time learning to spot more-or-less subtle differences in conventional wines. I suggest that natural wines need a bit more consideration before we declare that there is no terroir and varietal typicity. We might have to accept that they have different types of typicity, but is that so bad? Even if they turn out to have no typicity whatsoever, is it really such a disaster?

I actually have a suspicion that some aspects of natural wines are only indirectly related to their so-called natural methods of production, for example that the sharpness and astringency is actually due to harvesting the grapes when they are less ripe. So we might eventually find conventional wines changing to mimic natural ones. If I am honest, I think I would like that to happen. Even if I like natural wines themselves, there is a lot of ideology in the natural wine movement I do not get along with. This is exemplified by the use of the word natural itself, as if somehow natural wine makes itself and is uniquely healthful, all other wines being industrial chemical abominations. Of course, the truth is much more nuanced.

Afros in Vinho Verde

This visit was organised as part of the 2012 Port Explorer’s Tour I introduced in an earlier post.  If you are already wondering what Afros has to do with Port, congratulations for spotting that!  Really the only relationship is that Vinho Verde, the region of Quinto do Casal do Paço where Afros wine are produced, is geographically very close to Porto.  This was the “and now for something completely different” moment of the tour, and one I was looking forward to.

We started off by surveying Casal do Paço’s vineyards.  The weather was not great.  It was cold and we did a lot of shower-dodging, but the soft light, with occasional rainbow, was very photogenic.

Vasco Croft, the producer and our generous host, was obviously very proud of the biodynamic viticulture employed at Casal do Paço and we were shown the specially constructed wooden hut, away from power lines, where the biodynamics preps were made. Initially, all the preparations were made from scratch here and hand-stirred, but as the business grew they now need to buy in some raw materials and employ an electric mixer.

And just outside the hut was a fountain “designed by an English scientist”, which pre-dynamises the water used for the preps, by way of a series of vortices.  At this point I am tempted to launch into one of my anti-biodynamic rants.  I am not going to, but I will say that I don’t believe a word about anything that biodynamics layers on top of organic agriculture.

Anyway, enough of all this biodynamics.  We headed slowly back to the main building for a tasting and lunch. En route we passed the mobile bottling line that was in operation at the time, but saw nothing of the winemaking itself. Inside and warmed-up, we started with a standing-up tasting, and then sat down to lunch with the wines and opened a few more bottles. And what a fantastic, long and relaxed lunch it was. My description here does not do it justice, but the first course was based around some wonderfully meaty prawns, the mains was wild boar with a honey coating, which was followed by a chocolate and olive oil mousse-type dessert. It was certainly one of my favourite meals of the trip – but then I did have a lot of favourite meals!

Here is Vasco at the table while we were waiting for lunch to be served.

Finally, the wines. Some of these wine used the “Aphros” spelling on the label – this is used to avoid the hair-style connotations that “Afros” might have in the USA.  Note that all the wines were from the Lima sub-region of Vinho Verde, and Loureiro and Vinhão are the white and red grape varieties used for these wine.  Where available, I have given approximate UK retail prices.

Afros, Ten, Vinho Verde, Loureiro, Branco, 2011, 12%
Watery green. Intense, fresh, floral and lemon. Medium high acidity. Soft and creamy. Excellent length. Drink now ****

Afros, Daphne, Vinho Verde, Loureiro, Branco, 2011, 12%
This has some skin maceration. Watery green. Intense, fresh, floral and lemon. Medium high acidity. Reminded me a little of red lips sweets. Excellent length ****

Afros, Vinho Verde, Loureiro, Branco, 2009, 12%, £13.00  
Watery green. Intense.  Petrol, lemon, peach. Not overpowering.  Medium high acid. Soft on the palate. Excellent length ****

Afros, Espumante de Vinho Verde, Loureiro, Reserva, 2008, 12%
Pale green. Intense.  Fresh, yeasty.  Medium acidity.  Soft and light. Excellent length *****

Afros, Vinho Verde, Vinhão, Tinto, 2009, 12.5%, £13.00
Opaque purple. Intense sweet dark fruit. Medium high acid. Low tannin. Slightly frizzante?  Drink now ****

Afros, Silenus, Vinho Verde, Vinhão,  2009, 13.5%
Aged in barriques.  Opaque purple.  Crispy bacon. Medium high acid. Low tannin. Drink now ****

Afros, Espumante de Vinho Verde, Vinhão, Super Reserva, 12%
NV, but this was from 2005 and 2008. Intense purple ruby.  Intense funky dark fruit.  Medium acid. Dry. Drink now ***

I am afraid some of the details of the wines got a bit hazy towards the end, but I think I have them right.  We were also offered a fortified red at the end of the meal, but if I remember correctly this was not commercially available.

Overall, I was very impressed by these wines.  What I remember best after several weeks were the white wines.  These were not recognisable as the cheap and cheerful Vinho Verde that I remember from the UK.  But neither were they like the intense and searing Vihno Verde Alvarinho variants that I enjoyed a few times in Porto on this trip.  The memory that lingers is one of soft, subtle and nuanced wine – a bit like the image of the vineyards at the top of this post.

Natural Wines from Les Caves de Pyrène

Less than a week after wine lovers daarn saaf were enjoying RAW and The Natural Wine Fair, a few of us oop north were doing our bit to better understand what natural wines have to offer.  My methodology was to ask Les Caves de Pyrène to suggest a mixed case for a tasting, leaving them to define the term how they wanted and send me a representative sample.  These wines were not review samples, but paid for in the normal way – in this case, effectively by the local tasting group I belong to.  In addition to the wines tasted and described below, the Occhipinti 2011 Bianco and Rosso were also suggested and purchased.

We kicked off with five whites. The empties are shown above on our 100% herbicide-free lawn.

Vernaccia di San Gimignano, Imprompta, Mattia Barzaghi, 2010, 12.5%, £10.73
Pale straw. Intense, fresh, floral. Yoghurt. Medium high acid. Dry. Clean and refreshing. Excellent length. Drink now. Very pleasant. A solid ***

Val du Loire, Sauvignon, Hervé Villmade, 2011, 13.0%, £9.65
Pale gold. Intense.  Ashtray – in a positive way! Fresh. Hoppy aromatics. Medium acid. Dry. Gooseberry. Subtle. Excellent length. Incense-like woodiness. Drink now ****

Vin de Savoie, Les Alpes, Gringet, Dominique Belluard, 2010, 12.0%, £14.63
Medium pale gold. Intense and full. Apple. Banana. Medium acid. Dry. Excellent length. Caramel. Drink now ****

Montlouis sur Loire, Minéral+, Un Saumon dans la Loire, 2011, 13.0%, £13.67
Medium pale gold. Over-ripe apple – oxidised. Medium acid. Flat, and lacking fruit. Drink now **

Chablis, À Chablis, Le Vendangeur Masqué, 2010, 13.0%; £14.87
Medium pale gold. Vaguely citrus. Medium high acid. Dry. Apply too. Fresh and tingly. Drink now ***

Then we moved onto the reds. These were also double-decanted not long before the tasting to take the wine off all sediment I was expecting from these possibly unfined and unfiltered wines. It turned out there was very little sediment.

Beaujolais, Yvon Métras, 2010, 12.0%, £14.45
Medium pale ruby. Intense fresh red fruit. Juicy fruit. Pinot Noir nose.  Medium+ acid. Excellent length. Low tannin. Drink now ****

Saumur Champigny, Domaine des Roches Neuves, 2011, 13.0%, £11.03
Intense purple ruby. Intense fresh blackberry. Medium high acidity. Low tannin. Fresh and juicy. Excellent length. Drink now ***

Côtes du Rhône, Les Romanins, Domaine Ferme Saint-Martin, 2010, 13.5%, £9.41
Medium purple ruby. Baby nappies and cheese – again in a positive way! Some red fruit too. Medium high acid. Rather nice. Elegant. Subtle. Excellent length. Drink now ****

Coteaux de Langedoc, Montpeyroux, Domaine d’Aupilhac, 2009, 14.0%, £13.43
Intense purple. Intense dark fruit. Oak. Medium acid. Medium low tannin. Drink now. A rather conventional wine ***

Cannonau di Sardegne, Mamuthone, Guiseppe Sedilesu, 2009, 14.5%, £15.47
Intense purple ruby. Intense raisiny. Slightly oxidised.  Medium+ acid. Rather nice and elegant. Medium high tannin. Refreshing. Fantastic length. Good to drink now but will probably improve over the next years.  Maybe I was over generous, but as this wine made the biggest impression on me, it gets *****

Polishing off the remains the following evening confirmed to me that the Loire Sauvignon and the Vin de Savoie were my favourite whites.  And the fact that all the reds apart from the Côtes du Rhône disappeared on the night of the tasting shows which wines were the most popular amongst the whole group!

As far as I can make out, all of these wines were made from organic or biodynamic grapes, fermented by ambient yeasts, and with minimal sulphur additions. All labels bore the “contains sulphites” text, but that could required for the low levels of sulphur that result solely from the fermentation process.

I did not experience any of the natural wine horror stories occasionally mentioned by others – everything we tasted was recognisably wine, and definitely not slightly fizzy cloudy cider.  The only faulty bottle was the Mountlouis, and to be fair there were those at the table who enjoyed that too.  The Côtes du Rhône was a tad bretty, but for me it was at a level that added to rather than diminished the overall experience.  Oh, and there was one wine (can’t remember which one) that had obviously undergone some secondary fermentation in the bottle as it let off a fizz when I opened it, and was initially a bit spritzy, but by the time we got round to tasting it all signs of pettilance had gone.  Really, I don’t think the absence of faults was too surprising in that I suspect the winemaking was not that different from the vast majority of what I would consider to be good wines.

Generally speaking, the wines seemed to go down well at the tasting.  One comment I got was that the wines were “gentle” – no hard edges.  I certainly thought they were enjoyable, but I was not sure about the idea propounded by some that natural wines allow the terroir (or the grape variety, depending on who you speak to) to shine through.  I was getting a lot of flavours that I am feeling were probably due mainly to the natural fermenation.  If we had tasted blind, I would have struggled more than usual to identify varieties and regions.  That certainly has a positive side – if I had to trade typicity for interest, I would go for interest most of the time.  But even I sometimes like to know what to expect when I open a bottle.