Learning about wine for me, is an ongoing thing. Because I will never know it all when it comes to wine, probably ever, as there is so much to discover behind every winery, vine, winemaker, vineyard and grape.
So a few months ago I hopped on an Amtrak train early in the morning for the 4-hour trip from Vancouver south to Seattle, in order to attend the “Slow Wine 2017 Tasting” put on by the Slow Food Guide who also has a Slow Wine Guide (an important marketing organization celebrating sustainability, minimal intervention, cellar practices, environmental impact and respect of employees and the market). I expected a room full of unique and different natural wines and a great way to talk with the winemakers, learn and taste what their wines were all about. And… it was a fantastic afternoon of tasting everything from crazy rustic farmer wine to finessed and elegant wine that you would never realize was natural.
So, do you know what natural wines are? Here’s the easiest way I can explain it… think back to hundreds of years ago when wine was made in the 19th century. They didn’t have the enhanced knowledge that we do today or the demand, therefore they used the simplest techniques to produce wine. Simple farming, no chemicals, no sugar (for the dry wines), no addition of wood chips, no filtering and no fining agents (however between the 1800’s and 1900’s as winemakers became more knowledgeable, they began using animal proteins, egg whites, bentonite clay, gelatine and even charcoal to fine their wine). Wine was just wine back then, naturally fermented with wild yeast, bottled and enjoyed. So think of natural wine in this way, it’s a simple and old-school practice but with the creative skill of todays winemakers.
And natural wines are making a comeback (so to speak). People are choosing not just to eat with integrity (choosing free range, knowing the producers, organic, etc) but are choosing to drink wine with the same intention too. And it’s because of this that we are seeing more natural wines being distributed. Wine stores and restaurants are wanting them on their menu.
Here are just a few of the wines I tried while at the Slow Wine Tasting…
Contratto in Piedmont, Italy since 1967.
They made a fun and lively Metodo Classico Rosé for England 2011. Made from Pinot Nero. With 4 years on the lees, a citrus acidity, with toasty notes and a hint of minerals. It’s no wonder it used to be the official sparkling wine of the Vatican!
Felsina in Tuscany, Italy. Refined and elegant chianti with their Berardenga 2011, Rancia 2012 and Fontalloro 2012 (available in North America). This winery is well-known so I was pleasantly surprised to know they were apart of Slow Wine.
Biocantina Giannattasio in Puglia, Italy. They made a rosé and red wine from the native grape (only in Puglia!) Nero di Troia. The Rosé was light and approachable but had lots of character. The red was dusty with ripe black cherry with nice acidity and tannin to balance. If you are every lucky to try this while visiting Italy – DO, as you won’t find it here in North America.
Benanti in Sicily, Italy.
This is a small production winery (which is typical for natural wineries). They made Etna Bianco Benanti 2014 made from Carricante which is grown just in the Mt.Etna area. It offered loads of minerals, lime and acidity which was juicy and not searing. It was soft yet crisp. Their Etna Rosso Benanti 2014 was a blend of native grape Nerello Mascalese and the local (unknown origin) grape Nerello cappuccino. Chewy tannins, pity, mineral (always common to Sicilian wines) yet juicy and slightly tart. What fun wines!
Tabarrini in Umbria, Italy.
I tried their white blend Adarmando 2015 of Trebbiano and Spoletino (from 110 year old vines wrapped around a maple tree and produce 8-9000 bottles). It was slightly waxy with lots of acidity, crisp, unripe and crunchy on the palate with white peach notes. The red was Montefalco Rosso Boccatone 2013 made from Sangiovese, Barbara and Sagrantino which received 90 points. Sagrantino in a blend or on its own is a must try!
Vinica from Molise, Italy was for sure the crazy hippie farmers! ALL natural, simple, not fined. They had Molise Tintilia Lame del Sorbo 2013 was herbaceous on the nose, savoury with grippy tannins, they now use the practice of carbonic maceration (which is no surprise). This wine can only be found in Molise as it’s an indigenous grape. Riesling Lame Del Sorbo 2015 smelled of dirty socks and cabbage, it had nice acid but I couldn’t get past those notes. And Trebbiano Altre Terre 2015 an orange wine (white wine left on the skins during fermentation) which was totally corked on the nose but past that was juicy with red delicious apple.
Damijan Podversic from Gorizia, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Italy near the Slovenian border. One of my favourite finds! Making Orange wines that were elegant and approachable. Nekaj 2012 was 100% Friulano orange wine, it was aromatic, organs bitters, juicy, soft tannins , they use indigenous yeast and 60-90 days on the skins. Nekaj means “something”. It was the most elegant “orange” wine I have every tasted. Bianco Kaplja 2012 was a blend of Chardonnay, Friulano and Malvasia. More power and muscles, linear with minerals, very elegant. Kaplja means “drop”. Ribolla Gialla 2012 was aromatic with a hint of liquorice, dusty and juicy. Very cool.
Valdonica in Tuscany Italy in the south near Sienna.
A new winery making wines from spontaneous fermentation who definitely have niche and wine geek style wines but that are refined and elegant. Arnaio 2013 of Sangiovese it was pretty and nutty with juicy acidity with notes of ripe cherry, liquorice and strawberry, very approachable. Think rainy day at the farm with a warm pasta. Maremma Toscana Vermentino Ballarino 2013 is an orange wine with 6 weeks on the skins. Soft, a bit pretty with nice acidity, it’s a niche wine for the wine geek for sure. Pair this with a spicy curry. Toscana Rosso Saragio 2012 of Sangiovese relies on spontaneous fermentation and has an extended time on the skins, it was spicy, dusty with minerals, and tannins that linger. A refined natural Sangiovese.
Other favourite finds: Serése Manzoni Bianco (so delicious) from Cascina Belmonte; Langhe Nebbiolo 3 Utin 2014 from Ciabot Berton; Abruzzo Pecorino Giocheremo Con i Fiori 2015 from Torre dei Beati; Nebbiolo Spumante Brut Rosé from Casina Bric a delicious sparkling Nebbiolo; and the indigenous grape Schioppettino Dei Frutti Rossi 2010 from Ronc Soreli.
As I’ve said many times, wine is a wine makers canvas to share their creativity. So explore more natural wines and their uniqueness. Get the newest edition of the Slow Wine Guide 2017 – available through Apple App Store or visit their website www.slowfood.it for your own printed copy.
Here are just a few fantastic wine bars to visit, featuring some of the best natural wines out there: Ten Bells in New York City; L’Oursin in Seattle; Burdock & Co. in Vancouver; and here’s a great list from Punch for where to drink in Paris. Happy Researching!