herald

Tuesday 16 January 2018

Jury's still out on natural selection

A word that wine drinkers are going to hear more of in the next year or so is 'natural'. The natural wine movement is on the march. The UK has staged its inaugural Natural Wine Fair and others will follow in its wake.

What is 'natural wine'? Good question. At the minute there is no universally accepted definition, nor any certification. The movement originated in the 1970s, initially in the Loire -- the cradle of much of wine's eccentricity -- the brainchild of a loosely affiliated group of small-scale producers, who believed that modern wine was too processed for its own good. These latter-day zealots rail against additives such as tartaric acid, powdered tannins, grape juice concentrates; against cultivated yeasts; against the preservative, sulphur dioxide.

Harvesting by hand is de rigueur. Their credo is 'minimum intervention'. Most of these winemakers make wines by organic or biodynamic methods though many lack certification.

Of course, it's possible to nitpick; I mean, how 'natural' are stainless steel tanks? At the same time it's maybe unfair to poke fun at a movement specifically created to discourage jiggery-pokery.



Damascus

Natural wine is catching on, for sure, and many wine writers and critics are now committed to the cause. I haven't yet experienced my 'road to Damascus' moment.

Most of the natural wines I've sampled tasted very different to . . . 'unnatural wines'. (Oops, there's one of the root problems. Do all wines that do not declare themselves to be 'natural' get stigmatised as 'not natural' or 'unnatural'?)

I can see trouble brewing; there is already a noisy 'militant wing' who clutch every opportunity to diss the kind of wines we've been drinking and loving for years.

One British critic cited the difference as being akin to that between cheese made from pasteurised milk and cheese from unpasteurised milk "where the farmer knows the cows". This is clearly spurious. There are many excellent cheeses made from pasteurised milk on farms where the milker is on first named terms with Daisy, Betsy and Blossom.

France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Hungary, Spain, Chile, the US, Australia and New Zealand all exhibit examples of natural wine. There are natural wine bars proliferating in Paris, New York, Tokyo and London. How long, I wonder, before we see one in Dublin?

I keep trying to write an article about rose but the weather this summer has somewhat put me off. One of my favourites, Domaine de Pellehaut Harmonie de Gascogne 2009 (above, Mitchell & Son, €9.95) made from Merlot, Tannat, both Cabernets and Syrah, is an intense, ripe, red fruit salad, a cornucopia of strawberries, raspberries, red and black currant that most will adore.

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