One of the best trends in the wine world over the past decade has been the emergence of bespoke wine bars. These innovative establishments are attracting a younger clientele and offering their talented owners and sommeliers an opportunity to introduce drinkers to an exciting array of new, innovative wines rarely encountered in your average bottle shop.
Certainly the growing interest in natural wines is due in part to the proliferation of wine bars in the trend-setting capitals of Paris, London and New York. In each of these cities, you will now find several wine bars which focus almost exclusively on natural wines.
Not that the labels on the wines necessarily announce the wines as ‘natural’. As far as I can tell, no-one has come up with a precise definition for natural wine. Rather, the term tends to signal boutique wines made with minimum intervention (eg. fermentation with wild yeasts and only a minimal amount of sulphur dioxide added just prior to bottling).
Last week Knox introduced a group of sommeliers and wine critics to some of his top natural wine picks. His choices ranged from the crisp aromatic, medium-bodied Coal River Valley Domaine Simha Rani Riesling 2013 – a delightful biodynamic Tasmanian wine made by Burgundy trained vigneron Nav Singh, to the bone dry Casa Coste Piane Valdobbiadene Prosecco - cloudy in appearance because it’s one of the few Proseccos made in the traditional Champagne method where the second fermentation happens naturally in the bottle, but in this case with no disgorgement prior to release.
While natural wine makers may eschew the use of additives and sophisticated technological manipulation of their wines, they are not afraid to embrace novel winemaking practices, at least by 21st century industry standards! We tried the beautifully perfumed, complex Brash Higgins 2013 NDV Nero d’Avola from McLaren Vale, which was fermented and aged on its skins for six months in locally made 200 litre bees-wax lined clay amphorae.
Interestingly, the practice of fermenting wines in amphorae was revived by one of the natural wine movement’s most famous practitioners – Friuli-Venezia Guilia’s Josko Gravner. The Ancient Romans used amphorae to ferment their wines and in fact the practice has continued for the past 5,000 years in the Caucuses. Gravner, whose Collio hills vineyards in North East Italy straddle the Slovenia border, imports his amphorae from Georgia.
Like Gravner, Brash Higgins’ winemaker Brad Hickey believes that the long fermentation on skins and seeds, facilitated by the use of amphorae, allows the wines to express as much as the vineyard as possible.
Perhaps the most intriguing wine in the tasting, the Mornington Peninsula’s T’Gallant Claudius 2008, was also fermented in amphorae. The Claudius is an unusual blend of chardonnay (46%), traminer (45%) and moscato giallo (9%), co-fermented on skins for seven months in amphorae – an approach that T’Gallant’s winemaker Kevin McCarthy says was inspired Josko Gravner’s use of red wine techniques for his white wines!
Bottled without filtration, the wine has a golden hue and is cloudy in appearance. The stone fruit flavours of the chardonnay are complemented with some typical red wine flavours like plums and currants, and accented with eastern spices. The long maturation on skins gives the wine great palate length and a slightly silky texture. It’s a wine that really needs food to be fully appreciated, and Knox thought it would work beautifully with a cheese and mushroom souflee!
If you’re looking to try something unique and are willing to tantalise your taste buds with at times unexpected aromas and flavours, then don’t overlook the opportunity to try a natural wine.