I just spent an enjoyable afternoon learning about “Natural” wines with Kathryn O’Mara of Artisan & Vine and in the pleasant company of Denise Medrano (aka The Wine Sleuth) and Andrew Barrow (of Spittoon.biz).
Natural wine, according to Kathryn, are ones truly ‘made in the vineyard’. Whilst many winemakers might make this claim, Kathryn has selected wines that take this to the extreme. Kathryn’s challenge was to dedicate her wine bar to selling wine with a truly unique story and a dedication to their source.
Artisan & Vine’s wine list is made up almost entirely with wines that are organic or biodynamic, made in small volumes, with indigenous yeasts, many would no sulfur added (others with the smallest amount at bottling), and all of them by winemakers who she feels really believe in making the best wines possible.
If that is gobbledygook to you, don’t worry, it is for most people, including the wine trade. Essentially, these are wines made with the minimum of “extra” anything – just crushed grapes and nature. Most wines, like any other product, are made with certain additives that help to control the process and ensure a consistent outcome. That’s good for the consumer (you get ‘proper’ wines every time) and the winery (they ensure they have wines to sell). However, there are some who feel that this changes the wine and that if you want to taste the real flavours of the grape, the region and of nature, then you must limit ANY manipulation. In general, that’s just bonkers (we’d never have enough wine of an acceptable quality).
However, whilst one can argue the case for wineries in general to be more consumer-focused and aware of wine drinkers preferences around the world, the world would be a poorer place without dedicated mavericks challenging those tastes and broadening our experiences. So it is with wine bars.
The highlights of the tasting for me were the rich Pouilly-Vinzelles, La Soufrandiere 2006 (a Chardonnay from Burgundy), and Clos Milan 2001 from Baux de Provence (a blend of Grenache and Syrah). What amazed me was the concentration of the flavours, yet a very clean finish. Maybe there is something to this ‘natural’ wine after all?
The other wines were also full of personality, amazingly different, and really made me want to explore them further. These were highly unusual wines, such as the Tir a Blanc, Le Casol de Mailloles (which reminded me of wild flowers and cider) and the Contadino #5 (ripe berry flavours, smoky, pungent and something distinctly ‘volcanic’ – it is grown on Mount Etna). Whilst I may not recommend these to everyone, they are something you need to try if you like wine and want to expand your horizons.
That is what I look for in a wine list.
The pricing is fair, though not necessarily cheap, with reasonable mark ups for better quality wines. I encourage you to make the trip to St. John’s Hill, Clapham, SW11 and explore them yourself.
So, …Q: Do I think most wine drinkers care whether their wine is “Natural”? A: No!
Q: Do I think most wine drinkers care whether they buy wines from passionate people, made by people who are truly committed to their wines?