Thursday, December 2, 2010

Tasting with Kate Thal of Green & Blue

I’ve known Kate Thal for a good while now but it’s taken the fact that she’s into natural wines to get me down to her south London shop and wine bar Green and Blue.

Thal estimates that 48% of the wines she sells are organic or biodynamic and 20% of those natural which she defines as wines produced with natural yeasts, no or very low levels of sulphur, just at bottling and no new oak (“very important - new oak is not a natural flavour”) She’d like it to be nearer 60%.

She agreed with me that exposure to natural wines changes your tastebuds. “There’s no going back once you’re a convert but I can’t think of anything I’d rather be converted to.”

Here are the seven wines she showed me:

Pétillant Naturel 2006 Thierry Puzelat (£16.35)
I’m never totally convinced by Puzelat’s wines and this was no exception. Odd, cidery nose which smelt as if the wine was still fermenting but a much more attractive palate with rich, peachy Chenin-type fruit (in fact it was an obscure variety called Menu Pineau) Fresh acidity - very pure and clean (though see note below*)

Skeveldra Sancerre 2008 Sebastien Riffault £25.50
Save for the steely acidity and terrific minerality on the finish this is not a Sancerre that most people would recognise but it was a luscious wine - rich, peachy and apricotty (the grapes are picked quite late). Totally unsulphured, made in an oxidative style in open-top fermenters “What wine used to taste like” said Thal. My favourite wine of the tasting.

La Cuisine de ma Mère Chinon Rosé 2009, Domaine Grosbois £14.35
Very pretty delicate, dry Cabernet Franc-based rosé with a pure strawberry flavour. Very refreshing - the essence of summer. “A proper rosé” said Thal who imports the wine as an exclusive

Monte di Grazia Rosso, Campania 2007 £15.75
Made from Tintore di Tramonte and Pedrirosso - two of Campania’s 40 native grapes (there used to be 400, Thal told me) naturally farmed and trained on a pergola which you can see here. No new oak. Natural yeasts. Really meaty and savoury on the nose, dark, dense hedgerow fruits and sour cherries with a lovely fresh acidity. We reckoned it would go well with pigeon and other feathered game.

Rioja Rayos Uva 2009 Olivier Rivière £14.50
An untypical Rioja made by a French winemaker who worked with Marcel Lapierre. No oak. Recognisably Rioja on the palate though lacks that characteristic Rioja sweetness and mellowness. Very pure fruit but a little one-dimensional for this price.

Le Casot des Mailloles, La Poudre d’Escampette Vin de Table £20.50
A blend of Grenache, Carignan and Syrah made by Alain Castex in Banyuls. Incredibly luscious, sumptuously ripe but not remotely jammy fruit. It can be inconsistent, according to Thal. “When it’s in a sulky mood it can get quite animal and savoury not show its true character* but it has incredible energy.”

Les Foulards Rouges Glaneuses 2008 Jean-Francois Nicq £18.35
A bright intensely fruity blend of grenache and syrah from the Roussillon with a lifted, slightly floral note that reminded me of a Beaujolais cru. Controversially it’s made at a low temperature (12-13°) which some regard as an unnatural winemaking practice but there’s no sulphur and no filtration. Delicious though would benefit from being lightly chilled.

Thal runs regular wine tastings at the shop, some of which are dedicated to natural wine “but in every tasting I try to shoehorn one in because the wines need explaining”. The shop is in Lordship Lane, about 8 minutes walk from East Dulwich station (catch a train from London Bridge) or by bus from Victoria.

She also has a very useful video explaining natural wine on her website

One of the most interesting aspects of the tasting - or rather its aftermath - was that the Puzelat Petillant and the Casot de Maiolles didn’t show as well when I took the opened bottles back to my son Will’s house nearby - the Pet Nat tasting more cidery, and the Casot de Maiolles, sharper and less fruity. Possibly they'd been affected by the short taxi ride? Have you found this at all?


  1. Very much my experience, Fiona. Taxis, like new oak, are not natural. Public transport, where available, is much to be preferred.

    Seriously though, an ullaged bottle of a no SO2 wine sloshing about in a car is going to have its fruit knocked around, I guess. Maybe always best straight from the demi-john.

  2. Interesting video and Green & Blue looks worth a visit even though it's quite a way from West London.
    Two thoughts. In the Languedoc many "natural" wine makers will invariably say their objective is to express the terroir and believe that pure fruit wines is a way to do this. From Kate's video this doesn't seem to be the objective everywhere, but that's probably Kate trying to keep the message simple.
    Secondly, one crux of all this is the addition of sulphur on bottling. It would be interesting for a grower who's wines have been found to be a bit cidery to do different batches bottled with zero and a little (or varying degrees) of sulphur - this will enable some benchmark tasting to take place.

  3. When we visited the late great Marcel Lapierre a couple of years ago he did show us samples of his wine with and without sulphur. No huge difference but of course they hadn't travelled at that point.

  4. I liked the video. She's very softly spoken, explains clearly and best of all she didn't do the whole sip/slurp/spit thing as it's not good TV at all.

    I can't stand people slurping and spitting in front of the camera.

  5. Can be offputting, I agree. Especially the spitting!