Tuesday, May 17, 2011
I’ve spend a good part of the last two days at the Natural Wine Fair and frankly would have spent a third if I hadn’t got so much else on. It’s going to take a few days to pull together the highlights but here are a few immediate thoughts.
Natural wine is a broad church
The fair should have finally blown the myth that all natural wines are cloudy and cidery. There were wines of every description there from the utterly conventional to the wild and whacky. Something for everyone in other words. It was also fascinating to see how different the French and Italian approaches to winemaking were and how even a single winemaker could make wines in a number of different styles (the much derided Sébastien Riffault (above) comes to mind)
It arouses a lot of antipathy
Yes, still, judging by the talk by American wine writer Alice Feiring (below) and what I gather was an even edgier panel discussion on natural wine in restaurants. People get extraordinarily het up about natural wine for reasons I don’t fully understand. Does anyone get furious about the presence in shops of unpasteurised cheeses or castigate someone who likes a runny Brie or a stinky Epoisses?
Sceptics regard natural wine fans, I suspect, as bandwagon-jumpers, unable to identify a wine fault when it hits them in the face. Natural wine fans regard sceptics as blinkered and narrow-minded, expecting all wine to conform to an accepted paradigm. A gulf that shows no sign of being bridged at present.
Consumers seem to be ahead of the trade in this respect
Judging by the turnout of over 800 on the public day, the public have fewer issues with natural wine than the trade. Considering it was the first natural wine fair and not advertised in the national press I thought that was an impressive turnout. Maybe we all need to tiptoe less gingerly around natural wines and shouldn’t feel the need to ‘explain’ them.
Natural winemakers are not afraid of tannin . . .
Again, against conventional wisdom which says all reds must be rendered soft and fruity. The Italians in particular produce wines that are unabashedly tannic. Maybe because they wouldn’t dream of drinking them without food
. . . or colour
Ever seen a Pinot Grigio like this?
Or labels like these?
. . . or afraid of a little sly humour
I love the punning labels like this Boisson Rouge from Emile Heredia of Domaine de Montrieux (a pun on the French poisson rouge, the name for a goldfish). Delicious wine, actually
Natural wines are fun to drink
Maybe it was the outdoor - or partially outdoor - location and the fact that it didn’t rain but there was a really festive feel about the whole event. Just people enjoying wine and discovering new flavours. Isn’t that what wine is supposed to be about?
And just as a footnote and a sign of the times: I spotted one of Marks & Spencer's wine buyers at the fair on both days. Straw in the wind . . .