Monday, September 26, 2011

The extremes of natural winemaking

One of the problems of talking about natural wine, as I've said before, is what exactly 'natural' means. Particularly when you have wines as disparate as these two.

On the one hand you have the simply sumptuous Burn Cottage Sauvage Family Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009 (above, £28.50 Les Caves de Pyrène) which tastes exactly like any other Central Otago pinot noir but for, perhaps, an incredible purity of fruit that belies its biodynamic roots. I can't see anyone failing to be won over - unless, perhaps, they find New World wines like this just too opulent and scented. I'd love to taste it in 2-3 years time.

On the other Thierry Puzelat's Le Brin de Chèvre 2009 (£13.80 RS Wines, £13.99 Les Caves de Pyrène) which is one of the weirdest wines I've tasted for a while. When the bottle was first opened the nose was frankly appalling, smelling of shoe polish and slightly rotten fruit and that slightly cidery character that some natural wines get on the palate. We decanted it a couple of times and it improved marginally but took a couple of days to resemble anything vaguely drinkable.

It's possible that it hadn't been kept at a low enough temperature* but it's not the first time I've been underwhelmed by a Puzelat wine. You had to work hard at it to get anything out of it. We certainly wouldn't have served it to friends.

Your whole attitude towards natural wine could be formed by this experience. If the Brin de Chèvre, which is made from the little known Menu Pineau, was the first natural wine you tasted you'd probably never knowingly drink it again. If it was the Burn Cottage you'd never drink anything else but natural. (If you could afford to, that is . . . )

* It came direct from the importer Les Caves de Pyrène but had been hanging around, unrefrigerated, in our flat for a few weeks.


  1. Yes, I think it's important, when introducing people to natural wine for the first time, to choose 'wisely'! I really like the analogy with smelly blue cheese. Imagine offering some blue cheese to people who had never tasted it before in their life: their first reaction would be "Good grief! This cheese is off! Look, it's covered in blue mould, and stinks to high heaven! This is just a marketing ploy to sell defective cheese to an unsuspecting public!"
    So maybe it's better to start with a cheese that's only slightly smelly, and explain what's going on!
    Same applies to natural wines. As you say, there are plenty of natural wines out there that are completely "normal" in aroma and taste. Start with these and then move on out in a voyage of discovery.

  2. Good analogy, Fabio. I often use the coffee one for more extreme tastes. Do you start drinking coffee with a double espresso? No, with a latte or a cappucino