Monday, 6 June 2011
Here in the UK there seems to be a big fuss at the moment about natural wines – strange, really, given that natural wine bars are already quite commonplace in France. Perhaps it's because wine is much more inherent to French culture and proximity to wine regions allows these potentially fragile wines to be served in more favourable conditions. ('Natural wine' is an unregulated term, but suggests that the wine has been made with minimal intervention and low levels of sulphur dioxide; here is a good explanation.) The growing presence of these wines in the UK and the Natural Wine Fair that took place in May at Borough Market have generated some surprisingly heated reactions. I wasn't able to attend the event, but I'd like to taste more of these wines, being a lover of quirkier wines (and bored with the anonymous, bland tasting alcoholic fruit juice that now passes as wine).
I did, however, enjoy some delicious natural wine over lunch recently. We selected sharing platters of cheese and charcuterie which were complemented superbly by the lively rusticity and fresh acidity of Terragno Dolcetto from the Colli Tortonesi in Piedmont. When the wine was first opened, perhaps because I was looking for it, I detected some cideriness on the finish. However, this soon cleared and I was struck by the wine's vibrant, authentic character. It had quite a funky aromatic bitter cherry nose, earthy, stoney and smoky. On the palate, yes, it was rustic, but it also had great purity of fruit. It evolved in the glass and, at one point, I got a delicious hint of marzipan on the finish, albeit bone dry. What's more, we were at Black's Club in Soho which was the ideal setting for this – atmospheric, bohemian and not remotely corporate.
We didn't finish the bottle, so I was able to bring it home where I polished it off with my husband. He particularly enjoyed it. By then, after several hours' exposure to air, it was tasting more gamey and savoury. It made no difference to my husband that this was a natural wine – we just prefer satisfying, well balanced, refreshing wines that don't taste mucked about with. The Terragno ticked all the boxes.
I don't understand why people are being so polarised by these wines. Recalling my Oddbins days in the early 1990s, specialist beers have had a large following for a long time (even the challengingly tangy lambic beers which we had no trouble selling) and Belgo restaurants probably played a significant role in raising their profile in the same way that bars and restaurants in London such as Terroirs and Artisan and Vine are introducing people to natural wines. There is now a definite backlash against the might of the supermarkets and the industrialisation of food (and drink), with people increasing concerned about the provenance of what they consume. Watch this space...
Terragno Colli Tortonesi Dolcetto 2009, Valli Unite
available from Aubert and Mascoli