Fantastic natural wines and where to find them
‘We did not invent anything, we simply returned to what our grandfathers did’
What is a 'natural' wine? Photograph: Nicolas Tucat/AFP/Getty Images
Two high priests of the natural wine movement visited Ireland recently. Both paid homage to “the Pope”, the late Marcel Lapierre, a producer in Morgon who started it all back in early 1990s. Jean Foillard owns vineyards in Morgon in Beaujolais and Thierry Puzelat in the Loire valley. Inspired by Lapierre, they began to take wine back to its roots.
“We did not invent anything, we simply returned to what our grandfathers did,” says Puzelat. “I went to school where I learned to make wine in the normal way, using all the standard treatments. Then one day I tasted a glass of wine and thought s**t! That’s what I want to drink; and to make.”
There is no legal definition for natural wine. Many argue that all wine is natural, yet that ignores the level of manipulation – additives and treatments – that are standard in a great many “normal” wines, inexpensive wines in particular. These days, many prefer to use the terms low-intervention or light-touch instead of natural.
The basic tenets are organic or preferably biodynamic viticulture, indigenous yeasts, no enzymes, filtering or fining, and, most controversial of all, little or no sulphur. A winemaker walks a tightrope when they under-sulphur or don’t add any at all. Sulphur (a natural byproduct of fermentation) has been used since Roman times to prevent bacterial spoiling and oxidising.
Natural wines are a mixed bag. Some are clearly faulty or at least have aromas that have little to do with wine (or “terroir” as some claim). Others taste more like cider. Puzelat agrees: “For the first five years, we made a lot of vinegar,” he says, adding that it takes a decade or more to convert your vineyards to sustainable viticulture. But the good wines have a wonderful freshness and purity, a liveliness not always found in everyday wines. They are a joy to drink.
While it is easier to farm organically in warmer, drier climates, wines from cooler regions have higher acidity, which acts as a natural antiseptic. It may be no coincidence that the highest concentration of natural wines are found in the Loire and Beaujolais, both regions that produce wines high in acidity and low in alcohol.
I believe that generally, the best, most interesting wines come from small producers who care for their vineyards and often work organically or biodynamically. They also use as few treatments as possible in the cellar. Pascal Rossignol of specialist importer Le Caveau probably got it right when he argued it is not just about levels of sulphur. “Honest wine is about trust; wine that is made by good growers, working with good importers and sold to wine drinkers who care.” According to Puzelat, “Natural wine is not the aim. It is not enough. We have to make good wine naturally.”
Few could disagree with that.
Soave Colli Scaligieri Castelcerino 2015 Filippi
A delicious light Soave with a waxy touch, some peach and yellow apple fruits mixing in with marzipan and a lively streak of mineral acidity. Made from biodynamically grown grapes with minimal sulphur, it has a pleasant leesy touch too. Drink by itself or with lighter seafood dishes. Stockists: Le Caveau, Kilkenny lecaveau.ie; 64 Wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie; The Corkscrew, Chatham Street, thecorkscrew.ie; Green Man Wines, Terenure, grenmanwines.ie; Bradley’s, Cork, Bradleysofflicence.ie
Thierry Puzelat Le P’tit Blanc du Clos Tue-Bouef 2016, Vin de France
Sauvignon with a difference. Organic, low-sulphur wine, lightly aromatic with clean apple and quince fruits, a refreshing texture, finishing dry. By itself or with creamy goat’s cheese salad. Stockists: Le Caveau, Kilkenny, lecaveau.ie; The Corkscrew, Chatham St, thecorkscrew.ie; Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie; 64 Wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie.
Laderas del Valle Malbec 2015, Barbarians, Tupungato, Argentina
Malbec with a difference; light, vivid, mouth-watering dark fruits with hardly a tannin in sight. Instead of steak, go for lightly spicy pork or lamb kebabs. Stockists: Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, jusdevine.ie; Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie; Deveneys, Dundrum; Redmonds, Ranelagh, Redmonds.ie
Morgon ‘Le Classique’ 2016 Foillard
Superb fresh crunchy red fruits, all cherries and blueberries, with a cleansing backbone of acidity. Drink now or keep for five years. Perfect with all manner of charcuterie or a grilled pork chop. Stockists: Le Caveau, Kilkenny, lecaveau.ie; Bradleys, Cork, bradleysofflicence.ie; The Corkscrew, Chatham St, thecorkscrew.ie; Baggot St. Wines, baggotstwines.com; Blackrock Cellar, blackrockcellar.com; MacGuinness Wines, Dundalk, Dundalkwines.com; Green Man Wines, Terenure, Greenmanwines.ie; Fallon & Byrne, Exchequer St, D2, fallonandbyrne.com; Mitchell & Son, IFSC, Glasthule & Avoca Kilmacanogue and Dunboyne, mitchellandson.com; 64 Wine, Glasthule, 64wine.ie; World Wide Wines, Waterford, worldwidewines.ie