Wednesday, 22 May 2013

What We Made of RAW fair 2013

On Sunday and Monday, the Old Truman Brewery on Brick Lane once again opened its doors for RAW: the Natural Wine Fair that seems to be the marmite of the wine world.

Hundreds of producers come from around the world to showcase natural, organic, biodynamic or downright strange wines, with incredibly varying results. Freddy and I wandered along on Monday, not quite sure what to expect.

There are also several masterclasses - from winemaking with clay to sake tastings to matching cheese with wine  - but the afternoon we were there we didn't see any that took our eye. It seems all the good ones happened on Sunday (the trade-only day, whereas monday was trade and public) - however last year I did go to the Paul A Young Chocolate and Wine Workshop which was amazing.

This year, Freddy and I made do with meandering along the row upon row of eager producers, and trying our darnedest to sample as much of what was on offer as possible.
Some of the branding was on the wacky side

Let's say from the offset - neither Freddy nor I are avid fans of many of the 'natural' wine practises. Many seem underdeveloped and some appear to hinder more than help the quest to make good, exciting wine. That said, Vinspire is all about the quest for new, intriguing booze, so we went with open minds and empty glasses, and we were pleased with much of what we found.

Firstly, it's important to say that nothing we tasted was awful. There were, probably in slight majority, several wines that were just overpriced, overhyped, or just plain uninteresting, but it was worth going for the dozen or so that really jumped out and showed us what natural wine can do.

Freddy has already told you about one of our favourites (the red Vinho Verde, which was sublime and a must-try) but here are some other highlights:

1. Cobaw Ridge Lagrein

You may not have even heard of the Lagrein grape, but it's big news in North East Italy. It's rarely been grown commercially outside Italy let alone in Australia, but fifteen years ago the winemakers at Cobaw Ridge discovered the climate in North East Italy was similar to where they're based in Victoria, Australia. The 2008 Lagrein we tried is mouth-filling, warm, and dark, with silky damson, coffee and spice, proving their experiments have paid off. They don't currently have a UK stockist, but we're confident they'll find one soon.

2. Lunatique rouge

Domaine Rouge-Bleu are organic and biodynamic (not yet certified), and use 80-100 year old vines for their Lunatique red. They also ferment it in more old-fashioned concrete tanks (which are making a huge comeback at the moment) and don't destem the grapes for added colour and texture. The Lunatique would probably retail for around £40, but it was amazingly smooth and herby, with red fruit, sweet pepper spice and a lovely long finish.

3.  BAM! Champagne

Champagne house Tarlant always seem to be a hit among natural wine lovers, and their BAM! Champagne was one of the best sparkling wines we tried on the day. Unlike many others there, this actually smells Champagne-y, with nice apple, biscuit and citrus character.
The reason for the name? It's threefold: both 'Benoit and Melanie' after the winemakers, pinot Blanc - Arbanne - petite Meslier for the grapes, or the effect on the palate.

4. Blablablanc and Pet'Nat

Isabelle Jolly was one of the best things about the entire day: a dynamic, funny, and warm-hearted lady full of va-va-voom, who actually only took up winemaking seven years ago after a brilliant career as a choreographer.

Her wines were equally full of character:
The amusingly-named Blablablanc was grenache gris (an often underestimated grape) with 10% macabeo to give a long, smooth finish. It had a gloriously smoky popcorn element to the palate but was also rich with fruit, making it ideal for fish and cheese dishes.
The Pet'Nat was wildly different: 100% Muscat, it had that typical muscat-grapey nose with a rustic, peppery, salty character that gave a hint of cured meat flavour. I'd love to try this with a plate of charcuterie.

5. Csobánci Bormanufaktúra, Hungary

The soils in the organic vineyards here are volcanic, giving a nice mineral edge to the wine.
 We particularly like their pinot noir was perfumed and understated with good acidity, and recognisably pinot-like.

6. Principiano Ferdinando, Piemonte, Italy

One of our Italian highlights of the day, we particularly enjoyed their Barolo Boscaretto from 50 year old low-yielding vines. Full of complexity as well as full-bodied, with tangy, cherry flavours and a lovely colour. You can pick up a bottle for just over £55 at Silly Point Wines.
Of course, we were also in love with Laura. Well, I was. Less complex but a lovely, big flavour packed with berries and spice. It's not available in the UK, but we took a picture and are begging someone to stock it:



7. Brut and the Beast, Piemonte, Italy

Another Piemonte highlight was this wonderful Cortese with a slight fizz. Only just bottled last week, but it had a fragrant, floral nose with sweet apricot character. It's actually a dry wine, but the fruit and rose petal character make it very easy to drink. It's also sulphite-free. A bottle is £11 from London shop Aubert and Mascoli.

8. Rebula, Kmetija Štekar, Slovenia

Our first orange wine of the day! The Rebula Prilo 2007 undergoes skin maceration for 20 days, giving it a delightful orange colour. It had a vegetal, raisiny, mince pie character that was really quite moreish. Not an everyday wine, but a type of wine we should experiment with more. No current UK representatives, I'm afraid.

9. Angel 2007, Slovenia

This red wine is a Bordeaux blend grown in Slovenia's further western point. It has the nose of a lighter, less cedary Bordeaux, and we really enjoyed its fruit, spice, and coffee flavours. At around £30-35 it's not a house wine, but it's got good complexity for that price. It's imported to the UK by Pacta Connect - contact them for stockists.





10. Cueva Selection de Finca, Spain

Cueva's red was made from 90% Bobal, an eastern Spanish variety, and 10% Tempranillo. It's organic and nearly biodynamic, and the sun and moon packaging was really bewitching. The wine itself isn't half bad either - fragrant, with light spice and red fruit, plus elements of licorice. Rich, mature, with soft tannins and a big flavour, it would be lovely with equally rich food. We were surprised to learn something of this quality would only cost around £14 a bottle in the UK - this was a wine crying out for a stockist.

Other wines took our eye so much that we're going to write about them individually, so look out for more natural wine posts in the near future. In the mean time, did you go to RAW? What do you think of natural wine? 

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