Monday, 15 April 2013

Getting fresh at the Real Wine Fair

Don’t you just love it when the wine trade gets a bee in its bonnet about what we should call wines?

Guildford’s own Caves de Pyrène are the leading lights in a new wine movement, which has recently held its second annual tasting of what they are calling “real wine”.  Doug Wregg, wine trade poet-philosopher and sometime Sales and Marketing Director (a man further removed from the image of anyone with that job title you could not hope to find) for Caves de Pyrène is the brains behind the operation.

What is a real wine?  Are some of the things we drink, foolishly imagining them to be wine just because that’s what it says on the label, in fact no such thing?  Rest easy, wine drinkers, of course it’s all real wine – just not “real wine”.  

Now I should provide a pithy and concise definition of what constitutes “real wine”.  But of course such a thing doesn’t exist.  These wines tend to be made with minimum intervention in both the vineyard and winery; many are organic and/or biodynamic; usually they are made by small-scale operations; a good number of them would probably also come under the banner of natural wines (another rather nebulous and hard-to-pin-down category).  The winemakers share an interest in producing wines that speak of their origins and which express the growing conditions of the vintage.  The real or natural wine movement is somewhat akin to the slow food movement.

Giusto Occhipinti of COS, a "real wine" maker - and a real winemaker

If someone put a gun to my head and asked me to sum up such wines in a single word, I’d say “What the h*** are you doing with a gun, for God’s sake, it’s only wine.” as I ran from the room.  If I was asked nicely (without the gun) then “authentic” might be a decent stab at it.

Here are some of my own highlights from the second annual Real Wine Fair, held last month in London:

I Vigneri Salvo Foti – Vinujancu Bianco 2011 - £23.16 from Caves de Pyrène
One of the joys of exploring Italian wines is constantly discovering new grape varieties, even as a seasoned grape-spotter.  This Sicilian white is a blend of Minnella (the new one to me, native not just to Sicily but to the Etna region specifically), Grecanico (aka Garganega, another Italian native and most famously associated with Soave) and Riesling (a long way from its German origins).

As you might imagine in the Etna region, the soils that the vines grow in are volcanic – indeed some resemble black granulated pumice, rather than anything you might consider trying to use as a growing medium.  The result is intensely flavoured, characterful wines, helped along by the high altitude (1200m for this wine) and ancient vines.  Salvo adds no sulphur to the wines, but there is no hint of odd or off flavours, just aromas of honey and honeycomb, leading onto a dry, grippy and zippy palate.

COS, Giusto Occhipinti – Cerasuolo di Vittoria 2010 - £16.80 from Caves de Pyrène
Still in Sicily, COS produce a range of wines from indigenous varieties.  Cerasuolo di Vittoria is the island’s only DOCG (ostensible top of the quality tree for Italian wines) and is a blend of two native varieties:  Nero d’Avola and Frappato.

If you were to imagine the style of red wine that comes from such an intensely Mediterranean setting, then I would wager it would be confounded by what you would find here:  nothing is overdone, all is lightness and elegance.  The fruit is delicate, cherryish and fresh, with no oak flavours to tone it down – the wine is fermented in cement tank and aged in large old oak “foudres” (essentially giant barrels).
Bodegas Bernabe Navarro – La Amistad 2011 - £8.88 from Caves de Pyrène
Spain has been rather slow to hop aboard the real wine train, but Alicante winemaker Damien Perez is making enough leftfield wines to make up for it.  This one is made from local variety Rojal and is fermented and aged in amphorae, or tinajas in Spanish.  We usually associate amphorae with archeological digs, as these vessels were used in the ancient world to transport olive oil and wine, but they have begun to find favour again in the natural/real wine movement.

Amistad is a light red wine that you could serve chilled in summer (should it ever arrive) to appreciate its lively, fresh sour cherry fruit.

“The Wild Vineyard” Villalobos Carignan Reserva 2012 - £15.90 from Caves de Pyrène
Just to show that the New World is also getting the hang of this real wine thing, I’ve included this Chilean, new to the Caves portfolio.  Carignan is one of those lowly varieties that gets labelled “workhorse” if it’s lucky.  It was enthusiastically taken up by growers in France’s Languedoc post 2nd World War, valued for its colour, alcohol and high yields.  This aim-low strategy allied to reliance on industrial viticultural techniques was never going to be a recipe for quality, and Carignan’s reputation suffered as a result.

Chile, however, is home to some wonderful old vine Carignan – these were planted in the 1940s and 50s, which makes them positively prehistoric in the context of Chilean viticulture.  Essentially organic from the word go, the vines have never been subjected to any kind of treatment and have been allowed to grow wild (hence the vineyard name).

Freshness is a hallmark of all the wines that I enjoyed at the fair and this one is no exception, with masses of crunchy blueberry fruit - though I concede blueberries are not a crunchy fruit, it’s more a combination of crunch and blueberry that I’m trying to convey.  There is plenty of body and substance, but also elegance.
If you fancy checking out more of these kinds of wine, you can pay a visit to RAW, which bills itself as an artisan wine fair and will take place in London on 19/20 May.  The Real Wine Fair will be back again in 2014.

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