It’s only natural
BY DR MICHAEL RYAN
Historically, no one can lay claim to inventing wine. Archeological evidence can trace wine to Georgia approximately 8000 BC. Fermented fruit juice would have given our ancestors the necessary mind sway, enhanced lateral thinking and creativity. With all those impurities, it also would have given some gargantuan hangovers.
So these would have been the first natural wines. The wine making process is a “natural” process: Yeast and sugar producing alcohol. The modern winemaker navigates his cargo on the right course to give a clean drinkable Beveridge. These wine makers have many strategies to enhance the predictable outcome. Preservatives like sulphur dioxide, alcohol level control, temperature control and hygienic bottling all help.
But there is a growing movement of the so called natural winemaker following a minimalistic ethos. Nostalgia runs deep in the human psyche and a yearning for things past seems to have some currency. The minimalist process can begin in the vineyard and be organic or more involved as biodynamic. One of my wine making mates vineyard was rather untidy one vintage and I suggested that he had let it go a bit. His out was, “no, I’ve gone organic”.
The natural wine movement had its most notable supporter in the 40s from Beaujolais; Jules Cauvet. The concept was to give the most true expression of fruit and hence the Terroir. The natural wine has the following characteristics – no or minimal sulphur, natural yeasts, no pH adjustment, no filtration and fining.
So the wines can be quite different in color, lighter than expected reds. Some of the whites appear darker. The wine is often slightly cloudy. Small aberrations of funky elements of Bretynomyces and yeast notes with partial oxidation can actually enhance the wines bouquet. Some of the whites with lots of skin contact develop and orange hue.
New oak and small barrels are frowned upon. Some producers turn to the use of Amphorae. These are large clay pots as you would see in classic Roma art. The clay allows for micro oxygenation, is inert, has good temperature control and seems to reduce the activity of unwanted microorganisms.
Overall there is a push in the wine world to have more elegant wines. The old jammy Barossa Shiraz oozing acid and tannin is becoming less desirable. Less ripened fruit with more acidity and less oak or in particular French oak are winning more wine awards these days.
2015 Domaine Simha Rhana Coal River Tasmania Riesling – handpicked, wild yeast ferment picked in a biodynamic cycle. Slightly cloudy yellow hue. Nose of Lime, cut grass and spice. The palate is broad for a Riesling and the unfined, unfiltered nature seems to impart a desirable textural component. Made by Nav Singh in Tasmania. This is real Avant garde wine that will not please all palates. But if one accepts that this wine is what it is then you will get the nature of it.
2013 Trofeo Estate Mornington Pinot Noir- Aged for 12 months in terracotta and unfined. A cloudy light garnet color. The nose smacks of primal fruit with raspberries, and hints of some stalky notes. The palate is generously bold and swells over the palate with seamless tannins.
2016 Quealy Amphora Fruilano Mornington – an Italian grape variety that has had 8 hours of skin contact and slow maturation in An amphora. Cloudy pale yellow. Funky nose of pear spices and flowers. Full up front fruit with lengthy acidity. An interesting food match with balsamic prosciutto figs.