Going Natural – New Trends in Wine

Going Natural – New Trends
A talk and tasting with Mary Dowey and Pascal Rossignol
Topics include Natural Wines, Old Vines, Sulphur and Biodynamic Wine

Philippe Chaume. The Vinsobres estate organic since 1997 and certified biodynamic since 2009.
Picture courtesy of  
The Carrigaun Room (in the Grainstore) was full as Mary Dowey and Pascal Rossignol began their talk and tasting with a look at Biodynamic wines as part of last weekend’s marvellous Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food and Wine.

Mary thought the move to organic and biodynamic was one of “the most positive sides to the wine world” over the past two decades or so. She described biodynamics as “organics with knobs on" and "some very big names have adopted it”.

Our first wine, to illustrate biodynamic, was the Monte Dall-Ora Valpolicella Classico Saseti (Veneto). Pascal told us this came from a 7-9 hectare vineyard, a recent venture, bought as an almost organic vineyard and then they went bio. “It is all care and attention, hand harvested, all small scale so as not to damage the fruit. Almost a labour of love!” 

Pascal Rossignol
The next topic was natural wines. This is “a new level again”...”kind of controversial”...”up in the air”. But it means as naturally as possible. Practitioners try and recreate the natural balance in and around the vineyards. The timing of the harvest is vital as no additives will be used. “These wines have a vibrancy and a natural balance.”

There are no written rules, no classification, but there are some must follow steps and guidelines:
-          Manual harvest
-          Minimum use of sulphites
-          Quick to winery
-          Sulphites reduced as healthy fruit more able to fight oxidization
-          Babysit the process
Mary Dowey
-          Natural yeasts only to be used.

Pascal: “These wines are alive, really agree with you, more magic in the wine and are noted for their digestibility as much as for their drinkability.”

And certainly that seemed to be the case with our second wine, the Breton Vouvray La Dilettante (Loire 2011). Really liked this Chenin Blanc. Breton are very influential in the natural wine making world and I look forward to tasting more of it on its home ground later in the summer.

Now we were on to sulphites*. These occur naturally in wine but it is the use of them during the process at different stages (including the bottling) that add up and give a problem for some people who may be allergic to them. In the world of organic and natural wines, the purists don’t use sulphites but some others might use just a fraction of what is allowed (by the appellation). 

Our chemical free wine was the Alfredo Maestro Tejoro,Vina Almate Tempranillo (2012). It weighed in with a 14.5% abv “but that was the year that was in it”. The producers felt they had enough rules and regulations to follow in making the wine without also complying with the Ribera del Duero classification system so the words Ribera del Duero do not appear on the bottle.

Old Vines. What's the deal?
“The subject of old vines has been gathering momentum in recent years. But what’s the deal?” asked Mary as we reached that subject. What is old? She reckoned it had to be forty years at least and cautioned that not all varieties benefit from older vines. It doesn’t do anything for Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot but Grenache is well suited.

The main benefit is an “intensity of flavour, really concentrated”. And she had the perfect example, the Chaume-Arnaud Vinsobres (Rhone 2010). Vinsobres is a higher level on the Rhone ladder in any event but this wine, biodynamic and from old vines, is a gem, well balanced, with lovely acidity, harmony and soft tannins. Gorgeous.

Pascal’s wine shop in  Kilkenny specialises in these types of wine and you may check it out here

Mary spends much of her time in Provence and, as I know from first hand experience, has a terrific website on the area with great tips on restaurants and food producers. Click here.

* Wine is not the only thing that sulphites turn up in. In the US, the FDA has published this list.