Presenting natural wines to a curious audience

Just finished a tasting for the Oxford Wine Club. I presented nine natural wines, all sourced from Les Caves de Pyrene. I knew it would be a challenge, because some of these wines were taking people well out of their comfort zone.

In some cases, these are the strong, smelly cheeses of the wine world. In other cases, the flavours are more conventional: it is just the names of the grape varieties and regions that are less familiar.

My approach was not to tell people that they should like each of the wines; rather, I asked them to keep an open mind, and think about what they taste.

Do you like this wine? Can you imagine yourself enjoying these flavours, even though they may be unfamiliar?

I think people who haven’t been educated about wine find this easier than those who have. But even among those who have a lot of wine education, and know all about wine faults, there are those who fall in love with natural wines and their sometimes challenging flavours.

It was a good group, and the tasting was fun. I expect some people will go home sure in the knowledge that natural wines are not for them. That’s perfectly fine. I just hope a few will have had their curiosity awakened.

I love flavour. I love to explore as much of flavour space, and find areas where I want to hang out for a while. Think about the pioneers of seafaring: they put themselves in danger and discomfort while others stayed safely at home just because they HAD to discover what was out there.

Some of these wines tonight were complex and profound, just as they were challenging and unconventional. And tastes that are acquired are often those that endure, and satisfy the most.

Now I am in my hotel room drinking hot chocolate. It’s nice, but I wish I had a glass of that Georgian Qvevri Rkatisteli from the Alaverdi Monastery to drink, or maybe a slug of Thierry Puzelat’s fabulous Romorantin, preferably with a hunk of cave aged gruyere.

For full notes on the wines tasted here: http://wineanorak.com/naturalwinetasting3.htm

9 comments to Presenting natural wines to a curious audience

  • I’m doing a tasting in March for the Charlemagne wine club (Ealing). The theme is the Languedoc but I’ll be putting in a few vin naturels and will be hoping to get the same reaction you have – the extreme/challenging wines will be coming from a grower in my village.
    It’s interesting that the club is a group of open minded wine lovers and miles away from being stalwarts of classic regions, and yet they have to have a tasting to explore natural wines.

  • Graham Harding

    I was there. A fantastic tasting which left every table buzzing with comments and thoughts and the thrill of tasting wines that went right to the edge of the flavour mat and beyond. Even those who didn’t like the wines said it was the one of the most enthralling tastings they’d ever been to. Thanks Jamie.

  • Great to see you again. Really enjoyed ourselves last night at the Oxford Wine Club. From a small winemakers’ view, these natural wine guys are walking a tight rope without a safety net. Can but admire their guts. We wrote our comments up on our vineyard blog and encouraged our readers to visit your website.

  • Bob Parsons

    It is a great pity that there is not a lot of access to such wines here…at the moment.

  • MarkT

    Great session, Jamie. I’m sure a lot of people were a bit nonplussed by many of the wines, but I’m quite sure everyone enjoyed the session very much. Certainly the best one I’ve been to at OWC for a long while.

    Loved the Romorantin too. I have to say I found the Georgian more of intellectual interest than of outright pleasure!

  • Hi, interesting post!
    There are so many different types of natural wines out there, and so many different types of winelover each with their own likes/dislikes/tastes that it must be very difficult to match up the two! Fiona Beckett has an interesting classification of natural wines on her blog: a “green light” for nat wines that are indistinguishable from conventional wines, “ambar” for on the borderline, and “red” for the ones well out of the comfort zone.
    Just to say that not all natural wines are necessarily different or extreme, and that many are in fact indistinguishable and conventional in terms of taste and aromas. And some are also made with pronouncable grape varieties! It seems strange to say that, given that there is so much media focus on the weird and funky ones, and the general impression seems to be that natural wines are ALL like that!
    Cheers! (“Salud y buen vino”)

  • Gareth

    None of these are natural wines. You must first start with natural grapes — not nutrient starved hybrids that have taken over the vineyards of Europe and most of California. The natural wine must be made in a natural environment like a cellar with natural yeast. And finally… nothing added to the wine except 10 mg/l total sulphur if red. This is the way wine was made for thousands for years until fast-food winemaking took over and turned grape growing and winemaking into a chemical industry. Carmody McKnight Estate Wines in Paso Robles, California is the only winery known that actually makes a true natural wine.

  • Patrick

    Sounds amazing – love the eye-widening sense of adventure from natural wines – looking forward to my next Brawn trip in a few weeks…

  • Eric

    Gareth,

    I agree with you – provided the first and the last sentence are deleted. If they aren’t, what you wrote must be a joke.

    Amicalement,
    Eric.

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