The Natural Wine Fair in London

A last minute plug for the Natural Wine Fair, which is coming to London from Sunday to Tuesday.

This is a brilliant opportunity to try some fabulously diverse and interesting wines. It should also be great fun.

Aside: I’m getting really really bored with journalists who feel they have to warn people about natural wines. The standard line is thus: ‘Natural wines can be really good and I’ve tasted some nice ones, but too many of them are showing wine faults. Beware!’

This is silly. I’ll be totally honest  – I think some people have such narrow palates that when they encounter anything a little different they just dismiss it. And why warn people? Can’t they make their own minds up? Tell me about a tasting where there are no bad wines: these tastings just don’t exist. But, for example, I haven’t read many journos warn consumers about the possibility of finding bad wines at this weekend’s Decanter New World Wine Encounter. Also, what exactly defines a wine fault? A bit of reduction? This would rule most fine white Burgundy out. Some brett? Then let’s give up on Bordeaux.

Rant over. Some of my great wine experiences have been with natural wines.  If you have an open palate and open mind, you could have a great time at this fair.

20 comments to The Natural Wine Fair in London

  • My sentiments exactly Jamie. I tweeted a similar thought earlier along with a link to what I felt was a balanced article in the Indy

  • Interesting comment about wine faults. I’d agree with you here — too often it seems to be a way of dismissing a wine that’s too far outside that person’s frame of reference. “I don’t like this wine” is obviously an opinion, “it’s faulty” sounds more objective. I can’t help thinking a wine should only be considered faulty if the trait is present to the point where it is objectionable — but then that removes the objectivity (or the illusion of objectivity?).

    I liked something Jacques Lardiere said in an interview with Decanter last year:

    “I’m not after technical perfection. I don’t have much time for the Australian approach, where the ideal wine is the most neutral. It’s easy to clean up a wine, but by removing faults, unless they’re truly detrimental, you also remove its life. I understand the impulse oenologists have for the cleanest wines possible, but I refuse to go along with it. A wine’s magic doesn’t derive from its technical perfection, and I want to preserve that magic, even though not everyone who tastes the wine will perceive it. Good Burgundies are dynamic wines that make you think and reflect as you drink them. For me, that’s all positive.” (Sept 2010, p50).

    The natural wine fair is sounding very interesting. Sad I won’t be in London and so am missing out on it :-(

  • Thanks Jamie! We really appreciate your support and totally second your thoughts about ‘being wary’ about natural wine. We think it’s going to be a great event but then we’re obviously biased.

    Hope to see you there!

    Deborah, who works for THAT CRAZY FRENCH WOMAN, one of the founders of The Natural Wine Fair.

  • Damien Chase

    I’m not sure you ‘aside’ is justified; as someone with a book out in September on the subject (albeit ‘Authentic’ rather than ‘Natural’), there’s a clear vested interest involved. There’s also many a tasting with Les Caves, which no doubt constitutes research, but this fair is effectively their annual tasting this year. That alone is cause to ‘be wary’ of deliberations on the topic is it not? And for the author of a book entitled ‘Wine Science’ to mention ‘a bit of reduction’, ‘some brett’ is a bit facetious I think.
    As for Piers’ comment that the Indy’s article was balanced: “many natural winemakers add minimal sulphur, a naturally occurring substance in the vineyard”. Really? And where does that occur in the vineyard exactly?
    As a good author, education has to be the key to acceptance (or not), not point-scoring, or swallowing something hook line and sinker when it is as much a marketing tool as it is an ethos.

  • Jamie. Lets not get too self-righteous, perhaps you should also make people aware thay you have a book to sell on the subject. Rant over

  • Martin Jones

    Damien & Roger, you guys really crack me up.

    This is Jamie’s blog, right?

    Anyone who read it assiduously will know about Jamie’s (not entirely uncritical) enthusiam for ‘natural’ wines and the wines chosen & distributed by Les Caves. You’d also need to have been on Mars not to know that he has been preparing a book on the topic, which I for one look forward to reading.

    And the first four words of this post – “A last minute plug…” seem to give a clear and honest clue about where the rest is coming from.

    Lighten up, please!

  • It’s a fair point Jamie.

    On the flip-side, I have long been bored with those journalists who evangelise about it as if it were a category that is above criticism, and those who don’t ‘get’ the wines are dullards who simply can’t recognise a truly “great wine” when they find one.

  • gordon

    I think what you’re really getting bored with are people who don’t share your views. If you enjoy drinking these wines that’s great, please continue to write about them, but please don’t be so conceited as to believe that this makes you a superior taster with a finer palate. Many people don’t enjoy this spectrum of flavours and consider many of their facets to be faults.
    I agree people should be allowed to make up their own minds, what I really object to is the insidious implication present in a great deal of writing on this subject that those of us who do not share your views on these wines are somehow inferior to those of you who ‘get’ these wines and are only interested in an industrially produced homogenous product. The emperors new clothes indeed.

  • Doug

    Who are the journalists who evangelise about natural wines? I think anyone who loves natural wine is simply interested in others being open-minded rather than dismissing the whole “movement” and its wines out of hand.

  • Hi Doug

    Doug, I think you are perhaps transferring your own very admirable open-minded approach to others who don’t necessarily share your balanced viewpoint. There are writers out there with a near-fanatical support for natural wines, there are some who look at the wines in a balanced and fair way, judging them on merit, and there are those who unfairly reject them out of hand, perhaps without even tasting. Just as you can find a range of fanatical/fair/irresponsible responses to the wines of a region or country, or to some other aspect of style, e.g. alcohol, biodynamics, etc.

    To state that “anyone who loves natural wine is simply interested in others being open-minded rather than dismissing the whole “movement” and its wines out of hand” is a remarkably sweeping generalisation.

    Doug, are you Doug Wregg of Les Caves de Pyrene, by the way? Just asking…

  • Ben

    It reminds me a bit of a musician friend I used to know, who said “I only listen to Space Rock, man… it’s ‘cos I’m open minded.” Looking forward to tasting on Monday.

  • The point about the Natural Wine Fair is that it’s a great chance to find out more about natural wine for yourself without having to filter it through anyone’s palate. Too often natural wine is seen as representing only one particular style – in the case of whites ‘cidery’ and reds cloudy and funky. They’re not all like that.

    I absolutely agree with Jamie that there are good and less talented winemakers in both camps – ‘natural’ and conventional – and some who choose not to be labelled at all.

  • Doug

    Chris – as a lover and mild-mannered proponent (!) of these wines I still don’t know who the fanatical supporters are. The father of natural wine is Jules Chauvet, and he was hardly a swivel-eyed evangelist, being an analytical chemist, a writer, one of France’s mostly regarded palates, and of course, designer of the prototype ISO glass.

    There is a very funny, self-deprecating “Natural Wine Manifesto” published by Joe Dressner which says it all – it’s about the wines and the growers not about proselytising or laying down some humourless agenda. I find it surprising how many people caricature a movement (which it is not) and seem utterly closed to the wines in general. Each wine, be it “natural” or otherwise, should be tasted on its merits; if we don’t try to engage, however, we don’t give ourselves an opportunity to understand. Then we can decide whether the wines are delicious or awful, or whether some wines are delicious, and others are awful. I’ve had numerous sceptics write to me with the same depressing blanket critique – that natural wines are bretty/full of VA, riddled with faults, that natural winemakers plain haven’t got a clue. Having visited and talked to the vignerons the majority know exactly what they are doing; whether what they do pleases the greater number of consumers, however, is entirely another matter. The most important thing to bear in mind is that these wines incorporate a wide spectrum of styles, which ultimately reflect the terroir, the vintage and the multifarious decisions of the respective winemakers.

    What Jamie is perhaps suggesting is that if you read some of the recent press about the natural wine fair you might get the feeling that the writers are damning the event with faint praise. Why mention that some wines will be unpleasant and undrinkable; why not rather allow people to judge for themselves? Later next week umpteen thousand people will descend on Excel this week for the London Wine Fair; will we read that many of the wines on show there will be industrial bilgewater? No, of course not. And that’s not really the point; events like the natural wine fair exist to give exposure to a group of winemakers whose wines one will never find in supermarkets or the high street or restaurant chains. This event will be a kind of education and, hopefully, thought-provoking in the best sense for the consumer, for the restaurateur and for the winemakers themselves. We hope that people who come to it will enjoy themselves, learn a few new things, make a few serendipitous discoveries, exchange opinions, and understand why we, and hundreds of thousands of people across the world, love to drink these wines (or leave the event totally bemused by the fact that we do!)

  • Andrew Halliwell

    Wow – a bit of a hot potato this one, rather like talking about climate change on the Economist website.

    I’d love to be able to go to this fair and try these wines and judge for myself. As regards “faults”, one could take the view that many of these are measurable. Cloudiness can be measured and expressed as NTU. Volatile acidity can be measured – the legal limit varies from country to country but say 1.2g/L might be regarded as high. Brett yeast could be counted and 4-ethyl phenol and 4-ethyl guaiacol concentrations measured. You can also measure TCA (pre-bottling). You can measure colour and hue. etc etc. “Oxidation” would be harder to quantify and like some of these parameters, would vary with bottle age.

    With food labelling becoming more precise and ingredient lists becoming more specific and inclusive, could there ever be a case for some of the above parameters being listed and labelled too – so that I can make up my mind before I purchase. Maybe a want a Bretty Rioja or Hunter Shiraz, maybe a I don’t. After all some areas state or imply their residual sugar levels and the AWRI has developed a sliding Pinot Gris / Grigio scale, removing some of the surprises for consumers who are interested enough to understand the label.

    As for “natural wines” – Whilst I understand their definition is not set in stone, I’ve got a couple of questions. Can they be made from irrigated vineyards? And if you’re in a region that doesn’t grow oak – is it ok to import use barrels imported from another country?

  • Damien Chase

    Martin, fair point. I too am looking forward to reading it, along with Alice Feiring’s which comes out the same month (and both available for pre-order on Amazon, although Jamie’s has gone up a quid since I did!). Just imagine what the chatter will be like when they’re both out? ;-)

  • Cam Haskell

    Gordon – your point is BANG on. I’m awfully weary of the depiction of natural wines as the only true terroir driven wines, and all else is commercial swill. That, of course, is utter drivel, and it’s an extremely commonly expressed sentiment.

    My qualm with that (along with its inherently patronising tone) is that – technocratic sentence ahoy – wines with faults, no matter where they are from, do less to represent terroir than any other. Any wine can get faults, and as such it’s an abbrogation of terroir. I don’t care if you’re talking about ‘natural’ wines or Bordeaux or Hunter Shiraz. Acetaldehyde and Brett are not terroir. They’re entirely the opposite. That’s an inescapable problem for me: I like terroir. Natural wines have have less tendency to terroir than well made, distinctive conventionally made wines.

    Finally, I’m tired of being told I’m closed-minded for what I don’t fundamentally like. I don’t like acetaldehyde in any drink, natural or otherwise. It revolts me. I don’t like it in sherry, I don’t like it in cider, and I don’t like it in wine. The apple-y sweetness and bit of bitterness just reminds me of marzipan, which I hate above all flavours. This doesn’t make me small or narrow minded. It, truly, is just what I can handle flavour wise.

  • What defines character from fault is the intention.

    I have no problem with the wines grouped together as ”natural”, it’s the pretension of making something better than the other wines that implicitly should be ”unnatural” or ”artifical”. The label of ”natural wines” is misleading as no such things exists. And the widely spread argument that you don’t get a hangover from these wine!? It’s just fraudulent.

    I regret that I don’t have the opportunity to visit the fair.

  • Hear hear! Hear hear! “I’m getting really really bored with journalists who feel they have to warn people about natural wines.” Warning the public to “be wary” is absolutely the wrong approach IMHO.

    As seems to be usual with trending concepts, in ‘Natural Wine’ all the focus is on the extremes, on the eccentric charismatic personalities, and on the typical stereotypes, all of which generates a lot of sound-bites and column-inches, but which does not really give a fair or representative view of ‘Natural Wine’ or the people involved in it. That would just be too boring and not sell any newspapers!

    Why no interviews with natural winemakers whose vineyards are not on the slopes of an active volcano, for example. Why so much talk about ‘faults’, ‘funkiness’ ‘cloudiness’ etc? Again, is it just too boring to talk about normal, ordinary, mainstream natural wines? I hope it will become too boring one year! That will be a sign that ‘natural wines’ have become ‘accepted’, as it were.

    The proof is in the bottle! All the rest is just hot air! Though it is interesting and fun :)

  • Terry

    Great posting and possibly the best rant written on wine and wine faults ever. Attend Vinitaly and Vinexpo, try wines randomly and count the number with unredeemable wine faults: oak taint, the-coarse-tannins-but-no-aroma-fault, the-oversulphiting-taint, the-lack-of-depth-and-character-fault, the-cold-fermentation-fault (extremely common btw) etc. You’ll end up with a huge number of undrinkable wines. 9 in 10?

    A quick comment in response to Andreas comment about natural/unnatural. The etymology of natural wine is a bit unclear in English and quite a few other languages. “Vins naturels” in French means “wine without additions” not that the wine is somehow in accordance with nature. Which means that a natural wine doesn’t imply that other wines are nonnatural, it merely implies that other wines are possibly made with more additives and processing aids.

  • MarkT

    Some of you may know that I am something of a fan too, but I do wish “natural” were always and rigorously written with a hyphen.

    Given the questions regarding the use of this term, and the overuse in the marketing industry of terms like “pure” and “natural”, I think anything else is rather disingenuous and potentially misleading. What the hell does “natural” mean, anyway?

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