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…spontaneously fermenting

A tasting note: 2006 Le Mazel Cuvée Raoul

Ok, you can’t make a wine without the addition of sulfite’s right? I hear this over and over again.  If this comment came from your average everyday wine drinker, then okay, at least this person would probably be open to my opinion on this, and would very likely listen with interest. Unfortunately, this comment most often comes from “knowledgeable” wine persons. Wine persons who the minute you say that you can make wine without the addition of sulfur, get in your face and say that it “is impossible!”.  At this point they’re smirking and looking the other way and don’t even want to humor the discussion

The second comment I hear often is, wines made without the addition of sulfur cannot be stored and must be drunk up right away. Hmmmm. These two reasons are exactly why I have my blog. So that I can express myself about things I not only believe in, but have some experience with.  My more than 7 years experience working and selling wine.  My more than 4 years experience working and selling wines made without the addition of sulfur. Actually, without the addition of anything. Like I always say, nothing added, nothing taken.  So there…

The Cuvée Raoul is a wine I have tasted many many many times. In fact, about two years ago when i first started to sell this wine at Jacob’s, we sold lots of it.  And I mean lots of it.  100’s of bottles. Why?  Because it was good and we liked it.  In fact, our guests liked it and these are the reasons  we could not keep the wine on the shelves…

Cuvée Raoul is one of the most consistent and stable “natural” wine’s I have sold (Bressan being another). There was hardly any bottle variation and once opened, stayed drinkable (in fact improved) for up 18 days.   I once had a bottle opened for 21 days before I noticed any fade in the fruit. Of course I must disclose that the 21 days was deliberate. We drank a few glasses, put the cork back in and placed it in the wine cooler…..and waited..

Gérald & Jocelyne Oustric’s Domaine Le Mazel is located just south of Ardeche in the Southern Rhône (in France, of course).  They have been making wine without the addition of sulfur since 1998. This might explain why their Cuvée Raoul was so stable, so alive.  They don’t add anything to their grapes after hand-harvesting the grapes. No yeast. No enzymes. No acid. No sugar. Nada

The 2006 Cuvée Raoul is made up of about 70% Grenache and 30% Syrah grapes from soil dominated by calcarious clay (vineyards are in Valvigneres). Spontaneously fermented in steel where it stayed on the skins (maceration) for 40-60 days before being pressed and transferred into cement where it matured before being bottled without fining or filtering.

Date tasted:  Saturday May 28th, 2011  17:45

(I will preface this by saying I hadn’t tasted the wine since my birthday over a year ago and wasn’t sure what to expect when i opened the cork)

color: still a perfect medium bluish-red, no real development showing. Medium intense and clean. No visible sediment.

Nose: Very intense and very, very aromatic. Floral – Violets.  Sweet cherries and “amarena” cherries. Hints of farm and cough syrup-like notes. Some gorgeous volatile aromas to help carry those aromas out of the glass and into my nose without being sour or vinegary.  Cherry cough drops. No development noted and no oxidized aromas. Very fresh.

Palate: Fine focused fruit showing no development on the palate either. Very sweet fruit. Very, very slight hints of cured meats (think prosciutto here), which I remember also being there the last time I drank the wine. Medium high acidity with medium, sexy (fruit) tannins that gripped nicely. Very long finish. Alcohol is hardly noticeable at all at 12.5%, only helping give this wine some weight.

We were pleasantly surprised at how well this wine was drinking going on 5 years and the only ingredient besides passion and love was healthy, ripe grapes.  Listen up…. not only was this wine made without the addition of sulfite’s, I was lucky enough to have not drunk it up “right away”.  These two facts brought us a half hour of great pleasure a few days ago..

 

 

Category: 1 WINE, 3 TASTING NOTES, Ardeche, France, natural wine (100% living wine), Southern Rhône

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Robert Smith-Hald and Cuvée Raoul 2006

This being my 100th post here on vinosseur, what better topic than the two things I love: music & wine.  And what better day to publish this post – on my birthday!

This video was recorded on the 23rd of April at Café Herman in Leikanger, Norway. It was recorded with my old Nokia, so forgive me,  primarily for the audio quality.  If English is your language, then skip to 1’25” in the video (the first 1’20” is in Norwegian) for the English intro and dedication.

The artistRobert Smith-Hald.  Born in West Chester County, Pennsylvania into a secluded, nearly self-sufficient religious community called Camphill.  Robert’s upbringing, according to him, has definitely shaped his relationship to music quite keenly.  His lyrics and melodies reflect who he is and where he comes from.  Please also visit his MySpace page.

The wine:  2006 Domaine Le Mazel Cuvée Raoul – Gérald & Jocelyne Oustric have been making wine in the Southern Rhône without the use of sulfur since 1998.  The 2006 is a blend of Syrah and Grenache (approx 70/30) spontaneously fermented, macerated for 30 days, stored in cement and then bottled without filtration,   fining or the addition of sulfur.  One of my favorite wines and one of the most stable natural wines I know.  The wine improves for up to 10 days after opening and doesn’t begin to fade until around day 18.  I love it!

A very sponty nose with aromas of dark berries lifted by red fruit, farmyard and just enough volatility to make me want to jump up out of my chair and dance! Fantastic concentration and structure,  gripping tannins and enough freshness to help get the bottle down in minutes.  The 12-12.5% alcohol makes it also quite food friendly.

Enjoy the video!

Robert Smith-Hald & Cuvée Raoul from vinosseur on Vimeo.

Category: 1 WINE, 9 WINE THOUGHTS, Events, natural wine (100% living wine), Robert Smith-Hald and Cuvée Raoul 2006

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My Top 9 List – February 2010

I thought that publishing my top 9 list would be fun for people to see and also for me to look at in the future to see if my favorites remain my favorites and also to watch my moods change!  Why is it a top 9 list instead of a top 10 list?  Why not?   For now, the wine style I can’t seem to get enough of is that lightish red colored, fresh and slightly CO2’d wine sitting at between 11 and 12% alcohol. Wine number 2 is a good example of what I am talking about (although the last bottle I drank noted an alcohol of 12.5.5% – there’s no mistake in my post, this is exactly the way it was printed on the label)!  (I have left out vintages because I didn’t feel that they were necessary here.. )

  1. 1.  Frank Cornelissen Munjabel Bianco
  2. 2.  Jean-Marc Brignot Rayure
  3. 3.  Camillo Donati Rosso della Bandita
  4. 4.  Laureano Serres Montagut Vinyes Arrencades Blanc 2008 *
  5. 5.  Maison Pierre Overnoy Arbois Pupillin
  6. 6.  Domaine Le Mazel Cuvée Raoul
  7. 7.  Camillo Donati Malvasia Secco
  8. 8.  Domaine Griottes P’tite Gâterie
  9. 9.  Jean-Pierre Robinot Concerto d’Oniss

* (I noted the 2008 vintage here because this is the first and only vintage of this wine I have ever tasted.)

Of course I have many more favorites and could have made this list quite long… but these are my favorite 9 for now!

Category: 1 WINE, 9 WINE THOUGHTS, My Top 9 List, natural wine (100% living wine)

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Jacob's Christmas Menu with Biodynamic and Natural Wines

2009-11-19_2641

2009-11-23_26472009-11-23_2648While many restaurants in Norway feature traditional Norwegian Christmas food, at Jacob’s Bar & Kjøkken we do things differently.  Our concept for the Christmas menu is the same as usual – simple, fresh and creative food.  The wines I have selected to pair with these dishes also don’t steer away from my usual focus on Biodynamic and Natural wines.  Please note that since we only use the freshest of ingredients and small wine producers, the courses and the wines (and vintages) can change slightly.  So, without further ado, here’s the Christmas menu and the wines: (click on thumbnails to enlarge photos and make yourself hungry and!) Read the rest of this entry »

Category: 1 Appetizer/Starter, 1 WINE, 2 Main Course, 3 Dessert, 6 FOOD & WINE PAIRING, biodynamic wine, natural wine (100% living wine)

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Naturally Speaking

There is a lot of talk, and words written, about natural wine these days and it seems to be all the rage.  I’m no exception to this as I have tasted quite a few natural wines, then written about them here.  I therefore felt compelled to write a few words about my thoughts on natural wines, including my definition of natural wine based on my experience and my beliefs.

Having visited Vini Veri, “Vino Vino Vino” in Verona earlier this year, I saw this trend in full swing.  Lots and lots of “natural” wines, many of which were not in my opinion well-made. Others didn’t fit my definition of natural.

I will begin with my definition of a natural wine:

A natural wine should be made first and foremost by a winemaker who has the right attitude and philosophy. It matters little to me whether or not the winemaker is certified organic or recognized by Demeter as biodynamic. I am not excluding these winemakers here, merely stating that getting certified or recognized by Demeter is sometimes not possible  due to vineyard treatments by neighbors or is sought out for the wrong reasons, like marketing rights or government subsidies.  Therefore, I feel that it is more important that the winemaker understands natural wine making and has the correct philosophy. The wine-maker wants to do the right thing.  It’s not important to me that the label states that the wine is biodynamic or organic.

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Second, natural winemakers should never use pesticides in the vineyards. They should work as naturally as possible in the vineyards which can include green harvesting and canopy management.  It can include other measures to insure healthy plants which should in turn produce healthy grapes. They should even limit natural fertilizers whenever possible.  Biodiversity should be encouraged, not destroyed.

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Wild boar footprints in the Roagna vineyards suggesting biodiversity - photo by Vinosseur

Third, the  grapes should be harvested by hand and not machine.  Hand selection of fully ripe and healthy grapes is an important step in producing a great wine.

Fourth, the grapes should then be crushed and left to macerate on the skins for an extended period of time before pressing to help stabilize the wine and preserve the wine once bottled.  This statement is not from personal wine-making experience but from my reading and talking to respected wine-makers.  Most of the natural wines I have tasted have had extended skin contact for the above mentioned reasons.

Fifth, the grapes should ferment with indigenous (wild) yeasts, not added (selected) yeasts.  Healthy grapes will have these indigenous yeasts on their skins.  I do feel however, that it’s ok to add a natural/neutral yeast to start the fermentation process if it does not commence on its own.  Natural wine makers whom I respect, have the right philosophy and work as naturally as possible have had to do this on occasion.

Six, the fermentation should take place without any artificial temperature control. Of course  the wine-maker may chose an ideal place to ferment the wine. If you are doing this in the cellar where the average temperature is quite constant, this is a sort of “temperature control”, and is ok in my opinion.

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Grapes macerating in Amphorae. Photo courtesy of Doug Wregg of Les Caves de Pyrene

Seven, “oak” (barriques) should not be used.  When I speak of oak, I am referring to barrels smaller than 600 liters. Of course, it also depends on the age of the barrel. If the barrel is only 200 liters but is 100 years old, I suppose that there will be no influence on the wine except for the exchange of oxygen, and this is ok.  Oak, especially new, adds unwanted elements (flavors) to the wine and also softens tannins,  for these reasons I don’t think a wine is natural if it’s been fermented or stored in oak.  I want to clarify one thing here to those who might be reading this and thinking “this guy obviously hates oak”.  The point of this rule is that I am against the use of oak in natural wine because although oak comes from trees and in and of itself is a natural product, the oak is then toasted. Once the wine comes into contact with this finished barrel, the wine changes. I personally feel that this is completely unnatural. So, for my definition of natural wine, I feel that other fermentation/storage mediums should be used, like cement, amphorae, steel etc.

Eight, a natural wine should be neither fined nor filtered before bottling.  This in my opinion is an important rule. Why take anything from the wine?

Nine, a natural wine should not have any added sulfur. This is probably the most controversial point.  Many producers are adding only 10 or 12 mg of sulfur (10-12 ppm) at bottling, and I am grateful that less and less sulfur is being added to wine, but adding sulfur is not natural and therefore for me to consider a wine completely natural, there can be no added sulfur. This being said, even a wine with no added sulfur will still contain sulfur since it is a by-product of fermentation.  I also feel it important to mention that although in my definition of natural wine there can be no added sulfur, there are many great wine makers who add a few milligrams of sulfur at bottling and I enjoy these wines on a daily basis.

no-sulfur

That’s  my definition of natural wine.  Therefore, with regards to this website,  I will never categorize a wine I taste as “natural” unless it adheres to the guidelines I have laid out above.  Many of the wines that I do not categorize as natural, may to others be regarded as natural.  I have to add that I do not and have not ever made wine, so I realize that my definition might seem rather simplified to some.

As with any trend, there are leaders, followers and imitators.  I feel the clear outspoken leader in the natural wine world is Frank Cornelissen from Mount Etna in Sicily. I have written about him and his wines more than once here on my website.  Another leader in my opinion is the Domaine Le Mazel in the Southern Rhone who have been making wines without the addition of Sulfur since 1998.  Although less well known than Cornelissen, their Cuvée Raoul is one of the greatest wines I have ever tasted.  I will do a thorough profile and tasting note on this wine on this site in the very near future.

There are the followers.  These are the great winemakers who are more recently involved in natural wine making and in my opinion are doing a great job and making huge strides towards excellence.  These wine makers also adhere to the above mentioned rules I feel should be followed.

Then there are the imitators which I saw plenty of at Vini Veri and continue to see on a daily basis.  For one, some of these wine makers insist on fermenting and storing their wines in oak (barriques). At times even using new oak.  How is this natural?  Now, I find it important to state again that I am not against the use of  oak.  I am simply against the use of oak in natural wine making.  I also want to state that I am not accusing these wines as being “bad”.   I have tasted many excellent wines which are almost natural and have been aged in oak.  And second, some of these natural wines are just poorly made.

Finally, I feel that some people just don’t understand natural wine.  I am happy that natural wines are becoming trendy, but as with any trend, there are many  bad copies.  Not all natural wines are good.  I may offend some people by these statements and this isn’t my intent at all. I am simply stating my opinion.  I welcome comments and an open dialogue with anyone who feels otherwise.

To sum up, natural wine should be fermented grape juice.  Nothing taken, nothing added.

Category: 1 WINE, 9 WINE THOUGHTS, natural wine (100% living wine), Naturally Speaking

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About
Vinosseur is the company name of sommelier Joseph R. Di Blasi. Vinosseur.com is his web page where he writes about wine, food, restaurants and other gastronomic experiences.

Joseph has a special place in his heart for quality wines from the old world, especially France & Italy, with a strong focus on Organic, Biodynamic and Natural wines.

Joseph grew up in Italy and California, but left The States in 2002 and now resides in Poland.

Get in touch

Joseph would love to hear from you! You can contact him by email at vinosseur@gmail.com