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…spontaneously fermenting

Blind taste that wine again please

I recently had a guest at Jacob’s Bar & Kjøkken. This guest was somewhat of a wine person. This means for the sake of this story that this guest was very wine interested and belonged to a sophisticated wine-tasting group that regularly meets and tastes some pretty darn good, and valuable, wines. They do this in the comfort of their home(s) and are  not often seen out and about at the well-known wine spots in the city.

I poured a small taste of something, blind. I had never met this guest, and I am always interested to hear their analysis because it helps me to gauge their knowledge and palate.  I returned after a few minutes to hear this guest’s impressions about the splash of wine I had poured. This is always interesting for me, especially with “knowledgeable” people. After the analysis, I poured another small glass… and then another, and then another.  One thing struck me about this guest’s comments. On each and every wine, the comment “well, the wine has these balsamic notes, so I assume it’s natural.  And these balsamic notes cover the fruit, so it’s very difficult to get the fruit, and therefore analyze the wine correctly to come to any kind of  conclusion. ” Of course he knew where he was and also knew the wines would be natural, so no points there.

No, it wasn’t the first time (and it won’t be the last) that I heard such comments. I  often hear that it is hard to blind taste natural wines cause they all kind of smell and taste the same. Remember when you first started to taste wines and try to distinguish the difference? They pretty much all tasted similar, right? Until 100’s of wines later, you started to get it…

IMHO, blind tasting natural wines is all about retraining the senses and the brain. Those of us who have studied wine or have been tasting it for years, were very likely taught to blind taste “conventional wines”. I am not making a judgement here about the quality of these wines, just an observation, and actually a fact when it came to my education.  And, just like having to train that brain to blind taste that first time, you have to do it again. With some training, you can also begin to blind taste (correctly I might add) natural wines, as I often do.

So, when you are starting to blind taste natural wines, please give it some time and stop saying that you are not able to because it’s natural and it smell like the others. This is nonsense and you know it.

Category: 1 WINE, Blind taste that wine again please, natural wine (100% living wine)

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my grapes are healthy

Have you ever have one of those tasting experiences that leaves you feeling light, energetic, happy & humbled?  We were just in Piemonte harvesting grapes for our third vintage of our Felice wine. A wine we  first made in 2009 from healthy nebbiolo grapes without any additions during the wine making process or bottling.

After our harvest, we come back to the Felice homestead to return his crates, the ones we used to gather our grapes in.  As we get set to leave, Felice comes towards us with a bottle of the last vintage of his nebbiolo that he was to make, a 2006.  We sit down to taste, then drink. We are stunned, but not surprised, by the pureness of his unlabeled wine.  We ask him questions, he responds modestly.

“How do you make your wine?”

“I just pick the grapes and let it make itself.”

“What about sulfur?”

“Why should I use sulfur? My grapes are healthy. I never add sulfur when I make my wine.”

Then he goes back into his “cellar”, an outdoor barn/wine making facility.  A structure that at this late date in September was a quite warm 25 degrees or so.  He comes back with a bottle of his 1979 vintage, and it goes a bit like this:

“The year is 1979, the vineyards are in Barbaresco and the grapes are healthy. Felice Grasso goes out to harvest his nebbiolo grapes, something he has been doing for more than 20 years already. The grapes are brought down the steep hill into his very modest wine making facility, an outdoor barn like structure exposed to fluctuating temperatures between the seasons.  He destems, crushes lightly and lets his grapes ferment on their own, like he has always done, like his father did before him, and like he will continue to do up to that last vintage, 2006. He adds nothing, and why should he? “My grapes are healthy”

Back to 2011. It’s been about 30 years since he bottled that 1979.

Felice doesn’t add anything to his grapes. At all.

Felice doesn’t store his wines “properly”

Felice doesn’t label his wines for sale

Felice doesn’t drink other peoples wines

What Felice does is make great wine. Honest wine. Transparent wine. A wine that after 30 years of standing alongside other bottles and being subjected to sunlight and varying temperatures, was supreme. Yes we were in Piemonte. Yes it was a beautiful day. Yes we were drinking a 30 year old wine. And still, the wine was supreme.

You said it wasn’t possible. Well it was, it is and it will be.

 

 

 

 

Category: 1 WINE, 9 WINE THOUGHTS, my grapes are healthy, natural wine (100% living wine)

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Slow Sunsets, Spontaneous Cider and Enjoying Life, Naturally

I am very grateful to be a part of Cory’s “32 Days of Natural Wine” series and to be among such talented and clever writers.  I personally don’t consider myself a very clever writer nor do I write as often as I would like to.   I spontaneously write like the wines I drink spontaneously ferment. I don’t write every day, twice a week or on a schedule.  Just like the wines I drink may not ferment immediately or with  selected yeasts. The wines I drink ferment on their own, when they’re ready, with their indigenous yeasts.  If I force myself to write, it will be a less than enthusiastic endeavor. If you add a selected yeast to crushed grapes, the resulting wine will probably also be a less than enthusiastic wine (I have read that in the late 90’s,  80% of wines were spontaneously fermented – a statistic that although may have shifted since then, is surprising).

What motivates and inspires me to write? Well, natural wine does, of course! But so do the slow sunsets we experience up here in Norway. They remind me how beautiful life is. Why don’t we sit back and appreciate what nature gives us?  Why should we do things that we don’t enjoy? Why should we eat or drink things that we don’t enjoy and don’t make us feel good?

Why do I drink natural wine?  Because I like the way it smells.  Because I like the way it tastes.  It evokes feelings of joy and the aromas are just so damn expressive.   The fruit quality in the natural wines I drink are so clear and transparent (not in the literal sense, cause you know I love those unfiltered wines!).  I like to taste and understand what I am drinking.  I’ve been criticized by many as having become too extreme. In my opinion, conventional wine has become too extreme.  Manipulated if you will.  Made to “taste” a certain way, to chase fads or trends and forcing the consumer to drink what’s “cool” as opposed to what’s real.  Why do people react when I talk to them about natural wine? Nobody reacts about organic, biodynamic or natural farmers market veggies, like this lettuce.

So, why any negative reactions about natural wine???  Many of these negative reactions come from the large, conventional producers. They would like you to believe that once you open that bottle of unsulfured (or low sulfured) wine, you better drink it up quickly or it will become undrinkable within a few minutes! Granted, a great bottle of natural wine will be drunk up in a matter of 10 or 15 minutes due to it’s drinkability!  I speak from experience when I say that a great bottle of natural wine once opened, can stay alive for even two weeks and sometimes longer.  I  have literally eliminated waste.  I have done numerous experiments  keeping bottles of natural (unsulfured) wines open (by hiding them) for weeks at a time. I even left an opened bottle of Bressan’s 1999 Pignol in my fridge for 21 days. I discovered this bottle after returning from my Christmas and New Year holidays and to my surprise, was still totally drinkable, alive, fresh and enjoyable!

Against the odds and despite the numerous remarks like “you can’t sell these types of wines”, I do sell these types of wines. My wine list, of approx 80 titles,  is approaching 100% Organic, Biodynamic  and Natural.  At least 20 of these wines are made without the addition of any sulfur.  And the sales keep increasing.  Just like all new experiences, the wines should be introduced. I don’t simply drop a glass of glowing orange wine at my guest’s table, I talk about the wine maker, the tradition and what he/she doesn’t do in the vineyards/winery.  Then the guest is not only more willing to taste, but can’t wait to taste. I am most often met with positive comments, and very rarely negative ones. Then the food arrives and natural wines work very well with food, as you know.  Before I leave the table, I have gotten in the habit of telling my guests to expect sediment in their wine because it’s unfiltered and if they don’t get any sediment, they should complain because there is something wrong ;-).  This has eliminated the complaints I used to get regarding sediment in the bottom of the glass.

What about other spontaneously fermented products from nature? How about (more than) organic apples that are planted on Northwest facing slopes that bask in the long Norwegian summer hours of sunlight. When the apples are ready for picking, they are picked by hand and spontaneously fermented in plastic, just like the wines we enjoy. They are left to ferment until the process stops on its own. Sometimes the final cider is bone dry, and other times there is a bit of residual sugar. The cider is bottled without filtering out any of the nutrients and no sulfur is added, allowing those nutrients to stay alive, and make you feel good!

30 Year Old Golden Aroma Apple Trees Facing NW

Joar says "just a reminder that this is just me and my dad making cider because we like it, nothing more then that."

The 2008 dry cider - Sponty, sherry-like tones, sweet fruit & a fresh, dry & acidic backbone

I am not here to impress you with my writing, knowledge or with my love of natural wine and other things natural. You either like them, learn to like (and understand them) or you don’t. I just write what I feel from the heart, and from the fact that I  feel the need to share my excitement, or  ferment spontaneously if you will.  I am sure that the natural wine makers I most admire are also not trying to impress you with their wines. They are merely expressing themselves and the grapes they are growing  to keep their sanity, drink their own good wine and with the hopes to share their passion with others who understand them.  They are doing what comes naturally to them, from their hearts, their soil, their vines, their grapes, their wild yeasts….spontaneously.

If I made my point here in this post, you’ll grab for that glass of your favorite natural wine (or cider) and with the one(s) you love, watch the sunset in the distance.  Enjoy life and the good things it gives us without trying to manipulate and distort. It’s a post about being spontaneous and appreciating the simple things.

Category: 1 WINE, 32 days of natural wine, 9 WINE THOUGHTS, natural wine (100% living wine)

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The supermodel & the girl next door

2005 Ghislaine Barthod Bourgogne Rouge (supermodel) VS. 2005 Frank Cornelissen Munjebel Rosso (girl next door)

Many of you are going to think this wasn’t a fair comparison, so I will start this post by addressing that issue.

Ghislaine Barthod has been among my favorite wine makers in Burgundy for many years. Her Chambolle-Musigny “Les Charmes” can make me dance. I know I am not alone in this opinion.  Ghislaine Barthod owns approximately 6.75ha in the Burgundy village of Chambolle-Musigny.  Ghislaine took over the wine-making responsibilities from her father Gaston in 1987, and from the 1992 vintage, her name appears on the labels.  Ghislaine has since brought down the yields and added a sorting table. There is more temperature control during vinification now, more pigeage (punching down of the cap) and less remontage (pumping over).  She now bottles herself rather than contracting out and only fines and filters when absolutely necessary.  Her 2005’s are known to be great, even at the Bourgogne Rouge (Village) level. Read the rest of this entry »

Category: 1 WINE, natural wine (100% living wine), The supermodel & the girl next door

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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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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.

european_logo_organic

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.

2008-11-10_0274

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.

amphorae

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

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