An article published recently in the UK-based Guardian newspaper written by Felicity Carter, an Australian specialist wine writer, calls out the promotion of what are called “clean wines” following a publicity blitz surrounding a new project by Hollywood actress Cameron Diaz and a business buddy. The pair claim to have been astonished by discovering how many additives and processing aids are regularly used to make wine and have thus set out to save wine drinkers from all this poison by bringing “transparency to the wine industry”. Felicity Carter does a nice job exploring some of the many paradoxes of the wine business.
“Clean wine” seems to follow in the footsteps of clean food, clean eating, clean homes (thank you so much Marie Kondo) and quite possibly clean minds (you need an app to meditate these days). But the selling of “clean wine” is seen by some as a marketing scam. In the case of Avaline, we’re invited to make the connection between Cameron Diaz’s remarkably clean face and the wine. The marketing plays to widespread ignorance about how wine is actually made and Ms Carter points out that terms like “minimal intervention” and even “natural wine” can play to and fool the same audience. Like most things in life, it’s more complicated under the bonnet!
The ideal is additive and chemical-free and it can be achieved. But the fact is wine doesn’t make itself. Grapes will grow on their own without any intervention but in order to make great wine from grapes you need to intervene an awful lot in the vineyard. Outside of the post harvest period when the vine rests and you’re busy making wine, the work in the vineyard is relentless. You prune and train very carefully in the winter and spring, you tie up the growing shoots in the spring and early summer, you treat the vines multiple times during the Spring and early Summer to protect them from disease (and from pests if you’re so minded to use pesticides, which shouldn’t be necessary if you have a balanced environment but that takes intervention, too), you till the soil, you cut the grass around each vine trunk or between the rows (sometimes with a horse). There’s much more than this. Finally you harvest the crop very, very carefully to ensure against any damage to the grapes during the course of picking. Or you don’t do any of this except harvest if you’re lucky for there is a school that practises do-nothing farming – although it famously cost one well-known producer in Cornas his entire crop one year and consequently his business.
Fermenting grape juice will naturally turn to vinegar (vinaigre in French, or vin aigre, bitter wine) if not managed and controlled very carefully. Additives and intervention have permitted winemakers all over the world to make a product that’s stable enough to travel the world to market. It is possible to make wine without additives, you’ll just need to work even harder at good hygiene in the cellar, using tons of water to clean, in order to avoid any unwanted bacterial interference. If you want to make the most interesting wines, you’ll need to allow nature to go to work by allowing wild yeasts to carry out the fermentation, with consequent risk of various bacterial collateral as any natural wine drinker will know, unfortunately, of acetic acid bacteria attacking the wine, or volatile, or brett bacteria, or what’s known as mouse. Most winemakers use SO2 to help manage the risks, a very few have learned to carry out the process without use of SO2. There are indeed many additives that wouldn’t be necessary if the grapes were grown healthily in the first place, such as basics like sugar and acid that are regularly used. There are around 80 authorised additives (incuding in organic wine). In addition to additives, there are all sorts of interventions, such as de-stemming, or racking, or blocking malolactic fermentation, or filtration, interventions which can be brutual and quite change the natural character of the wine or virtually imperceptible.
If “clean wine” means anything, perhaps it really means sterile, meaning very carefully controlled mass-market homogeneity, where everything tastes the same, and we end up back where we started when we wanted to get away from it all. As we see it, it’s all good to bring to attention how wine is really made and tastes.
Up until 2014, the lovely wines of Jean-Philippe Padié from Calce in the Roussillon were designated Appellation Cotes du Roussillon in 2014. From 2015, Padié’s wines all became designated Vin de France. Naturally, a friend asked why so.
It’s a good question. And indeed, my friend could be forgiven for thinking that perhaps Padié’s wines had suffered some dip in quality resulting in their demotion in the classification system.
Yet, nothing could be further from the reality. Padié’s wines had evolved so far in quality – defined by us as transparency, purity and softness of all the elements that make wine, the fruit character, the alcohol, acids, tannins, the weight and mouthfeel – as to taste quite different from mainstream Roussillon. Thus they began to regularly fail the test to be accepted for Appellation status.
In order to “earn” the Appellation status, the test basically comprises a taste test, which is as much to promote as to protect the Appellation. And it necessarily serves as many masters as possible, in particular the most important (or biggest) producers, the Cooperative and largest estates. The taste test thus tends to adopt a lowest common denominator approach in which wines have to taste “typical” according to what most producers are making these days, which isn’t terribly different from 20 years ago.
For the average producer (most of them) the Appellation is what sells the wine whether it’s Saumur-Champigny or Beaujolais-Villages or Vacqueyras or Corbières.
But for the producer who aspires to make the most interesting, most qualitative wine, what sells is not his Appellation but his craft. In other words the discerning buyer looks at who makes the wine rather than the Appellation.
Today’s artisanal producers have pushed quality far ahead in the last ten years, particularly with the rise and rise of natural wine (not saying that natural wine itself is necessarily always the most qualitative but that the movement itself has galvanised artisan production). Many wines have evolved far beyond the mass market homogeneity of the “average” Appellation wine.
Vin de France used to be known as Vin de Table, a kind of lowest of the low, a designation for what could be anything from anywhere that didn’t make Vin de Pays or Appellation Controlée. And it usually was lowest of the low, without any indication where it came from, what it was made from, who made it, or even when (year of production or vintage wasn’t even permitted on the bottle), although the why was obvious, to make something cheap for mass market sales supermarkets, no explanation offered or required.
But as artisan producer’s wines started to taste different from the mainstream and were denied Appellation status they started to systematically apply the Vin de France status to their wines instead, knowing (or hoping) that their clients would understand. It’s frustrating for wine buyers looking to check boxes with lists based on Appellations but some of the best lists are regional and divided into Appellation, IGP (Indication Geography Protected, formerly Vin de Pays) or Vin de France (VDF).
There also happens to be less paperwork, and thus it’s cheaper, to apply for VDF status.
Today in my own database I put the region in brackets after VDF, thus VDF (Roussillon) or VDF (Rhône). This helps me and my clients understand where the wine comes from. In Spain this is even more necessary since the vast majority of wines we work with are designated Vino de España – although since many of our wines come from independent-minded regions like Catalonia and Galicia we don’t even find the words Vino de España on the label, just Vino!
Once upon a time, the Appellation system, as we mentioned a few weeks ago, was originally designed to simply designate and guarantee the provenance of wine, which came with a basic set of rules about permitted varieties, farming and winemaking methods. Little by little the rules developed to control the blend, permitted new “famous” grapes and denied obscure but indigenous grapes, and to control the method of farming and the method of winemaking. The goal was never to control the taste – after all, once upon a time, these grapes, farmed thus, and made in the traditional way, would taste a certain way, with some producers, as ever, doing a better job than others within all the parameters and others merely journeymanning. But today’s Appellation rules, particularly outside the most well-defined region in the world, Burgundy, has come to serve the taste of the mass market.
Whether in Bandol, or Corbières, or Côtes du Rhône artisan producers of superb wines of terroir are forbidden by Appellation laws from making wines from 100% the grape that defines the region, be it Mourvèdre in Bandol, or Grenache Noir in the Côtes du Rhône. Thus the wines of Philippe Badea, rich, classic Southern Rhône wines are designated Vin de France rather than Côtes du Rhône simply because they’re all 100% Grenache Noir!
We highly recommend Vin de France or just Vino (from Spain)!
アペラシオンとVin de France
“VIn de France “ラベルのワインはその品質がアペラシオンワインに比べて安くて劣るものなのか？
2015年、我々が日本に紹介をしているルーションのJean-Philippe PadiéのワインがそれまでのアペラシオンCotes du RoussillonからVin de France に変更になりました。
Vin de Franceは以前のVin de Tableに変わるものです。いわゆる階級下でテーブルワインであり産地、生産場所、品種、ヴィンテージなど基本的に何も明記をする必要はありません。(フランス産であれば）元々は明らかに一般市場のスーパーマーケット向けの安価なものがターゲットでした。
この理由からPadieが15年からこのVin de Franceに変更したことは質が落ちたように思われる一般の方もいらっしゃったはずです。
アルティザン生産者のワインがメインストリームのものとは異なりPadieのようにアペラシオンに拒否をされるなどし、（または元々アペラシオンに興味もない人もいますが）彼らは順次Vin de Franceに移行をし始めました。そしてそれを新たな市場は見逃しませんでした。もはやナチュラルワインの世界ではVin de France の表記で自由な表現をしてワインを作る方が当たり前のようになっています。 昨今は地方を超えてブレンドをしたり白ぶどう、黒ぶどうのブレンドや醸造方法など多岐に渡ります。
Vin de Franceを名乗る他の主な理由としてはアペラシオンに定められた品種以外の品種を使用している、アペラシオン域外の産地のものをブレンドしている、アペラシオンルールに沿った醸造方法以外の方法で作っている、などが挙げられます。
ただし、注意しなければならないのはVin de Franceだからとは言え、産地や品種の個性も見失っているワインが残念ながら存在することです。
It’s pretty easy to get a handle on the famous and ubiquitous grapes of the wine world. But these days some of the real treasure lies in the less well known grapes which offer both delicious surprises and great value.
In my old Oxford Companion of Wine from the 1990’s, edited by Jancis Robinson, Carignan was described as “the bane of the European wine industry … which has its work cut out to eradicate it… high in everything – acid, tannins, colour, bitterness – but charm and finesse”. Oh dear! What judgment.
Happily, today Carignan and Mourvèdre play central roles in many great wines from the south of France, while Cinsault plays an interesting supporting role.
Carignan’s former reputation is probably more about the poor practices of farmers than about the grape. Yes, it’s sensitive to powdery mildew. Which means it requires a lot of treatment if grown industrially and/or planted in the wrong place. Treatment would be mainly chemical to protect high yields. And when subsequently machine-harvested from chemically treated vineyards with a residual of mildew the grapes probably were pretty bad and would then be subject to carbonic maceration as well as all sorts of manipulation to try to mask the defects in the raw material.
Plant Carignan in the right place, farm it for health, with a reasonable yield of around 40 hl/ha, and it will produce a variety of delicious and often exciting wines, solo or as part of a blend.
On its own it can be full of wild black berry fruits, fig, savoury spice, meaty and earthy, a naturally cool acidity and fine, gently bitter tannins, all the elements of drinkability and which can come together in an elegant, very digestible way.
It’s found mainly the Languedoc-Roussillon as well as in the Southern Rhône. In the Costières de Nîmes, for example, it does much better to retain fruit freshness and ripen with lower degrees in the heat than does Grenache Noir. See the lovely wines from Clos des Boutes a biodynamically farmed Domaine on the plateau of Bellegarde.
Prior to the creation of the Vacqueyras Appellation in 1990 Carignan was defended strongly by our neighbours Domaine la Garrigue for inclusion. A few percent help to balance and bring complexity to the riches, sometimes excesses, of Grenache Noir and Syrah – although, sadly, few producers still grow it.
Mourvèdre is at home, in all senses, in Bandol and found all around the Mediterranean. It’s a more solid, dense, structured variety than the supple, fluid, more high-toned Carignan, more red fruit, wild Provençal herb, more leather and roast meat. So solid, it’s rarely used on its own in France. In Spain it’s known as Monastrell and somehow thrives inland from Valencia in the Jumilla region at high altitude to produce positively jammy but just fresh wines.
Cinsault grows in the same places as Carignan and Mourvèdre. It plays a role of adding freshness to blends. Aromatically similar to Grenache Noir, with red fruits, garrigue, floral notes, it ripens with less alcohol and softer tannins. It’s perfect for Rosé, and can add to the digestibility of Grenache Noir wines.
Being based in the south of France we feel fortunate in coming across wonderful examples of these grapes and blends. Here’s a recent selection.
Les Clos Perdus uses all three varieties in typically judicious and delicious moves. The Prioundo Cuvée adds 25% Cinsault to Grenache Noir both from the garrigue scented hills of the Corbieres. The Cinsault adds perfume, finesse and freshness. It’s a beautiful wine.
Les Clos Perdus Le Rosé is in effect pure Mourvèdre and one of our favourite Rosés. Complex and gastronomic yet very drinkable, it brims with aroma: strawberry fruit, toasted wild herbs, green and black olives; and posseses a vibrant vegetal citrussy acidity with fine tannins.
Les Clos Perdus Cuvée is a blend of Carignan and Grenache Noir which is terrific value, with tons of energy and spicy, confit red fruit.
In the Languedoc, Jeff Coutelou, one of the saviours of his particular region near Beziers from the march of chemical and industrial-organic mono-viticulture makes a lovely pure Cinsault Rosé, 5SO, without sulfites, that’s pure digestibility and lemon-infused strawberry fruit.
At Matassa in Calce, Tom Lubbe blends old Carignan and Mourvèdre to make a great wine called Ace of Spades, which expresses licorice, cumin, stinging nettle, black cherry and cassis (I got carried away with the fruit description), both juicy and tannic. Quite brilliant. Tom makes other wines from old Carignan.
Up in the hills in the Roussillon, Cyril Fhal of Clos du Rouge Gorge makes a pure old vine Carignan, of which there are never enough bottles to go round (and they’re expensive). He obtains incredible finesse from the grape.
In the hills of the Minervois, Romain Pion is a young grower who’s making pure Carignan wines quite different from those of the aforementioned. Romain’s wines are more pure fruit, with a vivid, floral freshness, seamless tannins, very fluid and digestible. In particular his L’Habit ne fait pas la Moine – the habit doesn’t make the monk (or don’t believe what they tell you about the grape).
We also discovered Romain’s friend and neighbour Benjamin Baudet making a couple of thousand bottles each of very fine, pure Carignan Cuvées, oaked and unoaked. Both super-fresh displaying black fruits and spice with great balance. Benjamin, a nature lover, makes his living as a mountain guide but loves to grow grapes to pursue his simultaneous calling as winemaker.
Back in Calce, Jean-Philippe Padié makes his elegant Petit Taureau from a blend of Carignan and Syrah with a bit of Mourvèdre sometimes. This is one of the most unusual Cuvées from the Roussillon given its poise, lightness, freshness and purity of fruit. You are forgiven for thinking you’re drinking Beaujolais or Bourgogne.
Jean-Philippe also makes a pure Carignan called Le Pacha that’s aged part in anfora, part in old oak, from vines planted between 1900 and 1920, that’s stunning, very pure, very fresh, intensely aromatic and silky.
In Bandol, Agnes Henry at Tour du Bon bases her glorious Bandol Rosé on Cinsault for juiciness and floral aromas, while filling it out with Mourvèdre and Grenache Noir. It’s one of most complex Rosés we know and versatile with so many different dishes you could dine with it daily in the summertime.
At the same time, her classic, beautiful Bandol rouge is based on Mourvèdre, softened by Grenache Noir. And she makes a pure very old vine Mourvèdre, En-Sol, in anfora which tastes nothing like Bandol, or really anything you know, but is really one of the finest wines we’ve come across from the Mediterranean region; aromas of black and red cherry, cacao, sweet and savoury spice, it’s silky and fresh, refreshing and then comes a pronounced tannic finish. We’re not surprised that Can Roca Restaurant just shipped 300 bottles in May for their summer season.
Finally, a wine we picked up at the excellent Ballon 2 Rouge (translate: a glass o’ red) wine shop in St Remy de Provence; a rare bottle of Mas Jullien Rosé 2019. A blend of all three, Cinsault, Carignan and Mourvèdre, and is everything to give Rosé a good name, with plenty of juicy red berry fruit, snatches of wild herb, spice, citrus fruit, nothing too loud, plenty of ripe, digestible acidity and some gentle tannins. It was delicious and we drank it both as aperitif and a second night with a green chicken curry which wasn’t too much for the wine to cope with. It comes from the Terraces of Larzac north of Montpellier.
Almost everything we know about Raúl Calle’s wines for now has been posted here!
Raúl and Laura Calle are making brilliant, individualistic wines in the Gredos in a completely different style from some perhaps better known producers like their friend and equally iconoclastic Fabio Bartolomei (see here) or larger, much more polished producers like Comando G or Marañones. Here is very small scale artisanal work, with no added sulfites, wines with some edges, pulsating energy and plenty of emotion.
Almost everything we know about Aitor’s wines, Celler Tarannà Po-etic, for now has been posted here!
Aitor is a new voice in Tarragona, located between leading producers Joan Ramon Escoda and Jordi Llorens, both of whom he works with and both of whom have clearly influenced Aitor. Yet his wines are as distinctively his own as his painstakingly detailed labels.
Almost everything we know about Tour du Bon’s wines for now has been posted here!
Agnès Henry has run this lovely, small Bandol estate since 1990, adhering with great consistency to a simple philosophy of organic farming and making the wines as simply as possible for maximum pleasure and digestibility. Bandol is the great source of Mourvèdre based wines, both red and Rosé. We can’t think of more charming, versatile, drinkable Bandol than those of Tour du Bon.
Almost everything we know about Domaine Balazu des Vaussières’s wines for now has been posted here!
Domaine Balazu des Vaussières is a tiny Domaine based in Tavel in the Southern Rhône, making biodynamic and minimal intervention wines, without added sulfites. They’re stunning wines, very pure, totally different from anything else in the region, yet utterly of the region.
Almost everything we know about SIN Project’s wines for now has been posted here!
SIN Project is another project by consultant winemaker Amós Bañeres with his pal Alex Rios. The aim is to make pale, fresh, light, vegetal, un-manipulated wines from their region which is better known for rich and heavy, usually oaked wines.
Almost everything we know about Yves Gangloff’s wines for now has been posted here!
Yves Gangloff produces some of the world’s greatest and most sought after Syrah from Côte Rôtie and Viognier from Condrieu. Starting in the mid 1980’s he has very carefully built a reputation for impeccable quality – at the expense of volume for the quantities are very limited. Yves remains totally hands-on carrying out every aspect of the work himself – and is usually there to meet his customers, too.
As you know we visited Galicia recently. In the Rias Baixas, we went to visit Alberto Nanclares, one of only a handful of producers farming organically in this region. His Albariño’s possessed a stunning clarity, and gentle sea-salty pure fruit, that was far from the shrill acidity and sweet fruit of the big names. Alberto, a former economist, explained his own conversion to organic farming around 10 years ago; he was concerned about spraying chemicals on his door-step so he simply stopped. His workload increased considerably but he found that the resulting wines offered more depth of flavour and complexity as well as more ripeness of acidity.
We learned that like elsewhere in Galicia there had been a hugely successful wine export industry several centuries ago. Following war, phyllorexa and much emigration from what became an isolated and very poor region, winemaking was reliant on hybrids and the maladapted Palomino grape during the twentieth century. Then Spain entered the EU and funds arrived for the re-generation of the region, including the re-planting of Albariño. This is an almost rare instance where an indigenous grape has been blessed and re-planted to great effect. The wines are atypical of Spanish wine being white and high in acidity and full of fruit. They became a smash in Madrid and on the export market, albeit, s usual, the market was dominated by big brands working industrially.
From the Rias Baixas we drove inland to visit producers in the D.O.’s of Monterrei, Ribeiro, and Valdeorras. Ribeiro has the oldest fine wine tradition in Galicia. For, before the Spanish-English War of the sixteenth century, its red wine was one of the most highly prized imported wines to England, with prices higher than those of Bordeaux. We were fortunate to taste the extraordinary wines of Bernardo Estevez, who possesses 28 native varieties planted on 70 tiny plots or terraces on just three hectares, all farmed organically. His work is truly a deep labour of love for the land. He almost forgot to show us the wines, he was so rapt to show us plot after plot of his vines. Unfortunately Bernardo only produces around 6 to 12,000 bottles of wine depending on the year. We also tasted the excellent first wines of Bernardo’s friend and colleague, Antonio Míguez Amil.
Further inland is the winegrower whose wines are starting to wow foreign markets, Nacho Gonzalez of La Perdida. Nacho cites Bernardo as his teacher. Nacho produces incredibly fine and exciting wines from Godello, Dona Branca (called Doña Blanca in the rest of Spain), Palomino (which here inland and with Nacho’s care is lovely), Garnacha Tintorera (known as Alicante Bouschet in France, and much maligned there because it’s “difficult”), Sumoll, and Mencía, mostly in blends.
The D.O. Monterrei lies in a pocket of southern Galicia surrounded on three sides by Portugal. There we met the producer Xico de Mandín another student and friend of Nacho Gonzalez and Bernardo Estevez. He showed us very fine, pure, complex, delicious wines from blends of Dona Branca and Verdelho with a touch of Treixadura in white and in red from Tinto Amarello, Mencía, Bastardo, Sarodeo, Sousán and Samarrica.
They were just what we wanted to drink with the abundant seafood of the region and the wines that we’ve brought back to France with us taste every bit as thrilling here.
Few of these producers travel beyond their region, hesitate to show their treasures to the wider world for fear we will not be interested. We’re very interested. We see a bright future for native grape varieties farmed sustainably and vinified naturally.
Almost everything we know about Alberto Nanclares’s wines for now has been posted here!
Alberto Nanclares produces around just 40,000 bottles a year of sublime Albariño in the Rias Baixas D.O. He’s an economist turned farmer. And the pioneer of organic farming in this region and still one of the few. He’s adored by other natural winemakers in Galicia and little by little becoming known on a wider stage.
Almost everything we know about Bodega Frontio’s wines for now has been posted here!
Bodega Frontio was founded in 2016 by Dane Thyge Jensen in the little known D.O. Arribes in the Duero region bordering on Portugal. He quit a good day job in Copenhagen to come here with his family to farm. Ever humorous he’s also evidently committed to making fine wine from local grapes and promoting sustainable farming while he’s about it.
Almost everything we know about Bernardo Estevez’s wines for now has been posted here!
Bernardo Estevez is based in the Ribeiro and is revered by the handful of Galician natural winemakers we know for his work in the vineyard while being totally modest about his wines. He makes far too few bottles but they’re as beautiful as the vines.
What: La Levée de la Loire
Where: Angers Parc Expo, Amphitea, Route de Paris, 49000 Angers
When: 2019-02-04 Monday & 05 Tuesday, 10h-18h
There’s even less information to be found on who’s showing than for the Montpellier Off’s the weekend before but it’s likely to be similar to years’ past, in other words a treat; while sometimes a bit of a scrum.
Almost everything we know about Antonio Míguez Amil’s wines for now has been posted here!
Antonio Míguez Amil makes just one red wine, a fine, cool Ribeiro in Galicia called Boas Vides (good vines), from around six indigenous varieties, organically farmed on ancient stone terraces, on largely granite soils.
Here’s a list of salons around Millesime Bio 2019.
Millesime Bio itself takes place from Monday 2019-01-28, 10h-19h, to 2019-01-29 & 30, 9h-18h.
What: Vin de Mes Amis
Where: Domaine de Verchant, 34170 Castelnau le Lez
When: 2019-01-27 & 28, 10h-19h
What: Les Affranchis
Where: Château de Flaugergues, 1744 Avenue Albert Einstein, 34000 Montpellier
When: 2019-01-27 & 28, 11h-19h & 18h
Where: Les Grands Chais, Mauguio
When: 2019-01-27 & 28, 10h-18h
What: Les vignerons de l’irréel à Montpellier
Where: Le Dieze, 188 Avenue du Marché-Gare, 34070 Montpellier
When: 2019-01-27 & 28, 10h-18h
What: Roots 66
Where: Château de la Mogère, 2235 rte de Vauguières, 34000 Montpellier
When: 2019-01-28 & 29, 11h-18h
It’s surprisingly difficult to find lists of producers attending the fairs other than and even on third party platforms like Facebook (which we don’t do). But usually it’s the same or similar to previous years.
The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe.
– Albert Einstein
We thought of this wisdom when we toured Galicia recently. There we tasted wines made from two dozen grape varieties and recalled the infamous rant by Robert Parker a few years ago and detailed below.
Galicia is a region which lies in the north-west of Spain on the Atlantic Coast. In Vigo, the most populous city, in the Rias Baixas sub-region, we drank lots of wine made from the local Albariño grape, then, over a few days, we drank wines made from the following grapes, Dona Branca, Palomino, Garnacha Tintorera, Mencia, Caiño, Treixadura, Godello, Lado, Sousón, Ferran, and many others! We visited, among other producers, one Bernardo Estevez in the Ribeiro region who farms 28 varieties.
One of the most joyous aspects of the natural wine world is the discovery of native, or indigenous grape varieties, such as Poulsard and Savagnin from the Jura, Pineau d’Aunis or Menu Pineau from the Loire, Macabeu from the Roussillon and Catalonia, and those above-mentioned from Galicia. There are hundreds of others.
However, there was a moment at the start of the twenty-first century when it seemed nothing could stop the reduction of the wine world towards a handful of French grapes become known as “international varieties”. They were everywhere and, like Starbucks, seemed to offer the same experience wherever you went outside their native areas (still a few great wines from Cab’s Sav. and Franc and Merlot in Bordeaux and, from Pinot Noir in Bourgogne, or from Syrah in the Northern Rhône and Grenache in the Southern Rhône). The French wine authorities decreed that growers in many parts of southern France must plant Syrah to “improve” their wines and even in the southern Rhône a Côtes du Rhône cannot be 100% Grenache. Chardonnay and Merlot were planted all over the Languedoc. And Spain. And Italy. And Australia, New Zealand, California, Chile, etc.
As the natural wine movement gained traction, not least in response to this homogenisation of wine styles, wines from indigenous grapes were frequently belittled. Robert Parker wrote that such wines were from “godforsaken grapes that in hundreds and hundreds of years of viticulture, wine consumption, etc., have never gotten traction because they are rarely of interest …”.
Such grapes are of great interest to the people who farm them. And they’re of great interest to those who live in regions where wines are made from local grapes. For they are a celebration of local and regional culture. They usually make a fantastic marriage with the local food. For those visiting such regions, tourists, adventurers, and the curious who get to taste the wines when exported, such grapes open up new worlds.
For those really interested in wine, the best way to to learn about it is with an atlas, a reference book of grape varieties, some basic tasting skills, an open mind and some curiosity for the cultural context of the wine.
Indigenous grapes are usually those best adapted to the given terroir, the soil and climate. They will have been tried and tested over hundreds of years prior to the arrival of international varieties and modern farming methods. Chardonnay or Merlot or Syrah might well grow just about anywhere. But that isn’t necessarily a good thing. For the results are often excess fruit and alcohol, considered a good thing only by those looking for quantity not quality – or excess fruit and alcohol.
The key to the success of wines made from indigenous grapes is the intention and competence of the winemaker. To grow the grapes sustainably, caring for the soils, and making the wine as naturally as possible, eschewing chemicals, additives and processes that will manipulate and mask nature. Cooperatives and large Brands are rarely going to treat the grapes with the respect necessary to reveal the quality inherent because of the production methods they use.
This year we’ve talked a lot about Beaujolais. Gamay is the sole, native grape of this region. Every time we drink good Beaujolais, and there are many, we marvel at the combination of finesse, fruit purity, balance and pleasure. Gamay may be the ultimate indigenous variety but all indigenous grapes tell a great story.
Almost everything we know about Els Vinyerons Vins Naturals wines for now has been posted here!
Els Vinyerons Vins Naturals is a brilliantly realised project to make inexpensive organic, sans soufre, terroir wines. By Alex Rios and Amós Bañeres, who each produce very successful but totally different wines in their own name.
Almost everything we know about La Perdida’s wines for now has been posted here!
La Perdida is run by Nacho Gonzalez who produces fewer than 15,000 bottles a year from 28 tiny parcels of vines in inland Galicia. A maverick, he’s fiercely organic, and works without any additives in the cellar. The wines are humorous and generous, and as riveting as Nacho’s work.
Almost everything we know about Amós Bañeres’s wines for now has been posted here!
Amós makes tiny quantities of pure, complex, elegant, rich and totally gorgeous wines from a small hillside near Vilafranca in the Penedès of Macabeu on one side and Xarel-lo on the other. Without added sulfites.
Almost everything we know about Valentin Valles’s wines for now has been posted here!
Valentin makes some of the most original and natural wines in the Rhône. He worked for a several years at L’Anglore. His own wines have a wonderful lightness of touch, sense of fun and play about them, as well as great balance and harmony.
Everything we know about Jean-Philippe Padié’s wines for now has been posted here!
Jean-Philippe Padié makes some of most natural, pure, delicate and complex wines in the Roussillon from his biodynamically farmed vines sited on a mosaic of soils in Calce. Each Cuvée is a fabulous adventure.
Everything we know about Laurent Charvin’s wines for now has been posted here!
Laurent Charvin is one of the greatest producers in all of France, crafting great Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Côtes du Rhône unlike almost any others in these Appellations, bringing incredible freshness and elegance to the rich natural taste of the terroir.
Everything we know about Bois de Boursan’s wines for now has been posted here!
Jean-Paul Versino is one of the few remaining producers in Châteauneuf-du-Pape to work traditionally: a blend of all terroirs of the Appellation, very old vines, whole bunch fermentation with natural yeasts, minimal intervention and long ageing in foudre. He consistently produces great wine, which we’ve been drinking for 20 years. He has resisted all attempts to modernise and we’re grateful.
Everything we know about Thierry Alexandre’s wines for now has been posted here!
Thierry Alexandre makes tiny volumes of Syrah and Marsanne in the Northern Rhône, both St Joseph and Vin de France, and since 2017 a Crozes-Hermitage Blanc (just 300 bottles, though). The wines have a delicious purity and are old fashioned in the sense of being relatively light, gently balanced, neither too fruity, nor too earthy.
Everything we know about Charly Thevenet’s wine for now has been posted here!
Charly Thevenet makes outstanding Cru Beaujolais. Like his Papa, Jean-Paul, he makes a very limited quantity of just one wine from one Appellation, in his case, Regnié. Fruit, finesse, freshness, complexity are all present.
Everything we know about Joan Ramon Escoda’s wines for now has been posted here!
Joan Ramon is one of the pioneers of natural wine in Catalonia, Spain, has been working sans soufre since 2007 and makes brilliantly digestible and energetic wines that carefully balance fruit and root savouriness. The whole range is a delight.
Everything we know about Fabio’s wines for now has been posted here!
Fabio is a unique voice in the trendy but still unknown Sierra de Gredos region west of Madrid. It’s a large, dispersed mountainous area with a sea of abandoned vineyards from another age which producers like Fabio are slowly recovering. Fabio is entirely self-taught, his wines have an innocent purity, are usually cloudy and strange-looking but burst with the taste of what they are.
Everything we know about Jordi’s wines for now has been posted here!
Jordi makes beautiful sans soufre wines in the Conca de Barberà region, near his friend Joan Ramon Escoda. An eighth generation farmer who has a deep understanding and love of his soils, he’s been making wine since 2008.