Hello! I’m now back home from London and am adjusting to a ‘normal’ life. I know you’ve been waiting to hear from me! Finally, I’ll share some of the experiences but first, I’ll review Raw Wine London. The Raw Wine Fair was more inspirational and educational than any previous wine fairs I’d attended, and I’ll explain why. You might want to grab a glass of wine and sit back before going on because this long post might bore you.
There are so many wines to review and so much to say so I’ve decided to write in two posts. The first one will be about my general impression and a few remarkable wines, followed by the second part, which will feature more memorable wines that are worth a mention.
To start off, why did I attend the event?
I’ve been interested in organic wines ever since the film, Mondovino but wasn’t quite crazy enough to drink ‘only’ organic wine, whose term has evolved into ‘natural wine‘ over time. I’ve always cooked seasonal and healthy, plus some of my wine friends happened to be sensitive to sulfites so it was only natural for me to seek out wines with little additives whenever possible. Then, one day it began to dawn on me that wines from different countries started to taste similar and I started looking for something different.
When I look back on my experiences, the wines that stand out in my memory are those with special stories to tell. Do you remember the wines I wrote about during my adventures in France? The wine that got me so excited? When I saw Chateau Mirebeau from Bordeaux and Domaine de La Pinte from Jura on the artisan list at Raw Wine, I knew it was my fate to go.
All those years ago, when biodynamic or organic wasn’t much of my concern, these wines crossed my paths and there I went to relive the precious memories of my wine journey and learn more about the ‘trend’.
I got there early, following the advice from people who had attended the previous fair that it gets very crowded. Almighty 162 stalls over 60 wine regions across the world! The artisan guide book really helped to navigate the floor and jot down tasting notes.
I didn’t know where to start from. It was daunting unless you’d done your research before coming, which wasn’t my case, to be led by senses and instinct. But at least, I had one goal and went straight there, Chateau Mirebeau. I was so excited to have finally met the winemakers and hear their story, and of course, to taste their delicious wines again. I got some tips and recommendations from them and went on my exploration.
The space quickly filled up with wine enthusiasts, who walked around, engaging in conversations and studiously taking notes, and the growers passionately answered all the questions. This interaction, the openness, the honesty and the passion created an exciting atmosphere, which seems to be what sets Raw Wine apart from any other wine fairs out there.
A woman I met there, who flew all the way from Singapore, was exuberant about hand-picking good wines to take back home for newly opened wine business. She was surprised by the scale of the event and the nice people she got to talk to at the event. We both agreed that people were as natural and energetic as the wines.
I tasted about 40 stalls out of 162 over 2 days from 10am -6pm. Good or bad? I guess I could have done better but I think 20 stalls per day were pretty intense. It wasn’t a ‘party’ but rather a ‘workshop’ where I studied and refreshed my knowledge.
Full of Surprises and Emotion
Sure, most of the visitors, who probably are the fans of natural wine and orange wine, seemed to know why they were there, but occasionally there were people like me who stand on the border line, wanting to be swayed over. I think it is a positive thing that people care about how wine is made and the land the grapes come from. To be honest, in the minds of many wine drinkers, natural wine has a connotation of ‘easy drinking’.
But that prejudice was broken and, after tasting various types of natural wine, I got a better understanding of what it truly means.
Chateau le Puy is probably one of them, which proves that serious wines can be made with the philosophy of natural wine. Long established in natural winemaking and very popular in Japan, it was indeed remarkable, especially ‘Barthelemy‘. No added sulfites, no filtration, no fining, and no new oak, but what they do is batonnage according to a lunar calendar, 3 times a day for 2 years! It was delicious, flowing with red forest fruits, grass, spices, fresh acidity and a long elegant finish. Their ‘Emilien’ was also lovely, exhibiting more earthiness and mushroom.
Vignaioli Contrà Soarda, from Veneto, was amazing, too, pure, rich, and full of flavours. Talking to Eleanora, the free-spirited and bold daughter of the Gottardi family, while tasting the wines, one can really sense the passion and energy that goes into what they believe to be the right way of making wine.
Each label shows a different block of vineyard the grapes are sourced from – clever and charming – and their wines are made from Camenere, Pinot Nero, Marzemino and Merlot.
121 Bc (bianco) is a orange wine made with Vespaiolo, which was macerated with skin for 2 weeks and aged in untoasted oak barrels with steam for 6 months. It was racy and complex with aromas of citrus, peach, floral, and a hint of nuttiness and minerality, and had an incredibly long finish. 121 Bc (rosso) was also delicious with intense and complex flavours of cherries, wild berry jam, white pepper, tobacco, cinnamon and a long elegant finish.
She explained to me about their Musso wines with pride and passion. She says that when people talk about terroir, they talk about soil and climate, but not cows and donkeys that roam in the vineyards, so she made this donkey series to provoke people.
Musso Serafino, though it might sound cheeky and playful, the wines are not! They were well-crafted, clean, and delicious wines, with the Reserva having the potential to age for decades. The design and the wax capsules are all done by her, one by one. What a labour of love!
Actually I noticed many wines had wax capsules at the fair, AND lots of orange wines, which I didn’t expect at all. As you taste wine, you will hear ‘wild yeast, skin contact, unfiltered, unfined, no sulfites’ repeatedly. If wines are as good as these and are good to the nature, I’m in.
The wines from Eugenio Bocchino gave me a big surprise, ‘Is it really made from Nebbiolo??’ Their wines were also a result of labour of love and respect. I tasted Langhe Nebbiolo “Roccabella 2015, which was a soft gentle wine smelling of strawberry and rose, and Barolo, “lu” 2013, which, again, exhibited more ripe red fruits, thyme and warm spices with a complex and lingering aftertaste.
And came Nebbiolo d’Alba, La Perucca 2012, which blew me away. It was very different to all other Nebbiolo wines I’d drunk in the past. Seductive red fruit, floral, herbal aromas brought a smile to my face – always a good sign – and the refreshing and elegant taste with silky tannins made me write a big ‘V’ to its name. Wow… who would have thought Nebbiolo could taste so delicate like Pinot Noir?
White or Orange? Amphora or No amphora?
One thing that struck me was how many wineries are using the Georgian qvevri winemaking., whether it be the long maceration with skin and stalks or the fermentation in amphorae. Before going to the fair, it didn’t occur to me that I’d be tasting loads of wines fermented in amphorae and ‘orange wine’.
I’ve been to Georgia so I was quite familiar with the style. At the fair, I came across many amphora wines but some of them were too raw and harsh to enjoy and, at one point, I got worried about my teeth falling out because of the high acidity and tannins.
I remember being somewhat puzzled and disappointed by the Sicilian wines made with Nerello Mascalese at a stall of a pretty renown winery. It was a different wine to what stole my heart in Sicily. I even asked, ‘Is it the real flavours of the grape?’ Oh well… I hadn’t had many Nerello Mascalese wines but it was so different, which got me thinking that perhaps amphorae work better with white grapes and selective red varieties. But I’m no expert on that. That’s why I was there to learn in the first place.
I walked around, tasting and making notes, looking for something that would resolve my nagging thoughts. Then I got to Domaine Viret from the Rhone and tasted their wines, which finally answered my questions. Their ‘Dolia Paradis 1’ was different to any other wines fermented in amphorae, and the one of the best I’d tasted at the fair. The reason?
My notes say, ‘silky tannins, softer than most amphora wines, delicate‘. Besides that, it has amazing concentration and depth of dark forest fruit, licorice, chocolate, cinnamon, etc. Simply, yummy! It got a big circle next to its name in my guide book.
‘Mareotis 2012‘, made from Grenach and Syrah, went through 30 days of maceration and 36 months of ageing, and it was also delicious.
Then came the wine that stole my heart, Dolia Ambre 2015, their so-called orange wine, made from Roussane, Marssane and a little Muscat. It’s delicious and complex, a whiff of orange peel, apricot, honey, rose, ginger, hazelnut, and with a long lingering finish. I couldn’t praise it enough and wanted to just stay there sipping it till the end., and I’m not even a fan of sweet wine!
Gravner is another winery that got my big circle. Made of indigenous grapes, Ribolla for white and Pignolo for red, their whites are very special and delicious. It’s a wine of passion and patience, spending in barrels for 7-10 years after extended fermentation in amphorae! ‘Ribolla 2008‘ was fresh with a touch of vanilla, toffee and marmalade, and my note says, ‘a very long gracious lovely aftertaste‘. Fascinating!
A detailed article about the winery is found on Wine Anorak. Bianco Breg 2008, a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio, had aromas of apricot, lemon blossom, and nuts. Very complex and delicious. Rosso Breg 2004 was a very elegant, fine, complex red with a firm structure. This wine definitely made me rethink about amphora wines.
I was very curious and slightly doubtful about how Alsace would take on the qvevri, so I approached Laurent Bannwarth prudently. Some hazy Riesling and Gewurt, anyone?
I can imagine it would be a strange experience to jump from clear and crisp Riesling, but it turned out to be quite different to what I’d imagined. Ripe stone fruit, pineapple, and marmalade undertone…. very interesting. The most interesting was ‘La Petite Folie’ , which is a semi-sparkling wine made from Gewurztraminer, and it had an aroma of apple, pineapple, a touch of ginger and sweetness. It reminded me of apple cider quite a lot. Their wines are among the most memorable over my 2 day visit, I must say.
Upgrade Your Grape Count – Time for Indigenous Grapes
One of the biggest gains at Raw Wine was the discovery of new indigenous grapes and my grape count went up.
Tuscany had quite a wide list and many got my ‘circle’ marks. Sequericiani is marked as ‘yummy’ and I see a lot of tasting notes scribbled down.
Pugnitello, fermented in amphorae and aged in barrels, deep ruby, has a complex nose of dark fruit and potpourri, and is full-bodied with supple tannins for potential ageing. Another revived ancient grape, Fogliatonda is also a rich full-bodied wine with lush forest fruit, prune and violet. Just look at the colour! Isn’t it gorgeous? I’m drooling looking at the photos.
What I loved the most about these wines were the smell, clean and profound. Such a delight to just sniff away.
Libello is made from Sangiovese and Ciliegiolo and has, yet again, a lovely bouquet of red cherry and blackcurrent and violet with powerful tannins and fresh acidity. 15% of the harvest is picked earlier then the rest and used as a pied de cuve to start fermentation in cement tanks. No external temperature control, no added sulfites and not fined nor filtered, yet clean and delicious.
Then, the passito, Aleatico to finish off. It had only one word written, ‘wow‘. Yes, no more words necessary. It was really yummy!
What about Gaglioppo in Calabria? I know Aglianco, the full bodied and mouth-coating red, but voila, there’s another ancient grape. I tasted Cataldo Calabretta, Ciro Rosso Doc, Superiore and Riserva, and they were pale ruby with aromas of cherry, red forest fruit and spice, and grippy tannins, again the mouth-coating tannins, which require food or a decade to lay down. It was reminiscent of Pinot + Nebbiolo and quite interesting.
Right next to it was Domaine Ligas, where I tasted some rare Greek varieties, such as Roditis, Kydonitsa, Assyrtiko, Limniona and Xinomavro. Some of the interesting wines to note are Kydonitsa Barrique and Roditis Barrique, which were aromatic with pear, mango and nuts, due to the flor fermentation. Sauvage Bleu, which is a red with Limniona – Aristotle’s favourite! – and is fruity and spicy with firm tannins, like Pinot.
To sum up, it was fantastic, to say the least. I got far more out of the event than I’d expected. It should be on a wishlist of any wine lovers, who thrive to unravel the myths in winemaking and seek ‘good’ wines and meet ‘good’ people. It seemed apparent that organic, biodynamic, natural wine, whatever you call it, has improved over the last 10 years and gain a foothold.
In the time when I was growing weary of drinking wines in a uniformed style, it was like a fresh breeze to smell and taste unique wines without much oak influence, which truly allows you to focus on the vast spectrum of natural aromas in wine and practice your olfactory system, which you don’t get in formal wine courses.
Also, there’s a perk of tasting some rare wines that you won’t come across easily. Some of the wines come in a high price tag because of the work that goes in. What work? Doesn’t natural wine mean that you crush the grapes and let the nature do the work? WRONG. Natural wine begins in the vineyards, and it’s a lot of work. At least, as a drinker, we know that we are paying for what is in the bottle. Some of the wines were truly stunning and were on par with Grand Crus in terms of satisfaction. On top of that, talking to the growers and producers, who are unpretentious and willing to share their know-how and passion, was very much appreciated by many wine enthusiasts and future winemakers.
So will I go again next year? Yes, definitely, if the time and the location suits me. I had so much fun and met amazing and like-minded people during my visit, which was a bonus.
I hope this post was helpful for those who wonder about the event. I’ll share some memorable wines in the part 2 so please stay tuned!