All's Fair in Real and RAW

POSTED ON 16/06/2012

All’s Fair in Real and Raw

If you’re old enough to remember punk, you may recall the heady excitement generated when the Sex Pistols and the Clash burst onto the scene in 1976 with spontaneous gigs in clubs, pubs and warehouses. It may not always have been pretty, but the rebellious energy of punk took the rock scene by the scruff of its mainstream neck. Middle of the road rockers like Roxy Music, and Uncle Elton et al started to look, and most likely, feel, their age.

Odious as comparisons are, similar or more contemporary references at least, were inevitable in a week in which the RAW, the Real and the London International Wine Fairs took place cheek-by-jowl. The energetic spirit of freedom and self-determination that so-called natural wine growers espouse was on ample display at both the Raw Fair on Sunday and Monday 20 and 21 May and the Real Wine Fair (RWF) that overlapped it and continued on the first day of the London International Wine Fair (LIWF) on the Tuesday.
The Wine Gang at the LIWFThe Wine Gang at the LIWF

Given the fact that they were the offspring of ideological splits and personal clashes emerging from last year’s Natural Wine Fair, you could be forgiven for thinking that the RWF and RAW on their own might be smaller and tamer. Not so. They were both surprisingly big and vibrated with their own stimulating buzz. In terms of venue, I thought that RAW, organized by Isabelle Legeron MW, aka That Crazy French Woman, had the edge over the Caves de Pyrène-inspired RWF, aka That Crazy Doug Wregg. At the Truman Brewery in Brick Lane, RAW occupied a massive, airy, light-filled space, while subterranean RWF in Holborn’s Victoria House was darker and more labyrinthine.

Très JolyTrès Joly

It was not long ago that the redoubtable Renaissance des Appellations movement, with Nicolas Joly at its head, held its tasting at the London Wine Fair but this year it joined forces with RAW, one reason why there were no fewer than 210 stands there. The RWF ran it close with 182 stands, so between the two, they represented a substantial presence for small, like-minded wine producers. They made up getting on for half the number of exhibitors at the LIWF and attracted, if their claims are correct, 5000 visitors between them. It prompted a nice tweet from social media grand fromage Rob McIntosh “If natural wine is a niche market, someone forgot to tell the crowd”.

Roxanich from Croatia at RAWRoxanich from Croatia at RAW

Inevitably given the personality differences that contributed to the split in the first place, there was bound to be a feeling of rivalry of sorts but I agree with Chris Kissack, The Wine Doctor’s, comment that “the ‘battle’ between the two ‘rival’ fairs was overplayed and excessively talked up by some”. One of the remarkable features of both RAW and RWF was the physical presence of so many excellent small growers who’d travelled to the capital to talk and pour to correspondingly appreciative consumers, trade and press.

Their presence contributed to an energy that the London Wine Fair, with its desperate transport links and sterile, brand-orientated stands, would doubtless kill for. It wasn’t surprising then to hear a few Times-are-a Changin’ rallying cries. Another feature was the excellent supply of delicious food. I certainly took advantage of Neal’s Yard Dairy’s cheese and Hansen & Lydersen’s Norwegian smoked salmon at RAW and the superior Ottolenghi chicken pesto baps at RWF.

RAW BuzzRAW Buzz

How are consumers supposed to make head or tail of what’s natural, what’s real, what’s authentic and what’s not? In the context of wine, the words natural, authentic and real, by suggesting a real or imagined opposite, so easily raise hackles. Hardly surprising then that ‘natural wine’ polarizes opinion. Support it and you’re a brown noser. Criticize it and you’re supping with Lucifer. Simply mention the words and you’re already tiptoeing through a semantic minefield so volatile, shall we say, that it could blow up in your face at any moment.

Brown Noser - David CernyBrown Noser - David Cerny

Isabelle Legeron’s RAW specifically states that all exhibitors have to abide by a charter stating that all wines presented at RAW must be farmed and hand-harvested organically or biodynamically and only indigenous yeasts used in the process with ‘a little sulphur dioxide used’. Isabelle herself describes natural wines as wines that are vibrant and alive and full of personality. The name RAW is apt.

Way In or Way OutWay In or Way Out

RWF is deliberately more vague, with no rule book as such but incorporating a similar spirit of the less done to wine the better. Those on show were largely from the lists of Caves de Pyrène in association with Vine Trail, Roberson, Indigo, Aubert & Mascoli, Pacta Connect, Modern Portuguese Story, Vin Authentique, Carte Blanche and Passione Vino.

As Doug Wregg points out in the introduction to the Real Fair, ‘natural wine is relative rather than an absolute or precise term and embodies a certain spirit of endeavour in the vineyard and the winery’. The disproportionate amount of column inches devoted to ‘natural’ wine, not least from those within the movement itself, adds up to a powerful endorsement of the lively debate over the processes by which wine is made.

It’s all semantic of course because while the nothing-added-nothing-taken-away mantra is a great soundbite, it’s simplistic. Whether you’re a Big Ender or a Little Ender, wine requires the hand of man or woman first to create it and then to prevent it from turning to vinegar or an equally undrinkable manifestation. The position of so-called natural winemakers is as much ideological as practical. By drawing attention to the processes, they argue that much of the wine that we drink is unnecessarily over-processed, its flavour and character stripped of personality. Quirks and foibles apart, it’s a legitimate focus in a world looking for character and personality to distinguish wine made with a minimum amount of processing from the bland and the brand.

Punchy StuffPunchy Stuff

At the same time, like the figures in a Lucian Freud painting, there’s no hiding place for ‘natural wines’. Only the most impossible of romantics could fail to acknowledge that the process can be self-defeating when a lack of sulphur leads, as it does on occasion, to oxidation or volatility, when overt brettanomyces produces animal notes or excessive skin contact obscures rather than defines the wine’s true personality. No dogma can obscure that fact that the culmination of the process has to make a compelling enough case in the glass for us to part with our money. For most of the time, both RAW and RWF made compelling cases.



2009 Millton Vineyards Te Arai Chenin Blanc, Gisborne

Fine chenin aromas of apples and honey lead to a palate of ripe stonefruit flavours and juicy honeyed richness in vouvray-esque mould, even down to the mineral dry finish. 89+.
£13.00 - £14.00, Harrods, Wholefoods, Tankertons, Kent, Arth Wines, Glamorgan, Quel Vin, Glasgow.

2008 Le Soula Blanc, Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes Blanc

An old favourite ever since I bought a case of the enduring 2003, this nine-variety blend from the high Fénouillèdes district of the Roussillon shows super complex nuttiness on the nose and lovely intense stonefruit flavours cut by trenchant acidity and finishing with a beguiling nuttiness. 92.
£20.78 - £23.49, A&B Vintners, Cambridge Wine Merchants, Roberson Wine.

2008 Jurançon Sec, Vitage Vielh, Clos Lapeyre

This traditional blend of gros manseng with petit manseng and courbu, fermented in 600 litre casks, has a distinctly apple and sourdough whiff on the nose and the fruit, while not everyone’s cup of tea, is delightfully intense and salty / savoury with a scrumpyish quality and bone dry finish. 89. £16.99,
Les Caves de Pyrène.

2011 Mas de Daumas Gassac Blanc

Complex, refreshing and aromatic, this fine southern French blend combines exotic flavours of pineapple and peach with a moreishly juicy concentration of fruit and vivid citrusy freshness. 90.
£29.49, available from: Les Caves de Pyrène, Origin Wines and Spirits Ltd (WN2 2LE), Selfridges.

2010 La D 18 Blanc. Domaine Olivier Pithon, Roussillon

Made from a belnd of grenache gris and blanc, this Rousillon white displays intense ripe apple and stonefruit flavours with a complexing, nutty sherryish whiff and mineral dry finish; lovely characterful dry white. 91.
£38.49, Les Caves de Pyrène.

2010 Matassa, Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes Blanc

Intense sourdough, nutty baked apple qualities and lively mineral dry finish; a dry white made from grenache gris and maccabeu that’s full of character. 92.
Around £29.99, Les Caves de Pyrène, Exel Wines (PH1 3DZ), Bottle Apostle (N8 8SY), Roberson Wine Merchants (W14 8NS).

2008 Bel Ouvrage Damien Laureau Savennières

Made from chenin blanc grown on volcanic rock soils, this is an intensely aromatic and full-flavoured dry white with expressive stonefruit ripeness flecked with honey and finishing mineral and dry. 91.
£32.00, Aubert & Mascoli.

2010 Château de Béru Chablis 1er Cru Montée de Tonnerre

Rich and full-flavoured chardonnay showing classic steely tension between fruit and bone dry mineral aftertaste. 90.
£252 / 6 bottles case. Dynamic Vines.

2011 Vacqueyras Blanc, Mas des Restanques

I didn’t know there was such a thing as Vacqueyras Blanc until I came across this smoky, apricoty blend of clairette, grenache blanc and viognier; it’s rich and intense and underpinned by a touch of vanilla. 89.

2010 Le Clos de la Meslerie, Vouvray

Rich honeyed chenin blanc aromas with good intense, just off-dry fruit and a fine incisive blade of acidity, mineral finish. 90.
6 bottle case, £183.90, Dynamic Vines.

2008 Bel Ouvrage Damien Laureau Savennières

Made from chenin blanc grown on volcanic rock soils, this is an intensly aromatic and full-flavoured dry white with expressive stonefruit ripeness flecked with honey and finishing mineral and dry. 91.
£32.00, Aubert & Mascoli.

2011 Joli Blanc, Domaine Lacropix-Vanel, Languedoc

Made from old vines of grenache blanc and roussanne, this is superbly rich with a lovely purity of fruit moderated by a stony mineral dry feel to the finish. 90+ . Not currently imported.

2010 Brézème Côtes du Rhône Roussette Vieilles Vignes, Eric Texier

Intense fresh lemon and lime citrusy aromas and deliciously full-bodied, full-flavoured peach fruit bisected by a zesty fresh blade of limey acidity. 91.
Just arrived in UK, RRP £23.49, contact Richards Walford.

This is CrazyThis is Crazy


2009 Teroldego, Foradori, Vigneti delle Dolomiti
Slightly meaty on the nose with a primary fruit quality reminiscent of its north Italian neighbour’s dolcetto, this shows sweet dark cherry fruit in refreshing damsony mould. 88.
Around £18.99, Les Caves de Pyrène ,Theatre of Wine, Vagabond Wine, Bacchus Wine , Bijou Bottles , Vini Italiani , The Good Wine Shop .

2009 Mire la Mer Corbières, Les Clos Perdus

From Hugo Stewart and Paul Old working in the Languedoc, this is a mourvèdre and carignan-based red whose vibrant sweet berry fruit flavours are really intense and finish with a mineral flourish. 90.
Around £19,, Green and Blue Wines, Dulwich.

2010 Anjou, Domaine du Closel. Richards Walford

Nice fresh blackcurrant leaf aromas with vivid, exuberant blackcurrant underpinning and fresh juicy acidity. 88.
£14.95, The Wine Society.

2009 Eric Texier, Brézème, Côtes du Rhône

Made from syrah grown on limestone soils between the northern and southern Rhône Valleys, this fine red displays an intense quality of crushed black pepper in its aroma while the palate is elegantly spicy, fresh and pure, a vibrant wine from one of the region’s most thoughtful producers.
£15.49, Pont de la Tour Wine Shop, Wine Therapy, Isle of Wight.

2007 Les Laquets, Cahors, Cosse Maisonneuve

Vivid and deeply-hued, the vibrant dark berry aromas of this Cahors malbec lead into a palate of richly concentrated and full-flavoured black cherry fruit etched with fine damsony acidity and delicate, polished oak. 91.
£30.60 bottle / case, Dynamic Vines.

2009 Côtes du Roussillon Villages, La Luce, Le Bout du Monde

Fragrantly peppery and flagrantly spicy, this Mediterranean grenache is tastes deliciously of red and black fruits with an intriguing underlying almost pot pourri floral undertone and fine balancing freshness. 90.
£23.49, Les Caves de Pyrène.

2009 Faugères Grande Réserve, Domaine Binet-Jacquet

A blend of mourvèdre, grenache, syrah and carignan matured for two years in oak, there’s a succulent dark berry fruits clarity of flavour supported by a muscular tannins on a mineral spine of fresh acidity. 90.
£27.50, The Sampler.

2009 Vina Antiyal Carmenère, Valle del Maipo

This blend of carmenère, cabernet sauvignon and syrah from Alvaro Espinoza spent 50% of its maturation in stainless steel and barrique and the other 50% in cement egg, which seems to have accentuated the richness and texture of this voluptuous red berry fruity red with its undertones of garrigue herb. Lovely stuff. 90. £34.99, Bedales.

2009 Mondeuse Prestige, Domaine Prieuré Saint Christophe

Deep in colour, this has a spicy and vibrant aromatic quality that’s not a million miles from syrah and behind the fragrance lies a distinctively sweet, camphor-infused red fruits character. 91.
12 bottle case, £735, Dynamic Vines.

2009 Eric Texier, Brézème, Côtes du Rhône, Vieille Serine

Superb Rhône red whose sweet dark berry fruit aromas are wrapped around a core of mulberry and loganberry-like fruit with an undertone of pepper and a refreshing clarity of purpose.
RRP £21.49, contact Richards Walford.

2008 Le Merle aux Alouettes, Domaine Chabanon

Spicy on the nose, this is a distinctive, credible, and highly creditable Languedoc merlot with plenty of vivid, concentrated cherry fruit richness with a veneer of vanilla and finishing lively and fresh. 90.
12 bottle case, £415.80, Dynamic Vines.

The Artiste Léclapart at WorkThe Artiste Léclapart at Work

2009 Un Segreto, Castagna, Beechworth

Based on sangiovese, with some syrah, there a hint of mintiness behind the juicy berry and savoury cherry fruit quality of this intriguing blend from Julian Castagna. Wonderfully vibrant, appetizing stuff. 91.
£58.99, Les Caves de Pyrène.

2009 Tôt So Que Cal Château Plaisance

From a very ripe parcel of négrette, a vibrantly strawberryish concentrated red with the typically juicy summer pudding acidity of the variety. 89.
£22.99, Les Caves de Pyrène.

2010 Saint Epine, Saint Joseph, Domaine Romaneaux-Destezat

Made from old syrah vines, this is intense and peppery in aroma with a lively juicy red fruits character underscored by a spicy medicinal hint and vivid acidity. 90.
£40.49, Les Caves de Pyrène.


2006 L’Artitste Champagne, David Léclapart

One of four champagnes all beginning with A (the others are Amateur, Apôtre and Alchimiste; go figure), this shows a deliciously smoky intense aromatic quality with a rich biscuit and brioche flavoured mousse ending incredibly dry and refreshing, doubtless because of the zero dosage. 93.
Around £99, Raeburn, Selfridges, Folly Wines, Hallgarten Druitt.

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