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Natural Wines?

David Harfield discovers great taste without the hangover

Published on July 6th 2011.

Natural Wines?

THE French have a saying – ‘the best use of bad wine is to drive away poor relations’ – but for those of you who want get on with your in-laws, the recent renaissance in natural wines may be of some interest to you, seeing as sharing a bottle or two of natural wine may not only form closer bonds with friends and family, but leave you with a fresh head in the morning. This begs the question, are they really all that they’re cracked up to be? London Confidential went into the heart of the city’s wine world to find out what all the fuss was about.

Whilst you can avoid the tasteless trappings of mass-produced wines by using independent suppliers and growers, natural wines go way beyond this and can often produce the most interesting tastes in their bottles.

The idea of natural, organically-produced wine fits in very well with the current trend in London restaurants of acquiring food from local farmer’s markets where possible and only using the freshest ingredients in their cooking. Pubs and restaurants often flaunt that their ingredients are only ever locally-sourced and can easily be traced back to their origin; so, following this logic, why not do this with wines? Natural wines have had somewhat of a checkered history, with many critics arguing that the production methods used to manufacture such wines are flimsy and erratic; one bottle of wine may taste totally different to the next, despite being from exactly the same grape and distributor.  They can appear cloudy, fizzy and sometimes taste incredibly strange, yet this is due to their very nature as un-tampered, organically-produced beverages.

To kick off our research into the natural wine world, London Confidential travelled to Albertine in Shepherd’s Bush, a fantastic little wine and cheese bar that has been providing top quality wine to its loyal customers for more than 30 years, and is an establishment that wears its sense of tradition on its sleeve, with chalkboards recommending the daily cheese specials and friendly, personable staff who are often more than happy to share a glass of wine or two with punters. 

Kate O’Sullivan has been working at the bar for more than two years and is very keen on the new trend of natural wines that is sweeping across London’s bars and restaurants. “When people think of wine, they often consider it to be the most natural and healthy of all alcoholic drinks; however, most ‘everyday’ wines are produced using many different chemicals, in both the vineyard and the winery.  The idea of a wine being ‘natural’ may seem like a simple enough concept, yet it is in many ways a revolution in the modern wine world, as the key is to intervene as little as possible with the production process, minimising the amount of chemicals that actually affect the wine.”

The outcome is, as mentioned before, less easy to predict than with ‘supermarket wines’, wines that you can count on tasting the same from bottle to bottle due to the chemical manipulation of the production.  Whilst you can avoid the tasteless trappings of mass-produced wines by using independent suppliers and growers, natural wines go way beyond this and can often produce the most interesting tastes in their bottles.  The results are not always pleasing; as Kate says, “Some of the unsulphured Sancerre and Alsace can be absolutely foul!” However, natural wines are certainly the most wild and lively bottles that you are ever likely to taste. One bottle may be left uncorked for a couple of days and actually taste better than when it was first opened, despite the lack of sulphur that is put in mass-produced wines to prevent oxidization and re-fermentation.

A leading light in the natural wine resurgence is Terroirs Wine Bar, situated in the heart of the West End, which boasts an extensive list of natural wines that range from the perfectly palatable to the downright peculiar. Run by Vincent Wallard, Ed Wilson and Richard Martinez, Terroirs’ mission statement is plain and simple, ‘It is about food and wine which is natural and free of additives, and about artisan products that taste simply of their origin.’ With such a heavy focus on the purity of the product, the passion of the production is what shines through in all of Terroirs’ food and wine, as opposed to manufactured, uniform produce.

With the recently-passed Natural Wine Fortnight making quite a stir, and the Natural Wine fair held in Borough a few weekends ago holding huge success, it seems that there is no stopping this popular style of wine-making permeating bars around the city; but what we really want to know is can we use them to avoid a hangover? Well, due to the low or zero level of sulphur and no chaptalisation, (adding sugar to increase potential alcohol), in the production and bottling process, it does mean that the familiar headache associated with a heavy night on wine can be alleviated somewhat.  However, this may only work in moderation, not that we would know too much about that…



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