Natural wine musings and review of an Austrian natural wine
I recently picked up a case of wine from Color de Vino. In the last few years, they’ve really honed in on the natural wine zeitgeist. I was interested in dipping my toe further into natural wine after finishing my last freelance wine story of the year, a long piece on natural wine for Edify. (Look for it in March 2021.)
Natural wine has a bad reputation due to its association with extremely weird, funky and gross-tasting wines. At their worst, natural wines reek like acetone (due to sky-high levels of volatile acidity) and taste like horse poop (mainly due to wild yeasts like Brettanomyces, which makes wine smell like a stinky barnyard). At their best, natural wines are complex and challenging, with an array of unusual aromas and flavours that you often won’t find in conventional wines.
I am guilty of saying rude things about natural wine over the years. When I first tried them (back around 2017 or so), I was really unimpressed. I went to an orange/natural wine tasting hosted by Erik Mercier of Juice Imports (Alberta’s first natural wine import agency) at the now-closed Alta, where I tried seven or eight different natural wines. And I didn’t really like any of them, even the really expensive ones. They were unique, certainly, but I’d never buy them myself – and certainly not at such price points. (Note: Erik hosted the tasting but not all of the wines were from his portfolio.)
That tasting always stuck out in my head as being the weirdest wine tasting I’ve ever been to. For starters, I’m pretty sure I was the oldest person in the room – and at the time I was 33. Not exactly ancient, but everyone else seemed to be barely 30, if that. I started working in the wine industry when I was 19, so I am very used to being the baby at the tasting. Hell, I expect it. So that alone was a bit of a shock.
I was also perturbed that there were no spit buckets, which are a mandatory feature of professional wine tastings. As we got into the first sample, I sheepishly had to ask for one. This tasting was in the afternoon on a weekday and I was on a break from my day job, so I couldn’t pound a flight of wines and then head back to the office. No one else asked for one, and by the end of the tasting everyone’s glasses were empty, so I guess no one else had an issue with casual weekday drinking.
Erik did a good job hosting the tasting, delivering detailed information about each wine. His descriptions were a little technical-heavy, which was fine with me but which seemed mostly lost on this crowd, who all seemed to be there to socialize. Having worked hundreds of wine tastings over the years, I know there are always some people who go to tastings just to drink and chat with their buddies, as opposed to the wine nerds who want all the details about soil types and the average brix at harvest.
Throughout the tasting, I kept stealing glances around the room at my fellow tasters. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves and enjoying the wine. I grew more and more mystified as I tried sample after sample that just didn’t taste very good. I sniffed, swirled and sniffed again, trying to find something – anything – I could enjoy. Halfway through, the person to my left had already chugged his entire flight of samples and wandered off to chat with some friends at the other end of the room. When I got to the last pair of samples, I found some intriguing floral aromas and a nice citrusy juiciness. ‘Alright, these ones are OK,’ I thought. Then I found out they were over $80 a bottle, and I tried to disguise the look of consternation that washed over my face. (I probably didn’t do a great job.)
That tasting made it clear to me that natural wine was a young man’s movement more concerned with ideology than taste. The people gathered here were all young, mostly men and overtly anti-establishment. They made a few sarcastic comments about how natural wine is just a fad. It was refreshing in one sense, because I’ve spent a lot of time around enough pompous stuffed shirts in the wine industry, old dudes with show-off cellars worth more than my house who don’t have the time of day for anyone who doesn’t have a cellar full of Bordeaux older than me. (I’m being a bit uncharitable because there are also many perfectly wonderful people in the wine industry, but there is still an old guard of pompous twats. You know who you are. And you’re probably not reading this blog.)
That tasting was the last time I sought out natural wines purposefully. I gave them a chance and they weren’t for me, so I mentally set them aside. I also took time off from drinking in 2018/2019 as I was pregnant and then had a newborn during this time, so all wine went on the back burner for a while.
Natural wine came up again a few weeks ago, when I was working on my 2021 wine predictions. (Look for it in Edify in January.) Almost everyone I spoke with mentioned natural wines, and they had some really interesting things to say about it. That’s what led me to pitching a longer story focused solely on natural wine itself.
I won’t get into any more details about natural wine here. Look for the story in Edify in March; I’ll post on the blog when it’s up.
Instead, here are my notes on one of the natural wines that I just bought from Color de Vino, the Koppitsch Perspektive Rot 2018. This is part of Juice Import’s portfolio.
Koppitsch is on the forefront of the natural wine movement; a patron saint of natural wine, if you will. Their focus is on soil type and absolute minimal intervention, as opposed to grape variety, wine style, or anything else. The Perspektive comes from vines (medieval varietals Blaufränkisch and Sankt Laurent) planted on limestone, which contributes to a lovely mineral juiciness that is easily the best aspect of this wine. Blaufränkisch is kind of like a weird bastard lovechild of Pinot Noir and Gamay; Sankt Laurent was thought to be Pinot until DNA profiling revealed it was the progeny of Pinot and Savagnin.
Upon first sniff, you know you’re in natural wine territory with funky aromas of barnyard hay and fermented strawberries, as well as its cloudy, unfiltered appearance. It’s very tart on the palate, tasting freakishly similar to fresh cranberry juice, with a wonderful cleansing rush of mineral acidity that has you going back immediately for another sip, regardless of the disconcerting poopy aromas. That finish is easily the best part of this wine.
I’m not convinced that this isn’t actually cranberry juice; at only 11% it’s very light in alcohol and extremely easy to quaff – or crush, as the natural wine kids say these days. Do I sound desperately aged yet?
Truthfully, I could only manage a single (very chilled) glass, and then I had to stop. I really wanted to like it more. I support the philosophy behind natural wine and I have been a huge advocate for regenerative agriculture for years. But I still just don’t really enjoy these wines, except in principle.
However, my curiosity is piqued and I’m not going to write off natural wine entirely based on one, or even a handful, of wines that I didn’t like. That would be like writing off an entire region or grape varietal because you had one bad bottle.
That said, I won’t be trying natural wines often because at upwards of $35 a bottle, this Koppitsch is on the cheaper end of natural wines. That’s simply not sustainable for everyday drinking and makes natural wines quite inaccessible – which is a bit ironic given the overlap between the natural wine movement and social justice movements. But that’s a very long post for another day.
Name: Koppitsch Perspektive Rot
Grape: 70% Blaufränkisch and 30% Sankt Laurent
Taste: Poopy barnyard hay, fermented strawberries, fresh cranberry juice
Texture: A waterfall of mineral acidity
Rating: Pretty sure it could cure a UTI