THE GREEN EXTREME
NATURAL WINES, MY FIRST ENCOUNTER OF THE THIRD KIND!
‘Are they wines, Spock?’
‘Yes, Jim, but not as we know them!’
I can assure that I’m not a closet Trekkie! However, if the above is taken as a starting point, like me, you may well start to develop an interest in Natural Wines.
Firstly – what are Natural Wines? Well, there’s no legal definition but it is accepted that those wines going under the banner of Natural Wines are wines that are made without chemicals and with as little human intervention as possible. The term is used to distinguish them from firstly Organic Wines, and secondly the even further away from mainstream wine making, Biodynamic Wines, because of a difference in what occurs in the bodega.
However, all Natural Wines are at least Organic, with many also being Biodynamic (regular readers may remember a past article or two re this type of wine-making). The difference, with regard to bodega practice is that Natural Wines are made without anything added, nor removed, from the must and then the wine, during wine-making. In short – it’s a whole new ball game.
By a somewhat circuitous route I made contact with Fabius Maximus (yes, I know – it does sound like a Frankie Howard character, but it’s true!) of Vinos Ambiz (http://vinosambiz.blogspot.com)
Of Italian descent, this multi-lingual young winemaker is driven! His passion is, of course, his Natural Wines, which he makes, up in the hills above Madrid, in soils that look so nutrient absent, and yet are so healthy.
The vines in winter time (if not lying beneath a thick layer of snow!) look like rows of gnarled, lifeless stumps. But don’t be deceived – although in their dormant state, they are about to break into glorious leaf and eventually wonderful super-healthy bunches of indigenous and ‘foreign’ grapes.
This is fundamental to Natural Wine making – Fabius’ vines do not suffer any pest invasion, no disease, and yet, mass producers of also-ran wines listen up here, there are no chemicals used at all, apart from a very occasional dusting of sulphur powder (a natural product, not manmade) to keep disease at bay. Good organic practice is employed in the vineyard, but it’s in the bodega where Natural Wines set themselves apart from others.
When (thinking of the brave-hearted amongst you) if (thinking of more conservative readers) you buy a bottle of Vinos Ambiz, the first thing that you’ll notice is that it is most likely to be cloudy! Don’t worry, remember the above – nothing added, and nothing removed! Clarification occurs naturally by gravity and the cold temperature of the bodega – on bottling some of the harmless sediment will also be bottled.
Next you’ll see a simple front label, but on the back, probably more information than you’ve ever seen on a wine label! You’ll read that the contents are fermentado grape juice – full stop! (Remember, nothing added). Then you’ll read of all the things it doesn’t contain: industrial yeast (only yeasts on the grapes themselves and those in the bodega are used in fermentation); colouring agents; conservatives, and more.
Then the brief (because that’s what it is, simple and short) method by which the wine was made – i.e. the grapes were harvested; gently pressed; the juice poured into fermentation vats (some stainless steel, some tinaja [amphorae]); gravity clarification. No further intervention.
Finally, a long list of things that weren’t done in the making of the wine such as: no sulphur added to the juice; no artificial heating/cooling of the must; no filtering of the wine; and lots more. It really is all quite revolutionary in terms of modern wine-making, and yet it is, of course, a throwback to how wine must first have been made!
Tasting and specific wine-making notes in Part Two next week!
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NB the next Fine Wine & Gourmet Dine Programme on Total FM 91.8 & www.totalfm.es will be at the end of October or the beginning of November, following my knee replacement operation in September. Hope you can tune-in then!