Southern Europe’s Very Best Natural Wines by UNCOVR’s Partnering Sommeliers
We asked a few of our partnering sommeliers to pick their choicest natural wines from their home region and to explain why they put them on their list of very best natural wines. The result? A Southern Europe’s UNCOVR journey from West to East, in which expert sommeliers pin down the flavours and negotiate the terms of what makes up the “natural wine” category. In our eyes, natural wine is organically farmed, made up of minimal intervention, with no additives, processing aids, or tight filtration. It is effectively a sensory affair in microbiology, and one in which sommeliers, as poets, try to grasp and communicate the immaterial and ineffable character of wine through the senses.
Quinta do Craveiral Farmhouse Retreat, Portugal
Estrada Municipal 501, 7630-658 (Defeira, Odemira), Portugal
Natural wines in Portugal and abroad have become somewhat of a trend, according to João Vaz Velho, wine consultant at Craveiral. He contends that while the idea is attractive, there is still a long way to go before the most common difficulties of implementing good natural wine in Portugal are tackled. Natural wine producers may encounter the problem of oxidation (loss of colour, flavour, and aroma, sometimes known as ‘flattening’, which usually leads to a spoiled bottle); lack of intensity (acquired through concentration); and tannins (textures), which is why the production of such a wine is a complex balancing act. Further, as yet, natural wine, in Portugal and elsewhere, lacks a standard denomination, “so the idea of a “natural wine” tends to differ among producers.” Nonetheless, there are three that Velho considers notable…
Vale da Capucha 2015 Alvarinho: “A present acidity with notes of citrus, mineral and limestone and a bit of tropical fruit.” The structural wine pairs excellently with seafood and grilled fish, as well as cheese. Saúde!
Casal Figueira Tradition 2006: “The tasting notes are citrine yellow, with golden nuances. There is a presence of age due to the structure and unctuousness given by the wood. There are distinct pear, citrus and apricot flavours. The wine has structure and despite its age, good acidity, a long finish, and it is ready to drink.” It’s good as is – ageing will not add anything further to this bottle than what already is available.
Vale da Capucha Arinto 2015: “A very distinctive white with its own personality, with intensity and an almost austere acidity that very often lacks in Portuguese natural wines. Flavours of limestone and citrus, it is very mineral, appears young and seems it will develop over the years.”
Restaurant La Calèndula, Catalonia
Carrer Nou, 2, Regencós, Girona, Spain
Catalonia’s sizeable selection of natural wines are reported by Iolanda Bustos of La Calèndula, whose descriptions are a sensorial delight in themselves. We can imagine Bustos sitting on the leafy garden terrace of La Calèndula under the beating Catalonian sun, recalling the memory from every different bottle and jotting it down into a picture, like an Impressionist painter jotting down the natural phenomena she is observing, or an author like Proust referring to the perceptual sensations and emotions that any given sip might prompt.
Cava Turó d’en Mota 2006 Cavas Recaredo, Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, Alt Penedés, D.O. Cava: “This biodynamic cava represents the elegance of simplicity: a unique, single-variety wine, a single vintage and a very limited production, created following the trusted biodynamic practices of all the people who work in the vineyard and the cellar. It is literally a piece of the landscape kept alive within a bottle. The Recaredo family has been able to capture the essence in a very particular grape variety, the xarel·lo. This cava has been resting within the bottle with its mothers, in a subterranean cellar where you can still observe the relief of the pick and the shovel the great-grandfather used to open pits under the earth that would store these treasures of nature.”
Meravelles 2016 Viñedos de Sota els Angels (Cruïlles) Baix Empordà. D.O. Empordà: “From a splendid place at the foot of the Àngels mountains, El meravelles, a natural biodynamic wine elaborated from the grapes of the Grenache gris, blanc and piquepoul, carries over the aromas and flavours of wild flowers and fruits from a Mediterranean forest in summertime. Maria Jesus Polanco and her husband Guy Jones fell in love with the location and they decided to plant their vineyards with a naturalistic philosophy that you can taste throughout their wines.”
Muscat 2018 de Ca N’estruch. Vineyards situated in the slopes of the Montserrat mountains. D.O. Catalonia: “The natural wines of Ca N’Estruch are those rare wines that communicate a soul. Wines that, with the simple unscrewing of the bottle, you feel a stop: they are wines made with the heart of their author, Anna Martí. It is the perfect symbiosis between Ana’s personality and her lovely, refined and elegant wines, without masks, entirely natural. The Muscat reminds me of the best-known painting by Klimt and his painting of the Cottage Garden with Sunflowers. Trying this wine is like taking a walk in the springtime amid a field of flowers.”
Passió Marcelan Còsmic Vinyaters. Alt Empordà i Baix Penedés. Catalonia: “I would venture to describe Salvador Battl’s creation, one of the most sensitive wines I know, as a spiritual wine, which exudes purity and maximal respect to its natural and energetic origins. He goes beyond biodynamics, using techniques of energetic cleanliness, sacred geometry and sound vibrations to create a sublime harmony within each bottle. The red one, which he calls Passió (yes, it means passion), has been created with Marselan and Sumoll grape varieties. It is a wine that shines even in the night, radiating aromas of violets, rosemary, lavender, blackberries… and in the mouth, it’s like a velvet, sticky kiss, a sip of pure pleasure.”
Le relais des moines, Provence
77 Chemin des Valises, Les Arcs, France
At one end of the twisting roads of provincial Var, literally off the beaten track connecting Nice and Marseille, Le relais des Moines’s sommelier Paul Luquain chooses wineries that work in sustainable ecosystems, all the while respecting nature and most of all, the vine.
Domaine de Lauzières in Mouriès, by Christophe Pillon; Domaine Castell-Reynoard, La Cadiére d’Azur, by Julien Castell; Domaine Duperé Barrera et Clos de la Procure in La Garde, by Laurent Barrera, and Domaine des Nibas in Vidauban, by Nicolas Hentz. “All of these wineries respect the earth for a sustainable ecology and work hard to reduce sulphites and sulphur. The fertility of the soil, taking into account the rhythms of the seasons and the universe; the care brought to plants and animals in relation with each other (whether producers or consumers); the quality of produced nutrients; has as many principles for maintaining and developing life inside and around agricultural sectors. The biodynamic conception of agriculture is based on the necessity to conceive the agricultural domain as a living organism. In the end, the intention of all of these. Thanks to them.” France has the particularity of having Demeter certification for bio-dynamic agriculture; the above wineries all produce Demeter-certified wines.
Ristorante Ciccio Sultano Duomo, Sicily
Around the corner from the Duomo di San Giorgio, Ristorante Ciccio Sultano Duomo serves up sophisticated and complex dishes for every sensation. Just as he selects his ingredients and inspirations in the kitchen, so he gathers the most interesting and expert team. The restaurant’s reverent sommelier is Antonio Currò, who opines that natural wine is a matter of time. His top picks to illustrate the proposal? A varied range between orange, maritime white and phosphorous: Bianco di Marilina by Cantina Marilina, Catarratto AV01 by Rallo 2017, Egesta by Aldo Viola, and Ciuri di lava by Valenti.
As Currò explains it, “Natural wine is a very broad concept, so we have to start by defining what natural is. In my opinion all wines are natural, as long as they respect the regular passing of time. To produce any wine it is necessary to have a vineyard that is at least five years old, that in the spring the soil is worked, that in the summer the leaves are thinned out and in the fall, the wine is harvested into perfect phenolic ripeness. The right fermentation in the cellar requires time in the cellar, and the delivery requires even more time. Any wine that does not respect that time is not natural, in my opinion.” Cheers to that.
Enoteca dai Tosi, Basilicata
Gian Paolo Buziol of Enoteca dai Tosi, tends to prefer “those wine makers who respect their terroir and their final product.” What does he mean? Some makers might respect only the land, favouring for instance the local grape varieties, nuances given by the typical soil, sun exposure and climate; while others prefer the final product. He warns us from “those who flag their wine philosophy too loud,” seen in the language used by natural wine makers. They might be hiding something from us! In the original wine selection of his wine bar, Gian Paolo covered more than 24,000 kilometres around Italy to find the 260 wines that represent the whole country. Here is his selection, running the course from North to South:
Bartolo Mascarello: “A legendary Nebbiolo from Piedmont.” A glass of such a Piedmontese Barolo, traditionally brick-coloured, is enough to create the impression that you are in an unexpected trattoria you came across in a village at the foot of the mountains. The grape blend here is Nebbiolo, savoury and classic, great when paired with the rich, traditional dishes the region is known for, like braised lamb.
Damijan Podversic: “Nice and mineral orange wines from Friuli-Venezia-Giulia.” Gian Paolo’s recommendation from this winery is the Ribolla Gialla produced here, from the carsick landscape on the Slovenian border in the Adriatic hinterland: a white which is green and flinty and pairs very especially well with white fish.
San Giusto a Rentennano: “This is a Sangiovese from Tuscany; their Percarlo is outstanding.” Easy to drink, this bold and structured wine is versatile and can go from dishes both light and hearty.
Eubea: “An incredibly balsamic Aglianico from Basilicata.” Our sources have it that this kind of Aglianico anesthesizes the mouth, so best be cautious when drinking: pair with a hearty meal, as this variety is popular with the peasants.
A Vita: “Delicious and clean Gaglioppo for Calabria” (such as the artisanal one produced by Marco de Bartoli) and “well-polished Grillo and Zibibbo for Sicily,” with a focus on special wines like a rich Marsala and the sweet Passito di Pantelleria to end a meal.