Last Sunday we had one of those rare moments when sun-rays made their way through the clouds. What was a good reason to leave the house and get to South Kensington for a tasting afternoon at The Sampler. It’s not my favourite shop as the selection of natural wine is rather poor but it’s still a good shop with fairly competent staff. What makes it most attractive to me are the tasting machines. All over the shop there are ten “sampling machines” standing around containing eight bottles each. The wines change frequently and range from affordable to super expensive. At the counter you load money on a plastic card and with the card you get a glass or two. Using the card you can now head to the machines and get a full glass or only a sip (starting at 50p) which allows you to taste many wines you probably couldn’t afford a bottle. So an excellent opportunity to practice. Out of the many wines tasted this afternoon I only want to mention four.
Over the last year I’ve been reading a lot about the “Scholium Project” – an ex philosophy professor making wine in California. The New York Times Magazine recently had a long article about him. Abe Schoener (that’s his name) is an admirable marketer and producer of exclusive natural wines. On his website he provides some more insights to his approach:
We do this by interfering as little as possible in the spontaneous development of a natural (if invisible) ecology in our fermenting wine. We do not sterilize the fruit, juice, or must; we do not add commercial yeasts, enzymes, acid, bacteria. If the developing system veers toward winemaking disaster, we intervene. If not, we add and take away nothing. We observe the developing system through the signs available to our senses: we taste, we smell, we measure temperature. We punch down, pumpover, and sometimes chill the must to delay or slow down a given activity–but outside of these activities, we do nothing to interfere in the development of a stable and complex living system in our wines.
The wines are rather expensive so seeing a bottle of his 2010 Michael Faraday (£60 a bottle) was quite exciting. It’s a Chardonnay which doesn’t taste a lot like Chardonnay. Tasting a few classically buttery Chardonnays afterwards made me aware of the difference. Smelling slightly oxidative and smoky 15.5% alcohol make you expect a bomb floating your mouth. But actually it’s surprisingly fresh for this full body with fine mineral notes, lemon and some kind of baked apples (which I only tasted after reading it I have to confess). Complex and long, an fantastic wine.
The second one to mention was another unusual Chardonnay, this time from the French producer Amaury Beaufort (who sadly doesn’t seem to have a website): Les Larmes de Divona 2009. So a Burgundy white from Tonerre which is close to Chablis. I was impressed reading about a really tiny yield of 5hl/ha (25hl/ha should be a good yield for a high quality wine but a vineyard can easily produce 60, 70, 80 if you don’t cut back) and zero sulphur so a pretty extreme wine to expect. Not crystal clear because probably unfiltered it had the typical smoked, hearty nose, surprisingly little oxidation I found with the yeasts really coming through. Quite a bit of apple involved in smell and taste, nutty, medium bodied with moderate 12.5% alcohol. Almost £30 a bottle if I remember correctly so not cheap but probably worth it I would say.
And then I bought two cheaper bottles to take with me – can’t be the best stuff every week. First one was a 2010 Puy de Dome Pinot Noir. I’m still “practicing” Pinot Noir, a grape we’re quite interested in experimenting with ourselves in the future. The wine was a recommendation by Jamie Goode, a blogger & wine journalist I’ve been following on Twitter (and reading his blog) for a while. So this red from the Loire is not natural but for a conventional wine under £10 it was as good as it could be. Simply a good solid red. Rather light (what was expectable) but with a good colour and super smooth. Some herbs and ripe, fresh red cherries, so a good fruit but discrete and elegant.
Finally there is a bottle left which I’m having a sip as I’m writing these lines. Also conventional but one of our favourite varieties and very hard to find outside of Germany: Scheurebe. I always thought of this grape being the nobler sister of Bacchus and it can produce remarkably fruity wines competing easily with Sauvignon Blanc (if not as dry as this one). Another variety we definitively will experiment with in the next years. Presented in the classical Model Riesling bottle and nicely designed this German white from 2009 is produced by Stepp & Gaul on the famous “Weinstraße” in the Pfalz region. The expected peach is subtle but recognizable, I think I smell blackcurrant and a bit of lemon. It has a nice little “zing” at the end (I like that word), a balanced and fresh experience making me looking forward to tasting my father’s Scheurebe when we’re visiting him in two weeks time!