Natural wines shine

Many people will have made resolutions to eat more healthy food. Consider also drinking more natural wines. For publication in the week starting 8 January 2018.

Just over a decade ago a dozen important wineries from Austria and Italy formed a collective to bring more individuality to wine. Today the respekt-BIODYN group consists of 22 leading producers from Italy, Austria, Hungary and Germany.

Their aim: to pursue the highest quality through modern biodynamic winemaking methods.

Chairman Michael Goëss-Enzenberg of the Manincor winery in South Tyrol in Austria noted that whenever awards and prizes are given out, members of the group are “always at the forefront”.

This was the case at the recent awards presentation for the red wine guide of the major Austrian wine magazine, Falstaff. The best red wine award for the year went to Hans & Anita Nuttiness, while Paul Achs won the red wine Grand Prix and first place in the Zweigelt category. All three Pinot Noir prizes were also awarded to respekt vintners — Karl Fritsch, Fritz Wieninger, and Fred Loimer.

Late last year the “Premio d’Eccellenza” of the Italian sommelier association went to Goëss-Enzenberg’s Manincor winery, and international top ratings were also given to all five German wineries in the collective.

Michael Goëss-Enzenberg said that in 2005 a group of 12 wineries were looking for more individuality in wine because “we had reached our limits with conventional winemaking methods”.

“Although very successful, we were still not at our peak in terms of quality. It then quickly became quite clear that we had to go down the path of biodynamics, so we called in consultants and changed our way of doing business. In 2007 we finally founded respekt. It was the best decision we could have made. The quality of our soils and our wines today are the best proof of this,” Goëss-Enzenberg said.

The group is striving for the “ideal wine” according to Rudolf Steiner’s biodynamic guidelines, though translated into the modern era, he said.

Three producers joined the association in 2009 on top of the original 12. In 2015 four wineries of the traditional German winegrowers’ association VDP, the “Prädikatsweingüter” (Busch, Christmann, Rebholz and Wittmann) followed suit. Since 2016 respekt-BIODYN has consisted of 22 wineries, with the addition of Dr. Wehrheim (also VDP), Hajszan Neumann, and Herbert Zillinger.

In 2015 the group updated its image. This involved re-designing its name and logo. A year later the production and cellaring guidelines for its four wine categories — white, red, sparkling and natural — were completely revised and defined even more rigorously “without any room for interpretation,” Goëss-Enzenberg said.

The 22 respekt member wineries are: Paul Achs, Judith Beck, Busch, Christmann, Feiler-Artinger, Fritsch, Manincor, Gsellmann, Hajszan Neumann, Gernot & Heike Heinrich, Hirsch, Loimer, Anita & Hans Nittnaus, Ott, Gerhard & Brigitte Pittnauer, Claus Preisinger, Ökonomierat Rebholz, Dr. Wehrheim, Weninger, Wieninger, Wittmann, and Herbert & Carmen Zillinger.

Their wines will be available for tasting at ProWein in Düsseldorf on March 17 from 3pm at Industrieclub Düsseldorf.

Natural wine will receive renewed attention at ProWein this year, which runs from March 17-21. Unlike organic, biodynamic and orange wines, no legally binding rules apply to natural wine. Instead it has become an umbrella term to imply wines seeking an uncompromising expression of time and place — terroir — using minimal intervention and zero technological manipulation.

Paula Redes Sidore and Stuart Pigott expressed the concept of natural wine poetically in their blog post last month. These wines are “liquid expressions of authenticity, with the hand of nature, not the winemaker, shining through”.

Their thoughts are worth considering. A few years back, they write, several leading wine journalists predicted that natural wines would “achieve a major breakthrough into the mass market”. But the boom never quite materialised, they wrote. “Natural wines are never simple, and are often divisive. The flavour profiles tend toward the wild, challenging and thought provoking. What some might champion as ‘vibrant, alive and … full of emotion’ (Isabelle Legeron, MW) are condemned by others as mousy, cloudy, muddy and flat. There were other factors as well, including limited quantities and a rising backlash against expensive hipster-friendly ‘movement’ products.”

Part of the problem is the fact that this style of wine involves financial risk. Production costs tend to be high and yields low. They cannot be mass produced. It would be almost impossible to sell a natural wine for less than USD 10-12, which means we will almost never see them in supermarkets, where a large proportion of people buy wine.  

Yet natural wines are unique. Paula Redes Sidore and Stuart Pigott point out that producers in Georgia have rediscovered many of the country’s ancient traditions, with “oxidised styles and seductively wild reds”. Similarly Slovenia, where a variety of estates “have embraced skin-fermented natural wines with their complex, savoury aromas and complex, brooding textured flavours”. These have been the subject of earlier columns.

Wine has been made in Georgia for at least 8,000 years, making it one of the earliest wine regions in the world. Georgia makes wine in clay containers called kvevri (also known as qvevri or churi in different parts of the country).

Kvevri are large egg-shaped vessels used for the fermentation, storage and ageing of wine. They look like amphorae without handles, and are either buried so that only the top shows, or set into the floors of large wine cellars. Kvevri vary in size from 20 litres to about 10,000 litres, though the average tends to be about 800 litres.

Kvevri feature in book by Carla Capalbo, Tasting Georgia: A food and wine journey in the Caucasus, reviewed in this column in August last year.

This traditional method using clay jars has been recognised as part of UNESCO’s list of “Intangible Cultural Heritage”. The UN body established its list to protect important cultural practices, which it sees as a repository of diversity and creative expression.

The most archaic and unusual of traditional Georgian wines are known as Kakhetian (orange or amber wine), which have been macerated for several months with skins, seeds and stems. They can be very tannic. Wine-makers who use kvevri claim that their wines are stable and do not require chemical preservatives to ensure longevity and superior taste. Do try them, as part of a new year’s resolution to look for new delights.

Words: 1,020

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