Nothing to be Scared of - London's First Natural Wine Fair

Don Ryan visits a Wine Fair at Borough Market where he discovers “Real Wine” has arrived and concludes that Press warnings notwithstanding there is absolutely nothing to be scared of.

natural wine fair  london 2011

“Natural Wines; there’s nowt taken out and there’s nowt put in,” was one supporters clever sound bite. Anthea Gerrie of the Independent Newspaper is also a fan; Natural Wines contain “no chemicals, pesticide residues, sugar or any of the 59 additives the EU alarmingly permits winemakers to add to our plonk.” She explained. The Terroirists Are Coming,screamed another headline, referring to the French term terroir, (a sense of place) that most really good wine is said to possess.

The Wine Press Back in 2005, a weekly wine column in a number of Central London newspapers, cobbled together by myself and John Mason chronicled our quest for Real Wines. Most wine writers (we felt), judged a wine mainly by its tastes and aromas, we on the other hand believed provenance and method of production were equally important.   Naively we imagined that hidden among the thousands of market orientated supermarket wines produced by the big drinks companies, were exceptional fermentations made by heroic winemaking families, who stuck to the old winemaking ways.

Our objective was to seek out and reveal reasonably priced examples of such wines to a new breed of London food shopper who frequented the Farmers Markets and health food shops that were opening all over Central London.

A casual perusal of the label often gave the impression that many supermarket wines met our criteria. Yet on closer examination very few turned out to be the real McCoy. In 2008 we concluded the collumn with a declaration that London was a vinous desert and the only way a London wine lover could drink real wine was to take the Eurostar to Paris.

So it was more in hope then expectation that I scurried off to the 1st Natural Wine Fair at London’s Borough Market. But I was to leave convinced that every single bottle was probably “real” and had been handmade by a genuine small independent producer.

Lined up around the market concourse were a hundred “Natural” wine makers, mostly from France and Italy, accompanied by aTom Lubbe London 2011 2 handful of Iberians and a solitary Australian. They would spend a long hard day on their feet pouring samples, whilst passionately explaining to several hundred London Wine enthusiasts, how, where and why they made their wine.

Available to taste were over four hundred examples of a rising international phenomena; Natural Wine. Many of the wines already have established markets in specialist bars and shops in Paris, Tokyo and New York.

Recently Londoners too have developed a growing attraction to these new wines, thanks in the main to pioneering work by Surrey based wine importer, Les Caves de Pyrene. Les Caves not only supply many of the wines but have partnered talented chefs in opening two very successful café/wine bars in Central London showcasing “Natural” wine and food dishes.

This has encouraged more main stream restaurateurs to follow suit and the wines are now available in a growing number of shops and cafes throughout London, including the Michelin starred Hibiscus, in Maddox street, where the wine list is “mostly natural”.

Caves de pyreneThere can no doubt that the advent of Natural Wines on the London scene is focusing attention on how wine is made. This I believe is important as we now know that a generation of children fed on processed foods are inherently unhealthy and many may die at a younger age then their parents.

Consequently food farming and production techniques have been carefully examined, while chefs like Jamie Oliver have achieved great acclaim by exposing the worst excesses of the food industry. Wine-making has escaped this kind of scrutiny, now, thanks to the natural wine movement the situation is, hopefully, about to alter.

In the end of course it will be the taste and consistency of winemaking quality, which will decide the future fate of Natural Wines.