Are natural wines healthy?

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Since I can remember, even doctors claim, that a glass of red wine a day has very positive effects on our organism. Does that mean that natural red wine makes wonders to our health? To tell the truth, I don’t believe in healthy food, healthy wine and similar nonsense. We know though, that one can have very unhealthy nutritional habits and lifestyle. Exaggerate with quantities of food, eat the same stuff time and again, be it hamburgers from McDonald’s, or beef from your organic farm and that glass of red means nothing anymore.

Biodynamic vignerons and farmers tend to establish so called equilibrium in their vineyards, fields, plantations. It means balance – no more, no less. To achieve this, they must be very familiar with every specific detail in life of particular plant, soil, interactions between plants and at the end they have to understand how nature functions as a whole. It takes a lot of knowledge, experience, observing and patience in order to practice biodynamic farming successfully. Nature works in a healthy and normal way, when you establish perfect equilibrium. You need no pesticides, herbicides, artificial fertilisers, no irrigation in vineyard, … to have high quality crop and sufficient yield.

You don’t need such level of knowledge in order to keep your body healthy and in good physical and mental condition. What you need is regular physical activity and kind attention to your own body. You don’t feel good after eating smoked salami? So avoid it! But don’t avoid any food just because some smart ass wrote somewhere, that it is “scientifically proved” that this and that food isn’t healthy. And vice versa! Although “everybody” claim that mango is extremely healthy, you don’t have to it three of them each day, particularly if you don’t like it. Some people are so obsessed with “healthy” diet, that official medicine recognises that as a nutritional disorder. It was defined in 1997 by dr. Steven Bratman who named it orthorexia (orthorexia nervosa). Simply put, it’s a condition, when person thinks practically only about what would be OK to eat and what would’t in a sense of healthiness. Enjoy moderate quantities of, as diversified foods as possible. Remember though – I wrote enjoy, not force yourself. You will bring your body to nutritional balance only by enjoying food and wine. You will establish your own equilibrium. If you’re not really top athlete, you don’t need no (often very expensive) dietary supplements.

What about natural wines then? Are they healthy or not? Real natural wines are result of very attentive organic or even biodynamic work in vineyard, followed by spontaneous vinification, which takes place in a very clean environment, which doesn’t mean though, that the cellar is sterile. On the contrary! It is full of indigenous yeast and microorganisms, who belong there. Natural vigneron wouldn’t want to contaminate must and cellar by yeast or even aromatic yeast and microorganisms which are not “domestic”. One vinification by adding yeast (bought ones) is enough, to contaminate the cellar forever. Natural wines have very little or nothing added sulphur and are clean of all possible chemicals, which are otherwise legally and regularly used in vineyards, as well as cellars in case of conventional winemaking.

So. Natural wine is a healthy product or result of spontaneous alcoholic and malolactic (in most cases) fermentation. Healthy in a sense that it is not ill and full of additives and residues of pesticides, herbicides and other chemical interventions be it in vineyard or cellar. Natural wine can be very invigorating for our body, but only when it is included or part of the mosaic of our nutritional diversity.

One of the main advantages of natural wines is just that – diversity. The same grape varieties give very different wines, depending where they come from. Here you won’t find chardonnays, whose taste hadn’t changed for five, ten or more vintages. Taste, smell, often even colour of natural wine made from the same variety, change from year to year, even with the same producer. Natural and climate conditions are never exactly the same. We could define natural wines healthy from that perspective.

Hedonism or enjoying life within normal boundaries makes us satisfied, content, which is prerequisite for healthy body and sane, positive spirit. It is theatre for some, hiking for others, it can be reading good book and for some of us it is good wine and pristine food. But only when we enjoy it.

A salute!

Apple poisoning or is wine really a wine?

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An apple a day keeps the doctor away! But where to find an apple? Seriously. The stuff you can find in super, hyper and I don’t know what kind of market chains, tagged “apples” are far from the real apples. I know a case when a few years ago a guy read an article about positive effect apples have on our health. So he decided it was time to do something and changed his diet habits. Every morning, he’d buy 2 kilos of apples in his local market and ate them during the day. After some time, his state went from normal, to worse and worst .. until he’d finish in a hospital. After series of examinations, doctors still didn’t figure out what the hell is wrong with this guy… until somebody thoroughly interviewed him and realized what was the case here. With such daily quantity of apples consumed, his intake of herbicide/pesticide residues on/in apples was so high, that he’d gotten sick. It took him several weeks to recover from his “healthy” diet.

And what has this to do with wines? Which wines exactly? Is there really wine in the bottle you just brought from your local market? OK. So I am exaggerating a little, but believe me, many wines out there, carry the same burden as mass produced apples and other fruit as well. Soil in vineyards all over the world is constantly being treated with all kinds of artificial fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides and hundreds of other chemicals. The same “loving” care is being given to vines and grapes. Mechanical and chemical interventions continue immediately after the harvest. Oenologist wants total control over vinification of grape juice. Let me put it simple: they first kill the soil, vines, grapes, must … and then reanimate with all kinds of interventions. The life, gained with such approach has nothing whatsoever, to do with soil, climate and environment, where it first came to life. It has nothing to do with terroir. The “newborn” is totally controlled by oenologist who by adding commercial yeast, enzymes, tannins, acids, chemicals and by using revert osmosis and other mechanical and thermal interventions,… determines the color, taste, smell, alcohol level … of the wine. Many vignerons give big bucks to certain oenologists who are known as those who are familiar with the taste of Mr.Rober Parker The Great, or critics at Wine Spectator magazine.

Perfectly matured, pristine Barolos with their typical brick color certainly don’t impress them much, so many producers illegally add certain amount of Cabernet Sauvignon to gain ruby color, which Mr.Parker loves so much. Harvesting happens later to get grapes more ripe and gain fruitiness. Fermentation of Nebbiolo, which should be the only grape used for Barolo, along with maceration, traditionally takes at least 3 weeks. The result is very tannin-rich wine which needs years to reach the right maturity to be enjoyable, but when it does, it’s awesome. With shorter maceration and fermentation, wine can be ready for bottling and sale much quicker. Tannins are often treated and lowered by micro oxygenation etc. etc. Wine then goes to (often new and toasty) barriques instead of big old barrels. The result rather resembles more to New World muscle reds, than traditional Barolos. This post is not about Barolo though. Similar things are being practiced time and again, all over Europe, not to mention New World.

Huge market share is at stake here and wine sells only if it gets 90+ points from Parker or WS. The casualty here is wine itself and customer with it. Like the apples from the beginning of our story, many wines contain all kinds of additives and residues from chemical treatments. We should drink wine within reasonable amounts – of course. A glass or two a day, apparently have positive effect on our organism. But it sometimes happens that we drink too much. Headache arrives the same evening or next morning latest. Drinking too much alcohol is definitely harmful and leads to headache among other bad things. I ask myself though – is alcohol the only ingredient to blame for headache, or is it maybe, that headache is also or mainly the result of all kinds of additives, chemicals and other unnecessary ingredients which are there because of constant mistreatment of soil, vines, grapes, must and – wine?

Have a good, real apple, pour yourself a glass of good, natural wine, enjoy and don’t get drunk.

RAW fair & TheRealWineFair – afterthoughts

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206 natural wine artisans, organic Cognac and beer, sake made of organic rise, excellent salmon, oysters, cheeses, cakes, coffee … Isabelle Legeron and her team succeeded in organization of truly great event, praising non-interventional approach to cultivation of vineyard and production of wine. I was there both days with my friend Andrej, great connoisseur of good food and wine and we really had a great time. I also visited TheRealWineFair on Tuesday and found very similar picture there with almost 200 artisans there as well.

Quick snack at RAWfair

Quick snack at RAWfair

Slovenia is a small country with population just over 2 million, so we’ve been used that when we travel abroad, we often have to explain who we are, where we are geographically etc. We were proud in London. Speaking with at least 100 wine producers from all over the world, we didn’t have to explain once, where Slovenia is. Thanks to brilliant slovenian producers from homeland and those from italian Collio and Carso, wine world knows clearly where Slovenia is. Movia (Aleš Kristančič), Čotar, Mlečnik, Nando (Andrej Kristančič), Batič, Klabjan, Štekar, Klinec, Prinčič, Radikon, Terpin, Vodopivec, Podveršič, … are only some of the great producers who put Slovenia clearly on the wine world map. It was great to see them among “crème de la crème” natural wine artisans.

We’d tasted over 170 samples of white, orange, rose, red and sparkling wines. As always, some shouldn’t have been there (samples, I mean), but many were really good, excellent I’d say. One can find absolutely stunning wines from all over the planet, but I was focusing on wines primarily from Italy, France and Georgia, the new – old player in the wine world. I was pleasantly surprised by some rieslings from Austria and Germany. Quite different from classic stuff from there. But let’s get back to the main players. Italy and France still lead the way in natural wine world. I’d say though, and this is my personal, non-expert opinion, that Italy (and Slovenia) produce some of the best natural white (and orange) wines in the world. The best white and orange samples in my book come from Italy and Slovenia. Of course there are fantastic whites and also some oranges “Made in France”, but many of french natural whites are still too similar to conventional french whites, with too much vanilla, almond, even smoke in smell and taste.
I discovered some absolutely fabulous whites/oranges from Campania and Veneto. I intend to write about particular producers and their wines in future posts though.

Great frizzante from Emilia-Romagna

Many wines we’d tasted were still very young, many far too “raw” to drink, but with very bright future. Most orange wines from Georgia need at least one more year to mature in the bottle. If you’ll leave them to rest for two, three years, then you’ll really be rewarded. The same goes for Georgian reds, only that they need at least one additional year comparing to orange ones. Georgian wines and producers, presented at RAW and TheRealWineFair, definitely have the right direction and brilliant future.

…at Georgian Kvevri

There was quite a lot of 2010 and 2011 vintages, which is OK, but occasional natural wine drinker might be misled, because many of those young wines are not ready for drinking. They are often too rough on tannins and simply too wild or raw at this point. In a year or two, they will get the roundness they lack now.

David Léclapart, L’Apôtre Champagne

David Léclapart treated us with vertical tasting of his L’Apôtre 2007 – 2004.

Magnificent Champagnes and interesting lecture. Do I have to mention reds from Bourgogne and Bordeaux? Grand wines.

Both events once again confirmed, what many of us have known since long time ago. Natural wines are real and serious thing and are here today and here to stay – long in the future.

Looking forward to 2013 events.

RAW fair

I first met her during my visit to VinNatur fair in Vicenza (Villa Favorita) end of March this year. I knew Isabelle Legeron from her fantastic TV shows. I particularly loved her Georgia coverage. When we talked at Elisabeta Foradori’s table, she told me about RAW fair, she’s been organizing in London for the second time and invited me there. After checking her and the RAW websites I was sure I must go to London this year.

I’ve been researching, searching, tasting, enjoying and importing natural wine for the last five or so years. VinNatur and ViniVeri consortiums have been very helpful for me, but Isabelle is certainly doing a big step forward here. How?

Discussions what natural wine really is or isn’t, have been endless, though my personal opinion is, that it really isn’t that difficult to define natural wine. This post is not being written to define natural wine though. It is meant to invite people to visit RAW fair in London on May 20 and 21. If you can’t make it there, you can get lots of information on the web site. The important thing is, that Isabelle has managed to promote natural wines and made it very clear what natural wine should be, have – or more important – what shouldn’t be, have. I’m not bio, eco, organic, biodynamic … freak, but I know today, more than ever before, what I expect from wine. In one sentence – I want to enjoy wine which tells me: “I’m from here or I’m from there”. I don’t want to drink a chardonnay from Goriška Brda which tastes like Chablis.

There will be about 200 wine artisans from all over the world attending RAW fair, with more then 800 samples. Those wines always tell us where they come from, whether we like it or not. Now I can really say whether I like Nerello Mascalese from Sicily or not, whether I like some Burgougne Chardonnay or not, because now their taste is straight, real, reflecting terroir and every single vintage. No aromatic yeasts, no stabilizers, with original acids etc. etc.

Natural wines are real thing. It is not something, which is now in, fancy and will go with season or two. It is something which once was and we’ve been lucky enough to see it coming back. Beside the artisans and their wines, we will have the chance to hear many very interesting discussions during the fair. Maybe the most important topic, which will be discussed is transparency. What we know for sure is that we NEVER know what particular wine really contains. Every package of food or beverage in your local supermarket must have very detailed information on content, additives, preservatives … but not wine. In my opinion, this must change. We have the right to know whether it is bottle of pristine wine we are just opening or is it an alcohol beverage, based on wine grape or – worse yet – its concentrate.

Wines presented at RAW fair will carry all information about added (or not) sulfites or any other stuff or intervention.

I’m really looking forward. Thanks Isabelle!

Photo: “That Crazy French Woman”

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Vitovska

Vitovska grganja or garganja is an old indigenous white variety, grown in Vipavska dolina  (Vipavska valley) and Kras in Slovenia and Carso in Italy (Friuli). It is very resistant to drought, which makes the variety perfect for Kras/Carso environment. It gives elegant, complex, not very aromatic wine, with moderate alcohol levels, which makes it fresh and perfect to enjoy, being accompanied with food, or not. The grape is often used for production of orange wines (maceration).

Photo: Vitovska grape

You can see why in Slovenia some call it “Malvazija s piko” (Malvasia with dot). Another slovenian name used in some villages is “Beli refošk” (White refosco)

There are some exceptional producers of natural Vitovska in Slovenia as well as Italy. Branko&Vasja Čotar produce great macerated wine. It is golden yellow, a bit cloudy (not filtered) on color, very mineral on smell (petrol, earth) as well as on taste, which is fresh (great acids), earthy, slightly spicy and herbal with slight traces of almond bitterness. It can be a little more fruity from some others like Sandi Škerk or Benjamin Zidarich, all natural wine producers. Some other great natural Vitovska producers are: Lisjak, Fon, Štoka, Tavčar, Škerlj, Edi Kante, Rado Kocjančič, Andrej Milič, Stanko Milič, Emil&Ken Tavčar.

Many of us agree though, that Paolo Vodopivec is the master and absolute champion of Vitovska, which is the only variety he grows. His Vitovska comes in two versions: Classica and Amphora, both macerated. After tasting both of them, time and again, I still can’t decide which is my personal champion, but both are worth tasting, because they bring perfect moments to the life of wine lover.

You can drink it now, but it will be even greater with time, though my opinion is – drink it within eight to ten years from bottling.

There is Vitovska&mare festival in Duino (Trieste) every year in June, where you can meet most of Vitovska producers and taste this great wine.

Photo: Pouring Vitovska  of Slavko Škerlj, Bajta at the Duino festival

Vinistra 2012

If you’re in the neighborhood and fan of Istria and Malvasia, visit Vinistra expo, held in Poreč, Istria, Croatia from 11. – 13.05.2012. Over 100 producers will bring their samples of Malvasia, Teran and some other wine varieties as well as fine istrian olive oils. Many producers make organic, biodynamic or natural wines and olive oils. As part of the 18th Vinistra expo the Association of Winegrowers and Winemakers of Istria (Vinistra) announced the first-ever “en primeur” degustation of young Malvasia Istriana (Malvazija istarska) wines from the 2011 vintage. You can read more on the event, clicking the above link. See you there!

Photo: Giorgio Clai, producer of natural Malvasia

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Malvazija (Istrian Malvasia)

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Malvazija/malvasia is white variety, grown mostly in mediterranean, though it’s also known as red grape (Malvasia Nera), which can mostly be found in Italian regions Piemonte and Puglia. Istrian malvasia or simply malvasia is again white variety, found in Croatia, Slovenia and Italy and gives moderately aromatic wines, somewhere between flowery (acacia flower) and fruity (apple, plum, apricot) on smell. Taste is full bodied and in case of matured wines often perfectly rounded. Some fresh specimens can give a bit “sweet” aftertaste, although the wine is dry. Color is straw to golden yellow, except in case of macerated malvasias, which are dark, intense yellow to orange. There are many producers in Slovenia, Croatia and Italy. Some of them make fantastic natural malvasias. In Croatia I would highlight: Giorgio Clai, Kabola, Roxanich. The latest is regular guest of natural wine festivals in Europe in wider. We have some absolutely fabulous natural malvasias in Slovenia. Gordia, Klabjan, JNK, Rodica are only some of them … personally I am time and again excited with smell and full, mineral but at the same time fruity and spicy taste of malvasias from Čotar, and malvazija Amfora, produced (with a little help from Branko Čotar) by Svetozar Raspopović, more commonly known as the owner of AS restaurant in Ljubljana, where you can enjoy this excellent wine. Both producers make malvasia with typical, nice and soft mineral taste, relatively low alcohol, perfect roundness, in short Kras (Carso) in its best. You can find excellent natural malvasias on Italian side of Carso: Škerk, Zidarich and Škerlj make great natural wines. There are many more great producers, of course. I only highlighted those who in my opinion fall in top of the top.

Photos of some of the mentioned:

Mavazija Gordia, Ankaran

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Malvazija Čotar, Gorjansko, Kras

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Malvazija, Amfora, Raspopović

Are other wines UNreal or UNnatural?

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Some wine bloggers and writers as well as some wine producers are arguing Natural Wine term, as well as movements, such as VinNatur, ViniVeri, RAWfair, ThatCrazyFrenchWoman, etc. They act like an insulted child, saying “Oh – so all other wines are unreal or unnatural.” They are saying we (natural wine supporters) only recognize natural wines and claim all others as fake wines. It’s far from the truth though. In reality, natural wine producers proved they add no chemicals to their wines, except minimum quantity of SO2 in some cases. So we are not a bunch of crazies, who have declared war against sulphur. We are simply enjoying wines, which reflect terroir in appearance, smell and taste, rather than aroma from added aromatized yeast or special tannins. This is the problem. I believe there are many producers out there, who are not declaring themselves as natural wine producers, but act like those, not adding chemicals, enzymes etc. to their wine, but only help natural process to do its job.

Buying yeast, in some cases aromatized; adding or using: enzymes (betaglucanase,
pectolytics, urease), tannins, tartaric acid, calcium alginate, potassium alginate, potassium caseinate, casein, isinglass, silicon dioxide, edible gelatine, acacia (gum arabic), milk/lactalbumin, proteins of plant origin, ovalbumin (egg white), alumni silicates, ferrous sulfate, polyvinyl-polypyr-rolidone (PVPP), activated charcoal, concentrated grape must, rectified concentrated grape must, saccharose, oxygen, fresh lees, ammonium bisulphite, thiamine hydrochloride, yeast cell walls, diammonium phosphate, ammonium sulphate, ammonium sulphite …. doesn’t make wine NATURAL. As I mentioned before, many producers proved their production and product (wine) is free of the above mentioned and also many not mentioned – additives. I don’t say all other wines are UNreal or UNnatural, but Vinnatur, Viniveri and members of some other consortiums and organizations proved their wines ARE natural. The fact that some big cellars/producers and “independent” writers started war against natural wine movement speaks for itself. I think it’s quite simple to prove your wine is natural. The real question is whether you have the guts to do it.