BC’s First Natural Wines: A Tasting with Racine Wine Imports
Natural wine is a tough category of wine both to sell and appreciate. Not only are the flavours and textures on display unconventional and a huge challenge to even trained palates but many of the wines are bottled with such low sulphur that it is not necessarily uncommon to encounter a seriously flawed bottle. Once a consumer drinks a wine with intolerable bret, VA or incomplete fermentation, they may never try that wine ever again, nor any other wine associated with the ‘natural wine’ movement. Thus in order for these wines to succeed every member of the entire chain of production and sale has to perform at the top of their abilities, lest the challenges of these wines overwhelm their charms.
Preconceptions, Predilections and Procrusteanism
I recently attended a tasting of ‘natural wines’ hosted by Racine Wine Imports, which was the first trade tasting of its kind in Vancouver and which saw some of the marquis names of the natural wine movement from the Loire, Beaujolais and the Jura being poured for a wide variety of members from Vancouver’s wine trade.
The reactions of the attendees were as revealing as the wines themselves and gave me intriguing insight into both natural wines and the feasibility of these wines in the Vancouver market. I learned that formal WSET training, and its objective criteria, has had a significant impact on Vancouver’s wine scene. There seems to be an accentuated aversion to flaws, marginal ripeness levels, and other similar characteristics. On the other hand, the WSET ‘objectivity’ approach has also seemed to produce tasters who will be willing to consider the unique contribution that imperfect wines can make.
I also encountered a diverse room of people ranging from self-assured individuals who already knew what they wanted to tasters who didn’t mind being challenged and who saw value in challenging their preconceptions. All of these groups nonetheless were able to find some wines that appealed to them and I think that speaks to the breadth of experiences available from natural wines, particularly when we remember that this sort of wine making is in its infancy.
How To Experience Natural Wine
In all honesty I must admit that some of the wines poured were flawed or had not traveled well. However, there were also several wines that were impressive in their simple expressivity and that offered something that has yet to be seen in Vancouver.
I think a lot of people go into tastings like this expecting to be ‘blown away’ or to have ‘revelatory experiences’. If you are looking for an American style hit you over the head moment of glory, then these wines will not fulfill your desires. That is no fault of the wines themselves, which instead focus on simplicity, purity and a basic honesty that so many wines forget about. These are not trophy wines or the greatest wines you will ever taste. They are wines that don’t mind doing one very simple thing very well. The wines that arrived in good condition were unlike anything we’ve yet seen in the Province and I hope that they catch on and that our city grows into a more mature appreciation of wine – for it is only a mature appreciation that will ‘get’ any of these wines.
The Natural Wines to Taste in B.C.
The following wines are those that I think both made it to B.C. in good shape (shipping wines like these pose tremendous problems) and those that express what the so-called ‘natural wine’ movement is all about. They should be available soon at private stores like Kits Wine Cellar and restaurants like L’Abattoir. The agent is, of course, Racine Wine Imports. It helps that pretty much all of these wines are below $30.
Domaine de la Pepiere Muscadet 2009: Salty and subdued and fruitier than expected for Muscadet. There is good body and length here. Very Good+. $20
Domaine de la Pepier Cuvee Granit 2009: Maybe the best red of the tasting, this is pure cab franc in its aromatics, texture and flavour profile. Excellent. $22
Catherine & Andre Breton La Dilettant N/V: A sparkling Vouvray that is hugely complex, with a great rich midpalate very long and delicious without any sense of heaviness. Excellent. $33.
Catherin & Andre Breton Avis de Vin Fort 2009: Broadly aromatic, pretty light fruits with a delicious and immediate palate. Very Good+. $27.
Catherine & Andre Breton Trinch 2009: This is classic Loire Cab Franc that has fantastic aromatics for this price. Very Good+ to Excellent. $27.
Domaine Thierry Puzelat KO In Cot We Trust Touraine 2008: VA tolerance necessary, but the aromatics on this are pure floral Malbec that is so rare. Very Good+. $31
George Descombes Brouilly 2009: A pretty and very fruity Beaujolais cru that is highly expressive with a long body. This was my favourite of the Descombes, some of which had too much bret for me. This is also listed, which means you can get it at the BCLDB. Very Good+ to Excellent. $28.50.