Sedimentary Portfolio Tasting

It takes a long vision and stalwart commitment to take on the immense task of bringing natural wines to the British Columbia market. The antithesis of a get rich quick scheme, pushing palate boundaries is yet of fundamental importance in a market stymied by the status quo and offensively restrictive regulation. Without controversy and debate, a culture will never grow. So it is that I think Sedimentary Wines is bringing the forefront of intellectually challenging winemaking to B.C. This low-key event may have been this year’s groundbreaking wine tasting.

The Experiments

Many naturalist wines are not easy to comprehend. They defy the classical understanding of what wine is, often belying fruit forwardness and immediate pleasure. These sorts of naturalist wines are not for everyone and I confess that I would not drink them with my dinner. Nonetheless, they are challenging what we think of wine and are pushing others to reconsider their techniques.

The leader amongst the experimentalists is likely Frank Cornelissen, who essentially has no limits with new techniques. Cornelissen is one of the most important naturalist producers because his experiments are pushing the boundaries of knowledge in natural wine making and will likely, one day, form a basis for some truly magnificent wines. Right now his wines are science experiments, sometimes with wonderful and sometimes with horrifying results.

The Rosso del Contadino 8 is a highly tannic rose without very much fruit. It is not a wine for everyone, but would likely provide a fascinating challenge for food pairing. Good+ to Very Good. $46.

The Munjebeel Rosso 7 Vigne Alte was surprisingly showing a fair amount of fruit today and far less volatile acidity than I’ve encountered before. As such, I think this wine is quite impressive and could very well open up into something wonderful. Then again, it is very hard to predict just how Cornelissen’s wines will age. A wine of interest for those seeking an intellectual challenge with a little sensual pleasure attached. 100% Nerello Mascalese. Very Good+. $67.

I’ve written about Angiolino Maule before and had some problems with the overly cidre-like flavours in the wine. This time I drank the I Masieri out of magnum and it showed far cleaner, fruitier and zippier. It was a vastly superior wine and I recommend that if you do want to seek out some of Italy’s pioneering naturalists, that you give Maule magnums a go. Very Good. $37 for a magnum.

The friulian wizard Radikon was one of the earliest proponents of natural wine making in Italy, making some of the most compelling orange wines available. Still a gold standard for the ‘style’, Radikon no longer uses amphora, but has moved to neutral old oak. His wines possess the fullest expression of an orange wine’s bouquet ranging from orange pith to spices and roots. His 2005 Jakot is true blue orange wine, with tannins and body and full aromatic expression. Very Good+ to Excellent. $55.

We also tried a 2000 white blend “Fuori del Tempo”, which was unfortunately flawed in some way, smelling like a semi-oxidized barley wine combined with an oloroso.

Josko Gravner, neighbours with Radikon and a pioneer of Amphora fermentation, has got it right. Rumours of his declining health now circulate, but these wines are masterpieces of the Orange wine genre. The Ribolla Anfora was hedonistic and downright slutty for an orange wine, but it also possess fantastic weight and length. These are not that hard to understand and would represent a fantastic entry point into natural wine except for the $100 price tag. This was a serious “wow” wine for me. Excellent.

The Values

One of the more fascinating members of Sedimentary’s portfolio is Natalino del Prete, a Puglian winery eschewing everything you think you know about Puglian wine. These are wines made with organically grown hand harvested grapes, fermented ‘naturally’ without any additions, including sulphur. The results are astonishing: wines with purity, vibrant fruit, serious structure and elegance that is shocking for the absurd price of $19-$29 per bottle.

The first $19 entrant, Terre Nove Salice Salentino, is a fantastic, easy to appreciate wine that is floral and elegant, unlike any other salice salentino I’ve tasted. There is no heaviness to this wine at all, even though it has considerable structure. Very Good+ and Highly Recommended Value.

The second $19 wine, Il Pioniere Salice Salentino, was a bit funkier and lower toned compared to the Terre Nova. It was less my style, but those who enjoy earthy and leafy wines will find a lot to like here. It needs air, but is fully expressive of the darker side of Negroamaro. Very Good to Very Good+.

The best wine was also the more expensive 100% Primitivo “Nataly”. Made with 80+ year old vines, this is fully primitivo but without any heaviness, overt alcohol or jammy fruit. It is, rather, elegant and pure, while also being massively fruited. Very very impressive wine for the price. Very Good+ to Excellent and Highly Recommended Value. $29.

One of Sedimentary’s first offerings were the Lambruscos of Rinaldini – traditional, intense sparkling reds that were not only fascinating wines but wonderful accompaniments for red meats. Rinaldini also makes a sparkling Chardonnay in the Champenoise method. This is a wonderful, and just plain delicious wine. Not quite at Champagne level, the fruit is nonetheless rich and complex and fully capable of pairing with all the traditional Champagne pairings. Very Good to Very Good+.

The Traditional

The pride and joy of the Sedimentary portfolio must be the wines of Teobaldo Cappellano (now run by his son). They are certainly my favourite. I’ve written before about the miraculous quality of this very traditional Barolo producer, a winery that has requested that no critic score the wines. Since nothing is done in the cellar (old oak, natural ferments, etc,), everything happens in the vineyard. This attention to terroir shows in the wines, which represent the very best of Nebiolo. The grapes for the Pie Rupestris are from the Gabutti vineyard north of Seralunga d’Alba, which has older, thinner soils and therefore more tannin compared to a cru such as La Mora. As such, Cappellano Barolos are built to age.

We got a great example of that with the trio of wines being poured by Sedimentary: a 2005, 2000 and 1970. Current vintages are available for about $90-$100.

The 1970 was fading at this point, but amazingly still a good wine with 42 years of age on it. The fruit had vanished, making the wine driven by its secondary flavours – earth and light florals. Very classy, but past its prime.

The 2000 was shining. Still in need of 5+ years more age before it starts to fully strut, this was just beginning to open now and was a wonderful expression of powerful Barolo with very pretty aromatics. The tannins are still fierce, as expected for a Sarlunga Barolo. This can go another 15 years easily.

The 2005 showed the vintage very well, which is much easier drinking right now than its compatriots in 2004 and 2006. Pretty aromatics and succulent fruit, the wine is very clean but, even with its enhanced approachability, is very tight. This will be a superb medium-term drinking Barolo. Buy a few and open again in 5 years.

The Rest

I was also introduced to a number of produces with which I had no familiarity.

The Aurora wines from the Marche are made by a strange hippy-like comune done Italian style, with a focus on an entire ‘utopian’ approach to a self-sustaining lifestyle, including farming and winemaking. These are interesting wines but they will not win over newbies to the naturalist camp.

The 2011 Passerina (made with the so-named grape) was a low-toned orchard fruit wine, with a waxy moutfeel. It is interesting wine but lacks expression, focusing more on the textural experience. I was not enamored with this wine as it seemed to lack vivacity. $23. Good+.

The 2011 Offida Fiobbo (made with 100% Pecorino) is particularly delicious, though undeniably unusual. A very funk driven nose turns into a thick, unctuous waxy powerhouse of a wine, with noticeable oak influence on the palate that is filled with nuts and wax. Very Good to Very Good+. $31.

The 2011 Marche Rosso Superior was big and fruity. It’s a tasty and accessible wine for the $32 it costs. Very Good.

The more exciting discovery for me was Agricola Cirelli, from d’Abruzzo. Making wine in clay amphora, these guys yet avoid all the funky weirdness that often accompanies natural wines. Cirelli have their amphora custom built, using stainless steel enclosures on the top to prevent oxidation. This difference is very noticeable in the wines, which show none of the oxidative flaws the other natural wines often do. Instead, they are clean, purely fruited and highly expressive.

The 2011 Trebbiano Anfora is one of the best expressions of this grape I’ve ever tasted. It possesses all that grape’s waxy texture, but also an easy way and balance that is uncommon. Thus, unlike most Trebbianos, I could drink a whole lot of this. 1 day of skin contact. Very Good+. $40.

The 2011 Cerasuolo Anfora, made with the Montepulciano grape, was a “holy sh&*” wine for me. Amazingly purely fruited and highly expressive aromatics lead into a explosively delicious, red fruited rose of extremely high quality. Forget those other rose’s you’ve been drinking and grab a bottle of this stuff. Absolutely amazing. Excellent. $40.

I was aware of the Phillipe Pacalet Burgundies, but had not previously had a chance to taste them. They are impressive and highly transparent wines from the nephew of Marcel Lapierre. He is working in the ‘naturalist’ tradition, though with a scientific bent (he is a yeast biologist), adding almost no sulphur to his wines. He rents all his plots, given that he is a new entrant into Burgundy and buying land there is near impossible. His ‘naturalist’ styling showed particularly so in the 2009 Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru “Lavaux St. Jacques” I tasted, which was inescapably bright and high toned but also lightly textured and floral. It is not a wine for everyone, especially at its price point, but it is certainly a sign that Pacalet is doing something interesting. I’d rate it Very Good+ to Excellent. $136.

The 2009 Vau Ligneau 1er Cru Chablis was clasically Chablis and highly transparent. A wonderful wine with tremendous extract and complexity. Excellent. $82.

My Picks and Conclusion

Sedimentary’s portfolio is one of if not the most challenging in British Columbia right now. They are breaking new ground by focusing almost entirely on natural wines and seeking out seriously obscure producers. I felt like I was in a Louis Dressner tasting, Canadian style. That can only be good for the industry here, which needs to be shaken up and pushed to the next level. If restaurants start putting some of these wines on their by the glass list, I think Vancouver has the capacity to develop and support this important wine niche.

Undoubtedly the wines can be uneven, but all experimental processes produce those sorts of results. The most successful are making truly brilliant wines. In this portfolio tasting, the wines that truly stood out to me as the future of this movement were: Josko Gravner’s Ribolla Amphora; Teobaldo Cappellano’s Barolos; Agricola Cirelli’s amphora fermented wines; and Phillipe Pacalet’s burgundies.

The Natalino del Prete wines represent stellar value and a perfect entry point for newcomers to this movement. I highly recommend you seek them out.

In sum, if you want to challenge yourself and get familiar with a small but growing movement at the very forefront of winemaking, then go find yourself a bottle from Sedimentary’s portfolio and start reflecting on everything you thought wine was about.

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