We eat raw food, why not drink ‘raw’ wine?

I’ve always been eager to learn more about wine since Colm McCan brought the subject to life for me in Ballymaloe. Food and wine go hand in hand. So I’m working my way through the Wine and Spirit Education Trust exams, now studying for Level 3. It’s like the Leaving Certificate of wine and it’s gotten a bit serious all of a sudden.

I’m drawn to natural wines, only a tiny section of my WSET syllabus. Natural wines are made the way all wine used to be made 8,000 years ago, before we modernised viticulture with chemicals and machine-harvesting. It makes perfect sense to want to drink a naturally made wine when we go to so much trouble to make sure our food is produced to a high standard. Soon, I believe we will try to source natural wines the same way we value free-range organic chicken. We are now keenly aware of what food is processed and how minimum intervention means maximum nutrition and taste. In that respect, wine is no different to any other food or drink we consume.

Recently, I travelled to London to the Raw Wine Fair, founded by Isabelle Legeron MW, France’s first female Master of Wine. Raw Wine celebrates wines with living presence. Wines presented at Raw have to fulfil strict criteria, among them being that the entirety of the domaine from which the grapes are issued must be certified organic and/or biodynamic. They must be hand-harvested and malolactic fermentation must not be blocked.

These criteria would be a nightmare for a large-scale commercial wine maker who relies on controlling those wild yeasts where the grapes are doused in sulphites to prevent any fermentation occurring until it can be tightly controlled. Not that making natural wine is not controlled – in fact, it requires even more precision and attention. The grower needs to listen to the land, plant only what is suitable for the terroir and work with nature to produce perfect grapes before any winemaking can even begin.

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