Sunday, August 29, 2010

What? No sulphur?

photo: Natural Selection Theory
Preservative-free wines used to be vinous fringe-dwellers, lurking unloved in dusty corners of Australia’s bottle shops and organic stores. Now you can find excellent preservative-free wines flying off lists in trend inner city restaurants and bars.

It’s all part of a move towards more ‘natural’ wine - wine that hasn’t been buggered around too much with in the vineyard or winery. I’ve reviewed some of Australia’s pacesetters in this field before: Torbreck in the Barossa, who first produced a wonderfully spicy ‘Natural Wine Project’ preservative-free grenache in 2009 (look out for the even better, brighter-tasting 2010); Lowe Wines in Mudgee, whose briary-tasting 2010 preservative-free merlot is out now under the Tinja label and whose 2009 preservative-free merlot is tasting better and better with bottle age; and Gippsland-based Bill Downie, who first made a preservative-free gamay in 2008, and is now selling a very pretty, juicy no-sulphur 2010 pinot noir.

This year sees more newcomers to the natural wine scene; they deserve to be tracked down not just by people who would rather drink wine without preservatives, but also by anybody who’s interested in drinking wine with delicious, interesting flavours.

Because what’s remarkable about many of these preservative-free wines is how they change and reveal more complexity as you drink your way through the bottle.

Take the 2009 Aziza’s Preservative Free Shiraz from Harkham Windarra in the Hunter Valley: over the couple of days it took me to finish this, it kept revealing more and more berry fruit and typical regional dusty soil characters. Similarly with the 2010 Battle of Bosworth Preservative Free Shiraz: typical black jubey McLaren Vale fruit richness at first, but it gradually revealed stunning aromatic dried-herbs and currants.

The most innovative of the new preservative-free wines comes from a mob of renegade South Australian winemakers called Natural Selection Theory. Named (either pretentiously or cheekily, depending on your point of view) Voice of the People Winter 2010, the wine is a dense, slurpy, spicy blend of Adelaide Hills and Barossa red grapes and is being sold through restaurants and bars in 23 litre glass demijohns, with a layer of olive oil floating on the surface of the wine to stop it oxidizing, and a neat siphon system installed to access the deep purple liquid underneath.

Have a look for yourself:


UPDATE: This article first appeared in The Weekend Australian Magazine, July 17, 2010 - just as I was finishing the last of a bottle of utterly delicious 2010 vintage chardonnay from Harkham Windarra in the Hunter Valley. According to winemaker Christian Knott (who also works in Burgundy), this wine had ‘no additions full stop (no acid, no sulphur, no enzymes, no yeast, no fining agents etc)’ and was not filtered.

High quality no-sulphur Australian white wine is rare, but this (all 25 cases of it) is a beauty: redolent of place, it is golden, sun-kissed, with a tang, like chewing on pineapple core, that I associate strongly with Hunter chardonnay. One of the many arguments about not adding stuff to wine is that it helps the grapes speak with integrity and authenticity of where they’re from: this chardonnay lends that argument considerable weight.

1 comment:

  1. All wine could be sulphur-free. Herbal-Active is a natural antimicrobial (see which can be used to dip/sterilize grapes just in from the fields. Botrytis, Salmonella, Pseudomonads and all the other micro-organisms common in the wild out-doors are killed meaning yeasts need to be added to begin the fermentation process once the dipped grapes are pressed.

    This makes for a more controlled process with the preferred yeasts introduced from a culture maintained a lot like that for sour dough, cheese and yoghurt.