Master of Wine Liam Steevenson, of Red & White in Kingsbridge, talks about the Natural Wine movement
Ever since South Sands Hotel opened its doors and we started working with them on their wine list, it has been a fascinating journey. Gareth Piper and his team in the restaurant have always taken the wine list seriously, understood the qualities of something that is truly individual and allowed us to build a selection that has real depth from some of the world’s finest small wine producers.
As a merchant, it has always been about the wine. We have built incredible relationships with winemakers all over the world, and it is a pleasure to tell their stories, and offer their wines. The last year has seen us become the International Wine Challenge Regional Wine Merchant of the Year, which is something we are incredibly proud of; but it has come really through the wonderful wineries we represent and the quality of the Hotels and Restaurants that we sell to.
This year we have tweaked the wine list at The South Sands Hotel, with some fantastic new additions from South Africa, Italy and Spain in particular; but the most exciting development has been the addition of a selection of natural wines within the wine list.
The natural wine movement is one that you may not be fully aware of, but it is one that is gaining incredible momentum in the London restaurant scene and particularly in France and Italy. Natural wines are simply wines made as naturally as possibly, farmed either organically or biodynamically and then produced with the lightest of hands in the cellar, that means no added yeasts, no physical manipulations, no added sugar or acids and perhaps most importantly no added Sulphur.
There are risks of course in making wines this way; manipulations and additives are used primarily to make wines more stable, to safeguard them for the supermarket shelf. However, incredibly careful handling can produce wines this way that survive the process, and the resulting wines are perhaps the greatest expression of pure wine you can taste.
I was delighted to taste this natural wine selection with friend and fellow Master of Wine Tim Wildman. Tim works particularly closely with the natural movement and his knowledge is extraordinary. As he explained to Gareth and I; “natural wines can taste strange at first, it is rather like asking someone who has drunk UHT milk all of their life to drink milk taken straight from the cow, it is almost a different product altogether”.
In my opinion, wine, like great art, or great music should divide people and indeed should be slightly challenging. These wines certainly manage both of these things, but they are all outstanding, and a better expression of terroir you will never taste.