London is on fire. Apart from its wildly popular tourist attractions, London has evolved into a world-wide advert for provenance-based food sourcing as practiced by hundreds of its ardent chef believers. Quality local and regional foodstuffs are flourishing, family farms are reawakening and sustainable farming practices are restoring the health of the land. Just as important, London is teeming with discerning consumers: an army of young professionals—and just enough of the dreamy arts-types—needed to catalyze this type of energetic urban renaissance. To them good food and drink is a birthright and their brassy anthem includes the familiar local, sustainable and organic refrain.
And because it’s London, everyone can pick and choose from an endless array of international wines (the British play no favorites)—in all price categories, in every iteration—along with some newly fashionable domestic options, especially the local fizz. East London neighbors Shoreditch and Spitalfields alone are home to countless wine bars and holes-in-the-wall eateries where wine plays a starring role. It’s no accident that the re-purposed Truman Brewery on Brick Lane in Spitalfields was host to the sixth edition of Isabel Legeron’s counterculture Raw Wine Fair, its three thousand enthusiastic attendees and a small coterie of unrepentant skeptics throwing a little unwanted shade on the proceedings. Partisan purveyors from around the globe gathered for this annual pop-up to share and promote their pure, authentic, natural, terroir-driven—plug in whatever word you want—wine.
Now that the confusion about natural wine is subsiding, the discussion has turned affirmative—focusing instead on its inherent diversity, its political message of provenance and transparency, and its perceived harmony with nature, body and soul. These folks believe in the message and they are in the process of altering the paradigm. To be honest not all the wine is good, but much of it is and with practiced effort more of it will deliver on its promise. These are earnest folk and sometimes their eagerness outpaces their expertise.
The purpose of my visit, however, was to assess the rank of the Swiss contingent which in 2016 was a scant two members. I was told this was down from previous years which is a pity because Swiss wine hits all the right notes—low alcohol, autochthonous varieties, ancient and distinctive terroirs, micro-production, and family ownership—to name a few. While not as busy as some of the trendier booths the Swiss tables saw an enthusiastic cross-section of attendees ready to be impressed. What follows are my impressions of the wine presented and the personalities in attendance.
Winzerkeller Strasser, Laufen-Uhwiesen, Zürich (Nadine & Cédric Besson-Strasser)—Certifications: Bio-Inspecta, Demeter & Bio-Suisse: This is an important biodynamic domaine that takes its role in Switzerland very seriously. Cédric Besson-Strasser was in attendance to pour his wines and I was impressed with his candor when I asked about the slow uptake of organic and biodynamic viticulture in Switzerland. In his opinion, as I have heard from others, the Swiss are very resistant to change without a financial incentive. This is not earthshaking news as it applies to a lot of people around the world but the frustration in his voice was palpable. He has found it easier to form alliances with like-minded growers in France and beyond where knowledge is shared with enthusiasm. He and his wife Nadine are in the advance guard of Swiss biodynamics.
Rauschling, vom Rheinfall 2014: Pale silver color. Floral, sylvaner-like nose with verdant green notes. Palate is light-weight with significant acids. Very fresh and simple at the moment with some lingering floral perfume and slightly reductive minerality. This variety is hard to evaluate when young. Older examples can be quite exciting.
Fumé 2014 (rauschling/chardonnay): Co-fermented in barrique and aged nine months in oak with some lees stirring. Straw color. Nose somewhat like a fine gin and tonic: witch hazel, bark and botanicals. Some honey. Lovely rounded texture with fresh lemon and lime flavors. Lean and well defined structure. Lots of potential. Not sure what Fumé is meant to imply since neither smoke nor flint were not among the attributes I noticed.
Pinot Noir, Riegelhüsli, vom Rheinfall 2014: Stainless steel fermented and aged. Transparent ruby, garnet color. Primary raspberry fruit nose with a touch of green herbs. The simple palate offers tart red fruit (cherry) and a skeletal structure. Needs a bit of time to round out but I don’t think it’s much of an ager. Decent.
Pinot Noir, Chlosterberg 2014: The Besson-Strasser’s shoot for a spätlese level pinot here, meaning the sugars are around 95 oeschle at harvest. The finished wine is dry. The Chlosterberg climat is populated with 50 year-old vines planted in the sandy soils typical of the village. It is situated at the top of the hill toward the Zürich side of their holdings. It is aged for 10 months in demi-muids (500 liter barrels). There is much more saturation of color (garnet) than the above wine. The nose reveals a solid stone-fruit nose (cherry and plum) with vanilla and cocoa. The palate is ripe with concentrated cherry flavors that linger. Solid wine.
Pinot Noir, ALBI, Barrique 2014: Another spätlese-type but sourced from the other end of their holdings towards Schaffhausen. This climat is primarily clay-based which gives a fuller-bodied wine. This specimen handles its elévage in barrique with aplomb. The wine is very aromatic with sweet spices, sour cherry and balsamic notes. The palate is rich and sweet with ripe cherry fruit and a briary element. 10% stems included in the fermentation seems to give it additional richness as well as herbaceous notes. Great depth of flavor and length of finish. My favorite of this group of pinots.
Blauer Zweigelt, vom Rheinfall 2014: Dark garnet in color. Classic savory nose with wet stone and earthy fill. Palate is tart and plummy with herbs and earth. A granite minerality dominates but the succulent, crispy fruit is both delicious and mouthwatering. One of the first zweigelts to come out of Switzerland and I must say it is a successful one.
Albert Mathier et Fils, Salgesch, Valais (Amédée Mathier)—Certifications: Bio-Suisse, Bio-Inspecta & Vinatura:
The wines of Amédée Mathier were presented by his UK importer Joelle Nebbe-Mornod of Alpine Wines. The white wines are a real strength of this portfolio. The spectacular Amphore Blanc just kept developing in the glass with so many mutable savory, fruity and mineral components. Kaleidoscopic is a word that came to mind. The petite arvine Aphrodine was also a star performer with a lot of the citrus confit that makes this variety so compelling and delicious. This domaine is another champion of sustainable and organic viticulture and deserves to be better known for it efforts.
Amphore Blanc 2011, Valais (réze/marsanne/viognier): Fermented on the skins and aged in buried 1800 liter qvevri. Burnished gold in color. An amazing cocktail of perfumes with the peachy notes of viognier predominant. Otherwise pear, gen mai cha, thyme and flint. Palate is rich and admirably dry given the suggestive perfume. The architecture of flavor is fine grained and borne along by its lavish texture and pear-like mealiness. Pure fruit flavors are rendered chiaroscuro-style. This is quite a success.
Aphrodine 2014, Leytron, Valais (petite arvine): Barrel fermented. Straw in color. Powerfully scented with grapefruit pith, herbs and typical wet stone bass notes. Delicious grapefruit, cream and mineral palate that is bright, rich and evocative of exotic fruit in the persistent finish. Excellent and a good example of this under appreciated variety.
Forestier 2014, Valais (pinot noir): From organic vines, never sprayed or treated, located in a protected naturpark, Pfyn-Finges, near Salgesch. The basic pinot noir of the portfolio. Stainless steel fermented and aged. Highly transparent ruby in color with a fresh nose of herbal and cherry fruit. Palate is simple and pretty. Tangy cherry fruit with savory herbs. A touch bitter in the finish. Decent.
Rhoneblut 2014, Valais (pinot noir): Bright ruby in color. Similar profile as above but with more intensity. Deeper, sweeter cherry nose with fresh picked herbs. Palate has more body and is slightly more tannic. Rounded cherry flavors but a bit disjointed. I think this is a bit awkward at the moment and probably needs some time.
Salconio, Vinum Lignum 2013, Valais (merlot/syrah/diolinoir): Dark garnet center. Roasted fruit nose with a slightly oaky, vanilla edge. Ripe plums on the palate with a good density and saturation of fruit. Tannin is integrated and showing just a little in the finish. Nicely constructed wine with several years of positive development ahead.
Amphore Noir 2012, Valais (syrah): Once again qvevri fermented and aged as the above Amphore Blanc. Crystal clear and transparent ruby in color. Deep, pure stone-fruit nose (cherry/apricot). The palate is middle-weight with saturated flavors of fruit cream and white pepper. The texture is the thing: chamois and stone as if admixed. Slightly gritty and decadently soft simultaneously. This must be the effect of the qvevri. Very clean. Very fresh. Very good.