Get a free lesson & the best of the supermarket in your inbox every Tuesday at 8am.
“I can’t let you leave until you’ve tried this,” the barman says. It’s Thursday evening at about six o'clock. The sun is just warm enough that every pub corner is overspilling with people drinking warm lager. A glass drops, the crowd cheers. I’m inside Enoteca though. It’s London Wine Week. By this point, I’d already visited New Zealand Wine Cellar, Salon Wine Store, and Wine Parlour in Brixton on Tuesday.
The wine world is a generous one. Whether that’s extra servings at New Zealand Cellar or free flowing conversation, expertise and recommendations at Salon Wine Store. At Enoteca, having finished three nebbiolos and attempting to pay, the bartender says, “I can’t drink another glass of crisp, bright white wine” and places an orange wine in front of me. “When I drink white - this is what it has to be.
Orange wine is made from white wine grapes, but the winemaking borrows from red. Specifically the wine is made using the skins from the grapes, which provide colour and tannin to the wines.Until this point, I hadn’t been sold on orange wine. But as I was drinking the Krimiso Cataratto Aldo Viola, I was falling in love. It has soft savoury notes both on the nose and on the palate. It’s got a long finish and is surprisingly complex. If I couldn’t see the colour of it and you told me it was a pinot, I wouldn’t have questioned you. This was something very special. Heads up - it’s not cheap. Online I found this at £29 a bottle, but in bars it was ~£55 (Enoteca) and ~£70 (Luca).
What else is there to explore in orange wine? Now, I know I need to find out.
One thing I’d recommend doing is next time you find a wine you like: spend a minute or two to think of how it might remind you of another wine.
Roan Ranger, from Darling, South Africa, is made up of cinsault, grenache, and mourvèdre, which are three of the most common grapes in the Rhône (think the infamous Châteauneuf-du-Pape). I find most low-price Rhône wines to not be that balanced meaning the dryness or acidity could overpower everything else. Roan Ranger on the other hand, really shows off those fruits and spices. If you like Rhônes reds, get some of this: L&S have it for £10.50.
Le Fou is French for the madman. This wine is so named because it’s a pinot grown in the Languedoc, one of the hotter regions in France. Pinot is a grape that prefers cool climates, ripens early and is thin-skinned. All recipes for disaster in dry and hot places like the south of France. And yet, Le Fou is a triumph. You can find it for £8.99 at Kwoff, or south Londoners can find it at Wild & Lees. I’d particularly recommend this for anyone who prefers wines to be bigger and fuller bodied: this might introduce you to the breadth of pinot’s capabilities.
So what do you actually do when you stick your nose in and smell a wine?
First things first: swirl your wine around in the glass. Swirling it puts air into the wine and brings out flavour. It also helps coat a bigger surface area of the glass with the wine and so is easier to smell.
Condition, intensity, aroma
Is it clean? Unclean wines might smell of damp cardboard or basement, sherry or other stale signals.
Is it intense? Do you need to dig your nose into the glass (light), can you get a sense with your nose hovering at the top (medium), or can you smell it with your nose very far away as you might a spirit (pronounced)?
What does it smell of? This is the hardest and most rewarding part. Next time you have a glass with you, set aside five minutes reading through the list as you smell. Can you detect anything here?
The first a-ha moment you get in wine is when you detect something you never have detected before: and reading through that list while smelling is a great starting point to getting there.
The Guardian had an exceptional long read on natural wine last week. It looks at three in-vogue wine types: organic, biodynamic and natural wine. Organic wine follows the principals of organic farming: no chemical fertilisers, no pesticides, etc, and is regulated in most places. Biodynamic wine is the homeopathy of the wine world.
Like organic, there’s no chemical intervention, instead herb-based soil treatments are used. Importantly, different vineyard activities can only happen on certain days depending on the lunar cycle. Natural wine is as intervention-free as possible. That means it will be organic by nature, but also likely to have further processes removed. Mechanical processes are removed, the wines won’t be filtered (so are often cloudier, with more pungent barnyard noses), and typically don’t have added sulphites.
There’s a handful of wine shops, bars and restaurants now that are specifically natural like the excellent Yield in Stoke Newington.