Who can afford to taste the iconic wines? The 1947 or 1961 Bordeaux for example? The DRCs and the Jayers? They are simply outside of financial reach, unless one has a rich uncle with a wine cellar.
I had one of those rich uncles but he was a fool. Uncle Jack's wine cellar was tiney: half-dozen 1982 Petrus (not fake ones.) I begged him. My father begged him. She needs to know what these are like. But no, the bastard. He took it with him.
When he died and his son was cleaning out the King's Point home--no love lost there-- they were, in the garage in a file cabinet, with a fill about 3/4 down.
In April, on assignment, I had lunch with Gianfranco Soldera. The topic came up. Pity the youth, he said, who will never be able to taste the classic wines, the important Bordeaux and Burgundy, the exalted Barolo and Brunello (like his, now out of the gate at $600 bottles.). How would they ever know what wine is really like? "I was lucky," he said. "They were so much cheaper when I was young."
So is it any wonder that the world of natural wine is so explosive? The greats and there are greats, are affordable. Within reach.
After leaving Montalcino, I had a long ride up to Piemonte. With Elba to my west, I started to think what were those iconic wines, to both drink and to learn?
So, even though Robert M. Parker Jr. thinks these are dangerous wines, I compiled a little list for him and those others who believe that drinking them will make you sick.
In my subjective list I side- stepped some wines that might become newer classics--ones from Germany, Austria and Spain and even the States. I wanted to offer up examples that have already demonstrated agebility with grace. The list shows most sides of what is considered natural, the right, the middle and the left. Included are examples of carbonic, cold carbonic (aka 'method') and classic alcoholic fermentation.
If you're new to this world of wine, these are the people you need to start with, these are the wines that you must know or at least of, as you go forward. Few over $125 and most under $40.
+ Domaine Peyra : Rarer than 1947 Petrus, this gamay of the Auvergne, made by Stéphane Majeune, had an immediate cult following. It was lively, weedy and delicious.
Made in the classic "Néauport" cold carbonic method, but the wines surpassed the technique. I had the 2004 not too long ago, it stood the test of aging. But as it’s practically extinct, I suggest you find the wines of Jean Maupertuis as he worked alongside of Majuene. His, from similar terroir and technique, and have that connectivity.
ah, the weeds of Peyra
+ The Beaujolais Gang of Four : The natural wine movement as we know it today, started in Morgon with Jules Chauvet (If you don't have the story, read Naked Wine) and the winemakers he inspired so… If you can lay hands on some of Chauvet’s wine, that would be the biggest score of all. His last vintage was mid-80s and I'm afraid Eric Texier has bought up most of them. So the best thing to do is to try new and if you can find them, ten year old examples from those icons who, called Villié-Morgon Gang of Four--were there at the beginning. Lapierre, Jean Foillard, Guy Breton, Jean Thévenet, and Domaine Chamonard. Mind you, all of these folk use sulfur and perhaps higher amounts than 20ppm, but for fun, try blind tasting against Dubouef, or if you don't want to be so obvious, Pizay, Jadot or Château de La Chaize.
+Claude Courtois (Les Cailloux du Paradis):Lest you forget Claude, do not! He started in the Var, and with a pregnant wife, headed north after a fire destroyed his land, and started over in an unsung area of the Loire and was dedicated to nothing but purity from the start. One of the originals and he does it with passion--he has launched his own branch of the natural wine world. The wines resist density, are non-sulfur, they are transparent and other worldly. Beware the magic.
+ Clos Rougeard : Back in the day when natural meant natural enough, no messing around, organic andwines that take their time. Drink one now and then stick in the cellar for over a decade.
+ Catherine et Pierre Breton-- Nuits d'Ivresse : One of the first cuvee of Bourgueil to not use sulfur and so easy to tell the difference, so much more livelier than their other wines.
+ T& JM Puzelat, Clos du Tue Boeuf : Iconic Loire valley producers, committed and benchmark. Look for aged chenin blancs or menu pineau.
+ Domaine Overnoy Houillon: Period. Blissful, ethereal and magical. Jura. Jura.To drink Pierre and Manu's Ploussard is to be happy.
+ Jean Marie Fourrier: What, you say, in Burgundy that's who you recommend? Fourrier and not Pacalet (bought grapes), or Prieure Roch (okay, go ahead, you need it for your education.) Fred Cossard's Domaine de Chassorney (Lay them down, no sulfur? that's right. ) or Claude Rateau (mea culpa). I say Fourrier because, well, this is natural wine in Burgundy at its best. Not touched by wood, very low sulfur, and long lived and beautiful terroir.
+ Domain Gerhard Schueller : Cult Alsatian wine that some might not understand. Be afraid. Be very afraid. But also be prepared to break through the fourth wall. These would give the Robert Joseph's of the world a run for their money, or run for a glass of seltzer. But approach with an open mind. (also Audrey & Christian Binner. Domaine Frick. Domain Julien Meyer)
+ Dard & Ribo : Classic, benchmark natural syrah from the Northern Rhone. You won’t want to age these too much. Good example of the philosophy, drink now for we die tomorrow.
+ Domaine de l’Anglore : From near Tavel, Eric Pfifferling created his domaine in 1988, and a good example of is it carbonic or is it terroir. But if you listen very carefully to the differences in his wines, and why these go far and beyond, and are age worthy.
+Domain Marcel Richaud: Cairanne terroir delivered by a seeker and a believer and a delight to find someone who avoids the brutishness of 100% grenache.
+ Chateau Le Puy Cuvée Barthelemy and Chateau Meylet: Both Biodynamic. One from Cote de Francs. The other from St. Emilion, both from the right bank, merlot-based unsulfured Bordeaux. And they said it couldn't be done. The Meylet is more fragile but terroir driven. Two sides of the same natural coin.
+Emidio Pepe: The great Montpulciano d'Abruzzo. Concrete, no wood and no sulfur equal long lived reds and whites, nose thumbing at those who think natural is shtick.
+ Radikon & Dario Princic: Tie! If you want to check out high level wines of no sulfur and skin contact, these Friulian winemakers are your go tos.
+Azienda Agricola Paolo Bea: Before Giampiero went radical (like his work with the nuns with Coenobium) he and his father worked gently with nature and resisted the oncomng attack of new world winemaking in Montefalco. These would have been natural before the natural movement, just old world, non messed with and no fear winemaking, aka natural enough.
+Chateay Musar :Before the late 60's they used no sulfur at all, after that for a few decades it was just at bottling. In the mid-90's, it was moved up to low amounts after alcoholic fermentation. Never the less, the older bottles are magnificient. This shows of the old-world sensibility (shared by Emidio Pepe) of longer vat time and bottle age before release from the cellar.