This week’s column is being filed from Montreal, where I’ve been devouring and relishing the local wine and food scene. This is my first time visiting Canada’s second-largest city (I know, I know), and it’s the local edition of the international Raw Wine fair that has brought me here.
Founded in London in 2012 by Isabelle Legeron, who is France’s first female Master of Wine, Raw Wine has a tight focus on natural wine from around the world. Although the term natural wine is still not an official designation, the fair’s featured wineries all adhere to the general agreed-upon parameters: grapes are organically or biodynamically farmed, then processed in the winery with minimal intervention. This means fermentation comes via indigenous yeast rather than commercial strains; there aren’t any added chemicals or enzymes; fining and filtering are rare; and additional sulphites to aid in the preservation of the finished wine are either kept to a minimum or not used at all.
“I wanted to create a place where wines like these, living wines with emotion, are shared,” Legeron said as we toured around Le Salon 1861, the buzzy event venue situated in an old church. “And this event is for everyone: from trade to wine lovers to those who are simply curious.”
It is hard to say whether Raw Wine—which has expanded to Berlin, Miami, Los Angeles, and beyond—is dovetailing with the still-expanding natural-wine movement or has been massively influential in propelling it. Whether it’s the chicken or the egg, there’s certainly no sign of this fair or this scene slowing down anytime soon.
Montreal is, no doubt, the Canadian epicentre of natural wine and a key hub for those looking to dive into this world. Many wine lists around town feature an array of natural styles, if not wholly devoted to them.
Devotion is not a word I use lightly. One key spot, Alma, a Mediterranean-influenced wine bar in the Outremont district, has a natural-wine program that is not only curated by coproprietor Lindsay Brennan but fully stocked with wines she imports that are unavailable anywhere else in the city, never mind the country, making for quite the one-of-a-kind experience.
Of course, Vancouver is no slouch when it comes to the category. Places like Burdock & Co., Juice Bar, and Farmer’s Apprentice are popular with thirsty natural-wine fans, and many other restaurants carry a good smattering of them on their lists.
Here, a quintet of favourites I supped at the fair that offer a good introduction to natural wine for the curious. These wines, and others by these producers, can be found at private stores like Kitsilano Wine Cellar, Liberty Wine Merchants’ Commercial Drive location, and Legacy Liquor Store in Olympic Village.
Free Form Ancient Method 2017
Okanagan Valley, B.C.; $34.90, okanagancrushpad.com
For a style unheard-of to most a few years ago, ancient-method sparkling wines (also known as pétillant naturel, or pét-nat) are practically a dime a dozen these days in the natural-wine world. Rather than the wine going through a secondary fermentation in the bottle like traditional-method bubble, the bottle is sealed while the wine is still going through its initial fermentation, resulting in trapped carbon dioxide making for fizzy deliciousness. This one is made from Pinot Noir, offering a mix of cherries, nutmeg, and savoury truffles.
Movia Sivi Pinot Grigio 2015
Brda, Slovenia; $35 to $37, private wine stores
Marmalade, honey, dried apricot, and lime cordial make for one of the most fascinating, charismatic takes on Pinot Gris I’ve encountered. A good wine for how we eat here on the West Coast, from fresh seafood to Indian, Thai, and Malaysian curries.
Frank Cornelissen Susucaru 2018
Sicily, Italy; $41 to $43, private wine stores
A wild-fermented blend of Malvasia, Moscadella, Insolia, and Nerello Mascalese, this juicy deep-pink wine is so damn pretty in the glass. It features waves of Italian plums, Rainier cherries, pomelo, and lime leaf, and I’ve yet to find a dish or cuisine with which it doesn’t pair well.
Claus Preisinger Blaufränkisch 2016
Burgenland, Austria; $25 to $29, private wine stores
Fans of buoyant Pinot Noirs or Gamays should easily gravitate to the similarly structured Blaufränkisch variety. This one shimmers with cracking acidity and minerality, keeping all of those raspberries, mulberries, and violets alive and well.
Château Le Puy Emilien Rouge 2016
Bordeaux, France; $52 to $56, private wine stores
Take another look at Bordeaux with this Merlot-forward blend that also carries splashes of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Carménère. Crunchy black and purple fruit sits atop dried herbs, cocoa, and a good dose of earthiness. Two years spent in French oak keeps everything in its right place.
For those interested in learning more about natural wine, Legeron’s 2014 book, Natural Wine: An Introduction to Organic and Biodynamic Wines Made Naturally, is highly recommended. More on the book, Raw Wine, and Legeron herself can be found at IsabelleLegeron.com.