Last year we missed the first RAW wine fair because we simply hadn't heard about it until it was over. This year we were determined to catch it even though it is held at the same time as the London International Wine Fair at Excel.
We found it eventually and as in the case of so many places that are difficult to find it was worth the effort.
RAW is devoted to various degrees of natural wines; Low and no-added SO2 artisans, Grower - no added S02 artisans and Grower - low added S02 artisans.
The moving spirit is Isabelle Legeron MW who styles herself "That crazy French Woman". She does an excellent job in attracting a great number of luminaries from the natural wine world including famous names such as Olivier Cousin, Frank Cornelissen, Strohmeier, Lammershoek, Malibran, Meinklang, Vina Cotar, Demencia, Fondo Radikon, Lauren Rosillo, San Giuseppe and Terroir al Limit as well as a whole host of others deserving of being represented and appreciated in the UK too.
We started our tour of over 170 exhibitors with Cobaw Ridge whose representative who we took to be Alan Cooper said with typical Aussie humour that the only Lagrein to be found at the show was from his winery at Macedon Ranges, Australia.
After browsing many fascinating tables we came upon a Zweigelt made by Meinklang by the interesting method of leaving the vines unpruned "Wild Vines"). It seems this adds to the quality in some way. Amazing.
As already mentioned, the Strohmeiers were there and we were delighted to meet Frau Strohmeier whose Blauer Wildbacher we had so enjoyed in various forms including Silcher and Lestoa (red). Strohmeier has obviously made the leap to Natural Wine production; the difference is enormous. We can't say if the change is for the better. The wines are now so different as to make any comparison impossible. Interesting indeed.
Next came what was for us the highlight of the show, the Kadarka wines of Oszka Maurer from Hungary.We had discovered Kadarka back in November 2008. The wines from this grape tasted rather typical of the Eastern European wines we drank in Communist times or else neutral. We never considered adding Kadarka to our list if discoveries - the Slotovino Hall of Fame, so the surprise in discovering at first sip the truly lovely sensation of Oszkar Maurer's various wines - all from Kadarka - was tremendous. So much so that we have chosen him as our Winemaker of the Year, 2012/13. Here is our appreciation in that list of awards;
Oskar who? Well, so impressed were we with what this modest diffident Hungarian has done with Kadarka that we predict he will go down in history with those who have rescued heritage varieties and brought them to a wider audience. Kadarka doesn't need to be rescued perhaps - it is grown to a fair extent in Hungary and even Romania but it has never bowled us over and we suspect not many others either. Oszkar Maurer though specialises in this grape and has made truly delicious wines from it. So much so that we think there will be no justice if he isn't immedtately recognised as Mr. Kadarka and is snapped up by agencies and importers all over the world. This surely is what Hungarian wine has been waiting for. Their USP is of course Tokay but what they needed was something to offer in dry, still table wine that's not an international grape bomb from Villanyi, lovely though tose can be. If this isn't it, we would like to know what is! Gratulálok
On other tables it was a joy to meet Laren Rosillo
the super-talented Spanish winemaker who makes the Mediterranean Mountain Wine Tinta Rome/Garnacha red wine of Sedella and much else and to see Stefano Bariani,
producer of Centesimino at Fondo San Giuseppe whom we had met at the Real Wine Fair at Tobacco Dock some months before.
Others we were delighted to come across for the first time were Daniele Portinari who makes a Tai Rosso in at Alonte in the Veneto at 13% (so not the ultra light style); the first natural Tai Rosso we have seen
Gabrio Bini of Saragghia (Pantelleria)
who makes a dry Zibibbo and a sweet Tardana - otherwise known as Planta Nova, an ancient but rare variety not generally held in much esteem, but here to prove the rule.
and a whole raft of winemakers from Croatia.
RAW was vital, dynamic, interesting in contrast to the London International Wine Fair which this year seemed a little downbeat from previous years. Could it have been smaller than before? Next year it transfers to Olympia where it will have a different atmosphere.
We are not implying that the LIWF didn't have plenty of interest. There were large stands devoted to New York and Virginia wines this year, previously in smaller housing. The Russians and Brazilians too seemed more prominent and the Hungarians and Romanians seemed to have better presentation.Despite this it seemed on this occasion to lack the buzz we had felt at RAW.
We have been banging on about wines from New York State rather. Perhaps it is because we love an underdog. At their much larger stand we had the opportunity to try Hudson Valley wines for the first time having never found them in NYC. Indeed, friends who actually live in the Hudson Valley dismiss these wines as beyond the pale but here were drinkable ones not to be overlooked.
Brotherhood is the oldest winery in America in constant production by the way.
We also found a wine from the Niagra Escarpment - on the US side. Since 2005, this has been an AVA in its own right. Wine has been produced here since the 19th century. We had to come to the Excel Cantre, London to find wine from there too, having never come across it in New York.
If you will pardon the fuzzy picture, and by now it wasn't only our photography that was fuzzy,
Virginia Wine was also interesting with a Vermentino (our first from North America), the lonesome Nebbiolo and others
Over in the Hungarian compound there were several heritage varieties and local hybrids on offer including Cserszegi Fuszeres, Irsay Oliver and Juhfark.
At the Brazilian stand there was an interesting curiosity - a Teroldego, no less.
In the Italian sector we were impressed by the number of Gutturnios on offer - a Croatina/Barbera speciality from Parma which according to Winesearcher.Pro is not available in the UK. We very much hope someone finds an agency here for Gutturnio, a wine famously dismissed by Victor Hazan because he thought the name ugly.
For us the undisputed stars of LWIF were the Russians. We had enjoyed tasting Vedernikov's Tsimlyansky Chornyi at previous shows at Excel ,
equally soft and lovely
as well as a Saperavi, the Sparkling wines of Abrau Durso (available from Zelas in Archway) and others. Russian wine is being marketed as the 'Sleeping Beauty'. Nothing to do with the gimlet-eyed gent pictured above. That is just Prince Lev Golytsin, the father of Russian wine. We think Russian wine will become familiar the world over in the not too distant future - as long as what is produced by the other winemakers is as good as what was on show here.