Why Would Anyone Want to Taste a Wine After Four Weeks?
I visited Stéphane Bannwarth of Domaine Laurent Bannwarth in Alsace a while back to find out how Qvevri wines are made – and how they taste when they are made from the local grapes. It was a fascinating and instructive visit, which you can read about in my post here. The Qvevri wines were made more or less traditionally, including being neither filtered nor fined, and having no sulphur added at any stage. Not to mention the six months on the skins that the wines undergo – yes, also the whites. All the wines I tasted were extraordinary – several of them had been open for weeks, yet showed little sign of oxidation beyond the colour.
This was fascinating to me. Some wines can’t even survive a few days of being open, either oxidizing to the point that they are unenjoyable or turning into something akin to vinegar. Of course, as “natural” wines, they also offered a flavour palate that was quite different than a conventional white wine. Nevertheless, the tell-tale aromas of oxidation or acetic acid were not to be found.
Before I left the Domaine, I got a bottle of Stéphane’s 2012 Qvevri Pinot Gris. Accompanying the bottle was Stéphane’s advice to taste it over the course of a week or two. I went a bit farther than that and tried it over the course of a month… The day to publish the results has finally arrived.
Qvevri Pinot Gris 2012, 12.5% abv – Domaine Laurent Bannwarth
The wine is made with 100% Pinot Gris vinified traditionally in Qvevri, without any addition of sulphur, no filtration and no fining. The bottle is sealed under Vinolok – which remains my favourite wine closure.
First Tasting Note – Day 1
Hazy, bright, brassy light orange – nearly salmon-coloured.
The nose is fault-free, fresh and quite expressive. Very floral, with chamomile, rose and a hint of lavender preceding some orange and apple peel, red currant and then some real spicy aromas like ginger, cardamom and rose pepper.
Straight out of the glass, the wine is not quite as dry as I was expecting from the nose, but the bit of sweetness brings out some yellow apple, ripe pear to complement the floral and spice character of the nose. There is a good balance of freshness and alcohol, with a very interesting and long finish. The palate is creamy and mouth-filling – very substantial considering the alcohol level. Not having been filtered or fined, the haze isn’t too surprising – but this wine is clean as a whistle and pure as a mountain stream in spite of not having ever been sulphured. Apparently the microbiological stability is just fine.
Yeah, sure, there is definitely some residual sugar, but who the heck cares? It enhances the flavours, allowing the fruit on the palate to come forward. The wine is delicious upon opening, and I would very happily bring it as an example of “natural wine that works” for nearly anybody. And I would quite seriously also drink it just for pleasure.
Second Tasting Note – Day 4
The colour has deepened to a bright, firm orange.
The nose has remained completely clean, but the aromas have lost a lot of intensity. An interesting savoury note has emerged, and there is a new, clear earthiness like freshly-pulled carrots. The floral clarity is more subdued, but the spices remain.
On the palate the acidity seems amplified, but in a very positive way. White pepper and straw have joined the citrus peel and spice, and the savoury note is very clear. The minerality is beginning to emerge, the floral note has subsided a bit. The colour has changed a bit, and I admit I was concerned when the vinolok “popped” when I removed it – I started to worry that maybe the residual sugar had been discovered by something microbial. Seems not to be the case, however – the wine remains completely clean and fault-free. The wine seems even more complex in its newfound restraint, but I’m finding it hugely challenging to describe. Remarkable.
Third Tasting Note – Day 17
There is less haze, and the colour has deepened to mahogany.
Aromatic intensity has increased since the last tasting nearly two weeks ago. Some red fruit has returned, and the freshly-pulled-carrot earthiness remains. There is a hint of clay in the background, and the spice aspect has taken on a bit of an edge. Not unpleasant, but definitely new. Now some aromas of development have moved onto the stage: stewed plums and simmered tomatoes.
The balance and intensity on the palate has remained completely intact, though the finish has taken a slightly bitter note. The note of development is barely noticeable, with the familiar spices, peel and earthiness together with some red fruit continuing to set the tone.
Looking at this wine, I was prepared to have to pour it out and call it a day. How wrong I was. The wine remains astonishingly clean, fresh, interesting and barely showing any oxidation whatsoever. IT is completely healthy, and seems to have improved over the last tasting two weeks prior.
Fourth Tasting Note – Day 25
The colour has darkened slightly, the haziness has lessened again.
Oh wow! The nose has increased in intensity, with some stone fruit – particularly apricot – emerging. The usual spices continue to hold their own, and have been joined by the barest nuance of willow bark. The stewed plums and dried peel are still present, with the added facet of dried apricot.
The overall intensity of the wine has lessened a bit on the palate, but the willow bark and apricot notes are quite pleasant and contribute to the development of the wine. It seems to otherwise have completely left the realm of fruit flavours, and the floral notes are much in the background. Now it is more about earth, spice and peel. But still enjoyable and still healthy.
Fifth Tasting Note – Day 28
Slightly hazy, slightly darker mahogany.
The nose remains as intense as it was a few days ago, though the spices are finally starting to subside. A bit of apricot remains, the willow bark and peel remain very present and there is the added interest of fresh hazelnut husks.
Interestingly, the citrus peel is starting to taste candied, the willow bark remains in place and there is even a hint of mint. The wine seems rounder, even if it is less intense. The integration of the flavours is quite appealing, and the overall impression is very harmonious. The spices had taken on a bit of bite the last couple times I tried the wine, but this seems now to have been smoothed out. I enjoyed it more today than the last time. Nevertheless, it does seem that the wine is starting to fade at last.
This is an extraordinary, fascinating wine. Personally, I enjoyed it most just after opening, but I think a big part of my preference simply has to do with the unexpected and somewhat unfamiliar flavours that the wine develops over time. I don’t drink that many “natural” wines – and I have tried far, far too many that were simply faulty. But a wine like this one is an excellent representative of its genre, and would be a solid choice to pour for people who are not overly familiar with the scene. It is not an undemanding drink; this is no patio wine – but the rewards make it more than worthwhile to try. Hats off, Stéphane Bannwarth!
The One-Line Takeaway
Whether you already enjoy natural wines or are curious about them, you cannot go wrong with this Pinot Gris!