Thursday, September 16, 2010

Focus on Natural Wines: The Terroirs Wine Bar in London

I had lunch at the Terroirs Wine Bar in London with my daughter Cornelia, who lives in London. The Terroirs in London is famous for serving only what it calls natural wines.

Natural and Other Green Concepts of Winemaking

What are natural wines? Natural wines are part of a group of wines that I would call “green wines”, wines made with an ecological concept in mind. There are several different concepts of “green wines”.

Organic: Organic generally means the use of natural as opposed to chemical fertilizers, insecticides and pesticides. The key is: no chemicals.

Organic wines are changing the look of vineyards, literally. Whereas vineyards of the past commanded neat rows rid of all insects, rodents and weeds, organic vineyards are now replacing costly and damaging chemical sprays with environmental partnerships. Pesticides are giving way to introducing low-growing plants between vine rows that host beneficial insects that keep the pest insects in check.

Unfortunately, there is no agreement on what organic wine making as opposed to organic wine growing means. The main issue is the use of sulfur in the fermentation process. In the US, organic winemakers are not allowed to add sulfites during winemaking; an organic wine is a wine with basically zero sulfur. In Europe, sulfites are allowed to be added during fermentation and an organic wine typically contains a modest amount of sulfur.

Picture: Traditional and Organic Vineyard

Biodynamic: Biodynamic is similar to organic farming in that both take place without chemicals, but biodynamic farming incorporates ideas about a vineyard as an ecosystem, and also accounting for things such as astrological influences and lunar cycles. Biodynamic is an approach following the rules and ideas of Austrian philosopher-scientist Rudolph Steiner. In his 1924 lectures, he viewed the farm as an entire living ecosystem starting with the soil which is treated as a living organism and receives special applications to enhance its health.

Sustainable: Sustainability refers to a range of practices that are not only ecologically sound, but also economically viable and socially responsible. Sustainable farmers may farm largely organically or biodynamically but have flexibility to choose what works best for their individual property; they may also focus on energy and water conservation, use of renewable resources and other issues.

Natural: The idea behind natural wine is non-intervention and a respect for nature. For example, only natural yeasts are used, the fermentation is slow, there is little or no use of new oak barrels; and there are no filtrations or cold stabilization. Natural wines are minimalist wines produced with as little intervention as possible.

Vegan: Vegan refers to the process of "finning" the wine. Proteins, spent yeasts and small organic matter in wines are sometimes eliminated from wines with fining agents made from animal products. Fish bladders, egg whites, milk proteins and even bull’s blood (not allowed in the US or France) are all used as fining agents. As an alternative, Bentonite, a specific type of clay, is used for clarification in vegan wines. It’s important to note that vegan or vegetarian wines may or may not be made from organic grapes.

Fair trade: Fair trade wines first came onto the market the US in 2007, following trends in coffee, tea and produce. Fair trade refers to the conditions and wages paid to employees of the winery; it guarantees employees a fair and "livable" wage for their product. Fair Trade certification of wine has been around since 2003 in Europe. The certification means that wineries met certain standards for living wages, environmental sustainability and community improvement. Oakland's TransFair USA just announced that it has begun certifying Fair Trade wines from Argentina, Chile and South Africa for the American market.

Carbon footprint: The carbon neutral label comes from a different angle: global warming. All economic activites have a carbon footprint, including wine making. Carbon neutral wineries are trying to make a contribution to the general efforts of reducing the emission of carbon dioxide.

A major aspect of carbon neutrality however is outside the control of wineries. It is the transport of the wine from the winery to the consumer. For example, the carbon dioxide emission of a Bordeaux send to New York City by ship is lower than that of a California wine transported on the road.

Water footprint: A new thing is water footprint, reflecting the concern that the planet is moving into a period where water becomes more and more scarce.

The Place

Terroirs is a wine bar and restaurant situated in the heart of the London West End, a stone’s throw from Trafalgar Square and adjacent to the Charing Cross station. It seats 45 covers with a further 12 seats at the zinc top bar (which are non bookable).

Pictures: Terroirs in London

The Food

The waiter told me that the concept derives from the Parisian natural wine bars, like La Cremerie, about which I have reported here. He said, it is about food and wine which is natural and free of additives and about artisan products that taste simply of their origin.

Charcuterie is a feature of Terroirs. The selection changes but usually offers a terrine, a rustic jambon persillé, some French saucisse, lardo di Colonnata and ham.
A selection of seasonal cheeses is available. The cheeses can be ordered individually or as part of a selection.

There are some full-sized dishes - pot-roasted quail with pancetta and gremolata, for example, or salt cod with soft-boiled eggs - but I never got to them.

In short, Terroirs has something to offer everyone, from a bit of ballast to accompany a post-work drink or a full-on meal to satisfy the heartiest of appetites. The majority of the menu is small dishes, few costing over £8, many a lot less than that.

The Wines

The intention of the wine list is simple, said the waiter: to introduce customers to natural, hand made wines. The list includes 200 bins including sparkling and champagne, still and sweet wines. There is also an impressive list of artisan eaux de vie and liqueurs.

Picture: Terroirs' Wine Philosophy on a Black Board in the Wine Bar

The wines, Terroirs offers go beyond what I have described above as the concept of natural wines. “Green” wines would be more appropriate I think.

The list begins with organic sparkling wines, champagnes and aperitifs (including a stunning dry Marsala) and artisan ciders. The next page, is a selection of twenty by the glass (175ml) and pot lyonnais (500ml). This is followed by a short list with detailed tasting notes for people who don’t have the time or inclination to explore the entirety of the main list.

The remainder of the list is arranged geographically and with indication of climatic style (Atlantic; Mountain; Garrigue & Maquis) and there are rubrics explaining the styles of the wines and some of the grape varieties from the areas. The name of the estate is given first with a descriptive tasting note (plus any other relevant information) followed by the name of the wine underneath.

The focus is on France and Italy. I did not see any new world wines. Many of the French growers are certified organic and biodynamic. Several of the Italian growers belong to Vin Veri (Real Wines), a movement of like-minded natural winemakers. About 25 wines are under £20 and 80 in total under £30.

The wine merchant Les Caves de Pyrène is the wine bar's major backer.

Terroirs wine bar
5 William IV Street
Tel: 020 7036 0660

Schiller Wine - Related Postings

The Natural Wines of La Cremerie in Paris

The Natural Wines of the Donkey and Goat Winery in Berkeley, California

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Wine Event: President Obama and the First Lady eat at the "Green" Restaurant Nora and have a "Green" Spottswoode Wine

The Millesime Bio 2010 in Montpellier, France: A Discovery of Organic and Biodynamic Wines at the one of a Kind Wine Trade Show

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  1. Natural Wine MerchantsSeptember 18, 2010 at 10:35 AM

    "Looks like a great place to visit in London - love their "wine philosophy" board.
    Christian's article contains nice short, concise definitions and explanations of the various categories of "Eco Wines" (as Whole Foods likes to call the section). Fun read. Thanks!"

  2. Ice Wines are the best. I love it and we have a lot of good Vines over here:)

  3. This is a very nice site and you posted some great pics. Your passion clearly shines through - but I feel you have presented a somewhat false definition of organics that needs to be addressed. Organic vineyards are indeed farmed with chemicals and pesticides - there is no such thing as chemical free viticulture. Both organics and BD use the pesticides that are available to them from the OMRI list. Yes no glyphosate or other traditional herbicides are allowed but quite a few petroleum based materials are such as mineral oil and sulfur. In order to combat downy mildew which has to be done in order to grow grapes successfully, copper sulfate is allowed. Many people feel the use of this substance is worse than other more synthetic materials available as copper is a heavy metal and is very toxic to vineyard soils. Yes no "chemical" fertilizers are allowed however just how sustainable are animal manures and fish fertilizers? We've recently heard a great deal about the unsustainable and ecologically disastrous results of the worldwide commercial fishing industry and fish fertilizers are a direct by-product of that industry.
    My point is that chemical free viticulture simply does not exist. As for the sulfur issue, people should realize that if they are worried about a toxin entering their bodies they should be more concerned about the alcohol...just sayin..