Natural Wine Killers: Catherine & Pierre Breton ‘La Dilettante’ Vouvray Brut NV

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This wine features in our December edition of the Natural Wine Killers box - being December, of course we had to bring you some bubbles. It’s the season where casual wine drinkers the length and breadth of the country pop open millions of bottles of Prosecco and Cava, toasting to a bountiful 2019. We like a good glass of fizz too, but have, as you might expect, made a rather less obvious choice…

Vouvray sparkling flies well under the radar in the UK, perhaps because only 10% of these wines make it outside of France. Vouvray also lacks a clear marketing focus. There are few wine regions which can make sparkling wines, along with white wines ranging from dry, to medium and sweet, and do all of these things well. Vouvray is one such appellation, making it a delight for wine lovers.

Vouvray is located in the Loire Valley, in northern, central France, not far from the town of Tours. It has a cool climate, but with a long growing season, allowing growers to pick their Chenin Blanc grapes at varying levels of ripeness. The grapes that go into making sparkling wines will typically be earliest picked - their high acidity being prized when making refreshing bubbly.

Vouvray Brut is made in exactly the same way as Champagne – the Traditional Method, where the second fermentation (which produces the bubbles) happens in the same bottle in which the wine is aged and sold. However, the growers of Vouvray are more interested in selling their wines for fair prices locally than sponsoring fashion catwalks (those Champagne marketing budgets don’t come for free).

By law, Vouvray Brut must be aged for 12 months in contact with its lees in bottle. It’s these decomposing yeast cells which give sparkling wines their biscuity, bready character. The Bretons, being among the most respected producers in Vouvray, age their wine for twice this time, on a par with Champagne. The wine therefore has a richness in character equal to many Champagnes twice its price.

Catherine and Pierre are both from the fourth generation of winemaking families. They are extremely conscientious about their practices, with this wine being certified organic. The wine is also made with indigenous yeast and spends 12 months fermenting in tank before bottling and second fermentation.

The nose is inviting, with aromas of baked apple, brioche, and a typical Vouvray honey note. The palate is fresh, with green apple and lemon pie. The mousse is super creamy, with a long, crisp finish. Make sure you keep this one stashed at the back of the fridge at the Christmas party, and leave the others to their Prosecco.

Claire Bullen’s food pairing: A mixed sashimi platter or splash out with caviar-topped fried chicken

Paul Medder is a freelance wine educator and works for one of the UK's leading wine distributors. He occasionally tweets @PaulMedder.

Natural Wine Killers: 2Naturkinder Bacchus Pet Nat 2017

Wine text books are littered with French terms which somehow have avoided translation, forming an internationally understood vocabulary among wine geeks. From household names like brut or demi-sec to my personal favourite, millerandage (Google it). None of these are quite as en vogue as pétillant naturel.

Pétillant in French simply means lightly sparkling. At some point in recent history, pétillant naturel received a Sam Cam-style truncation to make it more media-friendly, morphing into Pet Nat. It’s a term which is especially popular in the natural wine hotbed that is the Loire, but has spread much further afield (this one coming from the undervalued German wine region of Franken).

Truth be told, there is nothing modern about the Pet Nat. Winemakers though the ages have discovered, sometimes to their dismay, that if you leave a bit of residual sugar in the bottle, the wine may start refermenting and go fizzy. The first sparkling wines were of course made this way. Long before Dom Perignon got hold of a pupitre, the winemakers of Limoux, down in the Pyrenees, were making methode ancestrale – a sparkling wine where sugar is left in the bottle to referment, and create a lightly fizzy, cloudy wine.

Locals of Limoux claim to have been making sparkling wines this way since the 1500s, so like many natural wines, Pet Nat really is taking it back to the old school. Which brings us to 2NaturKinder’s Bacchus Pet Nat 2017. It’s made by Melanie Drese and Michael Völker, two Germans who developed a passion for natural wines in London (sounds familiar) and moved back home to create a revolution in Michael’s parents’ winery. The winery is now certified organic, and the wines are made with minimal intervention – nothing is added or taken away.

This Pet Nat is made by leaving about 15g/l residual sugar in the wine, sealing it to re-ferment and retain the fizz, then roughly disgorging so most of the dead yeasts are removed, but finishing cloudy. According to Mel and Mike, this vintage is a bit more colourful than previous, but benefits from a more intense perlage (no more French wine terms, I promise).

It has a hazy lemon colour and looks and smells a bit like a natural lemonade, with aromas of saucisson, ginger and gooseberry (Bacchus is an aromatic grape, not commonly used in sparkling wines). It’s gently frothy, and has a long, Bramley apple finish. And at only 11% ABV, it goes down dangerously easily.

Claire Bullen’s food pairing: Pair with lemon orzo with prawns and fresh herbs or scallop, grapefruit, and avocado ceviche

Paul Medder is a freelance wine educator and works for one of the UK's leading wine distributors. He occasionally tweets @PaulMedder. This wine featured in our November Natural Wine Killers box. To bet on board, head here.

Wine & Food Killers: Lemongrass Chicken with Sam Vinciullo Warner Glen Sauvignon Blanc 2017

If you’ve got Sauvignon Blanc fatigue, you’re not alone (blame the boatloads of Oyster Bay for making the grape feel cheap and lustreless). But don’t let that dissuade you from this particular bottle. Sam Vinciullo’s skin-contact Warner Glen Sauvignon Blanc is an electrifying reminder of just how good ol’ Sauvy B can be.

Made using organic, hand-harvested grapes in the Margaret River region – located in Western Australia, and one of the most geographically isolated wine regions in the world – it ticks most of the low-intervention boxes. It’s unfined and unfiltered (which gives it a hazy appearance), has no added sulphites and is fermented using wild yeast. That make it about as pure a distillation of the grape, and of Margaret River’s terroir, as is possible to find.

Even with the glass inches away from my nose, the wine’s complex and enticing aroma is apparent: you could almost dab it on your pulse points and call it a perfume. It offers pungent aromas, ripe and juicy gooseberry and passion fruit, plus a subtle herbaceousness (no wonder some describe Sauvignon Blanc as the IPA of wines). On the palate, it’s buoyant, with the slightest prickle of CO2, and brightly acidic.

When thinking up a pairing to go with this peach of a wine, I sought a complementary dish – something that could supply its own fruitiness and subtle funk. I opted for Vietnamese-inspired lemongrass chicken, which, like the wine, is boldly flavourful but still fresh. Additions of lemongrass, fresh herbs and lime juice mimic the wine’s brightness, while a pinch of earthy turmeric and glug of fish sauce match its pungency.

This is a great pairing both for sunnier days and when you can’t quite bear to let the memories of summer go just yet.

Lemongrass Chicken
Loosely adapted from Asian at Home
Serves 4

For the lemongrass chicken:
800g (1 ¾ lbs) boneless, skinless chicken thighs (approximately 8 thigh fillets)
Fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
4 long stalks lemongrass
4 cloves garlic
1 bird’s-eye chilli
1 echalion (banana) shallot
2 ½ tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon ground turmeric

To serve:
Steamed jasmine or basmati rice
Coriander leaves
Mint leaves
Lime wedges

1. First, prep the chicken. Chop into roughly 1-inch pieces. Season lightly with salt and pepper and set aside.

2. Meanwhile, prep the aromatics. Remove and discard the hard bulb at the end of each lemongrass stalk. Remove and discard the tough outer layers until you get to the tender core. Mince finely, and transfer to a bowl.

3. Finely mince the garlic and chilli, and add to the lemongrass. Finely dice the shallot, and add to the same bowl.

4. Make the sauce. In a ramekin, add the fish sauce and brown sugar, and stir until uniform. Set aside.

5. Place a large frying pan or wok over high heat, and add the vegetable oil. Once very hot but not smoking, add the chicken pieces. Spread in a uniform layer and cook for approximately 2 minutes, or until starting to brown. Flip and cook for approximately 1-2 minutes on the reverse. Sprinkle over the turmeric, and toss to combine.

6. Once the chicken is just cooked through, add all the aromatics and cook, tossing frequently, for 3-4 minutes, or until they have lost their raw aroma.

7. Pour over the sauce and toss to combine. Turn heat to medium-high, and cook for 5-6 minutes, stirring or tossing frequently, until the sauce has thickened into a glaze. Remove from the heat.

8. Divide steamed rice between bowls and top with the lemongrass chicken. Garnish with coriander and mint, as preferred, and serve with lime wedges on the side.

Claire M. Bullen is a professional food and travel writer, a beerhound and an all-around lover of tasty things. Follow her on Twitter at @clairembullen and look out for our book together, The Beer Lover’s Table, launching in March 2019. These recipes accompany our Natural Wine Killers natural wine subscription box - sign up to get yours here.