With the right price, it’s easy enough to fill any cellar with the best vintages of Margaux. But for any serious oenophile, to dismiss the world of natural wines — on the grounds that they might be funky or poorly made — is to deprive oneself of a chance to taste, or collect, bottles of exceptional rarity and quality. Here are some of the pioneers, prodigies, and unicorns of the natural wine movement.
The wines of Pierre Overnoy and Emmanuel Houillon
Since 1968, Maison Pierre Overnoy has been making some of the most sought after wines in the world in the Arbois Pupillin commune in the Jura region next to Burgundy in France. Farming the region’s main grapes, like savagin, poulsard and chardonnay, biodynamically, he produced wines emblematic of the region, including Vin Juane. Overnoy retired in 2001, but his protege and successor Houillon continues the legacy of Maison Pierre Overnoy, producing bottles that regularly range between three- and four- figure sums – if you can even get your hands on a bottle.
Impossible anywhere else
Clos de la Coulee de Serrant’ Savennieres
A single-estate appellation is when an entire AOC is under one owner, and only three exist in France: Romanee-Conti, the most famous in Burgundy, which produces arguably the world’s best wines that fetch incredible sums at auction, Chateau-Grillet in Rhone and Coulee de Serrant, which has a long and proud history under the family Joly. Here, owner Nicholas Joly makes the world-famous Chenin Blanc, considered one of the great whites of France. Roughly 20,000 bottles are produced annually from grapes farmed biodynamically with practices like encouraging permaculture, using ambient yeast and utilising animals to plough the land. Joly is one of the pioneering vintners using the approach.
Embracing the past
While natural wines might seem like a recent phenomenon, it is, in fact, a return to ancient methods of vinification. Josko Gravner was one of the first in Italy to embrace this, dropping an already-successful portfolio of “outsider” international grapes to grow indigenous varieties in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, a north-east Italian region bordering Austria, Slovenia and the Adriatic Sea. The Rujno is one of Gravner’s top reds, made only during the best vintages with a blend of merlot and cabernet sauvignon, and fermented on the skins in open oak vats. Not many vintages of Rujno are available on the market, with the last one being 2003. itwineclub.com
At one with the land
The wines of Beau Paysage
While making wine in Japan’s largest wine-producing region, Yamanashi prefecture, Eishi Okamoto has carved a niche as one of the most in-demand natural wine producers coming out of Japan. With just 3ha in the alpine town of Tsugane, Okamoto operates quite unlike most winemakers, natural or not. His Beau Paysage parcels include sauvignon blanc, pinot gris, pinot noir and merlot, all tended to organically. Weeds grow in between the rows and sorting post-harvest is minimal so the wine can express its pure character. Less than 10,000 bottles are produced each year, most of which are pre-allocated to natural wine bars in Japan, and a small handful of distributors.
Frank Cornelissen’s Magma
Susucaru might be the most well-known of Frank Cornelissen’s wines, but the Belgian-born winemaker’s top cuvee is Magma. It’s made with fruit from century-old Nerollo Mascalese vines grown at an elevation of 910m near Mount Etna, fermented with indigenous yeast and aged 18 months in natural epoxy tanks. Cornelissen only makes this during the good vintages and produces about 1,500 bottles in those years. These are bottles with tremendous ageing potential — and the best examples of wine coming out of Sicily.
Unleashing hidden potential
Valentini Montepulciano d’Abruzzo
The late Abruzzo winemaker Edoardo Valentini was considered one of the best in the region up until his death in 2006. Despite his notoriety for shunning all forms of marketing and the media, his wines garnered cult status for their complexity and ageing potential. While these properties are almost a given with the most well-regarded wines, Valentini makes his from trebbiano and montepulciano – two widely-grown, indigenous Italian varieties that are most often regarded as bulk grapes. The montepulciano, in particular, is used only during the best vintages, and even then, with an exceedingly low percentage of the harvest to ensure a singular elixir. itwineclub.com
La Cave de Nomades: Amphorisme
While known for its sweet wines, Banyuls in the Roussillon county of France is also home to La Caves de Nomades, the wine estate run by Portugal native Jose Carvalho Moreira. Although he only made his first wine in 2014, Moreira has quickly established a reputation for extraordinary cuvees vinified with grapes grown organically in the area’s famous schist soils. Production is extremely limited, with only a meagre 300 bottles of his Amphorisme – a blend of macabeu, grenache gris, grenache blanc, chardonnay, and vermentino aged in amphora for six months – made each year.
(Related: This is the new wine list)
Illustrations by Weets Goh