Go Wild!

The label says ‘Wild Ferment’ in big red letters. So, is this something special we ought to know about? Well, something interesting: yes; but something special: not really.
Before the middle of the 19th century and Louis Pasteur’s work, all wines would effectively have been ‘wild ferment’. Indeed, the earliest wines almost certainly happened in this way – by accident when some grapes were picked and left somewhere warm and the yeasts naturally present in the vineyard reacted with them to produce a sort of crude and basic wine. So, a wild ferment simply means using the naturally occurring yeasts.
The alternative to a wild ferment is the use of cultured yeasts. This really only took off in the 2nd half of the 20th century when the popularity of wine expanded and most bottles were bought from supermarkets. The new customers demanded a consistent product – not something that was always possible with wild ferments – and, as a result, many producers turned to cultured yeasts that could be controlled and standardised to give a more predictable outcome.
But others thought that using cultured yeasts destroyed any sense of ‘terroir’ – the distinctive taste of the individual vineyard – and have remained with (or gone back to) using wild yeasts instead. These producers are in the minority today hence the specific mention of the words on the bottle label.
And the wine itself? Delheim’s Chenin Blanc is a fresh, grassy white from Stellenbosch in South Africa (Wine Society, £10.95). The attractive herby nose is followed by quite a full and complex palate. There’s subtle spicy, savoury flavours from partial barrel fermentation and a few months left on its lees (the dead yeast cells that keep working even after the fermentation has finished). And plenty of ripe melon and peach, too. All topped off with a long mouth-filling finish.
So, does the wild ferment make a difference? It’s difficult to say but I found quite a distinctive character about this wine that says more than ‘this is a simple Chenin Blanc’. And it’s a real bargain at just over a tenner.

Solving a Mystery

I’m not easily persuaded by a smart wine label but, every now and then, I get drawn in.  Especially when there’s an element of mystery about the wine.  So, when I saw the bottle above in Grape and Grind recently with the starry label proclaiming ‘Objet Viticole Non Identifié’ (unidentified wine object), I was intrigued.

Grape and Grind, like many wine merchants in these Coronavirus affected times, ask customers to try and avoid picking up bottles they are not likely to buy so all I could tell from the front label was the grape variety (Chenin Blanc, which I like) and the producer (J.Mourat about whom I knew nothing).  But Grape and Grind are normally reliable, the wine wouldn’t break the bank (£14.99) so why not try?

Closer inspection made me even more interested; the label bore no vintage date and only the vaguest hint of its origin – Val de Loire (Loire Valley).  I learnt that Objet Viticole Non Identifié (OVNI for short) is the producer’s name for wines that he considers “anti-conformist,” – different from what you might expect. A mystery, indeed!

The wine itself was all I could have hoped for – and more: clean, fresh and quite tangy with lovely green apple flavours, an attractive creaminess in the mouth and a long, smooth finish showing lots of ripe fruit. An ideal aperitif but also good with lighter fish dishes or poultry.

I dug deeper to unlock the mystery.  The grapes are grown close to the coast just south of the Loire River, roughly halfway between Nantes and La Rochelle.  It’s an area that could attract the obscure Appellation Contrôlée Fiefs Vendéens, but Mourat, probably wisely, chose the more recognisable IGP (formerly Vin de Pays) Val de Loire instead.

The vineyard is organic and the wine is vinified in the now-fashionable egg-shaped concrete tanks (see picture below).

The idea of these, according to Jancis Robinson MW, is that the shape offers a high level of contact between the wine and the lees, reducing the need for batonnage (stirring) and encourages convection currents that improve fermentation kinetics. 

An explanation almost as mysterious as the label but who cares when the result is as good as this.