Swig

Perfectly imperfect wines

Organic, biodynamic and natural wines may not have an even quality like commercial wines, but that is part of their allure

An up-and-coming trend in the world of wines are natural, organic and biodynamic wines, which are slowly making their presence felt in Singapore.

These wines, which come under the umbrella term of "minimal intervention wines", are now more readily available at wine bars, liquor stores, restaurants, online wine delivery services and supermarkets.

They are usually made by smaller vineyards and are processed as little as possible, including the minimal use of chemicals such as sulphites.

Organic wines are made from organic grapes grown with no chemical fertilisers or pesticides, while biodynamic wines also take into consideration astrological influences and lunar cycles.

Producers of natural wines aim for a purer product and these are essentially fermented grape juice with nothing added or taken away. They may or may not be organic.

These wines appeal to sophisticated drinkers.

"People are getting more knowledgeable and want to know more about what they're drinking," says Mr Kasster Soh, 30, co-founder of speciality liquor store Temple Cellars at UE Square, which opened on Sept 1.

"Commercial wines taste more homogenous. With minimal intervention wines, on the other hand, the same grape variety can taste completely different grown in different parts of the world or treated differently by winemakers," says co-founder Jasmin Wong.

It stocks about 40 labels, ranging from $60 to $90 a bottle.

"Each label has an interesting story, just like with craft beers and spirits," adds Mr Soh.

With nothing added to or taken away from the wine, it may taste fresher or funkier than a bottle of commercial wine. A minimal intervention wine is often unfiltered, so it may look cloudy and contain bits of skin or sediment.

The unevenness is part of the charm of such wines, says Mr Ian Lim, 33, partner at RVLT, a wine bar in Carpenter Street which stocks more than 150 labels of minimal intervention wines from places such as Austria, Australia, Chile and Slovenia.

"Commercial wines these days are too perfect," he says. "There are hundreds of different additives you can put into a Sauvignon Blanc to make it bright, fruity or perfumed, and have the right amount of acidity and even the right colour."

RVLT, formerly known as Wine RVLT in Killiney Road, is one of the early champions of minimal intervention wines in Singapore. Mr Lim runs it with business partner Alvin Gho, 36.

Customers have taken to such wines at cafe and wine bar Montana, which started bringing them in two years ago.

Manager Huang Shiying, 29, says that customers, typically those in their 20s and 30s, may not necessarily be "wine people", but "they're willing to try them since they're interesting and have a cool label".

With 90 wines on offer, bestsellers include an orange wine from Italy.

Orange wines are white wines which are made like a red by fermenting the juice with the skins, giving them a more full-bodied character and an orange or amber hue.

Ms Huang warns, however, that not everything is of a high quality.

"Not all of them are good, so it's about the curation process," she says.

More restaurants are also beginning to feature such wines on their wine lists.

Take Nouri - which serves modern, multicultural-influenced cuisine by chef Ivan Brehm - which offers natural, organic and biodynamic wines.

To help ease diners into these wines, the restaurant's beverage manager Matthew Chan, 27, says it carries bottles from classic winemaking regions.

These include French regions such as Burgundy (Pascal Marchand) and Champagne (David Leclapart ) and Priorat in Spain's Alvaro Palacios.

There are drawbacks to stocking such wines, however.

"We can get only small quantities of wines from winemakers and we have had to remove some labels from our wine list due to limited supply," says Mr Chan.

"But we see this as more of an opportunity to constantly source for new producers and labels."

Big commercial retailers such as Cold Storage have also been stocking organic wines for the past two years.

The supermarket chain carries four such wines, namely a Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc from Australian label On The Grape Vine ($32) as well as a Chianti from Italy's Cantine Leonardo Da Vinci ($25).

They can be found at all Cold Storage, Market Place and Jason's outlets.

The reception has been "fantastic", says Mr Simon Cant, 43, wine director at Cold Storage.

He adds that the chain plans to introduce more of such wines, starting at its International Wine Fair that takes place from Oct 9 to 15.

Australian online wine retailer Vinomofo, which has a presence in Singapore, also sees the potential in the market here.

In addition to the reds, whites and sparkling/rose sections on its website, it plans to introduce next month a section dedicated to natural, organic and biodynamic wines.

"We're currently in talks with small-batch, natural and biodynamic producers from around the world so we can offer our customers a selection of minimal intervention wine," says Vinomofo's co-founder and joint chief executive officer Justin Dry.

Options will include Australia's Tamburlaine Reserve Hunter Valley Chardonnay and Orange Riesling (both organic) and The Mule "Malakoff Vineyard" Shiraz (biodynamic).

Wine drinker Eugene Khoo, 29, got into minimal intervention wines while studying in Melbourne in 2014.

"Such wines are about embracing their 'faults' and they're fun and surprising."

But not everyone is on board. "Some winemakers are totally against it," says Mr Patrick Sng, group chief executive of 1855 The Bottle Shop.

The wine retailer says that "there just isn't enough consumer demand at the moment to carry natural wines, but we will get there".

Ultimately, RVLT's Mr Lim says, this wine movement is all about the producer and the product "and we tend to forget that".

"People tend to take wine too seriously and are obsessed with how it's supposed to taste traditionally, but it's just about having fun."


Recommendations from...

RVLT

White: Labet La Bardette Chardonnay 2014 from Jura, France, $105

Red: Sam Vinciullo Warner Glen Red 2016 from Margaret River, Australia, $85

Sparkling: Kindeli La Lechuza Pet Nat 2016 from Nelson, New Zealand, $84

Info: 38 Carpenter Street; winervlt.sg, www.facebook.com/winervlt; tel: 9388- 1436;open: Mondays to Saturdays, 5.30pm to midnight; wines range from $55 to $258

TEMPLE CELLARS

White: Wines by KT Pazza Riesling 2015 from Clare Valley, Australia, $74.90

Red: Matthieu Barret Petit Ours Syrah 2015 from Cotes du Rhone, France, $66.40

Sparkling: Christoph Hoch Kalkspitz Pet Nat NV from Kamptal, Austria, $66.40

Info: 01-12 UE Square, 81 Clemenceau Avenue; www.templecellars.com, www.facebook.com/templecellars; tel: 6262-2191; open: Mondays to Saturdays, 11am to 11pm; wines range from $60 to $80 a bottle, with an additional $20 drink-in fee

MONTANA

White: Cline Cellars Farmhouse White 2016 from Sonoma, California, $79

Red: Bonkers Red by Patrick Sullivan from Yarra Valley, Australia, $79

Sparkling: Velius Rose by Podere Pradarolo 2014 from Emilia-Romagna, Italy, $89

Info: 02-25 PoMo, 1 Selegie Road; www.facebook.com/montanasingapore; tel: 6334-3137; open: Mondays to Thursdays, noon to 10.30pm; Fridays, noon to midnight; Saturdays, 9am to 11pm; Sundays, 9am to 9pm; wines range from $40 to $220

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 10, 2017, with the headline 'Perfectly imperfect wines'. Print Edition | Subscribe