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The call of the wild draws some to don hiking books and head into the wilderness; for others, it’s hunting wild animals.
For winemakers, though, the call of the wild is something rather different.
Yeast is a crucial part of the wine-making process. These tiny organisms convert the natural sugars in grapes into alcohol, and can have an effect on some of the flavours and characters in the wine. Over time, yeast strains showing consistent and desirable characters have been isolated and cultivated, so that wine-makers can purchase the yeast strain/s that they feel most suit their fruit and style aspirations.
Other wine-makers eschew this approach and opt for "wild yeast" fermentations. Yeast cells are all around us and will be present on grapes and everywhere in a winery. Left to their own devices, the wild (natural) yeasts in the environment will initiate fermentation of grape juice, with many, many different yeast strains being part of the process.
This can result in a raft of other flavours and textural elements in the wine, often with a little wildness and funkiness. The risk of less-than-desirable flavours developing is greater, but diligent wine-makers will be on the lookout for rogue characters.
I recently had the opportunity to taste through "Seven Wild Years" of Greywacke wild sauvignon with wine-maker Kevin Judd, who many will remember from his long career with Cloudy Bay.
Kevin makes a range of stylish wines under his Greywacke label, but early experimentation with wild yeast techniques at Cloudy Bay led to a passion for his Wild Sauvignon (blanc), which offers a completely different take on the variety from what we are used to. Beguiling, textural and just a hint wild, this is a fascinating aperitif and a brilliant adjunct to food.
2014 Greywacke Wild Sauvignon
Rating: Excellent to outstanding
Some exotic notes on the nose: green kiwifruit, wild herbs, perhaps thyme and watermelon, remaining delightfully perfumed. The palate brings in tropical fruit nuances and a nutty undercurrent; a wildness here, yet immense drinkability. Far from the typical Marlborough herbaceousness, leading with lovely texture and superb balance.
2009 Greywacke Wild Sauvignon
Price: Not for sale
A wine that belies the adage that sauvignon will not age. Aged notes of asparagus and pea on the nose that flow on to the palate, mingled with citrus and dough. Clearly development here, yet this remains fresh and vital with the telltale signature of texture and marvellous balance. Quite a surprise.
Wonderfully inviting nose of bran biscuit, grilled nuts and an undercurrent of peach and nectarine. The palate is both spicy and savoury: creamy, weighty and rich with a backdrop of smoke and nuts and a fine acid line coursing through its veins. A real vibrancy and complexity here with a long finish. Fabulous stuff.
- Mark Henderson