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On-trade must explain natural wines to diners

Published:  19 May, 2011

Restaurants that fail to explain the concept of natural wines to diners are hindering consumer acceptance of the category, according to sommelier Romaine Henry from Hibiscus.

Restaurants that fail to explain the concept of natural wines to diners are hindering consumer acceptance of the category, according to sommelier Romaine Henry from Hibiscus.

Speaking at the first ever Natural Wine Fair, Henry criticised on-trade establishments who make no effort to educate diners on what the term 'natural wines' means.

"Just opening a bottle and leaving it there in a decanter is not enough - it's not that easy. When you're selling organic or natural wine you need to be there and you need them to understand the wines," he said.

Hibiscus' list is now nearly all natural, the first Michelin-starred restaurant in the UK to do so. "When you come to Hibiscus you're not in your comfort zone, the main thing is to ask questions," Henry said. "The don't know the food or the wine. The do not understand colour, smell or taste - that's why we're here."

Sommelier Xavier Rousset from Texture and 28-50 questioned whether the quality of natural wines was high enough across the board. "I find them interesting, but I have a glass, never a bottle." He added the "movement of natural wine is creating a lot of buzz".

Natural wine producers shouldn't be grouped under a single banner, according to Les Caves des Pryene's Doug Wregg, one of the organisers of the event. "I feel that suggests there's something there that isn't. Sometimes I think that people who like natural wine generalise too much."

Wregg said that the natural wine fair was all about educating consumers and the trade about the wines. "The objective is not to preach," he said. "We want to open people's minds up, it allows them to taste the wines and make their minds up."

He added that the term 'natural wine' is "very difficult to define". "We deliberately don't want too many precise rules," he said, "rules are for fools - they're fairly meaningless."

For Rousset, the definition of natural wines is "about getting people to be more sensitive winemakers." Wregg also championed developments by natural wine producers. "It's becoming less prevalent that you find clumsy winemaking," he said.

The term 'natural wine' "shouldn't be an excuse for bad wine", according to Gerard Basset MW MS from TerraVina. Basset went on to suggest restaurants dedicate an entire page of the wine list to explain what natural wines are. "If you explain to the consumer before they have a choice whether to order it. But if you explain after [they taste it] they think you're trying to pass if off."

Wregg added that the key to selling in both the on-trade, and independent wine merchants, is hand-selling. "You have to explain the wines," he said.