Dave McIntyre's recommendations: Natural wines

Wednesday, April 14, 2010; E05

One problem with finding "natural" wines is that they are rarely labeled as such. (Some government agency would probably want to know what it means.) So look for the importer's name or certain phrases such as "native fermentation" or "indigenous yeast." And if the label lists the wine's sulfur content, that's a good clue that the winemaker is taking pains to keep sulfur as low as reasonably achievable.

Donkey & Goat "The Prospector" Mourvedre 2008
** 1/2
El Dorado, Calif., $30

This winery is rapidly becoming a U.S. leader in the natural-wine movement, and the mourvedre shows why. It is rich and sweet in a ripe way, with gritty tannins that provide complexity and interest. The 2008 roussanne ($26) is also excellent, honeyed and ripe in a California expression of natural wine: low in acid, generous but not over-the-top in alcohol, and attention-grabbing.

Nice Legs: Available in the District at Cleveland Park Wine and Spirits, Wine Specialist; available in Maryland at Cork and Fork in Bethesda; available in Virginia at Out of Site Wines in Vienna, Wine House in Fairfax.

Escoda-Sanahuja "Coll del Sabater," 2005
** 1/2
Conca de Barbera, Spain, $35

This blend of cabernet franc and merlot requires a little effort to coax out the fruit, but you will be rewarded with a beam of pure black-fruit flavors and impressive focus and structure. The importer, Springfield-based Jonas Gustaffson Selections, is a name to watch for impressive selections from Spain.

Vin de Terra: On the list in the District at Belga, Central, Citronelle, CityZen. Available in Virginia at Cecile's Wine Cellar in McLean; Grape and Bean, Rick's Wine & Gourmet and Daily Planet in Alexandria; Wine House in Fairfax, Screwtop Wine Bar & Cheese Shop in Arlington; Tastings in Charlottesville; on the list at the Inn at Little Washington.

Clos Siguier 2007
Cahors, France, $17
(Great Value)

Cahors, in southwestern France, has a reputation for sturdy wines made from malbec. This one, however, is surprisingly light as it enchants with blackberry and sage flavors.

Jenny & François Selections/Downey Selections: Available in the District at D'Vines. Available in Virginia at Food Matters in Alexandria, Out of Site Wines in Vienna, Whole Foods Market locations in Tysons Corner and Reston; on the list at Bistro Bethem in Fredericksburg.

Strohmeier Schilcher Sekt
Styria, Austria, $25

This dry rosé sparkling wine is a delight, made with no dosage (sugar added when the lees are disgorged) or added sulfur, as the bubbles act as a preservative.

Williams Corner: Available in the District at Cork Market, MacArthur Beverages; available in Maryland at Cork & Fork in Bethesda; available in Virginia at Arrowine in Arlington, Vineyard of Virginia in McLean, WineStyles in South Riding, Opera House Gifts & Gourmet in Manassas, Kybecca in Fredericksburg, Iron Bridge Wine Co. in Warrenton.

Jean-Paul Brun Terres Dorees "L'Ancien," 2008
Beaujolais, France, $17
(Great Value)

This wine smells a bit funky fresh off the cork. Stick with it, and you'll be rewarded by stony, intense gamay at its best, with food-friendly acidity.

Louis/Dressner, Williams Corner: Available in Virginia at Cork & Fork in Gainesville, Opera House Gourmet in Manassas.

Domaine de la Patience Merlot 2007
* 1/2
Coteaux du Pont du Gard, France, $14

This is a spicy merlot from southern France that doesn't quite taste either Bordeauxlike or New World. But it is fairly big, with lots of plummy fruit, and would make an excellent partner for grilled meats.

Jenny & François Selections/Downey Selections: Available in Virginia at Leesburg Vintner, Wine Seller in Herndon.


*** Exceptional ** Excellent * Very Good

Prices are approximate. Check Winesearcher.com to verify availability, or ask a favorite wine store to order through a distributor.

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