Discover the joys of natural wine at new shop in Ghent

Summary

Wine importers A Taste Affair in Ghent have recently open a shop specialising in natural wines, one step further than organic and virtually unknown to wine drinkers

Don’t call it organic

Wine shops and their knowledgeable staff are a dime a dozen in a food-loving region like Flanders. It takes something different to stand out in the crowd. And A Taste Affair is something different.

This was immediately apparent during a recent wine tasting in their shop. I knew the wines were organic, but that didn’t explain it. There was a sharpness to them that went beyond a high level of tannin. They were certainly acidic, but they were slightly sour as well, sort of like cracking open your first gueuze beer when you’ve only ever drunk lager.

The wines are not “organic”, I was soon corrected. “They are natural.”

Splitting hairs, you might think, but in fact, there’s something to the method A Taste Affair has embraced. The importer, which recently opened a retail shop on its site in the Dampoort area of Ghent, only deals in what they call natural wines – wines that are not only made from organic grapes but that contain no additives.

It turns out that when we consumers buy wines marked “organic”, this only ensures that the grapes used to make the wine are organic. Other ingredients and additives do not have to be organic for the wine to get the organic label.

But at A Taste Affair, there are no additives in the wine, organic or otherwise. “The problem with the organic label,” says Anneleen Baetens, one of 10 people co-operating to run A Taste Affair, “is that, legally, it’s all about the vineyard. What you do after the vineyard, in the cellar, doesn’t matter.”

So organic wines can be just as full of colorants, taste enhancers, yeast and sulphites as regular old wine. Sulphur dioxide is used in pretty much every wine you buy; it’s the additive that controls fermentation in the winemaking process and prevents oxidation thereafter.

One step further

The wines at A Taste Affair contain very little – and in some cases no – added sulphurs. “Sulphur and yeast are both naturally present in the grape,” explains Baetens. “They are part of the natural fermentation process, which happens by itself. So we go one step further than organic and only work with producers who add nothing to their wines. We just want the grapes.”

Natural wines have more complexity, and the acidity is usually higher

- Anneleen Baetens

But fermenting is a tricky business and one that large-scale wine producers cannot leave to chance. “The risks are much bigger with natural winemaking,” confirms Baetens, “because something can easily go wrong. The wine goes its own way; you don’t have much control over it.”

That’s why the importer, which supplies restaurants and retail outlets across Belgium, has spent its two-and-a-half years since launching working hard to make contacts. Small producers of natural wine can be difficult to find. If there are few producers of such natural wine, there are also few importers willing to buy it from you. But once the Ghent importer found a few, word of mouth spread.

Now that there is a shop, A Taste Affair is hosting more tastings to introduce its special product to the public. An event on 1 March will feature live music and a reading by Flemish author Kristien Hemmerechts. Customers can also order all their wines and other products online.

The business definitely has its work cut out for it because most customers will have never tasted wine like this. “If you are not used to it, it’s a little strange  because we are used to wines that go down easy,” admits Baetens. “Natural wines have more complexity, and the acidity is usually higher. With classic wine, there is often a wood flavour added, and you taste the wood rather than the grape. With natural wines, you really taste the grapes. It’s like drinking grapes.”

This all sounds rather expensive, but in fact you can get a bottle of natural wine for as liitle as €8. If you have a budget and a menu, the friendly staff can help you out with suggestions. Consumers can also order all their wines and other products online. Since opening the shop, A Taste Affair has expanded into other products, specialising in raw and organic foods and drinks, including beer, crackers, honey, coffee and tea.

A Taste Affair is offering a 5% discount for in-store or online orders (with free home delivery) of at least €100 to Flanders Today readers. Just mention code FT2015. Offer is valid until 28 February