Natural wine and bio-dynamic farming have become an accepted part of wine culture these days but it wasn’t always the case. Ambyth was doing it back in the early days. With vineyards planted in the early 2000’s, Philip and Mary Hart were already using biodynamic preparations on the young vines, and since their first vintage in 2010 they’ve used no additives, filtering, commercial yeast or sulfur. Today, with son Gelert and his wife Robyn operating the winery, they make about 1500 cases of world class natural wine using dry farmed fruit from their Paso Robles estate.
Some people in the wine industry have doubts about whether natural wines can age without the use of sulfur as a preservative, but Ambyth is proving the doubters wrong. The reds are aged for at least 2 years in neutral oak or amphora and are 5 years old before they’re released. These wines are vibrant with no hint of spoilage. Gelert attributes the aging potential to what he calls “happy oxidation”. Low and slow like Bar B Q, the introduction of oxygen via the right aging vessels build strength for long aging. Whatever the explanation, these lively, elegant wines are distinctive, interesting, and delicious.
Blackberry melds with red fruit and mushroom. A bit of garrique plays with the muted cider background, while hints of tar linger in the glass. This is a very savory wine. Cranberry emerges on the back of the mid palate. It’s very juicy up front but with tense acidity emerging early its quite nervy in the top notes which provides an interesting contrast with the soft, velvet mouthfeel on a medium frame. Subtle, refined tannins lurk as the action unfolds aloft, the wine skitters across the palate, animated, euphoric, almost jittery but with a soothing side that climbs back from the edge.
Nitin Sawhney’s Acquired Dreams has a similar, upper register animation, with the soft, bass note ostinato and soothing synth strings providing warmth and comfort.
Score: 92 Price: $45 Alc: 12.3%
Re Vera 2012
This blend of Mourvedre, Counoise, Grenache, and Syrah leaves a distinctly different impression. Full bodied, round with depth and concentration, very drying, powdery tannins enter early giving this wine more booming, bass notes without the soaring acidity. It’s movement is like a slow flood, dark, brooding, enigmatic, even a bit somber. It has a polished steel texture but the tannins wrap the palate in a briary blanket giving the wine an enveloping, tactile intensity.
Dried fig, dried cherry, garrique, smoke and coffee aromas reinforce the gloom redeemed by a layer of rich, midpalate fruit that lightens the load. The honest, haunting “Golden” by A Girl Called Eddy captures this wine’s depth and the power.
Score: 91 Price: $45 Alc: 12.8%