Danish restaurant Noma has been voted “Best Restaurant in the World” by Restaurant for two years running. In an old waterfront warehouse in the city of Copenhagen, chef and founder René Redzepi has reinvented Nordic cuisine. His love for foraging in the Scandinavian flora and fauna, taking the tastes of raw sea urchins, fermented gooseberries and pine shoots to new levels of molecular gastronomy, has created quite a challenge for wine matching.
“The common theme for everything the kitchen creates is a clean, fresh, honest taste,” explains head sommelier at Noma, Swede Pontus Elofsson. “To match this we pick wines defined by acid and minerality.”
The areas favoring this light, fresh flavor profile are those that, just like chilly Scandinavia, have a long, cool growing seasons. Champagne, Loire, Mosel and Burgundy provide key options for these ephemeral foods.
Not only do the flavor profiles need to match - the purity of the kitchen does as well.
“I am convinced that terroir comes though best in a wine if the wines are grown as naturally as possible and not manipulated in the cellar,” explains Elofsson.
Thus, the wine list is dominated by “natural” wines, biodynamic or organic wines from small producers who make their wines with minimal intervention. And sure, natural wines might taste different than the produced, cookie-cutter wines many a consumer palate is used to.
“The natural wines may be perceived as quite ‘special’ initially, but in combination with the flavors of the food we convince even the most doubtful of guests,” smiles Elofsson.
With Noma as a trailblazer, the natural wine trend has taken Denmark’s capital by storm. Numerous restaurants are picking up the new, clean, locally sourced Scandi kitchen and adding their own spin, creating wine lists to match.
Not everyone has the budget to pop over to Denmark to take this new kitchen and its fresh wine lists for a spin, but getting a feel for it requires less than a live-and-kicking sea urchin (okay, they don’t move much, but you catch the drift). Instead, make yourself a light dinner with locally sourced veggies and seafood with plenty of fresh herbs. Perhaps you can add a dandelion-leaf salad (definitely skip this if you use Roundup). Pair with one of the following wine suggestions taken from the wine lists of leading Danish restaurants including Noma, Geranium, Kødbyens Fiskebar, Relæ... Skål!
Champagne is an excellent food wine when done right. Before Anselme Selosse came along, it was said that the region did not lend itself to organic grape growing. Boy were they wrong. Try: Champagne Francoise Bedel - Dis, Vin Secret. This champagne may be unlike anything you have tried before. Not only meal worthy, it’s almost a meal in its own! Try serving in a white-wine glass.
Loire is a hit with natural wine fans with many good producers on the bandwagon. Mineral and light, this is an area to look closer at. Try: Domaine aux Moines Savennières Roche aux Moines. The only dry white from mother-daughter team Monique and Tessa Laroche is made from 100% Chenin Blanc. Deliciously mineral, oily and complex, this is a wine that ages, so look for older vintages and serve with white fish, sauteed local mushrooms, herbs and nuts.
The natural wine movement has long had a stronghold in the southern parts of Burgundy, Beaujolais, where Gamay is grown. Stepping away from the aromatic yeasts and full-on carbonic maceration that produces synthetic banana wines, there are some excellent wines to explore here. Try: Morgon Cru Beaujolais from Domaine Marcel Lapierre. A fruity, lush and fresh natural wine from the legendary Marcel, an original member of the natural wine proponents dubbed the “gang of four.”