“This is the best piña colada you’ll ever have,’’ says Solfinn Danielsen as he pours a pale lemonade-like 2016 Vulcanica Pet-Nat from Slovakia. I’m sitting at the bar at Skál on a bustling Friday evening, and the popular gastropub is filling up fast. But I’m not here for the Michelin-approved food. I’m here for a natural wine deep-dive unlike any other.
Solfinn Danielsen runs the popular Copenhagen wine outpost Rødder & Vin. Known for their eclectic collection of wines from around the world, their selections have accompanied dinners at restaurants like New Nordic outpost Kadeau, and Solfinn has been described as the Care Bear of the wine world, on account of his enthusiastic personality and engaging conversations.
What is a natural wine?
“There are two ways to describe natural wine, one of them is production, the other is philosophy,” Solfinn explains. “I think production is mainly boring. It is only interesting if you are a wine producer or work professionally with it. The biggest difference between natural wine and conventional wine is you completely abandon the idea of reproduction. There is no recipe, because every year is different. It’s almost a reversed method. It is all about releasing the inherent potential in the grape, in that time and place.”
Unlike beer, wine has long been associated with a sort of cultural calling card of class and elitism. Tableside wine service and the ensuing soliloquies of pine-scattered-mossy-forest-floors are so de rigeur, neither wine labels or wine drinkers are spared.
So, are natural wine clubs a new form of exclusivity? Solfinn pauses before answering. “Of course, as a culture, there will always be this need to be an expert on everything,” he says. “As natural wine gets a bigger following, more people will join in. Which is good. But the bad tendencies of the old world wine school thinking will follow.”
It seems like this would call for standards to be set, like old school wines. “When your favourite band releases a new album, would you expect it to be exactly as good as their last one?” Solfinn counters. “You don’t, because the magic is gone if they release the same album twice. If you think of winemaking as reproduction, that’s when you need standards and so forth. But why do you need a label to dictate what you taste?”
Power to the drinker
By now I am convinced that Solfinn is indeed a wine shaman, taking back the pleasure of drinking wine from the diktats of the vintage police. It seems his approach to natural wine is helping to break the mould of elitism often associated with wine, especially in Scandinavia. “This is fermented grape,” says Solfinn. “Nobody expects sauerkraut to be easy on the eye, or kimchi to be easy on the nose. So why demand from a wine to be easy on the eye and the nose?”
Breaking with tradition and placing the power squarely with the drinker, this democratisation of wine has been a long time coming. “You have to decide whether it is right or wrong,” he says. “And the only criteria for right is whether you like it.”
“I’m drinking this wine because I like it,” he finishes, heading back to tend to the burgeoning crowd. “That’s what wine is all about.”
That’s something we can all raise our glasses to.
Solfinn Danielsen poured natural wines at SKÁL! April 11th-13th.
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