Four Of Saigon’s Natural Wine Pioneers Share A Bottle Or Two, Some Tips And An Exclusive Guest Mix

The creaky old wine industry has been shaken up by new wave tipples like natural wine, and also biodynamic and organic wines. To get the inside story on how Saigon is hopping on the new wave wine trend, we invited over Axel Riffaud from Vinobeer, Hung and My from Naked Bottles and Bao La from Madam Kew, to share their love…and a bottle or two.

Đọc bài viết bằng tiếng Việt

For ages, it was the same old wine list in Saigon everywhere you went. While Paris exploded with flavorsome bottles of natural, biodynamic and organic wines, Saigon served up the same old cut-price Chilean house pours and New Zealand sauvingon blancs, if you felt like splashing out.

Then a year or two ago, the odd bottle of natural wine began appearing here and there in Saigon. Suddenly, traditional bottles felt boring. The broadening wine horizon is being propelled by more adventurous consumer tastes. “Wine in Saigon is not a luxury product anymore,” Axel Riffaud, co-founder of Vinobeer Vietnam and genre-hopping DJ and producer, muses. He’s one of four natural wine pioneers in Saigon who’ve dropped by to share their tales from the vanguard of the new wave wine trend.

Four natural wine pioneers in Saigon [left to right]: Hung, Bao La, Axel, and My.

“Wine’s for everyone now,” Hung, who with his wife My started The Naked Bottles out of sheer love of natural wine, agrees. And chef Bao La was a pioneer in pairing natural wine with his small plates of vegetarian and vegan cuisine at Que Kaarem and now his modern Cantonese cuisine at Madam Kew. “It really can pair well with Vietnamese food,” Bao La nods, “Just try a glass of Les Grands Teppes Vieilles Vignes with grilled fish rice paper rolls…”

But First A Definition Of New Wave Wines

Despite their increasing popularity, non-aficionados might be hard-pressed to give an accurate explanation of the differences. “Think of them as processes either related to the vineyard and agriculture, or to the cellar and the way they’re produced,” Axel volunteers. 

Grapes used to make organic wines are not exposed to pesticides or fungicides as they grow. “And any farm that uses them would take five years after prohibiting their use to be able to become organic-certified.”

Biodynamic wines are also classified by how they’re produced in the vineyard. To be a biodynamic wine the vineyard is a self-sustaining ecosystem. “That means strict regulations around eliminating fertilizers and pesticides,” Axel continues. Such vineyards use natural composts, often letting livestock roam free to provide fertilization. “Biodynamic winemakers also work towards the sustainable development of the vineyard,” he adds, “and they cultivate according to the astrological calendar to achieve the highest quality of grapes.”

Axel Riffaud co-founder and ‘glou glou captain’ at Vinobeer.

Natural wines are defined by what’s not added in the winemaking process. Winemakers have been using sulfur dioxide (SO2) since the 1800s to prevent oxidation and maintain wine’s freshness. Natural winemakers employ natural yeasts to get the same result. They also eschew filtration too to retain the purest flavor. “You’ll notice it’s often slightly cloudy and there will be grape remains in the wine…” Axel adds swirling his first glass of the day.

Choosing A Good Bottle Of New Wave Wine

What do you choose from those shelves stacked with bottles or that seemingly endless wine list? First, the correlation between price and flavor is, at best, unpredictable. A bottle might become a favorite because of when and where it was drunk, or who with. “I think so,” Hung from The Naked Bottles nods. “Don’t take it too seriously, and enjoy the exploration until you find a bottle you love,” he adds. For Hung that was a bottle of Morgan of Marcel Lapierre. “Drinking that bottle felt like walking into a garden with hundreds of thousands of flowers blooming,” he smiles. 

“I don’t have a particular favorite,” Axel admits, “But I do love the wines of the Domaine de la Romanée in Burgundy, France.” However, his recommendation comes with a warning. “They’re too good though. If you want to be rich, don’t start drinking them because you won’t be able to stop!”

“I’m going to go for a Domaine de Peyra Cuvée les Liens Côtes d’Auvergne,” Bao says thoughtfully, choosing this natural wine from Auvergne. They’ve stopped producing it now, so it’s also a rather rare bottle. “But whatever,” Bao La shrugs, “I don’t care how special the wine is. It doesn’t mean too much to me if I don’t get to drink it with close friends.”

Chef Bao La from Madam Kew.

Natural Wine Doesn’t Equal Good Wine 

Despite their passion for wine expressed so far, these new-wave wine pioneers are quick to remind us that natural wine doesn’t necessarily mean good wine. Like other types of wine there are good bottles, and there are not so good bottles. But natural wine has its committed fans like these four because when you do find a good bottle, the surprisingly vibrant flavors can be unforgettable. Plus, for anyone who’s allergic to the sulfates traditional winemakers use, they’re the perfect choice. 

Hung and My from The Naked Bottles.

Fans also connect to the winemaker’s philosophy. The process of making it is less predictable than traditional wine. There are stories of winemakers stopping production for a year when the grapes aren’t up to standard. 

“I feel a good bottle of natural wine is a wine made in cooperation with mother nature, and not in confrontation against it,” Axel adds. “And I think they’re more accessible to people trying wines for the first time,” Hung continues. “The novelty of enjoying natural wine lies in the flavors, but also the stories behind each bottle. It’s less fussy and the wines feel they’ve been made by producers who are much more open to improvisation.”

Testing the new wave wines on the Wink Terrace.

Three Places To Enjoy A Bottle Of Natural, Organic And Biodynamic Wine In Saigon

All this begs the question: where do we go for a bottle of biodynamic, organic and natural wine in Saigon? Naturally, all four of our guests have recommendations. 

Naked Bottles

Hung and My are finishing their first proper location where you can sit and enjoy a glass. It’s due to open any day. They got the name Naked Bottles from a term coined by somellier Alice Feiring. “She’s a real advocate of natural wine,” My tells us, “and she chose the term ‘naked wine’ instead of ‘natural wine’ for the wine’s honesty and integrity.” There’s also something about the fragility and sensitivity that’s captured in Feiring’s name. “And so that’s how Naked Bottles was born,” said Hung. 

At Naked Bottles, they sort their wines by mood. Check the ‘Wanna Dance’ section for bottles that make you want to move, or ‘Feeling playful’ for something invigorating. “Wine is about feelings!” Hung laughs.

Address: Coming soon!

Contact: Facebook | Instagram | Website

Lozzi

Lozzi is one of the many bars popping up on Binh Thanh’s Pham Viet Chanh. It’s small, but that adds to the cozy and welcoming vibe. They change their by-the-glass wines daily. And the team usually asks you about your preferences before making a suggestion, perfect for the inquisitive and inexperienced. 

“I’d even recommend you try their Kir, wine with blackcurrant, or their Kitty, wine with ginger and lemon and lime,” Hung suggests, “and out on the balcony is especially nice.”

Address: 85/1 Pham Viet Chanh, Ward 19, Binh Thanh

Contact: Facebook | Instagram

Que by Kaarem

Maybe Pham Viet Chanh is the place to go. There’s recently opened BEL • Coffee • Wine. And Que by Kaarem where Bao La used to cook. “It’s still my favorite place to enjoy a nice bottle of natural wine in Saigon,” Bao La says. Even though he’s headed across town to serve lip-smacking but experimental Cantonese cuisine at Madam Kew, he’s back whenever he can. It’s a seamless restaurant, boutique and bar complex that celebrates sustainable development, creativity and traditional values. 

“The wine list is short and carefully selected. There you get the real Parisian-style wine experience,” Bao La continues approvingly, “plus there’s a different vibe wherever you sit, from the counter, to the bridge, to the terrace.”

Address: 118 Pham Viet Chanh, Ward 19, Binh Thanh

Contact: Facebook | Instagram | Website

A couple of bottles later…

Music To Drink To: A New Wave Wine Mix By Axel Riffaud AKA La Riff Exclusively For The Dot Magazine

“This was recorded in the VP Music Room at TheVillaProject.VN,” Axel says introducing the mix. “As Bao La said, drinking wine is always better with friends and good food. And good music always improves the mood and the atmosphere. I live for these occasions. We start off chill. And step up to groovy, and then it’s dancing time.

In the mix, look out for ScruScru’s ‘Slightly Wiggle’ [Deeppa Records]. When you drink, always give the glass a little wiggle. That gives the wine some aeration…but don’t spill it on your white shirt. On second thought, a shirt with some wine stains looks even better!

Then there’s Scruscru & S. Timonshenko’s ‘Jubilee Boulevard’ – [Deeppa Records]. It’s a huge track. Get your hands on a good bottle and get ready for the trip. In French, ‘jubilé’ means intense joy. 

After that, Red Astairs’ ‘I Love you…’ [Peking House]. The line: “I work 7 days a week to give you all my money!” is exactly my relationship with wine. And finally, Moodena’s ‘Who Got The Keys?’ [Tropical Disco Records]. Moodena is one of my favorite Nu Disco producers, and this track makes me think of the keys to wine. Who has them? We all do. So start with a blind tasting. And then some dancing…”

Tracklist:

  1. Dimitri From Paris – Prologue
  2. Mathias Modica – Kontainer Kollektif – [Kryptox Music]
  3. ScruScru – Slightly Wiggle [Deeppa Records]
  4. Elia Y Elizabet – Alegria (Yuksek remix) – [Razor N Tape]
  5. Body Music – Get it Baby (Patchworks remix) – [Razor N Tape]
  6. Sune – En Saga – [Aparel Music]
  7. Igor Gonya, Jesusdapnk, Frikardo – Mellifluous – [Gemini Wax Records]
  8. Scruscru & S. Timonshenko – Jubilee Boulevard – [Deeppa Records]
  9. Red Astairs – I Love you… [Peking House]
  10. Moodena – Who Got The Keys? – [Tropical Disco Records]
  11. ScruScru – S For Sexy Edit – [Boogie Angst]
  12. Saint Paul – Fresh & Fancy – [Sundries]
  13. La Riff – La Nuit De Folio [soon with Mango Sounds]

Photographs by Nghia Ngo at Wink Hotel Saigon Centre. Translation by David Kaye.


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