“A sketch of Nomas wine philosophy”. An extract of the first chapter of the book – At noma you get lumpy wine.
Noma’s wine philosophy outlined
– by reference to the food
The primary point of departure, when examining Noma’s wine philosophy, is without a doubt the food. The wines at Noma are far and foremost chosen based on how well they go with the food. Noma’s kitchen is, as most probably know, based on Nordic ingredients, grown in a cool climate, which allows a long period of maturation. This is reflected in the style of Noma’s food, which in short can be described as elegant and light, with clean, fresh and stringent flavours.
The type of wines, which I believe is the best match with this kind of food, has the same qualities. It is wines from cooler appellations with a high and fresh acidity, great minerality and an elegant structure. In France it is primarily wines from Champagne, Loire, Savoie, Jura, Beaujolais and Burgundy, which live up to these specifications. But there are also wines from other parts of France, e.g. Rhône and Alsace that fit well into the selection. Outside of France, I focus mainly on wines from Germany, Austria and Northern Italy.
Wines grown in warmer climates therefore rarely exist at Noma, hence, there are no wines from for instance La Mancha, Basilicata, Australia or Chile, even though I once in a while succeed in discovering elegant and stringent wines from these areas. Overly extracted wines or wines that are too characterized by new oak also seldom exist at Noma. Ever so clever Jan Restorff – sommelier and restaurant manager at the Danish restaurant Søllerød Kro – hits the bull’s eye when stating that, “in the long run, elegance will always defeat power”.
– Nordic food craves Nordic beverages. Or?
The selection of Nordic drinks at Noma must likewise be regarded in relation to the food. The situation is rather paradoxical. Though the most obvious choice would have been serving nothing but Nordic beverages with our Nordic cuisine, and thereby complete the Nordic concept, only a fraction of the total selection of beverages at Noma is Nordic. This fact might call for further explanation.
The primary reason is the food, which in it self is a bit contradictory. As mentioned, it concentrates around the light and elegant style with clean, fresh and stringent flavours. Generally speaking, wine is the type of beverage that goes best with this sort of food due to its acidity, minerality and elegance. The traditional Nordic drinks like beer and aquavit in a variation of flavours usually go well with the rustic types of food, often with high fat content, which are also a part of the traditional Nordic kitchen, but not what you will find at Noma.
However, we do serve beer. To emphasise this, we even produce our own two Noma beers. Additionally, we have a selection of other Nordic beer on the menu, as opposed to solely Danish beer, and we often welcome guests who wish to drink nothing but beer with their meal. But personally I do not recommend beer nor spicy vodka for Noma’s food. In this connection, beer and vodka are far too clumsy. While beer is generally bitter and sweet and lacks acidity, wine has exactly this acidity, dryness and minerality, which at the same time is a great contrast to the high alcohol percentage and the strong flavour you find in an aquavit.
Consequently, I mostly prefer wine from the cool parts of Europe, as opposed to the Nordic beer or spirits, when it is to be combined with the food at Noma. And that is why the selection of Nordic drinks is relatively limited at Noma. Even though there are quite a few Nordic wines, ciders, juices (e.g. based on seabuckthorn), or other Nordic drinks, Noma will never begin working with Nordic beverages simply because they are Nordic. We can choose Nordic drinks when they live up to the standard of quality, and when the flavour matches the food at Noma. And so we do.
– organic, biodynamic and natural wine
The second focal point for the wine philosophy at Noma is organics and biodynamics. Most wines at Noma are, just like the food, organic or biodynamic. There are several reasons for this. One aspect is that they express the terroir much better than conventional wines. Organic and biodynamic wines appear very authentic and truthful to the natural environment in their area of origin. To express terroir is an important, or maybe even the most important, criterion of quality at Noma, both in connection to wine and food. The basic idea is to have the shortest possible distance between nature and the guest – to diminish the distance between the origin of the produce and the plate – or between the vine and the glass. Here, aesthetics and ethics are combined in the wish of bringing about the undisturbed, the clean and unique in respect of time and place. Based on local specifities, Noma has reached an expression, which owns general acknowledgment. Herein exists a great deal of Noma’s success.
Yet another circumstance, which is worth underlining, is that the organic and biodynamic wine producers are often relatively small with vineyards of no more than two to twelve hectares. This has proven to be the optimal size for one person, when considering all aspects; working in the vineyard and in the cellar and taking care of logistics – bottling, stacking, labelling and packing. To be small is not a proof of quality in itself, but it most often ensures a strong personal commitment to the product, which without a doubt must be regarded as a quality stamp. Common to most producers – no matter which industry they find themselves in – who dedicate their life and soul to their work, and who therefore see their work as an integrated part of their life, is the fact that the quality of the outcome normally is very high. And maybe this is the main reason – the engagement you find among most organic and biodynamic producers – for the high quality of the wine. Hence, it is not simply because they are organic or biodynamic. However, just the fact that it takes more work to produce organic or biodynamic wine means that these producers are willing to invest more effort in bringing forth their products, than the conventional producers. To produce organic or biodynamic wine is literally good workmanship, which requires the farmer to stick his hands in the soil.
No matter what, it is important to emphasize that wine that is certified organic or biodynamic is not per se good. The certification in itself is not a quality stamp. There are far too many examples of producers, who solely focus on the certification as a means to sell more wine, but who are completely indifferent about the quality of the wine – how it is produced and what it tastes like. Those producers should be rejected as bio-trash. Besides these, there are a third type of wine producers, who focus on organic or biodynamic production, and who therefore fulfil the requirements to become certified, but who do not make it all the way, so to speak. It is producers, who work reasonably in the field, but who does not bring the sanity with them to the cellar. Luckily, there are also those who place emphasis on both the process and the outcome, and these are the ones, I wish to work with and who I find deserve a place in the sun. This is where the controversial concept of natural wine comes into play.
The natural wine farmers work on a vision of non-invention; producing wine as natural as possible. This is done by staying away from manipulating the wine, both in the vineyards and in the cellar. Therefore it is no surprise that most natural wine producers are also organic or biodynamic. In this perspective, the natural wine fits perfectly into the wine selection at Noma, thus, here you find wines from the brothers Puzelat (Clos de –tue-Boeuf), Alexandre Bain, Emmanuel Houillon (Maison Pierre Overnoy), Eric Pfifferling (Domaine de l’Anglore) and Anthony Tortul (La Sorga) to mention but a few.
What is really fascinating about the natural wines is that they are allowed to express their naturally inherent potential in an uncensored way. With a minimum of human intervention, you are presented with wines that express aesthetics, where the deviant is considered as an attractive quality, the unpolished adds to the complexity, and the naked and raw are regarded as purity and authenticity. To me, these wines appear very exciting, and as a guest at Noma you should therefore expect that, as also noted by Jan Restorff: “At Noma you get lumpy wine”.