Friday, March 3, 2017

The Notion of Authentic Wine

A lot has been written about natural wine, a lot of it nonsense on both sides of the fence, but I have found that other people are better than I am at expressing my mixed feelings when it comes to this most controversial of wine topics, so I will start off by pointing you to two good articles:

One of the best articles I have seen is by Craig Camp on his blog, you can read it here.

Hugh Johnson also weighed in with his considerable opinion in an article in Decanter .

Unknown to ourselves, we got off to a good start with natural wine. Azienda COS was the first Italian winery we imported from back in 2002(?) - Liam & Sinead Cabot had discovered them while on holidays in France and thought the wines were great - it was only over the years that Giusto explained his philosophy of biodynamic farming, minimal intervention and their championing of indigenous Sicilian grape varieties to us. We just liked the wines, and we still do. Meticulous winemaking and exceptional hygiene mean that we have really never had a problem with the wines - one time we had a bit of secondary fermentation going on and Giusto replaced the stock, no problem. So these are natural wines, but brilliantly made and with excellent purity and balance.

The most recent natural wines are the aforementioned Liam & Sinead's Roka Blaufrankisch - their most recent foray into winemaking - it too has minimal intervention and nothing added to it so is effectively natural as well. They won't mind me saying they are relatively inexperienced winemakers and yet they can make a wonderful natural wine, clear and bright with wonderful fruit character and lovely balance.

In between these two high points, experiences have been mixed. I have had some lovely natural wines that tasted, well, natural. I am a big fan of these wines and an enthusiastic supporter of producers who work hard to get the raw materials in good condition and then do just enough to make lovely wine without too much messing around. It's the same reason I love good Italian food - Italians are obsessed with food sourcing and the result is that they take great care to source the best ingredients they can find and then put it on a plate as simply as possible. Organic and biodynamic producers, probably because of the extra work they have to put in the vineyard, do seem to produce nicer wines on the whole but obviously not all the time.

I have been at a natural wine tasting a number of years ago where about 10  natural wines from 3 different continents were presented as, because they were "natural", being the best expression of their respective terroirs. The problem was, they mostly tasted the same. To me at least, if you had given me the French Cab Franc, the Argentinian Malbec and the Italian Montepulciano blind, I wouldn't have been able to tell them apart. Nor did I derive any pleasure from any of them.

I have, more recently,  been in a natural wine bar in France and presented with fizzy, cloudy, bretty wines - several of them and nobody apologised - in fact we had to pay for them! I just don't get these type of wines. I always have in the back of my mind "Can I sell this?" and the truth is I couldn't sell these type of wines - my customers would send them back to me and I couldn't blame them. So, these wines are not for me.

Then there is another type of wine that I feel I should appreciate, but don't. These are the trendy orange wines, Georgian wines and other examples of natural wines that taste so weird that I can't figure out if they are supposed to taste like that or not. And so, I fall back to what is always my most basic question - do I like it? And the answer for the ones I have tried so far is no, I don't. So, to my great disappointment, my status as fuddy-duddy is once more confirmed by the fact that I just don't like these wines that all the trendy people rave about.

My mind, like my mouth, remains open to all wine, but I have come to the conclusion that what I really enjoy is authentic wine - wines made by enthusiastic vignerons, proud and passionate wine people - usually smaller producers, often organic but always trying to make the best wine they can from their own little part of the planet. Wine first, philosophy second, just like back in the early days.

The truth is in the bottle.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Truth is in the Bottle

The Truth is in the Bottle

We are, I'm told, living in a "post-truth society".

Quite what this means I'm not sure - has the Orwellian nightmare become real? Has social media taken over as people's primary source of information? How do we know what is true at all any more?

A classic example is the first press conference by new White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer who used the opportunity to berate the reporters present for publishing photos that showed Mr Trump's inauguration ceremony as being somewhat less than full. It was, he said, the most watched ceremony ever, despite the fact that it clearly wasn't. Comical Ali lives on!

Luckily, with wine, the truth is easier to discern. You just have to taste it. Don't listen to so-called experts, don't be swayed by phony discounts, don't look at scores from critics, definitely don't look at online reviews. If you trust the person selling to you and they know what you like, you could listen to them, otherwise you have to try it for yourself and make up your own mind.

Some people actually like being told what to think, it saves them the bother of thinking for themselves, but most of us, I believe, find it empowering to form our own opinions, especially about something as unimportant as wine.

Taste is subjective and I honestly believe that our mood, our surroundings, the company, the food and many other factors have a huge part to play in how wine tastes on any given day. People often talk about having a lovely wine on holidays, taking it home and it doesn't taste as quite as lovely. They say the wine doesn't travel. Unfortunately, it is more a case that they themselves have travelled - from a sunny terrace in the south of France back to damp and drizzly Ireland. The poor wine hasn't a chance!

There are things you can do to give the wine the best chance to express itself - serve it at the right temperature, use decent glassware, serve it with food etc - but there are times when wines will taste better than others. And that is even before we get into a discussion about the merits or otherwise of the biodynamic calendar and its effects on how wine tastes.

So, I urge you to treat wine like people - try to leave your prejudices to one side, be open to new grape varieties and regions, knowing that, though different, they just might open you up to a whole new world. Be open-minded, taste, think and then taste again. Go for quality, not quantity. Think about what you drink.

And then avoid the ones you don't like.

The truth is in the bottle.