Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Natural Wine...The Danger of Dogma
Ah, natural is the "it", the buzzword of the our vinous times.  It's the darling of many sommeliers, retail wine zealots and uber-wine geeks.  It's the hot topic, the stuff of cool kid dreams.  It's the new wine reality.  It's legend in the making.  It's the SHIT!

And I don't care about it at all.

I have a lot of friends, really good friends in varying strata of the wine business who are all in.   I still call them friends and hope they will still feel the same about me.  But natural wine is not only of no interest to me, but I find it in many cases revolting.  But it's natural wine, Man!  It's gotta be good for you like kale.

Let's rewind a bit.  Natural wine is born out of a very good ideal and I don't want to gloss over that.  It's saying that we want to intervene as little as possible with the product.  We want the vines to be healthy.  We don't want to use chemicals or pesticides.  We want the environment surrounding the vines to be lively with other living organisms promoting balance.   It's all good stuff, right?  So what is the big deal?

The big deal is many of these wines taste like any combination of these:  LeBron's sweat sock after a double overtime game, grass clippings, nail polish, road tar, poop, barnyard animal, and hairball.  Oh and many with a slight unintended fizz.  Yum...  Notice I didn't mention any fruit from a product supposedly made from grapes.

I've been in this business long enough to know that dogma is dangerous.  There are tons of natural wines made by expert vignerons that are world class.  I mean, they taste flat out delicious.  Those people have great vines, know exactly what they are doing and are dialed in like Jordan Spieth pre-Masters meltdown.  But there are also a wealth of people dogmatically flying the flag of "biodynamics" and "natural" wines that are making unstable and/or flawed wines and trying to convince you that is good.  And by taking that dogmatic approach and refusing to do things to make a better product rather than just make a natural wine, they do a disservice to their reputation (read as you can't have confidence in their product) and to the people who are actually supposed to be enjoying it.  I even know some producers who made a wine under pretty favorable conditions, refused to stabilize it in any way and then tossed the whole tank down the drain when shit went haywire.  Doesn't make any sense to me.  You had a great product and you let dogma dog you out.  You wanted to make a wine that's "sans soufre" and instead you are "sans wine".  Ridiculous.  

I taste these things all the time and way too often.  Like last night...

I spent an evening with my sweetheart in our old stomping grounds briefly stopping by a (mainly) natural wine bar.  I sampled a rose that looked (and tasted) a little brown, a Blaufrankish that was dull at best and a red from Southwest France that started off fine but air did it no favors as it became muddled and herbal.  Sigh...  But there is something way more important afoot.

99% of the buying public for wine couldn't give a flying frankfurter about PH levels, indigenous yeasts, vine age or dozens of other vital statistics that we as wine pros obsess over.  They just want a good f'in glass of wine with their dinner!  One young couple sat next to us at the aforementioned wine bar, as the well intention-ed bartender/somm asked them what they wanted.  Looking for white wine, the bar/somm suggests a couple things and they taste them.  Trying one of the wines the woman retorts, "I don't like that."  And after more lengthy discussion/descriptions/dissertations, the gentleman says, "Just give us one of each, I'll drink whatever she likes the least."  I mean, wine is supposed to be joyful, fun and enhance your meal...sensual and get you in the mood for whatever comes later.  It shouldn't need an owners manual nor be so far of the field of play that people don't like it.  And by and large, most people don't like it.  Like almost everyone save for those seeking to examine it or live the life of dogma.  

And further more, if you pull some industry peeps aside and ask what they really think, they will tell you that they don't care to drink a lot of them either.  

I'd drop the mic, but I think someone is going to pick it up and start screaming at me.  I'm ready...

Much Love,

JCB the 4th


  1. Agree with your comments, Joe. I'm tired of 'orange' wines that have little to recommend them other than the philosophy of 'natural wine' being good. Thanks for the rant.

  2. Thanks Paul! I will/have caught a bit of hell for this but it's honestly how I feel.