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WINE AND FOOD WEDNESDAY
01/02/2013
Wednesday Warblings
Why I Love The Idea Of Natural Wines

By Charles Olken

It might be an exaggeration to call myself a “naturalist”. Oh sure, I like acoustic guitar and real blonds. I like organic lettuce and wood fires on a cold winter’s night. On the whole, I guess I prefer less manipulation than more, but that bit of fifty-cent philosophy ends when it comes to the real nitty gritty.

I fell for more bottle blonds in my green days than I care to recall, and I have never been offended by complex recipes that call for all kinds of intervention—natural or not—if the final product tastes good. Put me down as a fan of fois gras.

You see, in the final analysis, I may like to think that I am some kind of naturalist, but just as with blonds, I care more for the final product than for how it got that way so long as the process did not hurt someone along the way and won’t hurt me when I partake.

And that is how I feel about “natural wines”. Never mind that the term is more generality than reality. The concept that minimal intervention a priori makes better wine seems like a truism at first glance. But, I am not in the first glance business. I am in the winetasting business, and first glances don’t count much with me.

Depth, beauty, balance, complexity, length, adherence to notions of varietal character and terroir are far more important to me than knowing whether a wine was made with wild or cultured yeast; are far more important to me than knowing whether a wine was filtered or was bottled unfiltered; are far more important to me than caring about parts per million of sulfur dioxide or whether the cork was natural or is the product of some industrial product. When it comes to bottle closures, all I care about is whether they work for the type of wine being offered.

Wine is not about the “how” despite the claims of the naturalists, the biodynamicsts, the minimal interventionalists, the “too oaky, too rich” crowd who refuse to even taste wines that they think will offend their philosophical biases. Wine is about all the other stuff up there in the preceding paragraph, and ultimately about how much pleasure it can deliver. I got hooked on wine collecting not because it was healthy or better for the planet but because I liked the way it enhanced my life. In short, I liked the taste of good wine with the foods I was eating.

Natural wine, if there really is such a thing, or even just wines made with less intervention by man (because no wine is made without any intervention) may be absolutely wonderful stuff. But if it is, it is because it tastes good, not because someone used wild yeast or less sulfur.

I have no axe to grind with any wine. They are all equal before my palate. And as we head into the New Year, I look forward to tasting my way through yet another ocean of the good, the bad and the ugly. They will separate themselves just as they have always done, not by process, but by taste.

And my New Year’s wish for you is that you treat wine the same way. If you do, you will find the great wines for your palate and have a year filled with tasty bottles. Happy New Year.


 

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Comments

Kermit
by Samantha Dugan
Posted on:1/2/2013 11:41:26 AM

I have to say that I agree with you here Charlie and I think Kermit said something like, "I'm all for natural wines but they have to taste good first". I've had all sorts of "Minimal" or "Natural" wines that taste like ass and putting ass in my mouth just aint that natural for me. Now when I write notes when tasting with a supplier and I hit one of those stinkers I scribble in my notes, "natural wine lovers would dig it".

Natural Wines
by Greg
Posted on:1/4/2013 12:41:33 PM

Depth, beauty, balance, complexity, length, adherence to notions of varietal character and terroir are more greatly expressed from wines made with natural protocols. Giving and expressing a sense of place and typically tasting very good.

Natural Wine Protocols
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:1/4/2013 12:50:04 PM

Greg--

I appreciate that natural wine advocates BELIEVE that their ways make better wines, but I taste blind and, frankly, I do not find significant proof at this point.

And, if one talks to ten winemakers, one will get ten versions of natural wine protocols. Admittedly, they all skew to less manipulation, but I would appreciate it if you could expand on the concept of natural wine protocols.

Thanks.

The Naturalist
by Ken Musso
Posted on:1/6/2013 10:28:02 AM
Personally, I will use whatever is available and legal to try and make a better wine. Surely experimentation and research have brought forth the largest amount of really good wines ever produced worldwide.One need only glance through the latest product/adjunct offerings from Lallemand, Enartis, etc, etc to get a feel for what is available to the winemaker. Somebody is using all this stuff (or some, including me) and in many cases I believe it does raise the quality bar.There ARE times when natural can be better and minimalist it can be, but in my opinion most times a nudge in the right direction will prove the better result.
Nature or Nurture?
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:1/6/2013 10:57:17 AM

Lords knows, I am no winemaker. I leave that to the professionals. I am also no chef, but I am a cook.

The best things I have ever cooked have required intervention of some sort. And I quickly learned that controlling the intervention was the key to success.

I like skin-on, crispy salmon filets yet I like my salmon to be on the very pink, moist side. That requires high heat and quick cooking. Too much heat and you get show leather around uncooked fish. Too little heat and you get a dried out center.

And that is not even discussing such interesting notions as half-curing, what spices to use, etc.

If I were a chef, I know I would be interested in sous vide and nitrogen baths and all the very modern techniques that are in use today.

If good eating relies on intelligent intervention, then it stands to reason that so does intelligent winemaking.

As I said earlier, my simple mantra is this: if a process leads to a better product, and no damage is done in the process, then what is the objection--except along strict philosophical lines. No problem there either, but just do not tell me that it is better simply because you like it.

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