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Friday Fishwrap
Natural Authenticity Is The New Sustainable Fusion

By Stephen Eliot

Words like “authentic” and “natural” have for the last several years been daily grist for the mill of food-and-wine journalism, professional and otherwise. They have, in my mind, been beaten to death to the point of having next to no meaning. I confess to a certain mental glazing over when I see them used any more, and I cringe upon encountering the next new tortured essay that presumes to define them once and for all. It seems that I am not alone.

At the beginning of the week, a brief article on Huffington Post, “10 Common Food Terms That Have Lost All Meaning”1, caught my eye, and upon seeing a few of the most overworked of the bunch, my only reaction is a thankful amen.

I wonder that such words, rather than being useful, are in reality the stuff of mental laziness. Using them makes us feel smart and different, that we are somehow more serious, astute and truly appreciative of what wine is about. All too often, I get the feeling that a wine’s quality is, in fact, secondary to its meeting of some impossible-to-define criteria, and that being well-made, balanced, interesting, complex and tasty is not longer enough. A wine must have some philosophical virtue to be worth consideration. That the search for “context” and grasping a winemaker’s morality and understanding his or her motivation has become more important than paying careful attention to what the wine actually tastes like.

I have known many fine and conscientious winemakers over the years who are wonderful people with great respect for their vineyards and the winemaking craft whose wines simply never achieved greatness, and I have known more than a few self-absorbed jerks whose wines were nothing short of a revelation.

I guess I am old-school in that I believe there are good wines and bad ones, some “authentically” bad, and that if a wine has something worthwhile to say, it will do so on its own without categorization. You may find that a horribly volatile wine, one destroyed by oxidation or one that is rife with bacterial funk to be praiseworthy because of its so-called authenticity, but excuse me if I do not agree. It has always seemed to me that one of the marks of a really good wine was it ability to involve almost anyone, connoisseur and novice alike. I was always struck over two-decades of teaching would-be chefs the basics of wine at the ways certain wines, without my commentary and coaching, would be met with near-universal excitement on the part of my students while others elicited benign comments at best. While context may lend a measure of interest and even heighten a wine’s appreciation, it is not needed for quality to show.

I guess all of this gets back to the simple notion of considering first and foremost what is in the glass, one wine at a time. Define “authenticity” and “natural” and the like as you will, but please do not think that a wine’s ability to deliver deep and abiding pleasure is dependent on such vague and sometimes silly notions. To my way of thinking, the fewer roadblocks and barriers between you and the wine the better.



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