For a wine to be good, it is neither necessary nor sufficient that it be a so-called “natural wine”. That is the twitter-length version of this post and if you get it, you may stop reading. I invite you to read on though, either way.
Natural wine is the latest “thing” in the wine world. A natural wine might be defined as one that has been made with the fewest possible steps between vine and wine. Stomp grapes, ferment juice, stick in bottle. That’s it, sort of, as opposed to the addition of any number of other wine making processes, such as fining or filtration (to make the wine look prettier), adjusting acidity and sweetness levels (to make it taste more balanced), micro-oxygenation (to make the tannins taste softer) the addition of sulphites (to act as a preservative), and so on.
There are many reasons why one may wish to make a wine in this way. The one that appears to me to have gained the greatest currency is a reaction to the perception that using the techniques listed above has led to a preponderance of boring and homogenous wines conforming to international notions of general pleasantness. A form of reaction to airbrushed, “Photoshopped” wines, if you like. A way in to seeing the purest expression of a particular grape or place.
And I’m all for that. If you can make a better wine, that is individual, tasty, and more reflective of its terroir by not using the above techniques, then that’s great and I’ll be the first to try it, and indeed recommend it.
But to reiterate: I’m all for it if it results in a better wine. It seems that the trend of natural wine has caught on amongst some consumers as something that is desirable in and of itself, which is quite wrong. After all, the winemaking techniques I referred to above were invented for a reason. Ugly wines, like people, can benefit from a bit of makeup sometimes. This point seems to have been lost on some people. A while ago I ate dinner at Duck Soup in Soho (great restaurant by the way – go if you can, but be prepared to queue). “All the wines are natural” the waitress boasted. What exactly am I supposed to take from that? It is just as likely that a natural wine will be a cloudy, cidery, slightly fizzy wine that smells of farts as it will be a textured, minerally wine of gustatory pleasure.
More often than not there is genius in simplicity. Einstein is reputed to have said that everything should be as simple as it can be, but not simpler. Precisely. They didn’t give him a Nobel Prize for nothing. Same with wine. Simplicity in the making doesn’t necessarily make it better, and as a consumer you might very well be put on the wrong track by purchasing a wine by reason only that it is promoted as being “natural”. You might end up with something fantastic, but equally you could end up with something a bit like this:
Here’s a recommendation for a wine that I think achieves the profile that a natural wine would aim for. It’s the 2009 Domaine Du Cros Marcillac “Lo Sang del Pais”, and it’s about £10 a bottle. I’ve no idea whether it’s a natural wine or not, and I don’t care. It’s made from Fer Servadou (the local grape of the Marcillac region), and it has aromas of blackcurrant leaf, pencil shavings and even iron filings in a way I often associate with cabernet franc. But it also has an added dimension of angular, bony acidity and a savage, rather hard to describe “earthy”, even saline quality. The furthest thing from commercial, mass produced pap you could imagine. If you don’t trust my judgment, Jamie Goode (a proper wine writer) recommends it here. But I can’t help but wonder what those blurry words are in the bottom left hand corner of the photo. “Contains sulphites” by any chance?