It is not Natural to argue over Authentic Wine

Last week I was lucky to be invited to an “authentic” wine event to celebrate the launch of ‘Authentic Wine: toward natural and sustainable winemaking‘ by Dr. Jamie Goode and Sam Harrop MW at the always interesting Artisan & Vine on St. John’s Hill..

Anne Krebiehl, in her post about the event on Harpers, neatly summed up Jamie Goode‘s introduction about the book:

As people started sniffing and swirling, Goode was the first to speak: “Natural wine polarises people,” he explained, “so we came up with a concept of authentic wine.”  For the authors, so Goode, authenticity in wine meant five things:  adding as little as possible, having a sense of place, being fault free, being harvested at the right time (i.e. avoiding overripeness), and most importantly of all, being sustainable.  Admitting that they had “opened a can of worms” they thought that this definition was more inclusive than the term “natural wine,” which Goode said “has been one of the most exciting movements.”  He exclaimed that their book was really “a terroir manifesto.”

 

 

IMG_2179

This was a top-end wine trade event, with a clutch of Masters of Wine, national wine journalists, major retailers, trade press and to the organisers’ credit, some bloggers and interested wine consumers too.

The idea was to use the opportunity to bring the book’s theme of ‘authentic’ wine to life by organising a head-to-head blind tasting of wines from two sides of the debate (with some lovely food provided by Kathryn O’Mara of Artisan & Vine, of course). The wines were put forward by David Gleave MW of Liberty Wines and Doug Wregg of Les Caves de Pyrène and then discussed by those present (wines listed at the end).

I have to admit that I have not yet finished reading the book (sent to me as a journalist’s preview copy – thanks guys!), so I will leave the full review for another post, but I have to say that although I enjoyed the tasting, the event, the food and the company, I am not sure the format achieved the goal set.

Firstly, I believe that a blind tasting for “the trade” is the wrong way to present ‘natural’ wines to those not already convinced by the idea. The concept of blind tasting is to analyse & interpret wines based on your existing wine knowledge and experience (but not preconceptions). If the wines have been made in a way that challenges that knowledge and experience, then they will appear wrong, odd and at the very least unrecognisable. It is like presenting a musical piece by Schoenberg to someone brought up on “classical music” – no matter the internal logic of the modern piece, it just doesn’t “fit” for most people.

If you are also comparing them alongside more traditional wines, these are almost certain to be preferred (at least by those not already converted).

Is this not an own goal?

Secondly, as I understand it, the book is not supposed to be about challenge between the ‘natural’ producers and the best of the traditional winemakers. Quite the contrary. We should have been contrasting the average winemaker with some more authentic producers to show that, with a greater understanding of the winemaking processes, and little difference in terms of cost, effort or risk, they could produce better, more unique and more rewarding wines.

I see the value in this book not in offering science as an alternative to the more fundamentalist, philosophical approach of the natural wine, or low intervention, movements. I believe that the greatest benefit is that it can be a self-help handbook for wineries, and more importantly regions, who need a guide for establishing a commercially viable, unique and sustainable personality.

Authenticity is not something simply lacking in individual wines, but in the industry as a whole – marketing, communications, appellation systems and retail.

What is a “Natural Wine” is currently a hot topic, so it is understandable that this element of the discussion becomes the focus, however making it the subject of the challenge does the book a bit of a disservice.

If nothing else, this evening helped to put this in sharper focus for me, and I shall complete my reading of the book with this in mind.

Wines on the night (adapted from Jamie Goode’s list)

Whites

Les Vignes Herbel La Pointe Vignes Vieilles de 1920 Chenin Blanc 2008 VDT (Anjou, Loire) – Favourite White

Pieropan Soave Classico ‘Calvarino’ 2009 Italy

Cullen Mangan Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon 2010 Margaret River, Australia

Jean-François Ganevat Chardonnay ‘Grusse en Billat’ 2008 Jura, France

Reds

 

Julien Guillot Manganite Macon Cruzille Clos des Vignes de Maynes 2009 Burgundy

Greenstone Vineyard Heathcote Shiraz  2009 Victoria, Australia

Dard et Ribo St Joseph ‘Pitrou’ 2009 Northern Rhone

Fontodi Flaccianello 2007 Tuscany – Favourite Red