Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Naked Wine
Beyond Packaging with Vin Naturel

The ‘vin nature’ movement extols as it’s primary virtue that a wine must reflect as honestly as possible the millisème that it was made, the terroir where it was grown and ultimately, the skill and soul of the winemaker. Entirely organic in the vineyard, it's proponents attempt to maintain the ‘signature’ of ‘the place’ throughout all stages of vinification. In practice this means the addition of little or no sulfites, allowing the indigineous yeasts that already exist in the soil to work their magic, and no filtering or fining. They buck the trend towards using international varietals, embracing instead the traditional grapes of their region.

This ‘vinideology’ and the resulting wines are in sharp contrast to the plethora of generic Merlots, Cabernets and Chardonnays that are filling the shelves of our stores. These wines are not always bad, they have simply lost their sense of place. Their character, instead of reflecting the typicity of the terroir is due instead to manufactured yeasts and other ‘modern’ viticultural techniques which guarantee a consistent, if unexciting, product year after year. What’s left is up to the marketing departments with emphasis placed on cool bottle shapes, sexy labels and hipster ad campaigns. The wine becomes secondary as it all kinda tastes the same anyway.

So are the ‘Natural Wines’ any better? Many are great and most are an interesting drink, often challenging my preconceptions about both the varietal and the region. Are they better for you? I don’t know about that but with less sulfites I can attest to easier mornings after the occasional excessive soirée. Is it good for wine lovers? Definitely. Globalization at it’s best should offer the wine enthusiast an opportunity to discover the plethora of tastes and terroirs that exist in the four corners of the wine world. It would be a shame if the thirst to conquer certain markets means losing regional typicity. I guess that is why I am drawn to these wines and the people that make them.

Over the next couple of posts I will delve into the ‘Natural Wine’ world, reviewing some of my favorites, some that I didn’t quite understand, and others that were just plain weird.
Thanks for reading and check out Basic Juice for another related take on the subject.


Anonymous said...

Great post Bill. More elegant and to the point than mine. I too find that, while I may not love every terroir-driven wine I taste, at least my interest is piqued about the winemaker and the region/area.



Noah said...

Well said (errrr written). Fantastic post. When one of these wines jumps out and grabs you it can be a shocking experience. I have had many great and it keeps me searching for more. Incidentally Kermit Lynch has a mixed case going right now for $120. Lots of interesting things in it.

caveman said...

Thanks again for the reference on your site Beau... i think all wine should be terroir-driven, as consumers we just have to find those that we can appreciate, and i guess try and figure out why others we don't.

Noah, thanks for the props.. I agree, my appreciation for wine changed a couple of years back with my first bottle of Yvon Metras' Fleurie. I would love to pick up some of Kermit's wines though our Canadian booze laws make it very difficult to do so. By the way, I dig Huet's Vouvray as much as you did.

Lenn said...

Great post, Bill, as always.

Reading your comment, something struck me.

"I think all wine should be terroir driven."

I'm not saying that I don't agree, I think I do. But, I don't think that will EVER EVER EVER EVER happen. I would guess that 95% (at least) of all wine drinkers could care less about terroir.

Not to ALWAYS come back to New York wines (sorry if you're sick of hearing about them) but there are very few winemakers that really focus on terroir...of course some would argue that terroir doesn't develop over night...and with a wine region that is about my age..maybe that's limiting.

A couple weekends ago, I did have what I would consider a VERY VERY good Chardonnay (and I'm not always a fan) that is made with terroir in mind...with no added yeast. Of course, they price it beyond what they should...but because it's somewhat of a gimmick...they get the money for it.

caveman said...

Hey Lenn,
Terroir, as we see from Tom at fermentations is rather loosely defined, and thus can mean alot of things to alot of people. With respect to the nature gang, it is more about respecting the terroir in lieu of setting out to make a terroir wine. Ultimately if one follows the natural inclination of said grapes, at said time, at said place, and you don't fuck with it by adding designer yeasts or other aromats, then you can't help but have a terroir wine, or as they refer to the result.. authentic wine. For me, that makes sense and I guess what i meant by terroir driven.

Lenn said...

Now THAT is something I agree with 100% and can get behind. I guess I read your original post incorrectly. As you (and Tom) mention, the term "terroir" is a moving target!

The way I usually talk about this topic is this:

Some winemakers get caught up in their own "stardom" and fuck with the grapes to the point of making themselves the star of the wine...instead of the grapes. Meanwhile, the real superstar winemakers, for my money, are the ones that are true to the fruit.

Tom said...

I'm not tryng to be flippant. I've only been thinking about this lately and I'm curious what others think.

Why is a "terroir"-driven wine better than a wine that is "style-driven" by the winemaker?

Anonymous said...


I too found Yvon Metras' Fleurie to be an amazing wine. I bought many bottles several years back from Kermit Lynch's shop. In subsequent years he no longer carried it though. Turns out Yvon Metras no longer imports to the US, apparently because it is too much of a hassle. WHAT A SHAME!! Anyone out there no how to get it?


asparagus said...

Re: Yvon Metras - Savio Soares Selections will be bringing this wine in to NY State in Oct/Nov. VERY excited.