(The beauty of nature)
Today’s wine appreciation relies on processing data, building consensus, fragmenting and subdivisions around wine. Wine is within the “system” (which I will come back to) a technical idea. The philosophic thoughts and reflections around wine has for a long time been under attack from an overpowering pragmatic concept of wine. The romantic wine drinkers are slowly being silenced – yet small blips of biting back, continues to emerge.
So does Mother Nature and the buzzes of natural wines are getting more and more attention. So is the debate. However the debate seem to be more about ideology and those not in favour being driven nuts by the term ”Natural”, as it presents a meaningless battlefield of those who drink natural and those who apparently have realized they are drinking UN-natural wine. The definition of natural wine is in addition weak – and in a environment formed of constant fact and evidence seeking, it’s driving the debate even further off the cliff.
In fact I'm opposed to the idea of constructing a definition of natural wine. I believe that 'natural wine' is not in any way a conceptual idea with clear boundaries and definitions that include or exclude specific wines. Natural wine is not a concept really; it's just wine that is not manipulated too much. It's somewhat against the spirit of natural wines to propose a definition. (Mads Rudolf; from “Natural wines – outlines of a definition”).
Those who drink Natural wines are being called in fashion, religious, praising wisdom to the non-believers and the whole movement are being addressed as The Emperors new clothes. Yet there is not any marketing or addressing what’s inside the bottles and in fact the winemakers are trying to go back to the old way of making wines before the use of modern techniques an obscure use of treatments/chemicals in wine became popular. Many natural winemakers will say they are just trying to keep the diverse uniqueness in wine and create an alternative framework.
So where is the focus coming from? Is it because the journalists now have something new to write about? Maybe - but the biggest contributors to the buzzes of Natural wine are emerging from the people who actual drink them in big quantities and have something to say about them. Interesting enough – many of those in favour aren’t newcomers to wine. So how come we aren’t curious to find out why? Are we too proud on our ideology belief or is it because these natural wine believers just aren’t too impressed with those who have REALLY SERIOUS WINE CELLARS? Why on earth do they want to spend time and money drinking something, which is not even, rated (if so – pretty low), oxidized, weird, blurred and so far from what the “system” defines as good wine?
One thing is certain - it’s not accepted to change taste in wine – even if the natural wine drinkers can explain why they are shifting taste.
Let’s take a closer look at the system.
My theory is not aimed nor addressing specific persons, despite some of these persons are the leading architects behind the system. I have no opinion about these persons. When I think of it – these persons stick to their game plan and always has. It’s a voice – leading to some, useless for others and probably somewhere in-between for the rest. However it’s the rules, subdivision and the interpretation of the frames, which creates dilemmas, for what I have chosen to call the system and I can’t describe my appreciation for natural wines, without having touched upon this first.
The system is in our fast moving information society a logical and to some degree an innocent outcome. The system is based on processing information and removing areas of uncertainty in wine. It’s also designed to build up averages, consensus and it’s easy to detect whenever someone is far from the median. When it happens we often raise the question on possible off bottles or motives from the taster to understand why he or she is so wrong – not “us”.
The system has also created a financial district, with ratings moving the market, underlining how wines are becoming a commodity and movement towards more data and less emotional aspects in wine. The ratings prove to be a strong mechanism, giving sudden transparency and wine is no longer just fermented grape juice, but an object for investment when the ratings are favourable. Wine becomes attractive, not only for the investors, but also for the wine lover because the ratings acts as an acknowledgement factor of what trophies you might have in you cellar and the market value they posses. It ties market mechanism to wine and we are exposed to; greed, flock mentality, panic, desperation and lust. In such an environment – for those who want to address softer and philosophical aspects in wine are instantly being attacked of wanting to have an overly emotional discussion about wine. We want data – we trust data within the system.
In the system it’s very easy to live. It doesn’t take you long to decode and adapt to what DNA is required for a wine to score high. Quickly you will go from wine-zombie to pretty good, when you realize, that you can actually hit the same scores as the professionals. Who doesn’t want to be good at something? In practice, this means tasters will become more and more objective in their evaluation, because they obey a concept of testing wine and not drinking wine. How many high scoring wines do you actually see today, which praises a wines drinking pleasure? Almost none – because drinking pleasure is secondary, so is the wines ability to pair with food. The system works within a frame of the world Championships in blind tasting and it defines a simple angle of winners and losers.
If a taster knows how the system works and how to achieve acknowledgment within this framework – you can rest assure that some producers will be tempted to obey the voice of the market. Result = more wines looking alike.
The system has little care in terroir. Wrong I hear them say – just look at how much Robert Parker has praised and fostered the concept of single vineyards. Well maybe, but always from a pulse of flavour with more and more power. How often is the single vineyard a less concentrated wine than the standard cuvée? The system tributes the duel – designed to emphasize a battlefield in blind tastings. The declared winner, will always be based on the their vital laws on hedonism. A super Tuscan made by Michel Rolland can be applaud in the system and a declared winner, even if some taster praised it to be a great reflection of a left bank Bordeaux and didn’t find anything Italian about it. What are the purposes of making an Italian wine, which doesn't taste Italian?
Wine is not a duty – it’s a journey of fascination. Our hunts for uniqueness are being driven from our senses and not from a set of pre-selected tools. I often feel today’s wine evaluation has no room for reflection. Reflection takes time and is being overtaken by fast consumer guides. However reflection introduces a vital shortcoming, which is: doubt. Doubt is not welcome in the system, because it’s the opposite of facts and the system relies on presenting flawless results – otherwise it would collapse. Yet, reflecting upon a living breed, like wine, we must find ourselves in doubt otherwise we are exaggerating our abilities.
“What you see here has no importance – all the matters are my vines” (Anselme Selosse – standing in this beautiful barrel room in Avize, when I visited him in 2009)
Where does the obsession of having control over wine come from? Putting everything in boxes by fragmenting wine. Don’t we wish more of wine? Why don’t we talk about the how man and nature is closely tied together and how important the nature elements are to the expression of wine? Why can’t I say – this wine is more real than this one, because it expressed more soil, more pure fruit and less winemaking and manipulation of the raw material? We are obsessed with our comfort zone, but people don’t evolve in their comfort zone – neither do they do it in their anxiety zone. The optimal zone of evolvement lies by pushing the comfort zone just to the point of the anxiety zone. Here we are in full alert – because we have something to lose. Why don’t we challenge ourselves more when it comes to wine?
In my humble opinion there is nothing you MUST do in order to understand the essence of wine. Instead – you should ask yourself what do you WANT from wine?
When that happens, you will be free to form your own opinion and you will relate to wine, which is free. You will begin to ask the vital question on how we initially came from an emotional impulse >>> to a point where we obey a system and chose to uniform that emotional experience.
(Alexandre Jouveaux - natural wine with attitude)
Transformation – being outside the system.
“I hate good taste. It's the worst thing that can happen to a creative person.” (Helmut Newton, photographer)
Imagine your are in a room with people fairly unexposed to wine, but in general people who like a glass of good wine. You are now given the task of trying to infect these people with your passion in wine. You have 10 minutes to do it. What will you tell them?
Will you tell them how fantastic diverse wine is – how nature’s footprint of microclimate conditions and soil components play a vital role in a wines taste and soul? How wine is also about culture and regional traditions. How many grapes, wine regions, philosophies, producers there are and how the journey in wine will never come to an end? Will you tell them, that to you wine is a living organism and explain them why you feel like this?
How wine is also about people – from seeing and understanding a producers passion and philosophy? How wine is a social tool – were we are all equal in the centre of wine? How we quickly connect and make new friendships bases solely on a glass of good wine? How wines can tribute to food and how fascinating a spectrum of flavours, acidity and structural profiles can create a perfect match??? Or will you tell them, that basically all you need to do is to sit in front of your computer and subscribe to a ratings, database and gather your needed information’s on wine forums?
As I see it, when we search for the really important things in wine it has nothing to do with rules, numbers, subdivisions and hierarchies. So why not forget about it and step outside in the fresh air?
Here on the other side there are no rules. Nothing is right or wrong in wine. Perfection is not a desired goal nor is a specific taste and no one has a monopoly in trying to tell you what good taste is.
Nature is orderly without being perfect, as we have seen again and again. Nature's most useful patterns are never outdated but are kept for endless re-use, and the overall scheme of evolution is very stable and resilient. But mechanical perfection would be death to nature as it would be to us as part of nature. Nature is a live, self-creating process forever making order from chaos, forever free to do something new -- to reorganize itself when necessary, even if only to stay the same; to create new forms when old ones no longer work. Perfection would be the end of evolution, the end of freedom, the end of creativity. We have learned that nature is far less than perfect for a very good reason -- for the same reason that nature is far more than mechanism (Elisabet Sahtouris, Greek-American evolutionary biologist)
Natural wine is an alternative. Yet - natural wine is not an exclusive island of only fantastic and good wines. There is good and bad, just like conventional wines. Neither has natural wine monopoly of being nirvana of wines, which reflects nature, and the awareness of its terroir. But I like, that the starting point and template are about preserving the energy, which lies in nature’s imperfect raw material. Why even bother to care and form your opinion if the starting point is a product that doesn’t live?
Natural wines are the complete opposite of the system. It’s based on a definition, which doesn’t really exist. There are neither facts nor evidence on natural wines – it’s The Emperor's New Clothes if you compare it to the system, which is based on “the truth” and perfection, if you ask it’s inhabitants.
“Natural wine is only successful if isn't forced in a specific direction” (Mads Rudolf; from “Natural wines – outlines of a definition”).
I am imperfect – and it’s far more interesting than being perfect, once you learn to accept it. However for a long time I believed wine to be a hole in time - reflecting a perfectionist world. Putting wines on a perfectionist pedestal is forgetting that life IS imperfect and seeing it this way has made me have a far more balanced presence with wine. Letting go - have fun, listen to music, go crazy, introduce unpretentious - because that’s how the wines are.
“It may sound a little far fetched, but you see I am very committed in recording the errors in my work - not deleting them, not making it better, not adjusting it to forgetfulness, but to preserve it for the energy that lies in the substance...” (Danish poet and filmmaker, Jørgen Leth).I like wines with messy hair – wines that might stick out, unfriendly at first, even particular – but filled with character. It’s no different with the relationship betweens us - humans. We all have different personalities – that’s what makes us interesting and why we care to get to know each other. Contact between humans doesn’t represent a guaranteed success of future friendship. The importance of this exercise is merely to demonstrate how we activate our full holistic judgement and how we cared to do so. If wine becomes a uniform liquid, we will halt to seek deep contemplation, present care and our judgments will be replace by pre-designed templates. Our opinions will be objective and not subjective
(Sune Rosforth - Denmark's most handsome wine importer)
What can natural wines offer?
Low sulphur, drinking pleasure and humbleness.
I think the debate about sulphur is being driven in the wrong direction. It’s a discussion circulating around zero sulphur and how that equals unstable wines. Maybe we should take a closer look, how exaggerated use of sulphur might be a bad habit and how some winemakers can actually succeed with lower or no sulphur. The benefit from creating focus around low dosed sulphur wines will be knowledge of what sulphur does to wine?
“How should people know they are getting cheated of buying the best strawberry varieties, if they have never tasted them?” (Claus Meyer – Founder of Restaurant Noma)
We will also begin to understand and accept, why it’s so logic that drinkers of low sulphur wines have a far lower threshold against sulphur heavy wines and why there is very little alignment in the debate.
“Try tasting a lot of natural wines and then go back to a wines, which is dosed with too much sulphur. You will realize how difficult it is to drink them. Your body absorbs natural wine in a whole different way. Studies have shown, that in some conventional wines there are up to 500 times of the permitted amount of pesticide residues in comparison what’s permitted in drinking water. It’s clear your liver has to work hard to clean poison and sulphur, instead of processing just the alcohol, which it does when you are drinking natural wine. ” (Sune Rosforth / Rosforth & Rosforth – one of the first importers on natural wine here in Denmark) Quote is from an interview in Berlingske))
(The lacquer neck on low sulphur wines)
Personally, some 3 years ago I never had problem with sulphur – I simply never reacted negative towards it. But since I have been exposed to these natural wines - I have become extremely allergic.
To me sulphur heavy wines smells awful, but they also change the structure and energy in wine. The structure becomes almost slippery – meaning the raw material can no longer manage to cling on to the structure. The negative side effect of this outcome is loss of nerve and energy – and wines with such profiles are dead wines to me.
Low sulphur wines drinks so damn good. They are purer, friskier and have more life, which all ads up to drinking pleasure.
Drinking pleasure has to be the most logical thing in wine – even for those who have no clue about wine. Try telling a person, who has no care in wine, that some wines are just so big and concentrated that you in fact can’t drink them – but still they are considered to be the greatest wines in the world. It’s a sick story and the game of testing wine has gone too far.
I like wine is also about a humble approach. A grower doing his/hers best to express the land they have at their disposal. Not correcting, but just emphasizing what is already there. A place of origin - a work of creativity and authenticity. Not made to blend in, corrected to win a popularity contest or follow a box office script.
With creativity – like art – there are always elevated risk of someone getting provoked. This I like and especially if you tune into natural wine as an alternative and nothing else.
So to wrap up this long mumbling post…and thank you for reading this far…I like natural for many reasons as you can see and because it keeps me alert, curious and emphasize my greed for authenticity.
All the best
Perfection is a delicate word – a noble word for some, but also a slightly suggestive wine descriptor to me, even at times a pretentious ideal.
Wine is not about perfection to me. In fact pursuit for perfection – whatever the cost - can sometimes lead to a forced wine and a wine loosing the nerve of its raw material. The perfectionist quest - in order to seek comfort in the consensus consumer voice can be a delicate dance.
But the other day – I had a perfect wine….A Champagne:
2008 Cédric Bouchard “Les Ursules”
Blend: 100% Pinot Noir
It’s Friday – tradition: Champagne day. Often we share a bottle and talk about the week that passed and enjoy a really good meal. This time, something distracted us, so we didn’t really talk – I mean we talked - but it was about the Champagne.
Simply stunning aroma rises from the glass. It’s perfection, sheer beauty in a glass. I said it to my wife – “this Champagne is perfect”. She agreed. “I like there is no oak here” she replied.
Yes – very true. This Champagne is so pure and focused. Like always with the Champagnes of Cédric Bouchard it’s not so easy to write the tasting note, because it’s more an intellectual package, which only can be described if tasting it – and not something you just pick from the aroma wheel. Here is my best shot:
It’s like a laser beam with nothing sticking out. It holds stunning precision and purity with sensorial sweetness of really healthy and ripe fruit. I also detected something that reminded me of autolysis components even if they are still secondary. The other characters are crushed dried blackcurrant, black cherries, wheat flour, diamond dust (don’t ask) and an unheard weightless allure - yet with enormous intensity. The taste starts by a sleek wrapped currant perfume corset – then unfolding a mixture of a mineral clay soil attack and a dry salty finish with a really poised acidity. An unbelievable good bottle of Champagne – perfect.
I have realized perfection is not an illusion, but the two prime ingredients have to be included in the recipe: Creativity and authenticity.