Opinion: Natural’s not enough

Drinks: Wines
Other: Opinion

Fascinated to read the other day that “the biggest resistance” to natural wine “comes from wine educators and journalists. Natural wine is something outside their control, they can’t explain it.” How I wish the partisans of natural wine would stick to the facts rather than adopting Sarah Palinesque special pleading.

I for one have no desire to “control” natural wines, but I think I do understand them. Despite “natural” wine having a definition that is so flexible it’s almost meaningless, I am happy to have a good go at explaining what it is.

My problem with natural wine starts with the quasi-religious, high moral ground that its fans claim. Just as I don’t buy wines BECAUSE they are organic or Fairtrade or even French, so I don’t buy natural wines BECAUSE they are “natural”. I have tremendous respect for people trying to make better wine, no matter how they make it, but I will judge for myself if the wine is any good. The fact that a wine I like is also “natural” warms my heart, but I refuse to suspend judgement and laud a wine that is faulty, just because it’s “natural – or Fairtrade, or organic. Sadly, in my experience, plenty of natural wines are faulty.

Of course despite our best efforts to taste objectively, the fact remains that wine tasting and judgement is subjective.  One person’s “minerality” can be someone else’s “stink”; another’s “horse’s arse brettiness” can be perceived as “savoury complexity”.  Some faults are absolutes, like cork taint, although some of us are more sensitive to them than others. Other faults are more slippery. How much is the ‘right’ amount of oxidation and how much is ‘too much’? I am not a big fan of brettanomyces but I can see that sometimes, it can seem to add complexity, so I wouldn’t dismiss a wine with a little brett out of hand, although I also accept the argument that the same wine without brett is probably better.

Surely when it all comes down to it we should trust our own judgement and respect the judgements of others. No matter how hard we try to judge wine objectively there remains a subjective element to it. Wine should taste good and should not need explaining or demand special pleading. Of course there will always be drinkers who want more; more complexity, more challenge, more background, more whatever…but they are a minority. Wine is already too complicated for too many drinkers. Let’s try to keep it simple and if they want to dig deeper they will. Many (most?) of us in the wine business chose to dig deeper. Let’s not put novice drinkers off before they figure out how exciting wine can be.

About Author

Peter McCombie

As a leading restaurant wine consultant Peter has chosen wine and trained staff for a host of five star hotels, members clubs and London’s best restaurants, not to mention the Cliff in Barbados. He lectures for Christie's Wine Course and the Wine & Spirit Education Trust, is a regular judge in international wine competitions and writes about wine for several magazines.

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