In this series on wine myths, Darren Smith sets out to debunk some commonly held assumptions about wine and its production
Everyone who learns the WSET systematic approach to tasting learns that a cloudy wine is probably a faulty wine. Many professionals insist cloudiness is a fault and restaurant customers are encouraged to ‘send it back’.
Increasingly though, as winemakers have grown more confident in producing unfined and unfiltered wines, the association of cloudiness with faultiness is becoming disputable. Yes, cloudiness can give you clues about oxidation, heat-damaged bottles and protein instability, but having stuff in suspension in the wine is not necessarily detrimental. In fact it can often enhance texture and flavour.
Cloudiness is not just about natural wine producers bottling in a rush and unscrupulously leaving out the stabilisation process either (though that does happen); it’s now done very deliberately by winemakers whose cloudy wines have been acknowledged with very mainstream prestigious awards. The reality is that these wines are now in demand.
Weingut Claus Preisinger Kalkundkiesel White 2017
A blend of Grüner Veltliner, Welschriesling and Weißburgunder from Neusiedlersee.
It’s fermented on skins and matured in old oak for around six months. Taut, expressive, textured, leesy, aromatic – and intriguingly opaque.
Doug Wregg from Les Caves de Pyrene recalls his experience with Austrian producer Arndorfer. After tasting Martin and Anna Arndorfer’s Grüners in the cellar a few years ago, he was so struck by the character of the unfiltered wines that he suggested that Martin should bottle one cloudy. Despite extreme reluctance, he did. Les Caves now sells around 15,000 bottles per year of this wine, compared with just 1,500 of the filtered Grüner it replaced.
‘You can look at it from two directions,’ says Peter Honegger of Newcomer Wines, which imports some of the best unfiltered wines on the market from the likes of Austrian winemakers Claus Preisinger and Christian Tschida.
‘First, on the wine side, people in general are more aware of low-intervention approaches and this includes not filtering the wines. But there’s also that wholesome trend of food and drink. People are used to drinking cloudy apple juice for example. If you explain the wholesome idea of the wine – that it is a raw product in a sense – I think people are less afraid of trying these things.’
These opaque wines also grace the lists of some of the most formal, white-table-cloth restaurants and hotels in the world. Michael Deschamps from Marcus at The Berkeley does well with Claus Preisinger’s unfiltered whites, while the Gilbert Scott offers another Newcomer producer wine, Michael Wenzel’s non-filtered Furmint, by the glass.
‘The experience has changed from a pure ‘I get what I already know’ towards ‘I get an experience which I do not have usually’,’ Honegger says. ‘So the curation part of the restaurant, whether it’s Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley or P Franco or wherever, it’s the concept that you’re buying into, and because you’re buying the experience you’re much more open to trying it.’
Why are these kinds of wine breaking through into more mainstream settings? Far from their trendiness factor, says Honegger, it’s that they’re superbly well-made wines.
‘It’s one thing to use buzzwords and to say that it ticks all these natural boxes,’ he comments, ‘and it’s another to say that, first and foremost, this is a fantastic wine that comes from great provenance and from a guy who has extremely high standards on quality. If it has that, whether it is filtered or not filtered is one of the last things to consider.’