vin extraordinaire
May 17, 2018 7:37 AM   Subscribe

Has wine gone bad? ‘Natural wine’ advocates say everything about the modern industry is ethically, ecologically and aesthetically wrong – and have triggered the biggest split in the wine world for a generation
posted by fearfulsymmetry (44 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
This paragraph seems important:

Yet the very complaints critics level at natural wine are the same things that now ensure its success. In 2007, University of Toronto sociologists Josée Johnston and Shyon Baumann published a landmark paper arguing that as the influence of French “haute cuisine” declined through the 20th century, a more pragmatic, egalitarian, American-rooted tradition arose. Analysing thousands of press articles, they showed that the qualities of “authenticity” – including geographic specificity, simplicity and personal connection – dominated contemporary food writing. “Authenticity,” they wrote, “is employed to provide distinction without overt snobbery.”
posted by Brian B. at 7:48 AM on May 17, 2018 [7 favorites]


Is this like when someone would turn up with some nettle and carrot wine and it would have bits of stuff floating in it?
posted by Artw at 8:03 AM on May 17, 2018 [3 favorites]


at its worst it is, but the good stuff is really really good.
posted by JPD at 8:07 AM on May 17, 2018 [1 favorite]


Kind of entertained at the English just hitting this trend in the last 2-3 years.

Its been a big deal on the East Coast of the US for like a decade. Hard pressed to think of a resto opening in NYC in the last five years that doesn't have a naturalista bent to its wine list.

There is even an acronym lovers of West Coast wines use to mock the scene "AFWE = anti-flavor wine elite"

The Beaujolais and Loire are both where it hit first, and where you probably have the highest hit rate. As it spreads out into other areas you get weirder and weirder shit going on, some of which is amazing, some of which is totally undrinkable.
posted by JPD at 8:10 AM on May 17, 2018 [3 favorites]


Undrinkable home brew “wine” made from bits is a longstanding tradition in the UK. Suspect this is just it being made fancy.
posted by Artw at 8:20 AM on May 17, 2018 [3 favorites]


Metafilter: smellier, cloudier, juicier, more acidic and generally truer.
posted by Segundus at 8:22 AM on May 17, 2018 [15 favorites]


Winers.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 8:26 AM on May 17, 2018 [1 favorite]


I wonder if some ancient grape eaters felt the same way about wine that natural vintners feel about industrial wine production. "Why are you messing with naturally wonderful grapes?? What's with all this processing?!"
posted by clawsoon at 8:33 AM on May 17, 2018


Is this like when someone would turn up with some nettle and carrot wine and it would have bits of stuff floating in it?

Is it wrong that that's exactly the wine I want?
posted by maxsparber at 8:35 AM on May 17, 2018


the biggest split in the wine world

I see what you served there
posted by chavenet at 8:36 AM on May 17, 2018 [8 favorites]


You can treat wine like any other competitive, status-oriented domain, or you can engage with it on a level of lightly nerdy and hedonic curiosity. I don't care about wowing anyone; I like discovering new, enjoyable flavors. There are a lot of neat qveri-style and other "skin contact" wines out there right now. Pétillant-naturel can turn out delightfully. A lot of is really good! Some of it is not so good! There will never not be shelf upon shelf of the reliable blends and varietals, nobody need worry.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 8:39 AM on May 17, 2018 [5 favorites]


When I first moved to St. Louis in 2005, I became exposed to the wonderful varietal of Norton wines. There was a boutique producer, Claverach, who made one of my favorite expressions of this grape, and in spite of its limited production, I made sure to have some on hand.

Claverach changed its focus from producing wines to farming a few years ago, and I was saddened to see their wine production disappear. Recently, they've returned to production with natural wines, and their Pét-Nat Sparkling Rosé received a glowing write-up from Sprudge (and whether or not you trust a coffee site to review wine is up to the reader). Based on this review and general buzz in STL, I sought out this wine about three weeks ago...and it tasted like flavored Zima. The words that came to mind were "incomplete" and "tangy" and "unfinished." I know not to compare this wine to their past production, but taken on its own merits, it was disappointing.

Would I try another natural wine? Maybe, but only if someone else is buying.
posted by stannate at 8:40 AM on May 17, 2018


Trader Joe's has four buck Chuck now: "organic" Charles Shaw. Is it a "natural" wine? I dunno. I didn't spend the extra buck.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:41 AM on May 17, 2018


The industry needs to counter with new and exciting products that will appeal to the younger (American and Chinese) comsumer - flavors such as bubble gum, cotton candy, blue raspberry, and root beer!
posted by Docrailgun at 8:42 AM on May 17, 2018


Wine is what you make when your land is too crappy to grow grain for beer.

I totally support this movement. Just see how far cloudy, acidic, incomplete homebrewed beer with bits floating in it has come in the last 25 years or so.
posted by Index Librorum Prohibitorum at 8:48 AM on May 17, 2018 [6 favorites]


It's interesting that wine critics wouldn't like this trend, because the return to uneven quality would seem to increase their importance. Knowing that the 2013 from this little winery was fantastic but the 2014 was a failure is the kind of arcane, prestige-boosting knowledge that I'd expect critics to embrace as their domain.
posted by clawsoon at 8:48 AM on May 17, 2018 [14 favorites]


Lots of wine critics like the trend, many do not.

Some of the most exalted producers in Burgundy and Barolo philosophically lean towards limited intervention, and as such are broadly sympatico with natural wine.

Critics who don't like Burgundy and Barolo, and instead prefer Cali Cab and Bordeaux, are unlikely to see the appeal of an Etna red, regardless of elevage.
posted by JPD at 8:55 AM on May 17, 2018 [1 favorite]


To be more clear: look at homebrewing as a reaction to highly homogenized and mass produced beer. It led to crazy micro breweries, which led to the mess we are in now.

But if I feel like a cloudy tangy beer that smells like wet donkeys, I can find it.
posted by Index Librorum Prohibitorum at 8:57 AM on May 17, 2018 [8 favorites]


there is to be sure some of that in this, but a lot of the best practitioners here were the next generation inheriting the family estate and looking for ways to make their wine better
posted by JPD at 9:00 AM on May 17, 2018


Cool! There are apparently 2 places within half a mile of my office where I can taste some of these wines. I'll give it a shot.
posted by suelac at 9:13 AM on May 17, 2018 [1 favorite]


When you look at how many decisions occur during the wine-making process — choices in the vineyard to the harvest, how you extract the juice and what you do with stems, skins, and seeds, how you let the juice ferment, how and where you let it sit before bottling, and what you do when you bottle it — it's clear that simple terminology is not particularly informative. Most supermarket wine starts with anonymously farmed and irrigated vineyards and has a lot of industrial process in the middle, inoculating with specific yeasts, adjusting acidity, tannins, and color with additives, and putting plenty of sulfites in to ensure shelf-stability. It's like bowling with bumpers. Any deviation in one place can be fixed in another, and it may taste okay, but the result is totally homogenous.

What makes the broad category of "natural wine" good is that the winemaker gives up the precise control in favor of carefully cultivated accidents that, when done well, nudge the wine toward a specific goal but allow the character that comes from the unique time, place, and people making it. And the lack of tools to fix major mistakes means that everything has to be done with great care, which I think is vastly more important to the outcome than omitting sulfites at bottling. But this also means that with great producers, the wine is great and often an extension of historical practices, but with mediocre produces the wine is mediocre, especially with new producers doing trendy things (sigh, carbonic maceration gamay a few years ago...). And don't get me started on $40 domestic pet nat.
posted by Schismatic at 9:15 AM on May 17, 2018 [3 favorites]


Fuck AOCs and fuck Robert Parker, too. The best (grape) wines I've had have been from those regions but have forgone AOC designations in favor of going their own way. (And what a weird way it is, too! Biodynamics is bizarre—burying cow horns in the ground? what's that about?—but biodynamic wine is really good!)

turn up with some nettle and carrot wine
It never ceases to amaze me that one of the best wines I've ever had was made out of dandelions. Yes, the stupid flower that all and sundry try to eradicate at every turn. I make some every year (and, in fact, just started this year's batch a couple days ago). It tastes like bottled midsummer. (Well, if you do it right. I've had really bad dandelion wines, too.)

Maple is also really good. (It just tastes like maple syrup, but if that doesn't interest you then there's something wrong with your head.) MeMail me if you want recipes.

Most of my other crazy plant experiments haven't panned out, but I just planted some nettles and some carrots last week, so I'll get back to you.
posted by ragtag at 9:31 AM on May 17, 2018 [1 favorite]


Planted nettles? Huh.
posted by Artw at 9:32 AM on May 17, 2018 [2 favorites]


Yeah! Whoever owned the land before me really hated anything that wasn't grass.
posted by ragtag at 9:34 AM on May 17, 2018


/disappears down google hole of people deliberately growing stinging nettles.
posted by Artw at 9:44 AM on May 17, 2018 [2 favorites]


Well put up an electric fence, gotta tell'ya I'd much rather get zapped hard than run through a field of stinging nettles, don't ask me how I know.
posted by sammyo at 10:14 AM on May 17, 2018 [1 favorite]


Nettles are good for butterflies
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 10:22 AM on May 17, 2018


MetaFilter: at its worst it is, but the good stuff is really really good.
posted by Flexagon at 11:12 AM on May 17, 2018


Experimental results: carrot, parsnip and beet wines were quite good, especially the parsnip. Dandelion was so-so, strawberry/rhubarb was demoted to cooking and celery was really awful except in chicken soup. These are all essentially flavored "sugar" wines as the produce doesn't have enough for fermentation. The raisin wine and mead were very good and don't used sugar. The mead made with champagne yeast was superb.
posted by Botanizer at 11:28 AM on May 17, 2018 [1 favorite]


nettle and carrot wine

Have you ever tasted weasel spit strained through a moldy balaclava helmet?

And that's just the bouquet!
posted by prize bull octorok at 12:43 PM on May 17, 2018 [3 favorites]


Have you ever tasted weasel spit

Ohhh the hipsters will have a field day, foodie delight, unique, unusual, only the cool kids have weasel spit.
posted by sammyo at 12:57 PM on May 17, 2018


The wine world loves a narrative, but it’s still a surprise to me that the naturals currently seem to have won out, in terms of high-end mindshare, over the rediscovered superlocal/autochthonous varietals that were Europe’s answer to America’s imposition of the varietal over the AOC/DOC origin story.
My personal beef with the naturals is their take on the role of oxygen - and though of course it can figure in a taste-concept by design (see jamon iberico vs prosciutto, for example), oxydation in a wine just registers as a fault to my palate. (It’s an aspect the - otherwise pretty excellent - article chose to gloss over.)
posted by progosk at 1:13 PM on May 17, 2018 [1 favorite]


Is there potassium ferrocyanide in your wine? This one sort of freaked me out due to the name. If a big (10kgallons?) batch of wine is not quite right, in this example too much iron which can ruining that "batch" what do you do? Adding that chemical clears out the problem, drops to the bottom and is removed from the wine. Requires care, but safe and saves the winery perhaps. How many small vineyards can continue to exist if a few years of harvests are dumped?

All for natural unique flavors but also for tasty affordable beverages.

How do we as a society encourage wonderful cultivation but also the parts of technology that are good for the product and soil and environment?
posted by sammyo at 1:15 PM on May 17, 2018


Hibiscus wine. I don't mean the restaurant in the article, I'm saying, those of you who are talking about making wine, make hibiscus wine.

I won't judge anyone who prefers to control their yeast nor yet anyone who prefers to go wild with whatever falls in there. I've had fun with both. Seriously, it is super cool that in Georgia everyone you meet probably has their own little vineyard in their yard and makes their very own wine that doesn't taste quite the same as anyone else's. It is also super cool that you can go into pretty much any store and pick up a bottle of Mukuzani and know it will be reliably fucken delicious.

Anyway, I will judge the hell out of anyone who tells me there is One Right Way.
posted by solotoro at 1:59 PM on May 17, 2018 [1 favorite]


I think the core of the controversy is that both sides are accusing the other of ideology and overselling the qualities of their product. Wine is a social construct but that doesn't mean economic relativism, it means there's a need for science and evidence-based evaluation of all products, for transparency, so that information asymmetries aren't used to take advantage of consumers and their money.
posted by polymodus at 2:15 PM on May 17, 2018 [2 favorites]


If it means more wine on the market that’s more interesting than over-oaked Chardonnay and chewy cabs I’m all for it. But I do wonder if the pet-nats aren’t a tad overhyped. I mean, that’s the way wine was made for centuries, and wine used to be a very variable agricultural product that often spoiled. You see a lot in historical documents mentions of wine gone bad or wine that had to be spilled out now with the newer methods there’s so much less waste. Better than the craziness that is biodynamics anyways.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 2:37 PM on May 17, 2018


Adding that chemical clears out the problem, drops to the bottom and is removed from the wine. Requires care, but safe and saves the winery perhaps. How many small vineyards can continue to exist if a few years of harvests are dumped?

I am a Certified Organic farmer. Capital C, capital O. Licensed and inspected. When I was certified, it was a requirement that any animal that could not be adequately treated using OMRI-approved medication was required to be tagged and pulled from Organic production and treated with non-Organic medications. So, if a small winery is in danger of losing a barrel without resorting to non-natural processing, it seems to me to be simple to use the chemicals (and yes, that one has a scary name) and tag it as conventionally produced wine for sale at, presumably, a reduced price for people who aren't interested in the natural product. It's not ideal, but it doesn't need to be a total loss.

One caveat, the USDA has removed animal welfare provisions from the Organic standards under this administration and I don't certify my animals so I'm not entirely current on those standards. Thanks republicans!
posted by stet at 3:08 PM on May 17, 2018 [4 favorites]


The wine world loves a narrative, but it’s still a surprise to me that the naturals currently seem to have won out, in terms of high-end mindshare, over the rediscovered superlocal/autochthonous varietals that were Europe’s answer to America’s imposition of the varietal over the AOC/DOC origin story.
My personal beef with the naturals is their take on the role of oxygen - and though of course it can figure in a taste-concept by design (see jamon iberico vs prosciutto, for example), oxydation in a wine just registers as a fault to my palate. (It’s an aspect the - otherwise pretty excellent - article chose to gloss over.)


While it's true orange and oxidative wines are a minority part of the natural wine scene, it's also true that so is the rediscovery of local indigenous grapes is part of the scene. To my mind arguably a bigger one.
posted by JPD at 3:30 PM on May 17, 2018


You guys, this Long Island orange wine.

Do you keep coming back to barleywines and heavy Belgian ales only to be repelled by the thick sweetness? Do you spend too much money on a tempting description of flavors only to nurse a treacle-y small-pour and think "I like this in theory, but..."?

This wine tastes like you imagine those beers do. Lighter, smoother, drier, cloudy, layered. It also has funny little blue specs in it.

Not an everyday wine at the price tag, but try it!
posted by postcommunism at 5:36 PM on May 17, 2018


I’m all for some new wine flavors. I just don’t get wine in its current conception. I’ll go to a restaurant or dinner party and someone will pick out a bottle that they think is great. I’ll take a glass out of FOMO and then repeatedly forget to drink it over the course of the meal, I think because it is so unremarkable to me that the meal and my water glass monopolize my attention. Then I’ll feel badly that I didn’t give it the reverence it apparently deserved, according to everyone else’s reactions. Plus it gives me headaches, dry eyes and aural migraines. Boggles my mind that it’s become so astronomically popular, given my generally negative experiences with it. There is this mild Chinese rice wine though that I find deeelicious. Must be a mouth chemistry thing.
posted by mantecol at 7:36 PM on May 17, 2018


So, for my level of knowledge, I think that translates to:-
Before: Do I choose “House red”, “House white”, “Something else more costly chosen because I kid myself I have a valid reason to select it over all the others” or “Not wine”?
After: As above but also add “Left field wild card” (but note that my reaction of automatically nodding and accepting a wine I’m offered to taste after pretending to consider for a moment - may not always be correct).
posted by rongorongo at 12:16 AM on May 18, 2018


I’m all for some new wine flavors. I just don’t get wine in its current conception.

Pro-tip (mainly for Italian wine, but with more and more forays beyond): the one taster/writer who methodically singles out wines for their deliciousness, rather than their pedigree or adherence to pardigm/stereotype/orthodoxy (be that traditional or new-fangled) is Luca Maroni (yes, I've harped on about him previously) - you can search his tasting archive here.

Enjoy!
posted by progosk at 12:45 AM on May 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


Back in the day, when I'd do a lot of walking, I came across a middle class couple that were absolutely stripping a headge row of elderflower, presumably for elderflower wine. Their car was full of bin bags of the stuff! I'm all for Gathering Nature's Harvest - I've often gone blackberrying - but leave some for other people / the bees.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 1:45 AM on May 18, 2018 [2 favorites]


U.S. wine is where beer was back in the 80s, when 99% of everything was American lager, of uniform flavor profile, and thanks to use of "adjuncts" like corn and rice, not even legally beer in some countries. The homogenization wasn't as extreme, because pinot noir is inherently different from cabernet sauvignon. But it's not an exaggeration to say that the wines are all essentially made in the same style: fruit bomb, high alcohol, low acidity, almost no tannin. And, as noted, farmed on an industrial scale with copious industrial chemical use. It is essentially impossible to go into a suburban supermarket and find a single wine that displays even one deviation from the mandatory style. Not one. And, god forbid, if you wanted something with even moderate alcohol, tannin, and acidity, as well as sustainable farming practice, you are looking at the nearest big city or mail order. The whole idea of the "Anti-Flavor Wine Elite" is absurd given the style of wine produced by substantially the entire industry.

There are now a tiny minority of producers making wine that is different. They do not in any way threaten the major producers. And yet the vitriol directed against anyone who dares to advocate for a non-mainstream wine is intense. Are there some producers and sommelier(e)s who go overboard on cloudy wines marred by screeching acidity or excessive oxidation? Sure. One Italian Pet-Nat I bought from a reputable shop tasted and looked like pink lemon juice. But if the alternative is utter homogeny, I know what I'm putting in my glass.
posted by wnissen at 9:42 AM on May 18, 2018


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