Natural Wine - still too many fails?

Discussion in 'UK Wine Forum' started by Tom Cannavan, Aug 30, 2018.

  1. Tom Cannavan

    Tom Cannavan Administrator

    Regular followers of wine-pages will have noticed a disturbing lack of invective from me pro- or anti-natural wine. I'm basically a supportive sceptic, thinking some of the wines are very interesting and having really enjoyed many, whilst coming across my fair share of disappointing wines too.

    In a natural wine restaurant/bar in Paris at the weekend we had a fabulous goat's cheese quiche for lunch and from a blackboard giving little but price and colour, ordered a bottle of Cheverny ('La Bodice' Blanc, from Herve Villemade), the single most expensive wine from the dozen featured at aroun 45 Euros. What turned up was a dead-ringer, in every aspect, for a cheap Vinho Verde; nothing but significant spritz and lemon.

    I don't know the producer at all, and still wonder if this wasn't quite right, but though it washed down the quiche as well as any £5.99 Vinho Verde, it was a bewlidering disappointment for a "top" selection of 80% Sauvignon Blanc and 20% Chardonnay.
  2. "Supportive sceptic" describes it exactly, Tom.

    On the occasions where I go au naturel I frequently regret overpaying for a wine without shorts.

    But making some space for new (or old) ideas seems worth doing.

    Given my assumption about their greater outcome unpredictability, I think of them as wines of the moment, rather than wines to lay down.
    Thom Blach likes this.
  3. Remember when everyone said Burgundy was always disappointing and someone who really knew the region would come along and say that was just inexperience etc?

    Natural wines are a bit like that. I did read someone the other day saying you need to educate your palate to get natural wine. That sounds elitist, but then I recall that my 19-year-old self didn’t like red Bordeaux until I’d been drinking it for a while.

    Your wine does sound faulty, Tom, and that producer was around before natural wine was a thing IIRC. I’ve mostly avoided because Parisian friends with a house close to Cheverny don’t like [him].

    I drink a lot of natural wine, maybe 60%+ of my intake. I don’t get a lot of duds but I don’t buy indiscriminately. I also think storage is an issue, especially retail storage and transport. This summer was a hot one so sulphur free wines will have been vulnerable.

    Where was the bar?
  4. Tom Cannavan

    Tom Cannavan Administrator


    I'm assuming you are not claiming I am inexperienced in natural wines, or that my palate needs educated in them? I've drunk or tasted many hundreds and visited dozens of producers from France to New Zealand and from Sicily to Australia. I am also assuming you don't think I am 19 years old :). I do suspect, and wondered at the time, if this particular wine was faulty. If that was due to the lack of sulphur causing refermentation it surely doesn't do much to support the argument that natural wine is 'just misunderstood', which seems to be the basis of your post above? Though your statement that your 'don't buy indiscriminately' also suggests you recognise it is more of a lottery than other categories of wine?

    This was Cafe de la Nouvelle Marie tucked away from the main tourist drags of the Latin Quarter - excellent food, friendly and unpretentious, and very much recommended. Both of the 1* restaurants we ate in were also heavy on natural wines, though by no means exclusively, the superb Comice (long list of grower Champagnes too) and the not 100% convincing but still highly recommendable Alliance.
  5. Yes.

    Give them a few decades.

  6. I am an unsupportive sceptic I am afraid. There are some very good natural ones ,I see Chris Alheit is claiming his wines are natural, but sulphur is used in wine for a good reason. My hit rate with natural wines is pretty abysmal, now compare that to biodynamic wines and the difference is huge. I am absolutely not allergic to an oxidised wine, I buy and drink a lot of sherry. I have just had lots of very iffy natural wines. To me, if you are going to make natural wine, the care, and effort of making that style of wine should almost guarantee something good to excellent in the bottle (this seems to work out with biodynamics). For me, nothing could be further from the truth.
    Can you list a few reccos that are going to bring me back from the brink of abandonment David?
  7. The very question has the answer, I think. Natural wine in principle cannot be particularly consistent and that's basically why conventional wine is produced in the way that it is.

    I had a 2016 Lo-Fi Santa Barbara Gamay Noir last night which encapsulates this perfectly, as it's as natural as they come. It was certainly interesting, and I'd even be tempted to say it was quite good. Was it correct? No. Did I enjoy it less because of that? Definitely. Do I think it's a stylistic preference issue? No. If something has elements that are fundamentally unpleasant, then it is what it is. There are wines I don't like, but I appreciate that they are totally competent in their specific way, both correct and polished (and I would think you'd recognise that in BDX when you didn't like it, @David Crossley - the problem there is you rather than the wine itself). The natural wines I struggle with, I couldn't say this about, and that is due to a lack of confidence around what I'm presented with is actually what the winemaker would like me to experience. I'm not convinced that can be fixed, and I don't buy that it's to do with adjusting one's palate.

    As such, I'm an unsupportive sceptic. I'll continue to try them on occasion because I think being close minded is a bad approach when it comes to wine, but I can't help but look for faults every time I have one (and I realise how contradictory that sounds).
  8. Also an unsupportive rather cynical sceptic thinking many use this for marketing reasons
  9. I do think any natural wine that is worthwhile in itself has no need whatever to mention it on the label. One doesn't find it on bottles from Drouhin or the Domaine De La Romanee-Conti, for example.
    Jeremy's perception of at times gross overcharging chimes with mine.
    Jonathan Hesford likes this.
  10. Variable, funky, and asking oxygen to perform many wine making duties (including early evolution that cannot replace the finesse of classic bottle ageing). It just doesn't do it for me.
    Last edited: Aug 30, 2018
  11. Many more misses than hits... still my abstinence is someone else's gain, right?
  12. We have a couple really good importers of natural wine who have made great choices as to what to import. This is why I have almost only hits and hardly any misses. I love them. They're fun, thought provoking and different - all of which makes them exciting. I almost only ever open natural wine at home.
  13. As ever with any category of wine - producer, producer, producer.
    Fintan Kerr and David Crossley like this.
  14. I think Otto has it - if you can find an intermediary of some sort, such as an importer, to separate the wheat from the chaff, then go for it.

    I don't know how the "no sulphur" business came to be the touchstone of natural wines. I remember at the start of the whole thing, it was a minority position. Now it is pretty much hegemonic. And yes, I do use that word advisedly. It isn't really about just wine. It's a social thing now and now it has its gatekeepers of orthodoxy.

    But I don't want to be negative overall. There are excellent wines I have enjoyed and as Mark says, producer is important as always. But dear lord, the movement desparately needs to develop a sense of self-criticism.
  15. Don't you guys drink COS, Foradori, the Bojo Gang, Gramenon, Meinklang, the Friuli/Slovenian gang, Raúl Pérez/Rodrigo Mendes, Suertes del Marqués? Can't see where you're finding all the misses myself. Surely it's all about the producer, as with everything else? And what about those (like my first two at very least) who have been making great conventional wine for years?

    I don't see it as a "movement". It only looks like that if you feel the need to categorise. It is pretty damn heterogeneous from my perspective, a label marketers and wine journos have dreamt up for their own purposes.
    Fintan Kerr likes this.
  16. Exactly, Mark, it is a label that is almost entirely irrelevant which does make the sometimes holier than thou attitude of some outlets who specialise in these self identifying wines a little irritating.
  17. Yeah. Though so do the purveyors of "foin woin". Mostly I just find both of them amusing ;)
    Thom Blach likes this.
  18. Raú
    Coincidently, we drank Raúl Pérez Sketch ‘15, at lunch today. First time we have tried his wine. Not even a hint of ‘natural’. The sommelier provided the undersea backstory, which did not enhance the experience. Damn good wine & the best Albariño I’ve drunk.
    Fintan Kerr and David Crossley like this.
  19. It's not just about having good importers. It's also genuinely that many people don't like such "weird" aromas. And that's ok. I've been in many situations where I love the wine but others take one sniff and recoil. And that's also ok. It's a bit like me with new oak aromas: it's perfectly fine to dislike something intensely. What's not ok is going on a crusade against natural wine or new oak aromas and try to get them banned and call people who like them idiots etc. :D (Yes, in the natural wine wars this does sometimes happen - I'm so glad we see little of it here.)

    The funny thing about the "movement" is that the word and "philosophy" behind it are so loosely defined that anyone from Treloar to Musar to the wildest thing out there could be considered "natural". Basically I use the term in this widest sense. I do consider Musar "natural". But perhaps a stricter definition would be to only include those non-interventionist producers who also self-identify as natural? In that case, I do drink a lot of non-naturalist stuff with great pleasure. I guess we humans have trouble understanding spectra and always prefer binaries. But binary thinking works with wine's natural to mass produced spectrum about as well as it does with gender, sex and species definitions in biology. I.e. it doesn't.
    Mark Temple likes this.
  20. So you're only "natural" if you call yourself "natural"? Hmmm o_O
  21. Yes, and it's unequivocally one of the worst offenders in my experience. I've had no better than a 50% hit rate on Rami and Pithos Rosso and Bianco. I just won't buy them now, which is a great shame because when they are on, they are fantastic wines.
    Phil David likes this.
  22. Exactly! No more a movement than Burgundy Fundamentalists are. Just a group of Winemakers, some good and some less so, making wine and being written about by people who want to put them all in the same box.

    Mark’s list could be quadrupled and still you’d not find faulty wines, unless from a faulty cork or shop lighting. But equally, people here drink wines (from Burgundy even) that are natural wines without complaint, assuming we are not being drawn down the fundamentalist route of banning sulphur...or maybe that is the right idea. Then, those who make great wine without synthetic applications but who add a bit of sulphur at bottling, will not be characterised as a bunch of hippies...which some eminent Burgundian producers who do exactly that clearly aren’t.

    Oh, PS, no Tom (C), I clearly don’t think you are any of those things. I didn’t taste your bottle but I’m pretty confident it was faulty, and probably caused by being too hot at some point. Although it has to be said that the bar in question may not have the current fame of places like Verre Volé and Septime, but it is nevertheless pretty much the mother of all Parisian natural wine venues, serving natural wine before most of us had heard of the genre.
  23. I find a huge difference between the reds (which I generally love) and the whites (that I generally find too 'niche').
  24. @Tom Cannavan - you do realise we will come back to this thread over the next 3-8 months and eventually you will have to take it down because it will all get too emotional?
  25. I’ve never had a faulty wine from COS, oddly enough, and i have drunk a few dozen over the years. Oh well.

    I will say, reflecting on this, that The Loire has often provided the worst offenders for faulty natural wine.

    I also think that just as some varieties lend themselves to amphora (Ribolla Giala, Traminer etc), then some varieties almost invariably make crap natural wine. An Austrian lady told me a week ago that it’s all about the ph, and she agreed with me that Merlot is a culprit here. Rarely makes good natural wine.

    I also agree with Otto that the aromas and flavours in these wines are different. In the same way I trained my palate to understand Bordeaux, I think I’ve trained it to comprehend these wines. This doesn’t make me superior, just that I have drunk a lot of the stuff, same as I’ve drunk lots of Burgundy and Bordeaux over several decades. But at the end of the day, we all like and appreciate different things.

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