by Jeff Miller of Artisan Family of Wines (Seven Artisans, Sly Dog Cellars, Red Côte)
A new book was the subject of a review on Palate Press at http://palatepress.com/2011/08/wine/authentic-is-the-new-natural-reviewing-authentic-wine/
The book is entitled Authentic Wine and its by Jamie Goode and Sam Harrop.
Put me down as one of the dissenters. There’s no such thing as authentic wine, if what you mean (which is what’s generally meant) is the absence of manipulation in winemaking. Because winemaking is manipulation. Unmanipulated wine isn’t wine at all, but vinegar.
To be honest, you have to grant that while “authentic wine” might mean unmanipulated in theory, it really means less manipulation than normal in practice (which is what it has to really mean if the wine is to be wine at all). Even with that caveat, I still have a major problem with the whole concept.
Wine’s main goal is to be good, not “authentic”. In fact, “authentic” is a pretty nebulous concept when everyone is manipulating the hell out of their wine, even those who would claim to be the avid adherents to the creation of “natural” wine. There are some who really take the non-manipulative thing pretty far. Maybe for them the use of the term “authentic” wine is a little more apropos. But based on my tasting, another term, “bad” wine, is equally apropos. Since wine that’s really not made with the full chemical resources at our disposal tends not to be very good, and not very long-lasting. I think most practitioners who preach “authentic” wines, but who produce high quality wines, in fact eschew the more radical “authentic” practices.
For reasons I’ve harped on at length, the theory that one wine is better than another quickly yields to the reality that trying to say what is a better wine is a really mushy endeavor. There’s no real agreement among wine tasters, since so much of what one means when pronouncing one wine better than another is simply that one wine meets that particular wine taster’s preferred wine profile. I.e., if you like big wines, the big wine is preferred. If you like lighter, wines, then a lighter wine is the “better” wine.
The one place where I would definitely recognize that one wine is better than another is where one of the wines has a serous flaw. I do think that a wine that’s horribly infected with volatile acidity, or one that’s totally oxidized, is clearly inferior to a clean, well-made wine. But that’s about it when it comes to superiority of one wine over another. And the more “authentic” a wine, the more likely it is to be flawed.
So when an “authentic” winemaker proclaims that his wine is superior, he’s expressing his own subjective, and highly biased, opinion. And, to my mind, that opinion is less than worthless when repeated studies have failed to show that Biodynamic farming, for instance, really translates into a superior product. And when he says his wine expresses the “terroir” of his vineyard, he’s mostly mouthing what has become accepted but meaningless “winespeak” of our age.
You get a bunch of wine tasters together, even highly experienced ones, and except for the most obvious examples (and maybe not even then), they will repeatedly fail to identify the vineyard, or even region, or even state, or even continent for that matter, of the wine they are tasting. If terroir had the meaning so often subscribed to it, then blind tasters should be able to accurately identify the wines pedigree. But they can’t.
None of what I’ve said means that I favor profligate spraying of all sorts of chemicals in the vineyard on a prophylactic basis. But spraying of certain chemicals conservatively when conditions require some sort of response to a bad hand nature has dealt you is far better than letting your grapes go to hell. And use of one chemical (gasoline powering a tractor) to try to control weeds through tillage (the “authentic” way) really isn’t in my mind, in theory, any different than using some other chemical for weed control.
So put me down as one who, when he hears the terms “authentic wine” or “natural wine”, really hears “bunk”.
By the way, I’ll be attending to family business for the next two weeks, so I’ll be posting archived articles while I’m away.