GQ (Australia) - - TASTE + TRAVEL -

When it comes to the most com­mon wine ques­tion I’ve been asked in the past year, ‘What’s the story with ‘nat­u­ral’ wine?’ is beaten only by ‘Don’t you think you’ve had enough?’ for the fre­quency of its ask­ing. Of the two it’s cer­tainly the one I find eas­ier to an­swer. ‘Nat­u­ral’ wine – those wines where the wine­maker re­cedes into the back­ground and lets na­ture take its course rather than guide, ca­jole and shape what the vine­yard has given them – has been the big­gest trend in the world of wine over the past decade. Nat­u­ral wines from here and abroad have es­tab­lished a strong beach­head on the lo­cal wine scene. They’re not just some pass­ing fad. They’re here to stay. So it’s prob­a­bly time to ac­knowl­edge a jour­ney through the world of nat­u­ral wine can de­liver some ut­terly sub­lime ex­pe­ri­ences but can just as eas­ily veer of the rails and end up in a pu­trid stream full of dead dogs and shit. I’ve had nat­u­ral wines that have thrilled me ut­terly and I’ve had nat­u­ral wines that have made me won­der if I should rip my tongue from my mouth and wipe my arse with it rather than sub­ject it to another drop. That’s part of the plea­sure, and part of the prob­lem. There is a po­lit­i­cal state­ment in­her­ent in the whole ‘nat­u­ral’ wine move­ment that makes me a lit­tle un­com­fort­able, an un­fair jux­ta­po­si­tion that ban­ishes all other wines that don’t fit the cri­te­ria into a bin im­plied to be ‘un­nat­u­ral’. The rise of nat­u­ral wine has co­in­cided with the wide­spread mis­use of the term ‘som­me­lier’. Per­haps not co­in­ci­den­tally. While there are a num­ber of ded­i­cated wine ser­vice pro­fes­sion­als with the train­ing and ex­pe­ri­ence to war­rant the ti­tle, there’s just as many out there call­ing them­selves a ‘som­me­lier’ just be­cause they think it will get them laid. Without the skills to ob­jec­tively as­sess qual­ity through tast­ing, many are clutch­ing at ide­ol­ogy as the jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for why they rec­om­mend a wine. Some­times that will de­liver ut­ter plea­sure, other times you’ll end up with tepid piss. I weep at the story of one wine­maker – a pro­ducer of metic­u­lously farmed, sen­si­tively made wines that sing sweetly of the place from which they come – who walked out of a sales call with a Mel­bourne restau­rant with bot­tles un­opened be­cause the es­tab­lish­ment flat out re­fused to buy wines that ex­ceeded their self-im­posed, and un­re­al­is­tic, thresh­old of sul­fur ad­di­tions above 30 parts per mil­lion. So rather than of­fer their cus­tomers some of the finest wines made in this coun­try, they choose to serve only what ad­heres to their mis­guided ideas about the nat­u­ral preser­va­tive that has been used in wine mak­ing since the days of the Ro­man em­pire. I’ll ac­cept a more open-minded at­ti­tude to wine-mak­ing faults is re­quired to en­joy a lot of these wines and I’m cool with that. But there is beauty in the flawed as well as the per­fect. A nat­u­ral wine isn’t good just be­cause it’s been made in line with the philoso­phies and meth­ods that de­fine the move­ment. A nat­u­ral wine is good, just as any wine is, when it’s de­li­cious and you want to put in your mouth. Make your own de­ci­sions about ‘nat­u­ral’ wine. Don’t just drink the Kool-aid.

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