The other week, my friend opened a culty sans soufre Chenin that wasn’t showing very well. He swore he’d opened the same bottle a few weeks prior and that it was stunning. But around the table we agreed this bottle was ratchet.
Yes, that can be part of the deal with drinking wines that are not industrial and manipulated. The stakes are a bit lower when it comes to modest glou glou. But we shouldn’t be surprised when #hypebeast natural wines, with prices looking like classified growth Bordeaux, are at times fragile. And, if we’re being honest, are not always more compelling than the glou glou.
In the 90s, Robert Parker rose to unprecedented influence in the American wine market. Wineries all over the world started manipulating their wines to conform to his palette, so they all started tasting the same (as Alice Feiring and many others have written about). The “natural wine movement” has been the inevitable, opposing pendulum swing; a necessary market correction, which by now has probably reached its grunge in late 92 VOGUE moment.
Much of the press on this movement has fixated on the lack of defined terms and standards but that line of interrogation is flawed. Making concessions to the technocrats obsessed with empirical measurements and certifications empowers them to decree the “acceptable” interventions in farming and the cellar. That leads to formulaic, ideological winemaking, leaving no room for interpretation or adaptation to regional climate and varietal character. Is evaluating a wine based on the parts per million of added S02 any less ludicrous than Robert Parker’s 100 point rating system? What happens if wines, made from vastly different grapes and regions, start to taste “wild” and “funky” in all the same ways and that becomes the defining characteristic of these wines? Does 0/0 = 100 points?
There was no social media in Parker’s day but today’s wine journalists may prove just as influential, incentivizing natural winemakers to stylize their wines to conform. A healthy skepticism of influence and uniformity is always in order.
(*I put together some visual aids on this phenomenon, see here)
- Saman Housseini