Saturday, September 22, 2012

Some reflections on natural wines (part 3): you can’t reflect on natural wines? WRONG

I’ll try to keep it concise this time, as life is so short. One of the most common misconceptions when it comes to natural wine, is that their sole function is to obey one's thirst. We all know that a good bottle of great natural wine is emptied before you can think of, let’s say ... 20 states in the US, including the likes of Maryland, Arkansas and Alabama and remembering that there is a North 'and' South Carolina. The reason for this misconception is the encredible 'drinkability' that these pure and juicy wines posses. There are no elements that cause any hindrance upon sniffing or swallowing the wonderful content of the glas.

Personally, I can’t drink wines with oak flavours, but more importantly, there are very often unnatural molecules that can potentially cause physical problems when drinking one or more glasses, depending on your sensibility. You don’t believe me or don’t know what I am talking about, then I'd suggest you stop reading any further, as this piece is a waste of your time.

On one hand, for reasons unbeknownst to me,  some people like to create this image of natural wine drinkers as a bunch of drunks, who only drink it as a substitute for beer. ‘There is no way those extremists can have civilised wine tastings or reflect on the wines, winemakers or estates’. We are all considered as 'wild men', and come to think of it, we're okay with this description. Yes, we are wild men, but there is more…

Ten years ago a bunch of unknown, very 'normal' people came together in a little country in West Europe with Brussels as a capital, to taste natural wines. For US and Asian readers: Brussels is not a country, but a city and West Europe is not a state. There were no real rules, but we decided to drink all the wines blindly, meaning that we didn’t know what we were drinking and that everyone could say their honest opinion. There was no right or wrong! Most of the time we tasted 12 bottles and we tried to have a kind of a 'theme' for the evening. We came together every 2 months or so and after the tasting we shared a good meal together, as we had 1 or 2 excellent professional cooks amount us. Always make sure that in whatever group you create, you have a good cook in the mix. Most of the time, those Monday evenings ended up very late (or should I say early?) and were great fun.  During those days we had 2 wine importers of natural wines in the group and strangely enough the majority of it is selling wine now and they are each other’s competitor in professional life. I am one of the exceptions, but remain friends with all of them. It is not surprising that people sharing a passion for pure wine and good products start liking each other’s company, especially when seating them around the same table. I learned a lot about wine during those sessions, but definitely don't consider myself as the greatest taster of them all. The fact is that I know now how to recognise a pure wine. I can smell if the wine was made from indigenous yeast or not, I'm knowledgeable on the stability of a wine, and I know how an equilibrated wine should taste and that for instance, I know the importance of the quality of the aftertaste. I discovered some ‘real’ wine makers and during the last 10 years I have visited most of the French ones.

Since (and because of) those late Monday night sessions, I only drink natural wine. Very occasionally, for professional reasons such as during business meal  meetings, I receive a glass of conventional wine. Out of courtesy, I will put my lips to that glass, knowing that I can’t drink it and will  then switch over to water, sparkling water. Some people will not understand this, but I really hate the smell and taste of unnatural wine, as I also don’t like Martini or pudding. When invited by family or friends to their home, I always take some bottles with me, likewise when going out to dine, always with a bottle in each hand, whatever restaurant. 

That being sais, on the other hand my taste for natural wines is not dogmatic or ideological. The ‘sect’ side of some natural wine lovers is ridiculous. In their own way, they merely imitate the snobs of the ‘prestigious label’ drinkers, which they supposedly hate so much. There are even ‘fundamentalists’ ready to excommunicate the ones who are not ‘pure’ enough in their eyes and self-proclaimed ‘specialists’ ensuring that nobody encroach what they consider their exclusive domain. Like any ‘society’, the natural wine scene has it share of heartburn and jealousy. Whatever! For my part, I drink these wines because I like them so much, because they surprise me all the time and they have an ever-changing character like human beings. They are also naked, freed from all makeup. Sometimes I can honestly feel the winemaker’s personality as well as his environment in the wines. And last but not least those wines don’t cause any headache at all to me the day after. After a night of boozing I am ready to go to work, without any problem. OK, the evening after I will be more tired than usually, but if this is it what it takes, go for it. Suggest me any juice beyond labels that satisfy all those conditions and I am a happy man. 99 times out of 100, at least, it is an unfiltered wine without any artificial yeast or other additives. That’s what I also learned during the many blind tastings. But the most important thing I learned about wine is that it is there to share. I love sharing wines with people and see their reactions when exploring the wine. I am curious about their feelings, about what they have to say, even though if it is difficult to express...

Thanks to Manu, Rob, Stefaan, Tom, Ilse, Gerd, Peter, Wouter, Hans and of course Jacques for those long Monday night sessions 

Inspired by Vinejo and C. Authiere


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