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Op-Cred: Do Not Drink This Story

March 26, 2017 Leave a comment

I’ve been trying to make sense of Bianca Bosker’s loathsome piece in The Times on engineered swill wine since it first darkened my inbox. I get that it’s opinion, but any editor who lets this kind of crap slip by should be ashamed. If there isn’t a better point to be made, maybe give that space to another writer, or even a remotely entertaining ad. I read a smart and fairly measured response by Rachel Signer, and very much enjoyed Eric Asimov’s sober assessment via Twitter. So now that the rest of the wine world has moved on and no longer cares, here goes.

What irked me so fiercely about that absurd defense of shit wine for schmucks is that it posed industrial engineered plonk in a direct continuum with the current natural wine fad. This completely disregards a profound array of good, honest, tasty wine that is neither, to no discernible useful end.

Many great winemakers are doing things right, being relative stewards of the earth, but still choose to intervene in the process, and/or add a tiny amount of SO2 for stability. These are very often the most consistently pleasurable wines on the market, and are completely ignored by this absurd piece of clickbait penned by the self-styled Cork Dork (a title ensuring that I’ll never read the book). It’s about wine and wine people, not the life and times of the Quercus suber, yes? Oh, I get it; it rhymes, and it’s easy to remember. Anyway, many climates require a little help to produce viable grapes, even if not necessarily every season, and many wines need a little stability so they don’t continue to ferment (or immediately start deteriorating), such that every bottle in the same case tastes different. Neglect and chance are not viable winemaking techniques.

Besides being the ethos of many wonderful dedicated juice artists ‘natural’ is a buzzword used to sell stuff, just as is ‘organic’, and to a lesser extent, ‘biodynamic’. The best of natural wine is most definitely a wonderful and welcome movement, but it’s also a trend to be generous, and a fad if we’re being honest. Many natural wine purists don’t differentiate between good/tasty/balanced natural wine and brutally acidic, unstable, undrinkable crap that happens to fit the criteria. Natural does not mean good, and never will, just as literally will never mean figuratively, no matter how many language shredding Philistines use the terms interchangeably.

Marketeers continue to confuse people for their own obvious ends. More often than I’d like, I’m faced with a customer demanding sulfite-free wine. When I gently (sometimes not so gently) explain that the process by which yeast turns sugar to alcohol also creates sulfites (naturally!), they often look at me as if I’ve just told them, “Your god is dead.” One customer simply told me, “That’s not true”. Since nothing good happens at the intersection of ignorance and certainty, I suggested that she shop somewhere that doesn’t mind lying to her, to preserve her fragile false reality, in order to make a sale.

Is organic farming and biodiveristy in soil a good thing for wine and for the earth? Yes, absolutely. But farming and winemaking are very different endeavors, and both are required to get fermented juice into a bottle. And there are many wines that are organic and/or natural that just plain suck. A shocking percentage of walk-in cold calls to my Brooklyn retail shop are by reps spouting off about how natural and organic their wines are. Which immediately begs the question: Are they any good?

To open a natural wine exclusive shop, bar, or restaurant, and leave wine off the list because of a pinch of SO2 seems to miss the point. There’s a huge difference between adding a little tartaric acid, deliberately manipulating the amount of water during vinification, or using a small amount of egg white to clarify (sorry [not sorry] vegans!), and straight up dumping flavor changing additives into an otherwise finished wine. There are many many wines that aren’t 100% natural, but are doing things mostly right, aren’t raping the Earth with chemicals, and are producing accessible, pleasurable wines.

There will always be purists, and I will always feel sorry for them and their dainty palates. If you ONLY drink Burgundy, or Italian wine, or natural wine, you’re just missing out on piles of pleasure by drawing hard lines where they might not need to be. It’s just as vexing as those who only drink un-oaked Chardonnay and insist that any wood is poison to that venerable varietal, when convincingly enjoyable wines exists on either side of that arbitrary fence. And the very best examples often display some creaminess, but without buttering over the fruit, and maintaining vibrant acidity. I would call it balance, but that term too has had a big steamy pile of dogma dumped on it by those seeking to define (and control) a categorized commodity.

Most wine consumers I encounter- the vast majority of customers at our fair shop- just want to drink something that tastes good and doesn’t have chemical crap dumped into it. Luckily for them, we feel that way too, and have lots of love for everything ignored by Bosker’s ill-conceived two treatises of wine. Beyond that noise, don’t ever believe anyone who tells you there’s only one way to make or enjoy great wine. And if you really want to drink a bunch of syrupy chemical crap, just go have a Coke and a smile, but don’t bother writing an article about how good you think it is.