Musings On A Dubious Wine

By Terry Theise Last night I had a wine that made me sad, and not in a good way. I won’t say what it was or who made it, because there’s no need to insult the bottle or the guy; it was merely a somber example of a modern “movement,” not so much formal as de-facto, usually called Natural Wine or some such thing, a movement that could use a dose of self-reflection if last night’s wine is typical. It seems axiomatic of human endeavor that we need to go too far in order to learn when we should have stopped. The prevalence of icky steroidal bruiser-wines over the last 20-30 years is apropos in this context. (And yes, “icky” is the pluperfect subjunctive of oaky, and if it isn’t then it ought to be.) Obviously not all of the popular-kid wines of the 90s and 00s were grotesque, but some of them were, and were singled out for effusive and fulsome praise in certain quarters, until the market answered with a collective meh. Then the equal-and-opposite reaction took place, as could have been predicted, and while that current was both healthy and necessary, it also gave rise to some wines that were as grotesque as the old styles we eschewed. As could have been predicted! This miserable being in my glass was barely three years old yet the color was already a dull bronze. It smelled like camphor, wet dog and naphthalene (moth balls), yet each time I thought “This wine is unsound” I heard some young wine lover admonish me to stop being such a techno-dweeb, and that these were “terroir” aromas (they are not) and “soulful” aromas (only if your soul is a badly damaged place) and “natural” aromas (yes, just like the mildew smell of a shower curtain that needs to becleaned), and when  thought and language are thus corrupted it makes me feel a kind of grief. I like natural wines and the people who make them, and the “movement” deserves better than the wine I was drinking. It needs a few wise elders to police around the perimeter and remind people that flawed wine isn’t some noble-savage form of atavism – it’s just flawed wine, no more virtuous than body odor. I hoped it would taste better than it smelled. I decanted it (as they say you should with such wines) and I really tried to like it, because a person should be open minded. I was nearly ready to go on and drink the bottle, taking one for the team, when I noticed my mouth starting to hurt from the wine’s gritty tannin. Nor was I happy with the bitter alcoholic (14.5%) finish, that reminded me of why kids scream when you make them swallow medicine. It then struck me that I’ve had a lot of wines like this, and that a certain sub-genre (I hope it’s a “sub” genre) of the natural-wine community are prone to be quite a bit alike. And even sadder, that they taste as “generic” as the wines they correctly rebelled against. The way such wines are made is hardly less formulaic than the way the dreadful bruiser-wines were made; it’s just that we approve of this formula; we wrap it in raiments of feel-goody values. The values are just fine, as long as the wines are drinkable. If I were any sort of mouthpiece for this movement - about as likely as finding two identical snowflakes, but work with me – I’d guard those values by protecting them from yucky wines. Excellent and beautiful wines grow out of the natural sensibility, honoring the sensibility and embodying the values, and they’re convincing because when wine is so beautiful, we infer that its underlying values must also be beautiful. Imagine I was trying to make a case for wine from “fully ripe fruit,” and let’s say the wine I chose with which to make my point was one of those cartoon-like critters with 16% alcohol and the taste of prunes having nightmares. I’d be using the worst possible wine to make my point. Thus I cringe to drink a wine as nasty and rustic – and by the way, chemical-tasting – as last night’s wine. The movement, community, call it what you wish, deserves better.

Leave a Reply