Tasting notes, varietals, grapes - anything related to wine
Adam - You said, "I know very few red wine winemakers, natural or otherwise, that use little or no oak". I took that to mean those in your hood. It was a poorly constructed tongue in cheek. Neutral oak is what I was referencing when using no oak, though there are some producers that use alternative aging vessels. Cement and stainless steel are common. Then there are the amphora users like Frank Cornelissen, Gogi Dakishvili, Gravner & Radikon (whites). The use of neutral oak is perfectly fine to my tastes. I'm interested in expression of the variety & place. Clearly new oak manipulates this endeavor. I want to stress that natural wine is nothing more than another application. There's room at the table for all. I enjoy Burgundy, Cote Rotie, CdP, even Valtelina, to name a few. The majority of these wines see some new oak. I prefer conservative wine making, applying old school methods, with limited new oak use.
If your serious about trying natural wines, I suggest you head down to SF and taste at Terrior. The guys will certainly point in the direction.
With the caveat that I work with these, here are a few quickies:
St. Martin de la Garrigue- Coteaux du Languedoc, Cuvee Tradition
Joguet- Chinon, les Petites Roches, Cuvee Terroir and Cuvee de la Cure
Salvard- Cheverny Rouge
Domaine de la Chanteleuserie- Bourgueil, Alouettes
Librandi- Ciro Rosso Classico
Mastroberardino- Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio Rosso
Prunotto- Barbera D'Asti, Fiulot
Valle Reale- Vigne Nuove Montepulciano d'Abruzzo
Almira- Los Dos Garnacha/Syrah
Bodegas Piqueras- Castillo Almansa, Garnacha Tintorera
Rioja Vega- Rioja Joven
The article, for me, didn't say much except that Asimov likes Natural Wines. The problem is that all wines are natural, just some are more natural than others. The aim of natural winemaking should be to try to express your terroir as best you can, not to be "more natural" than your competitors.
Natural winemaking isn't doing nothing. Total non-intervention makes vinegar. Every winemaker marks their stamp on the wine. Choosing when to harvest, temperature of ferment, yeasts, bacteria, maceration, ageing regime, fining, blending ,....
Use of oak is a stylistic choice. I hadn't really thought about it in the way discussed here, as nearly every winemaker I know in the Languedoc-Roussillon makes some reds with and some without oak. I think there is great skill, as well as great terroir, in making a fabulous wine without using oak. Oak, along with other winemakers tools, is a bit like makeup. You can slap in on with a trowel and make a pretty girl look like a tart. You can disguise an ugly face and make a plain one attractive. Well-used, it can make a beautiful woman even more stunning but there is also something incredibly attractive about a natural beauty with no make-up at all.
Not sure that I follow (both the "all are natural" part and the competitive part) I'm not sure if anyone is trying to be more natural than the competition, most are just trying to tell their story of how their wines are made.
Do we really have to argue about everything. I think all that Asimov said is that there are a lot of good wines made using more organic winemaking processes. I do not believe that he ever said that there were not good wines from producers who did not use these methods. And, he clearly said that there are poor wines by some producers using more organic winemaking processes.
It certainly is my sense that wineries that are more dedicated and more careful about details (both in the vineyard and in the winery) make better wines. One way in which some producers have expressed this is by going back to their roots and making wines in a more organic way. Many of those wines are delicious. That is not to say that there also are not good wines make in other ways. What exactly is the argument about?
Ray Walker is a friend, but I am not an investor (probably makes me stupid)
The argument doesn’t necessarily come out of this particular Asimov column, but writers who are fans of “natural” wine have a tendency to tout such wines, then imply that everything else tastes like IHOP blueberry syrup, before blaming a perceived problem (slow Syrah sales) on all these damned interventionist wines (the unnamed makers of which aren’t the ones complaining).
The argument stems from the discussion not starting with just “Man I love my natch wines!”, but also “All your (unnamed) spoofed wines suck and are made immorally. And, your mother.” It often sounds like Democrat v. Republican; Yankees v. Red Sox; Lakers v. Celtics; Badgers v. Gophers (personal favorite, ski-u-mah).
Taking the topic to BB discussions, the “world of wine outside Sonoma Co.” comment is not surprising. Someone asks for an explanation of what is "natural," and here we go. And the explanation that Adam Lee would have been discussing oak use only with winemakers from his hood (what is that “hood,” incidentally? Santa Rita Hills to Willamette?) is silly, given his participation on this and other BBs. It was a snarky remark; own it.
I don’t think following suit and getting defensive is helpful, as I noted in the discussion of the anti-biodynamics blog. But I don’t think that’s going on here -- if someone is looking for a snarky back and forth, Adam Lee might not be the best option.
Drink no longer water,
On the other hand, the explanation that, to natural wine people “no oak” is actually a term of art meaning no new oak, which was news to me, is fantastic. I’m not being sarcastic. When I took a step back and thought about it, wine discussions as to how much oak is used typically mean how much new oak is used.
Nonetheless, taking the phrase alone, “no oak” is a lot different than “no new oak.” I had actually assumed they were making these fabulous red wines using steel or concrete, and this was really baffling me. I was also thinking wouldn’t it just taste like Nouveau? Even if you’re using Syrah or Bdx varieties, how can that age for longer than six to twelve months? Now I know, and it makes so much more sense.
When the discussion doesn’t go into the “you know, differently than all those over-ripe messes that everyone else makes,” I’m intrigued by the wines, which aren't very common in the upper midwest.
Drink no longer water,
Not sure if I agree here. Most of the writers I know that are fans of the 'natch, also objectively cover and review the non natch too.
The IHOP type descriptors aren't exclusive too natural wine lovers- but seem to come up in discussions w/ burgheads and old world wine fans as well.
That's true (natural fans cover other stuff), and when they're writing about a specific wine, or some other topic in winedom, I tend to like their writing.
After the Alice Feiring vs. Jay Miller discussion, I went and read some of her NYT columns, including and specifically the plumbing issues ones. Obviously meant for other readers, but really pretty good writing.
Anyway, its when they start pumping up natural wines I start to smell a strong whiff of sanctimony. You can see the same from Burgheads and aged claret groupies, too, but it's (in my perception) usually a little more self-aware.
As for their reviews of non-natural wines, I have a hard time relying on impressions on other styles. I don't question their professionalism or objectivity, but obviously their tastes are different than mine.
Frankly, my description tended towards caricature. Asimov's graph outlines the critiques with more precision and better wording.
I'm pretty open minded, but the first two sentences are on point to what rubs me the wrong way.* I don't agree with the last statement re: quality.
*Before we go there, "natural" isn't a term that is currently used in traditional marketing, but I think arguing that winery websites, social networks, blogs, reviews, newspaper columns, etc. do not fall under the broad "marketing" heading is a little silly in 2010.
Drink no longer water,
It's interesting that while he referenced the Berserkers thread, he ignored all the narrow, conflicting definitions of the proponents - and yes, what appears to be a common indifference to vineyard practices - then gives his own very broad definition. His definition is that of minimal intervention. The problem is that violates every definition I've seen from various proponents of "natural winemaking". He should have avoided the controversial, corrupted term, and just written about minimal intervention.
That really sums up the movement well. Not technically accurate.
You really think most people who read or hear "no oak" understand that it really means "no new oak"? What if the wine really has no oak? How do you differentiate?
Honestly, all I see with this movement is snobbery, ignorance, misinformation, exaggeration and a mean spirited pointing of fingers.
Thank god. Technically accurate sounds like machinery, not wine.
Acacia, steel, concrete, platypus cadaver....
From which side?
Amongst the people I usually communicate with professionally and in a hobbyist capacity, yes. If there's ambiguity, or an interest in more specifics, one usually asks a follow-up question. The overriding "concern" tends to focus on establishing that there is no new, read "charred", oak present.
Yes, we have wine red wine in the cellar aged in stainless vessels. It's called topping wine, and guess what? It tastes like shit most of the time!
I kid, but I am curious about this too! Aren't Chinons commonly unoaked?
Btw, Adam, one recco for you. Mike Dashe is doing some pretty cool things with Zinfandel in an "old World" fashion. His L'Enfant Terrible bottling uses organically and biodynamically grown grapes, native yeasts for fermentation, low SO2 levels and old, neutral French oak barrels. The results have produced a Zin that's fresh, pure, exciting, food friendly and eminently slurpable. Here's a link to his write-up on his most recent release: 2009 Dashe Vineyards- Les Enfants Terribles Zinfandel, Heart Arrow Vineyard
Just noticed that he also did something similar with Grenache for the first time. I hope I get the opportunity to try it.
In any case, I think this is exciting stuff and would love to see more producers in California explore this approach.
I'm surprised that this approach seems particularly new to you. Just at our winery, most of our Oregon grape are grown organically, our Van der Kamp grapes are grown organically and biodynamically (in one section), two of our Syrah vineyards are organically grown, etc. We use native yeasts on at least 1/3 of our wines - and more if the opportunities present themselves - the SO2 levels on our wine are usually only 20-30ppm free -- and, depending on the wine - certainly our Syrahs are low new oak. -- If that is all it takes to be called "natural" then I guess we've been natural for a long time now. --- And you've got a lot of drinking to do in CA because I know a lot more folks that make wine this way than just us.
Siduri Wines & Novy Family Winery
[quote="H Wallace Jr"]
Thank god. Technically accurate sounds like machinery, not wine.
OMG, a machine!!!! Time for you to throw away the computer, the video camera, and get out of social networking, Hardy!
1) I'm not saying use the term "technically accurate" all the time, like some nerd. Just don't spread misinformation and ignorance. Don't tell me you haven't heard plenty of that already, from novices and supposed experts alike. Why add to it?
2) You didn't answer the question.
3) Side? "Side"? Really? That really comes across as the negativistic, snobby stance I'm talking about. As far as stylistic preference, I'm at your end of the spectrum. Philosophically, I'm with Azimov's definition.
Do you agree with Azimov? It certainly violates many points of Feiring's definition, doesn't it? (Yeah, yeah. I've already heard that you have to know her to understand she doesn't literally mean everything she says. How helpful when she writes those things in one-off newspaper articles, where most readers have no idea who she is.)
I'm not a fan of heavy handed or gimmicky oak use. But oak isn't a simple yes or no. I could serve you 100% new oak wines in a blind line-up that wouldn't stand out. I've also had wines from neutral oak that had that musty old wood character, like when you use a tea bag one too many times. Bleh. Anyway, source, selection, drying method, cooperage techniques all matter. So does choosing what's best for what grapes. There's plenty of ways to mess up a wine, or make it less that its potential. If "natural", in relation to oak, means delicately framing the fruit to show it in the best possible way and not detracting from it, I'm all for it. But, that not only means no heavy char and no excessive vanillin, but also no musty old wood.
If "natural" means showing the grapes at their best most complex potential, it not only means not killing off the wild yeast, but it means preventing/controlling/inhibiting bad yeast and bacteria. It means a good level of understanding, not a dogmatic approach.
A lot of the contradicting absolutist definitions I see from producers are just based on their own circumstance. So, one who has the luxury (ie. water table) insists if it isn't dry farmed, it isn't natural wine. But someone with a better site, who has to occasionally use a drip system to keep his vines alive, and whose vines actually get less water than the guy with the water table, is told he can't call his wines "natural". Silly.
Not caring about the viticultural practices, and knowing they are far from organic, then calling your wines natural is just absurd. First off, that spraying is going to affect the populations of microorganisms on the grapes. Second, any residual fungicide on the grapes will act as inhibitors during fermentation. That goes anywhere from an "unnatural" bias that favors some microorganisms over others, to causing a stuck fermentation. Oh, how are you going to restart that stuck ferm? Have an active culture handy? Or do you have to resort to a commercial yeast. I suppose because in theory the fermentation started naturally, it could be justified restarting it at a point where the sacch were dominating, it could still be called natural. Mum's the word.
As one who could be accused of making "natural" wines, I will say simply that most of what I do is subjective. I choose a set of parameters and techniques in which to work, and then do my best. Its like a puzzle. In my case it's ambient yeasts, no new oak (working toward almost no oak at all), spontaneous MLs, no sulfur until bottling, no fining or filtration. But those are my set of choices. They produce a result which I enjoy. Others may do it differently.
Ask a group of "natural" winemakers about technique, and most of them agree about the basics. Hence the grouping into a "natural" wine "movement". One could also group some wineries by micro-ox use, or de-alcing, too. There are wineries who routinely uses these techniques to achieve their goals. I personally find these techniques too interventionist for my winemaking aesthetic, but cannot deny others their use if felt necessary. Only a few, like Clarke Smith, will openly admit to it. Why is that? And why do some feel threatened by my NOT using these techniques?
If someone calls my wines "natural", then I feel honored. I must have done something right.
Who feels threatened by you doing or not doing anything? I don't recall anybody writing a book entitled, "How I Saved the World from Natural Wines."
Seriously, why do you feel threatened by people asking questions and being skeptical?
I'm still quite surprised that no-one in California has made a red wine without using oak barrels.
Here in France it's pretty common. I'm not talking vin primeur or quaffing plonk. I'm talking about seriously good wines who's tannins come only from the grape skins.
As mentioned above, many Loire reds never see any oak. But the same applies in the Rhone and the South.
Nope. But I do find it interesting that simply writing about a set of wines that you like, and giving them a rough, somewhat inaccurate title "natural wine", provokes long board discussions, a wave of "anti-natural" articles, defensive feelings, claims of biodynamics being a hoax (which it may well be, but who cares?), etc etc.
I, nor anyone doing anything close to what one might call "natural" winemaking, has ever said that this was the BEST way, or the ONLY way. But it is A way.
You should write that book. Might be funny.
I'm sorry but I think this is a bit of an exaggeration. Unless I've missed it, I haven't seen anything close to a wave of anti-natural articles. Can you help point me to this wave, other than McIntyre's piece where he recommends natural wines that he likes?
I also don't think you've looked closely enough if you say that anyone doing anything close to natural winemaking has ever said it was the best way. Go to few websites and look for phrases like "winemaking tricks" or other disparaging terms. Wine writers do it as well - which was part of the criticism of Asimov's Syrah article.
Finally, and I should have answered your question earlier, as to why winemakers are reluctant to disclose what they do to make the wines (you mention de-alcing and micro-ox specifically, but I think it goes further than that). The reason why is because they are afraid they will be judged on what they do, not the taste of the wine that they make. Two examples --- Asimov writes frequently about wines being too high in alcohol and how that is a problem ---- but in his recent blind tasting of Savenierres, hsi highest rated wine was labeled at 15% alcohol (the Joly). He has criticized CA Pinot Noirs for being too big, etc -- but in a blind tasting some years ago his highest rated central coast Pinot was our 2003 Clos Pepe (a very warm year there and a pretty big wine) and his second highest rated was the APVin from 2004 (also quite big). --- What he seems to prefer in blind tastings is often what he criticizes in his articles. ---- That is why people are reluctant to discuss what they do.
Steve Edmunds has started to do this - he got a concrete tank last year and has made a red wine exclusively in this tank. I'm hoping to give it a try soon. More info on Steve and his concrete tank here: http://www.edmundsstjohn.com/newsletter/beauty-in-the-beast-the-baby-and-the-bathwater-07-27-2009.html
ITB, Harrington Wines & Eno Wines, and Grape-Nutz.com
I find it very strange that a discussion of "natural" wines focuses so much on oak. I think of natural wines are focusing primarily on grape growing practices. I can see where it could cover things like using native yeasts, centrafuges, etc., but is the use or nonuse of new oak really a dividing line between a wine being considered natural or not?
Ray Walker is a friend, but I am not an investor (probably makes me stupid)
Asimov also defines "natural" as "making wine without benefit of chemicals or other technological shortcuts." As a purist and one who highly values authenticity for its own sake, this greatly appeals to me. Many winemakers, due to both demands caused by the exaggerated style in vogue (though waning) as well the limitations of their terroir, *have* to manipulate in order to make an acceptable product. If they don't a) they won't get the scores from critics that help sell the wine; and/or b) the raw materials won't support a drinkable wine.
I personally applaud, and support with my checkbook, those who are growing the right grape for their terroir (read Pinot in Oregon and not California) and then, as much as possible, getting the hell out of the way.
I don't think oak or any other factor is a single dividing issue. The concern is what practices will mask the expression of the vineyard. Oak is a major influence. As unlikely as it may be, if somebody wants to use new oak and call their wine natural by all means.
If I do that, I might have a life.... I'm not sure I'd know what to do with it.
I did. You asked how people would differentiate if a wine has no oak. I responded. After thinking more about it, I think that all wines containing 40% or more new oak are labeled as such- A simple image on the bottle, like the one below, would suffice.
That's me-- Negative, snobby, and stanced... When there is finger pointing, it is usually not into outer space (unless it has something to do with the upcoming 2012 Apocalypse)
Would the glasses be filled with gravy ? I've had some 100% new oak wines where the oak was not a prominent flavor- the wines were also 15-20+ years old.
Well, new oak is expensive, so those who use it tend to brag about it.
The question was about using "no oak" to mean no [i]new[/] oak and what to say when a wine really has no oak. You excused the inaccuracy. So, instead of just saying "neutral oak" or "no new oak" when that is the case, winemakers who actually use no oak have to be extra clear and specific or people will think that when they say they didn't use oak, it means they used oak. Okay, got it.
I refuse to believe you think all of California is bad for Pinot Noir. We have several sites in this state cooler climate and with better soils than the Willamette. Come check it out sometime.
ITB - Le P'tit Paysan, La Marea,
I kindah sortah agree, Gregg. Oak is only one way to spoof a wine, but it's usually the most obvious and egregious way.
I certainly applaud your direction and as I mentioned earlier, I appreciate your efforts. I've tried some of your wines before. However, and I'm not making any judgements on your methods here, but going partial ways on things as in mostly organic/biodynamique, 1/3 native yeasts, low new oak, doesn't make one fully "natural." That's why I highlighted Mike's wines as something different because it's no new oak, the grapes are all organic/bio, all native yeasts with low sulfur. That's rare for CA and Pac NW and unlike something from say Coturri, Mike's Zin is terrific.
I think the terms Organic, Biodynamic, Sustainable and Conventional combined with irrigation and hand/machine-harvesting are the terms that cover vineyard practice. "Natural" is more about what happens to those grapes in the winery.
So you can have organic grapes from irrigated vineyards, machine harvested, fermented at low temperature after adding tartaric acid using an innoculated yeast, DAP, several fining agents, filtered multiple times, perhaps decolourised with carbon and a dose of gum arabic at bottling. That would still be organic. It's not very natural though.
I agree that oak should not really be part of the "natural" discussion, unless we're talking chips and shavings of course!
What, beyond personal bias and history, is the fundamental difference between use of oak barrels and oak chips and shavings?
ITB - Le P'tit Paysan, La Marea,