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Posts Tagged ‘natural wines’

Environments of Wine

November 27, 2017 4 comments

We all love to wax-poetic about the wine – about the magic in the glass, about the liquid which can transport us through time, bring back memories, change our mood, brighten up any happy moments in our life and put smiles on our collective oenophile faces in the myriad of mysterious ways.

With all that magic, it is easy to forget that first and foremost, the wine is an agricultural product. The grapes are grown in exactly same way as tomatoes, cucumbers, cabbage, wheat, apples, and potatoes. Same as with any agricultural product, the success of growing the grapes depends on many conditions which we collectively call “the environment” – condition of the soil, conditions of the plants, climate/weather conditions, availability and quality of the water, avoidance of diseases and pests, ability to protect plants and fruits from animals and birds and many other factors.

 

Fall in the Vineyards

Once the grapes are successfully grown and harvested, this is where similarities with most (not all) of the rest of the agricultural products end, and grapes start their transformation to become that magic in your glass. But let’s leave that aside for now, and let’s get back to the grape growing environment.

Every year, the same process starts anew – with the first warm weather, the dormant plants come alive. The branches which looked completely dead just a day ago, are breaking with the tiny green leaves, and then at some point, a tiny clusters of future goodness show up, taking all the nutrients from the soil and the air, getting bigger and changing color from young green to golden and purple, until the time comes to collect them all and start creating the magic.

Every year, to get from the naked branches to the beautiful, sun-filled clusters, the vines have to be taken care of. They need enough water, they need enough sun, they need enough nutrients in the soil, they need to be protected from frost, excessive sun, mildew, and rabbits. The grape grower has to decide how to provide all of this. You can water the plants when you think you need to. You can bring in synthetic fertilizers. You can spray your vines with pesticides which will kill bugs and mildew. For many years, this is how the grapes were often produced, especially when they were produced in the large commercial quantities.

Little by little, grower by grower, winemaker by winemaker, the realization started that this might not be the right way to go. The chemicals and pesticides often bred resistance. Overfertilized and overwatered grapes simply lack the flavor and can never become the magnificent wines. With this realization, wine industry started changing its ways – the wines became “organic”, “biodynamic”, “sustainable” and even “natural”. All of these terms relate to the environment where the grapes are grown, but they are not interchangeable – organic is not always sustainable, and sustainable doesn’t equate organic. Let’s take a deeper look.

Sustainable might be my favorite term. There are many wine regions which define their own so-called “sustainable practices” – Australia, New Zealand, California, Oregon, Canada – all have their own sustainable practices defined, and for all I know, all those practices might be slightly different, but I’m sure they are all pursue the long-term relationship with the Mother Nature. Sustainability means that whatever we do to grow grapes successfully today, should ensure that the future generations will be able to continue to do the same with equal success. While we tend to the vines, we shouldn’t harm that environment, that habitat – use natural deterrents for the pests, use only natural fertilizers, ideally, generate our own power (think solar, for instance), be very cognizant about discarding the waste, or maybe have no waste at all, allowing land to rest and recuperate – the list can go on and on and on. At the same time, sustainable doesn’t mean organic – for instance, if you believe that one time use of the pesticide is warranted as the best way to deal with the problem (before it spreads or worsens), the sustainable rules will generally allow for it – but not the organic. All in all, the goal of sustainability is to leave the environment a little bit better than it was before – and I definitely like this approach.

We all know what “organic” means – only all natural elements are allowed in the whole entire process of getting from the first leaf to the harvested grapes – all organic fertilizers, all organic pesticides and so on. Do organic means better grapes? Yes, but only in the sense of absence of any harmful, bad elements. Organic doesn’t necessarily mean you would maximize grapes’ potential by utilizing dry farming. Organic doesn’t mean you will discard the waste in the ways least harmful to the environment. Organic doesn’t mean your power was generated in the sustainable ways. Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for organic, but… I guess you understand where my preferences are.

Biodynamic? First, taking about biodynamic winemaking can be an endless endeavor – if we are talking about the magic of the glass of wine, biodynamic principles might be the most in tune with the subject of magic. Are the biodynamic methods sustainable? I believe they are to the largest degree as the end goal here is to create harmonious habitat, the best possible environment for the grapes and all other living beings to grow happily and successfully. Is biodynamic the same as sustainable? Probably not, as sustainable methods still cover more elements, such as power which we mentioned. But all the kudos to the biodynamic practitioners and their perseverance with magic.

Colors of Fall - grape leaves

And now, let’s touch on the most controversial “environmental affiliation” of them all – natural wines. It is interesting to see the first reaction of many people when they hear the term for the first time – “natural wines”???? “All wines are made from the grapes, aren’t they all natural”? The idea behind natural wines is low intervention. During the grape growing part of winemaking, the process is somewhat similar to the sustained/biodynamic principals with the exception that some of the rules are made absolute, like no irrigation under any circumstances – but unlike all other methods, where there are external bodies which certify and enforce the rules, the natural wines are the truth in the eye of the beholder – the winemaker, in this case – whatever the winemaker believe “natural” means, that is what she will be practicing.

The wine was first made about 8,000 years ago. Nobody would ever tell if it was sustainable, organic, biodynamic or natural – we can only guess that it was made from grapes. But if we want the wines to be made for the next 8,000 years, we need to take care of the environment. Sustainable, organic, biodynamic – let’s leave this place a little bit better than we found it, for all of those who will come after us.

This post is an entry for the 36th Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (#MWWC36), with the theme of “Environment”. Previous themes in the order of appearance were: Transportation, Trouble, Possession, Oops, Feast, Mystery, Devotion, Luck, Fear, Value, Friend, Local, Serendipity, Tradition, Success, Finish, Epiphany, Crisis, Choice, Variety, Pairing, Second Chance, New, Pleasure, Travel, Solitude, Bubbles, Smile, Winestory, Obscure, Faith, Translation, Once Upon A Time, Memory, Eclipse

And if you really like this post, please vote for it here: #MWWC36

Wednesday’s Meritage – Wine Quiz Answer, WTSO Marathon, Dangers of Twits, Natural Wines Commotion

July 23, 2014 5 comments

Meritage Time!

Of course we are staring with the answer to the weekly wine quiz #109, where you were supposed to identify 8 wines by the image on top of the bottle cap or a capsule. Below are the pictures, now with the answers:

While nobody was able to identify all 8 wines, Zak (no web site) did an excellent job identifying 6 out of 8 wine tops, so he is definitely the winner of this round and gets the unlimited bragging rights! I also want to acknowledge wineandhistory, who correctly identified PEJU wine. I’m also glad to say that a number of people said that they will start paying more attention to the bottle tops, which makes it all more fun.

Now, to the interesting news around the web and the vine!

First, the WTSO is on it again – Summer Cheapskate Marathon is coming to the browser next to you on Tuesday, July 29th. Starting at 6 am  Eastern time, the new wines will be offered in the $7.99 to $18.99 range every 15 minutes or sooner if the offered wine will sell out. All wines are offered in the quantity of 4 bottles or more to get the free shipping. The marathon will finish at 11:59 pm Eastern time.

Next up is an interesting post by W. Blake Gray. I made a number of attempts to come up with a clever abstract for his blog post; instead, I just have to explain why I think it worth a few minutes of your time. In the article, W. Blake Gray explains how two of his short posts on twitter led to the angry rebuttal from the Cellar Tracker founder, Eric Levine, with the declaration of “wine snob” being literally slapped on W. Blake Gray’s face (yes, as a figure of speech – no bodily harm took place). Twitter is a dangerous medium – the condensed format requires lots of careful attention to what one is saying – and viral potential of any twit making huge waves should always be taken into account… Anyway, read it for yourself, including the comments, and if you will, let me know what you think.

What do you think of natural wine? Yes, I know that the term itself is somewhat controversial. But, considering that the wine is a form of art, I only see it as one of the styles, which is perfectly valid alongside of many others. However, it seems that a lot of wine professionals don’t see it like that. First was an article by Bruce Palling, called “Is there anything natural about raw wine“. Jamie Goode, a winner of the Best Overall Wine Blog Award at WBC14, responded to this article on his blog, in the post called “Comments on Bruce Palling’s anti-natural wine article“. Then Steve Heimoff jumped in with “I weigh in on Jamie Goode’s post on “natural wine””, and even Matt Kramer couldn’t stand aside and wrote the post called “When Did Wine Become So Partisan?“. If anything, I’m definitely siding with Matt Kramer and his question – I don’t understand why the opinions about wine, which is an extremely, extremely subjective in terms of “good and bad”, should be so fiercely antagonistic. If someone doesn’t like the taste of Australian Shiraz, does it mean that Australia should stop making Shiraz? And if the answer is “of course not”, then I don’t understand why natural wine should be any different. Anyway, I suggest you will spend a few minutes of your time reading those articles – and don’t forget to read the comments.

And we are done for today. The glass is empty – but the refill is on the way. Cheers!

Wednesday’s Meritage – Wine Quiz Answer, Chateau Latour, Natural Wines, Sauternes 2013 and more

October 30, 2013 7 comments

Inniskillin Cab Franc Ice WineMeritage time!

Let’s start with the answer for the wine quiz #79, grape trivia – Cabernet Franc. In the quiz, you were supposed to answer 5 questions about red grape called Cabernet Franc. Here are the questions, now with the answers:

Q1: One of the most famous wines in the world has Cabernet Franc as a major (2/3 or so) components of its blend. Do you know what wine is that?

A1: Unimitable Château Cheval Blanc uses at least 2/3 of Cabernet Franc grapes in their main wine

Q2: Cabernet Franc has a special relationship with the frost. Can you explain that?

A2: Icewine! The grapes should be frozen on the vine in order to produce the Icewine. While Icewine was typically produced from the white grapes, Inniskillin estate in Ontario was one of the pioneers who started producing Icewine from the red grapes, namely Cabernet Franc.

Q3: Which one doesn’t belong and why:

a. Bourgueil, b. Chinon, c. Saumur-Champigny, d. Saint-Chinian

A3: Saint-Chinian. It is an AOC in Languedoc area which doesn’t make wines out of Cabernet Franc. The other three AOCs are located in the Loire, and all make Cabernet Franc wines.

Q4: This unique grape grows only in one place in the world, and it is a cross between Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Do you know what grape it is?

A4: Caberlot. I admit this was a difficult question. However, I mentioned this grape before, when I discovered it during VinItaly tasting this year (here is the link).

Q5: In Italy, Cabernet Franc is often confused for another rare Bordeaux grape. Do you know the name of that rare grape?

A5: Carmenere.

Looking at the results, we don’t have a winner today – however, both Frankly Wine and Eat with Namie get honorable mentions for properly answering 4 questions out of 5. Well done!

Now, to the interesting stuff around the web and vine!

Boy, what an eclectic mix I have for you today! First, just a quick last minute reminder – #MWWC4 vote closes today. If you still didn’t read and vote, you might have your last chance to do it here.

Now, how much do you know about Chateau Latour? Same as the most, you probably heard of it as a producer of one of the most sought-after wines in the world, and you probably know that it is generally very expensive. Recently, Chateau Latour made a lot of press by pulling out of the En primeur (wine futures) system, where wines are acquired by consumers before they are actually released, hedging both on saving the money and availability of the wine. Here is the link to the Wine-Searcher article, where you can actually learn a lot of interesting facts about Chateau Latour. I also want to mention that Wine-searcher website is really becoming a great source of wine information, not just the price comparison tool.

Next subject – Natural wines. How much do you know about natural wines? What do you think of them as a category? Well, the article I want to bring to your attention is not exactly natural wine 101 tutorial, but it is rather a rant by the Europe’s Best Sommelier of 2013, Arvid Rosengren, who is based in Copenhagen. A lot of his comments are most relevant for the local food and wine scene, but nevertheless, it makes a very interesting read.

Are you a fan of Sauternes, a sweet wine gems from Bordeaux? If you are, I have a good news for you – 2013 is a great year, and you should be looking for these wines when they will be released. Contrary to 2012, when Chateau d’Yquem, the most coveted producer in Sauternes, decided not to produce their flagship Chateau d’Yquem wine, 2013 harvest shows a lot of botrytised grapes, which is a necessity to produce sweet wines in Sauternes. By the way, if you like red Bordeaux, 2013 doesn’t look all that great. Here is the link to the article where you can learn more.

The last piece I have for you has nothing to do with wine. It is written by Kimberly at whiskeytangofoxtrot4 blog, where she is talking about the power of the words. While her post, called Word, sounds rather personal, I think it is a very powerful writing and it definitely will worth few minutes of your time.

That’s all I have for you for today, folks. The glass is empty, but the refill is on its way. Cheers!

 

Terroir, Unaltered

August 5, 2011 2 comments

Terroir. Sense of place exhibited by the wine. You can find definition of Terroir in Wikipedia, but interestingly enough, you can’t find it in Webster dictionary.

“Terroir” was always part of the winemaking, in transparent fashion, if you will. Wine was initially (we are talking thousands years ago) produced locally, to be consumed with local food. There was a traditional way of making the wine in each place, and it was repeated over and over, harvesting the same grapes from the same parcel of land. Even today you can find plenty of wines made for local consumption only, challenge is – you have to be “there” to taste them.

Needless to say that wine in those old days was made in “natural” and “organic” way, as it was the only way possible (no pesticides, no chemicals, no reverse osmosis machines, no oak dust, …). Then situation changed. While wine trade exists for thousands years, I would guess that extreme commercialization of it, which happened in the second half of the 20th century, and appearance of wine critics such as Robert Parker, forced a lot of change in the way the wine was produced. As for vast majority of commercial products, producer usually wants to limit the cost and maximize profits – when this principle is applied to wine production, we end up with a lot of wines which have no “terroir” concept whatsoever, and simply made to have a “familiar”, or “category required” taste. And as it is a commercial product, all means are good to guarantee an output and a profit (without going into any details, that includes all the stuff which you don’t want in or around your wine).

Luckily, the situation is changing. More and more wineries and winemakers are going back to the nature, and let terroir shine again, in its unadulterated form. Call it “organic”, “natural”, “sustainable” or “biodynamic” (each term has it’s own meaning and even philosophy behind it, but I have to refer you to Wikipedia to read more about it or we will never finish this post), but the main idea is similar among them all – interfere as little as possible, and let nature take its course. This is happening throughout the world, and in many cases is not even advertised on the bottle. For instance, Domaine Romanee-Conti, makers of some of the most famous (and expensive) wines in the world, are using organic farming and since 1985, and I’m sure there are lots of others which are simply doing it without much fanfare.

Sustainable, organic and natural are all very important, but there is more which goes into the winemaking process to let terroir to be the king. A lot of it goes back to that “do not interfere” concept. For instance, you can use 600 liter new oak barrels to age your wines, or you can use and reuse 15000 liter barrels. Which wine do you think will better showcase the terroir? Of course the bigger barrel will impart much much less oak flavor, and will let the grapes and soil to tell its story in a clear voice.

Okay, enough of this abstract talking, let’s talk about actual wines. I have to tell you that it was a seminar on Natural and Biodynamic wines, hosted by nobody else but PJ Wine, which prompted this post. This event was definitely both an education and experience, as all 10 wines presented in the seminar were not your average wines. To give you an idea, if you think about organic food, in many cases you only know that you are eating something which is healthier, better for you, but you can’t really taste it (if you are sure you can, I would love to play a blind tasting game with you). Talking about wines in that tasting, eight out of ten wines tasted totally different and unique – you can not necessarily tell that they are organic or natural, but you can tell that they can be distinguished from anything else you had before. These wines were made with “don’t interfere” concept in mind, letting the terroir to shine through. Another interesting fact about all the wines presented is none of them has alcohol level in excess of 13%, most of them are 11% or 12% – there were no jammy fruit bombs presented in the tasting (luckily!).

For what it worth, here are my notes, in the order the wines were presented.

Font I Jordana “Reserva” Penedes Cava NV – Interesting nose, with some yeastiness, full bodied. Very little amount of bubbles, almost none. Good acidity. Very refreshing due to the mouthwatering acidity. Good summer wine, but it is hard to call it a “sparkling wine”.

Jean Paul Dubost Gamayleon Rose Sparkling NV – Very unusual nose, almost off with  some spoiled food smell, like spoiled strawberries. On the palate – honeysuckle, in its purest form, very small amount of bubbles, if any, good mouthwatering acidity.

Frank Cornelissen Susucaru 3 Vino Da Tavola Rosato NV -Very interesting wine. Nose similar to Beaujolais Noveau, reminiscent of freshly pressed grapes. You can literally smell volcanic soil. Nose is perfumed with fresh soap aromas. Very unusual flavor profile – no strawberries (which is a typical component in many rose wine descriptions). Soap also comes as part of the aftertaste. Very herbal, with may be thyme being most prominent.

2009 Jean-Paul Dubost Beaujolais Villages “Tracot” –Very sweet nose. Big contrast between the nose and the palate, as plate is much drier, but overall there are pronounced raspberries, first on the nose, and then after dry start, the same on the palate. The wine just disappears in your mouth, doesn’t have any bottom – it is more juice than it is a wine.

2006 Jean Bourdy Cotes Du Jura Rouge – very interesting wine. Kitchen spice cabinet, like some nice rub, on the nose. Very good tannins, very nice and restrained overall on the palate, with some dry dill notes. Doesn’t show any age at all (and it is 5 years old). It appears that wines of Jean Bourdy are known to age very well (note to self). One of my favorites in the tasting.

2007 Italo Pietrantoj Montepulciano d’Abruzzo – The most unimpressive in the tasting so far. This is the case when I know it is good for me, as I’m told it is made differently, but can’t taste it at all. This wine actually was aged in 15,000 liter barrels for 2 years – but it is impossible to pick it up. It might be a food wine.

2009 Reunion Malbec Mendoza – Very grapey. Has some foundation, and some balanced fruit. Easy to drink, but not impressive at all.

2007 Le Pavillon de Saint Jacques Lalande de Pomerol –Very interesting. Smells like dirt, pure dirt after the rain. Very vegetative, no fruit on the palate, just pure dirt again. Almost no acidity. This wine was fermented in concrete tanks, aged for 18 month. It is “certified organic” and made with 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc – classic Pomerol wine. I would love to taste it in 10-15 years – I think it will greatly evolve, but it is not easy to say ” I like it” now.

1996 Bodegas Las Orcas “Solar de Randez” Rioja –Classic Rioja on the nose. Beautiful, with limited fruit expression, but very balanced. I guess this is how Rioja was in the old times. This is Reserva level Rioja. One of the best in the tasting.

2009 Jean Pierre Robinot Concerto d’Oniss Pineau d’Aunis -Loire valley wine. Beautiful fruit, rose petals on the nose, funky. Beautiful palate, somewhat reminiscent of Beaujolais, but with more substance and good acidity. Best in the tasting.

I just realized that many of the descriptions above start with the words”very interesting” – these wines are truly interesting, they are all telling their own stories. These wines are letting the terroir to shine through. I might not be able to understand all their stories yet, but this is great, as we there is more to learn. You don’t have to try them all, but make an effort, find and try some of them  – you might discover a whole new wine world. Happy learning! Cheers!