In London last week it was all natural all the time.
The city and restaurants rolled out the reception, reinforcing their wine lists with natural stuff. The red carpet unfurled, yet under the carpet hid trouble. Lurking was a demon, wild, sometimes oxidative, sometimes delicious and some times undefinable wines that came not in three colors but four, and one of them was perceived as brown instead of orange.
Natural wine bashing has become something of a sport in the world and in the United States over the past few years, but on my home turf there isn't this volume of outrage. However, across the pond, some of the British press was obsessed with chopping off a serpents head, or at least dosing it with sulfur. Several posts popped up, some pro and some con some hedging.
One columnist admitted he liked some of the wines, but his readers weren't ready for them. On Monday afternoon, in response to that, his colleague, a smiling and happy Fiona Beckett said almost with almost triumphant rebellion, "Look around you. I think that the consumer is far more ready for these wines than our wine writers."
It was hard not to notice that 800 people jammed the consumer day, willing to spend 18 pounds a pop for the experience. The atmosphere was charged. This was a be-in. This had the hope and spunk of long ago. But yet, some were scowling.
In my presentation on Sunday, there were a few who came to challenge not to converse. That was okay. One local wine writer was dominating, trying to focus on flaws. The next day flaws were again the focus at Doug Wregg's presentation on how to sell the wines to restaurants. There, wine writer Margaret Rand, pirated the conversation. Flaws once again. She admitted that there some lovely wines out there but there were too many that were wrong: she pointed to oxidative flavors and aromas. Flawed beyond redemption. I would have rather the response was, "There are those nuts outside loving these wines, but they're flawed. I don't get it. Can you explain where you find the charm here?" But instead they were simply wrong and flawed and I supposed, needed to be deported. Kidding aside, the woman was so upset, it was as if her whole life and study was upended. And that was the problem. It probably was and it probably will me.
London has more MWs per inch or those chasing WSET exams than New York has barristas. The city is wine education's nervous system and the nexus of wine education denies the existence of wines made without or with low sulfur. And so they are wrong. Yet people love them. It was that simple. It might well mess with some heads and be terribly provocative.
Wine training dictates that there is a right and wrong way for a wine to taste. Where some of us believe a wine smothered in New Oak or even overly stirred lees is 'flawed' by the nature of its manipulation, and ruins the taste of the wine or normal amounts of sulfur, are flaws, the thusly trained MS or MW, is taught to reject the smell and taste of oxidation (nuts, orange peels) in even small amounts as part of the general wine picture. They reject perceived volatile acidity (nail polish, cider)as well as any trace of brett (sheepiness). Cloudy wines? Don't go there. A fourth color of wine? Impossible. However, to 'those of us,' these are elements and do not overwhelm the wine, well, terrific.
Later that after noon I met Jancis Robinson for a drink at the Wine Wharf. She apologized for the lackluster list, "There are so many beautiful wines over on the other side of the road," she said. What strikes me consistently about Jancis is that her curiosity about wine, and her love for wine, is palpable, after a lovely and long career.
Compounding the scene was that while a swell of natural appreciation has been happening a slow yet consistent stateside, the UK had a different experience. Jancis said, "We really didn't know about these wines until a year ago." This wasn't entirely true of course, but perhaps a year ago, these wines weren't 'natural' they were just wines. Now that they have a name, there was a horror, a fascination as a perceived Trojan Horse named vin naturel was pulled over the London Bridge and stood up in Borough Market both threatening the etablishment and charming the public, and some of the writers.
More posts on London coming up.
(warning, written on train to Boston, this post will be improved and amended in coming days)