And if you want to know what it means, which of course you do, I would expect you'll be seeing it a lot more. Here's what I wrote about it in The Feiring Line.
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From December's The Feiring Line.
The rest is for the subscribers to The Feiring Line, the only independent, reliable source for natural, organic wines. How and what to drink and what issues you need to know about. --Alice
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But why should you trust me about the book (or my newsletter?). Here's what Eric Asimov has to say about both.
I won’t mince words about “An Unlikely Vineyard: The Education of a Farmer and Her Quest for Terroir” (Chelsea Green, $35), Deirdre Heekin’s chronicle of establishing a farm and vineyard in Vermont. I love this book, which conveys beautifully why the best wine is, at heart, an agricultural expression. ---Eric Asimov
I rest my case.
With the weather having devastated so much of Burgundy this season, thoughts are with that region, bursting with life in so many other ways. I loved writing this piece for the World of Fine Wine--pondering what is this thing called Burgundy and is it alive or a museum piece?
Please click on the images to make them readable.
AND remember--for the definitive guide on natural wine, you do need to subscribe. As Eric Asimov said.
When in Verona on the eve of April Fool's Day I remembered a line I wrote in my playwriting days, "I wasn't brought up with me in mind."
Why? There we were in the Crowne Plaza in Verona, 50+. This was the welcome for all wine judges for the Five-Star and Wine Without Wine Awards. We waited for dinner, but first the intros from all. When it was my turn, all I could think of was that people were hungry and the introductions could take an hour. So I took it upon myself to be brief, "I'm Alice Feiring and I'm a wine writer based in NYC."
Stevie Kim--the energetic Queen Bee (Managing Director) of Vinitaly International--who invited me to organize this new wine award, must have been aghast. She ran up to me, grabbed my arm and said, "Oh no, you can't get away with that." And then she went on to introduce me properly. The basics: who I am and why I was there.
I'll fix it next year.
In the end, while my introduction bombed, the experience of heading up the world's first natural wine award proved to be a beaut. The Wine Without Walls, as I conceived it was not based on a numerical score but by unquantifiable, completely subjective parameters. But to be eligible the wine had to be organic and have no additives or adjustments--except minimal So2.
Here's how it went down.
After staying up bonding with my judges over some great bottles--such as--
--we, the next morning on April 1st, sat down at a corner table in a room full of wine judging and commenced. At my table were.....
It was a love fest. Pascaline Lepeltier from Rouge Tomate, Diego Sorba from Tabarro, Pietro Vergano from Convivium and Mike Bennie--consultant, writer and resident punting (drinking from the punt) expert. Each one brought another part of the puzzle to what it is we experience and talk about when we drink wine. I wanted a range of palates and view points, I wanted a range of technical training and straight from the heart reactions.
The first wines were oops, not that great. It's often that way. But there were some gems as we went along. Later in the afternoon we hit the school of wine fish. We reeled them in. One of them, 10.5 alcohol, silvaner from Franken, was sharp as a razor and refreshing. The 2007 trebbiano made our eyes rolled to the heaven. I kept my mouth shut, I had a good suspicion what the wine was. And it was sublime.
The Five-Star judges took three days, but with 76 wines, Wine Without Walls took eight hours.
We bonded over wines in a way I'd never experienced. I'd been on judging panels before but this was different. We were protective about the wines, we were upset by the interlopers that squeaked through. Yes, some of the wines that we rejected were yeasted, over-oaked, fine tuned. They went into the bin. But there was enough in front of us to do what we came for, to discover, not to judge. There were times we got stuck. But it was them I urged my team to go back to the guidelines. Emotional impact?
Evolution in the glass?
Sense of place?
I admit that when I created those criteria, I hadn't understood how they would work so well. They proved to be excellent guideposts to keep us on tract--even if a judge was wavering.
In the end we gave out 17 awards. And all of them were truly worthy. And what's more, I think as far as award winning wines, this was the finest collection of trophy snaggers I've ever seen. I was really touched that these winemakers entrusted us with their wines.
2014 Carfagna Ansonaco (Tuscany, Italy)
2014 Cascina Tavijn Ruché (Piemonte, Italy)
2007 Emidio Pepe Trebbiano (Abruzzo, Italy)
2001 Emidio Pepe Multipulciano (Abruzzo, Italy)
2014 Podere Giardino Lambrusco Rosato (Emilia Romagna, Italy)
2014 Ca' da Noci Frizzante Le Rosé (Emilia Romagna, Italy)
2013 Ca' da Noci Notte di Luna (Emilia Romagna, Italy)
NV Champagne Lelarge Peugeot (Champagne, France)
2014 DeMartino Muscat Tinaja (Chile)
2014 Pheasants Tears Mtsvane (Georgia)
2014 Pheasants Tears Rkatsiteli (Georgia)
2013 Ramaz Nikoladze Tsolikouri (Georgia)
2014 Iago's Wine Chinuri (skin contact) (Georgia)
2014 2Naturkinder Heimat Silvaner (from the hands of Michael Voelker, Franken, Germany)
2013 Radikon Slatnik (Friuli-
2012 Čotar Vitovska Grganja (Karst, Slovenia)
2013 Čotar Malvazija (Karst, Slovenia)
We left on a high, ready to head out to Bar Stella to plumb their wine list.
Outrageous, stupid. Oh those bureaucrats.
But let's talk about the French. We can be thankful that the French don't interfere on that level. But man, they sure are not perfect.
France's system is the big daddy of legislating what is allowed to be planted where.
They also have perfected the wine tasting committee to ensure wines that are qualified get the dignified appellation label to put on their bottle. Trouble is? They are constantly screwing up the notion of what is qualified.
Quite a few natural winemakers have been refused appellation because of grapes like menu pineau (hello the Loire's Thierry Puzelat) that are no longer allowed where they used to be, or for color and flavors that aren't cookie cutter. This has resulted in en masse defection from the AOC and the proliferation of the Vin de France, where there is more freedom but illegal to put the place--one of the most important pieces of information--on a label.
Some appellations are more lenient than others, such as the Jura and Alsace. But Burgundy and the Rhone? Hmm.
Just take the other week, two wonderful winemakers--who I drink as often as I can but who must remain nameless-- had problems. One is in the Rhône. He presented his gorgeous wine from a fancy northern AOC. His is one of the very few in the 'hood who don't bomb the wines with liquid tannins, new oak (on top of it all), velcorin, yeasts, etc. Alive, delicious. And? It was rejected two times.
Because of its color.
The wine was a comely, translucent ruby, instead of thick, viscous, cabernet-like ook. When he submitted the wine a second time, he just swapped his more expensive wine for his his basic Côte du Rhône of a more powerful vintage. The result? Parfait! And here you are with your nice label.
In Burgundy there was a similar situation from a winemaker who makes acclaimed wines. The Hautes Côtes de Nuits in question was rejected for perceived oxidation.
I tasted the wine in NYC a few weeks back and I can tell you, the wine was as solid and as free of oxidation as all of the previous sampled vintages.
These are not isolated incidents. This is not part of the mythology. These are all common. Not to be Trump about it, but it's true. I promise you this.
In the Burgundy case, the winemaker made it through the appeal process. Nevertheless, the winemaker is weighing the Vin de France options. The domaine is well known enough that the vigneron's name will sell the wine no matter what appellation.
But wouldn't it be a terrible loss if they lost these and other important winemakers? I mean isn't there something wrong with a system that encourages their Loire sauvignon blanc produces to taste more like New Zealand instead of the Loire?
Just think of it. What if you associated all of the Vin de France with natural and organic and the appellation wines with manipulated and market-driven? Is that really where the government wants to go?
So what is inevitable? Rebellion and change.
The rules about what a wine should taste like and look like need to be reconfigured for wine and place to be relevant. There needs to be a place for authentic organic viticulture and minimal winemaking.
If some guidelines are necessary, keep them for unruly, screaming flaws. For example, VA to the point of true vinegar and serious heat damage. Add to that wines that are terribly over-oaked. over-sulfured and wines that are simply not drinkable.
In addition, education is needed. Wines made without sulfur should be judged by those who know how to taste those wines and have the vocabulary to discuss them. Coming soon will be a Parisian tasting of wines that had been refused appellation. What you will find should you attend? A collection of stunning wines, unfairly dismissed. That I promise you.
Of course one of the first responsibilities of a wine is too be delicious. But taste is so subjective. And narrowing down how a certain grape and place should taste is assigning a mathematical formula to the unquantifiable. Yet there is an essential need for judges who truly know how to taste and not only look for what is typical. As evidenced by these two recent cases, I can surmise that many who sample the wine for the panels are not qualified to drink, let alone pass judgment on wine quality.
If the French wine governance doesn't fix what is rapidly becoming a wreck, they're heralded system will tumble. And they don't want that. Do they?
Am I being too much of a dreamer?
I found myself thinking of Canada and the wines that I discovered on my last trip there. So, thought it was apt to share with you some pages of The Feiring Line. Remember, I barely blog anymore, so if you want more of this, subscribe.
To all of my winemaking friends, and you know who you are, wherever you live, wherever you make wine, I would love you to consider sending your wines to the Free Wine award at Vin Italy 2016.
Organic. No adds (but there is the category for 20ppm tops addition). But, all love.
When I was asked to chair this award. I thought about it carefully.
It was a great honor. I was told I could choose the parameters for the judging as well as what kind of wine was eligible.
But then why did I have to think about it before agreeing?
Well, it's a big responsibility. What's more, awards are not usual in our specific natural wine culture. I wasn't sure how it would be received. But I said yes.
There were reasons.
For one, I love VinItaly and cut my journalist teeth there in the beginning of my wine writing.
The fact that they embraced this category is ground breaking. Frankly, it is a big deal and is bound to shake up the status quo.
But the biggest reason is that I saw this award as not merely an award. I saw it as a way to bring the conversation about what wine is--not only natural-- to a much larger audience. And that is worthy of the overused word, awesome.
I chose my judges carefully.
I wanted my team to be worthy of carrying on that discussion into the tasting room where we will look for qualities not quantities. I know they are worthy to comment on the wines and when granted, these awards will be meaningful.
So, let me drink to an award that will also open up a fabulous conversation and debate about the wines that we drink and love.
If you are a winemaker, grow your grapes at least organically and use no additions except maybe 20ppm So2, please check out the details...(forgive the legal mumbo jumbo) and send your wines!
The fine print for sending samples
on line registration at
PLEASE EMAIL Ioppi Alessandra --- Ioppi@veronafiere.it ---- for instructions
Like Vin Expo, the Grands Jours de Bourgogne comes around every other year. Unlike VE, this roving tasting---a celebration of the newly released vintages- which ambles through the winemaking towns of glorious Burgundy, tastes of the real. But I didn't know that. I have sworn off of most conventional cluster f* tastings for years. On top of that, I travel on my own to Burgundy several times a year. This might be why it took me so long to see how the BIVB handled their big event. Then they invited me. I went. That was March 2014.
If you decide to book your flight and reserve for the coming festivities this March, and if you're in the biz of Burg, you should, let me tell you what not to expect.
No bikini -clad models with trays of crémant.
No traffic jams.
No marketers showing wines.
There won't be a ton of those alternative wine tastings as there are at conventional tastings such as Vin Expo, Millésime Bio and the Loire Salon. In 2014, there was one "off," Les Affranchis. I hear that's on hold this year, in a move towards solidarity with the BIVB. (Let's see if that sticks.)
What you will get is the experience of tasting within view of the weeping (it is the season after all) vines. You'll find which wines are worthy for your store. You might pick up some new Burgundy producer.
For press, there's the new and the gossip, the snapshot of the vintage, in this case 2014 and the news on the 2015. And as I did, I stood in awe of the Asian buyer who was starting to tire of Bordeaux: Korean, Chinese, Japanese. Yes, they were out in force.
There are events for new talent, young talent, female talent and organic talent. There are the focused tastings spotlighting the villages. This is the event's spine.
The tasting starts up in the white town of Chablis, squirrels down to the Côte d'Or and then stretches to the Macon and Chalonnaise. Then it zooms back up to do Beaune; focus on Pommard and Corton--two appellations that do need a little help.
While the trade hall, Palais du Congrés is pressed into service, the key tastings, the ones that give you that moment of deep breathing are the ones situated in buildings hidden amongst the vines.
Some are held in grand venues, like the Vosne tasting at the Clos Vougeot. Some are more of the people, like the Marsannay Mairie. The Vosne tasting was packed with people who believe its Vosne or nothing. There was a pile up at the Mugneret sisters. On the other hand, more my speed Jean-Yves Bizot, had time for a coffee. My luck. Time for a good catch-up.
I have some advice for you; hunt the lower rents. Go and give the little appellations a little love. As happy and surprised as I was to find Jean Yves at the tasting, my time, for my reader, was better spent tasting the action over in Marsannay. It was there I discovered a fierce new energy as well as the soul-patched Giles Ballorin. That was the kind of thing I came for.
I also came looking for leads and gossip.
I found that piece off-site, on my last night, after the organic Burgundy tasting where I also discovered the groovy wines of Jane et Sylvain.
Still having never gone to Bar du Square (it's always next time) I took refuge at La Dilettante and as it happened, I bumped into quite a few people I knew, Marko and Niko. We sat and drank and drank and sat.
"Did you hear about the Marsannay dinner?" I asked.
After that village's tasting, there was a celebratory dinner. The organizers had snagged a guest of honor, the auteur, Jonathan Nossiter who was to show his then new film, Natural Resistance. A bold move. There's a lot of progress in Marsannay, the village still has a great deal of super-traditional growers and I couldn't imagine them taking kindly to the message of the film. The film was championing natural and natural is still a word not many people are comfortable with--even if they might work that way.
Turns out my friends had been there. "I heard it was a disaster," I told them.
They looked at me as if waiting for more of an explanation. "People were impatient. Wanting to eat. Had to sit through that drivel. People walked out."
My friends looked at me as if I was speaking Georgian. "Not at all! It was fantastic," Niko said, laughing. "People crowded Nossiter asking him to autograph their menu. It was an inspiration."
Things are changing. Truly. If you want to see that change, in the wine styles or in the people, or just understand what the hell the (wonderful) 2014 vintage is about, what you're going to buy and who is your customer, this is a great excuse to come to Burgundy.
The next edition of Les Grands Jours is March 21 to the 25. The vines will be weeping with life when you arrive and the air tinged with warmth of the coming season. In Beaune, there are few wonderful wine bars to visit, late nights and parties as well as low key times. Perhaps I isolated myself from an industry crush, but I found this event--yes--for the trade only--to be a make it what you want it, kind of affair. But there is wine, a chance to meander through the villages, and get a real grip on what a village's wine can be.
Why? Because Burgundy matters.
This is where the notion of terroir was born and where it flourished. It is about labels, about high prices but that's not all. There are real people who make real wines. Burgundy has been held captive by the collector for too long. My suggestion? Go and liberate it.
And where to eat and drink?