Sunday, October 31, 2010

Should natural wines be more consistent?

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to my colleague Wink Lorch’s comment on my first post about lack of consistency in natural wines. Not least because we took along a bottle to an event last night which wasn’t showing at its best. (We decanted it into a jug and it was fine half an hour later but that wasn't much consolation to the people we'd poured it for. I’ll come back to decanting another time.)

Expecting wines to be consistent is a comparatively new thing of course. Thirty or even twenty years ago we all talked about vintages and expected wines to be different every year. Then wine became more marketing-led and we expected our favourite brand to deliver the same flavours from one year to the next. Of course champagne is made exactly that way, blended to achieve a consistent product.

Natural wines aren’t like that. The natural winemaker doesn’t have the battery of ingredients the commercial winemaker has at their disposal to make up for nature's deficiencies and so the wines can be, yes, quite different, sometimes disappointingly so.

We don’t expect consistency in food though, particularly if we buy organic produce. Yesterday I was at a cheese fair tasting artisanal cheese which tastes different at different times of year. Fruit can be more or less juicy depending on the weather while it’s ripening. Apples may crop more or less heavily from the previous harvest - and be different sizes. Lambs will taste different depending on the time of year they’re born and how old they are when they’re slaughtered.

When I go to the hairdresser I don’t get exactly the same cut every time. If I go to a gig the band they may well play my favourite numbers a different way.

We accept variation in other fields so why not in wine?

* One thing I would admit though. It’s a more hit and miss process ageing natural wines. The wine we drank last night - Hurluberlu St Nicolas de Bourgeuil from Sébastien David would have been better drunk within 3 months of purchase when it would have had more of a chance of retaining its youthful vibrancy. And not bottled in a screwcap bottle which I suspect doesn’t do much for natural wines.


  1. This looks like being a very informative addition to the blogosphere. I found it via Jim's Loire, and will try to read regularly. BTW, quite by co-incidence, I have BBB out on the kitchen bench, looking for lunch inspiration today.

  2. Wow - that's great, Susan. What did you make from it in the end?

  3. For most professionals, consistency is an asset in a wine. The wine-waiter likes to pour a wine that is exactly the same as the sister-bottle which he opened the day before at another table. The wine merchant likes to deliver a case of bottles which are similar to the one his client has just tasted at the shop. The producer wants all his stock of a particular cuvée to be identical at the moment he sells them. And me, sometimes an “end-user” as well, I enjoy experiencing the same pleasure with all the bottles I purchased of the same wine, allowing for the differences aging will make, that goes without saying.
    Still, some of my friends (or otherwise) believe wine “lives” and enjoy the discovery of a high degree of disparity in the same box, and even more so as time goes by. I don’t.
    We’re not all made the same ...

    PS: I have opted for screw-caps on ALL my wines, even though some old-fashioned drinkers are still reluctant on the continent.

  4. Good to have an alternative view, Luc - and one I suspect the majority would agree with (must be unusual for you ;-)