Bruce Palling’s article on natural wine has been the subject of a lot of debate over the last week or so.
I’ve read it twice. Three times if you count the abbreviated version that appeared in the New Statesman. He writes well, and he makes some valid points. But…
The ‘but’ is because I think he’s actually wrong. He’s wrong because of his perspective. From where he’s standing, it’s all rather alarming.
Concerning natural wine, he states:
Its not exactly true to say people don’t talk about it, but there is a tendency amongst serious wine writers to try and keep their head down for a quiet life and never actually articulate how much of it they believe to be undrinkable rubbish.
Palling loves classic fine wines. He mentions a number of them fondly. But he’s distressed when he goes to restaurants whose wine lists are predominantly natural. He feels he is being forced to drink wines that he doesn’t like. From the Palling perspective, natural wine is cultish, and is a fad. Its time is passing, and soon we’ll all be returning to the old classics, that we know and love.
From my perspective, as a wine journalist, I see natural wine in a very different light. Forget the discussions about the term ‘natural’, because that’s a sideshow. This new wave of natural wines is a vital, dynamic stream of fine wine that is really exciting, and which connects with a lot of punters. Go to RAW or the Real Wine Fair, and you see people engaging with wine.
Among wine journalists, natural wine divides them into two groups. There are the more traditional, who – like Palling – are distressed by natural wines and (usually without having tasted all that many) trot out the mantra that they are all faulty and that the emperor is naked. They find it personally upsetting that people can enjoy wines that they don’t, and they seem to regard themselves as the defenders of taste in the realm of fine wine.
Then there are those who have an open mind; who are curious about new flavours; and who actually bother to spend time with these wines and the people who make them. You don’t have to be a true believer to like natural wines; nor do you have to dismiss non-natural wines if you are to enjoy those that are naturally made. After all, who decides what is ‘fine wine’?
The natural wine movement has been good for all wine, I reckon. As I said recently, it’s important that it doesn’t become a closed-off niche, and that there’s some open-mindedness on all sides. Because some natural wines are truly great, in my opinion, and to ignore these because our palates are afraid of new flavours seems a bit sad.
In short, Palling’s perspective is that of an older drinker who hasn’t got the energy or inclination to go beyond his flavour comfort zone. I’m sure he’s not, but in this slightly smug article he comes across as a bit of a snob. It’s a shame, but it’s not going to stop the dynamic natural wine movement in its tracks, or spoil the fun of younger drinkers who are having a good time exploring these wines.