So you don't like natural wines - help is at hand!

Dear (insert name)

I have heard that you don’t like natural wines.

I can understand that this must be quite distressing for you. But do not worry: I am a doctor (a plant PhD, not a medic, but who cares? This is the internet) and I am here to help.

You have spent a lot of time and money on your wine education. You have learned a great many objective facts about wine: its production, its history, its global spread and how it is supposed to taste. You have a finely honed palate and can differentiate among poor, ordinary, good and great wines. So I can understand how upsetting it is when some of your colleagues (who should know better) begin championing wines that fall outside this frame of reference. It just won’t do.

The first thing I need to tell you is that you matter. You are one of the top wine authorities/emerging stars of the wine world/top restaurant critics (select as appropriate), and people are intensely interested in what you have to say. They want to know what you had for breakfast, your favourite sports teams, your taste in music, your preferred tailor  and recent novels that you approve of. And of course which wine styles you consider to be legitimate or illegitimate.

Because you are truly important, people are especially interested in hearing about things that you don’t like. It’s different for me. There are quite a lot of things that I don’t like. They include butter in my sandwiches, The Archers, The Rolling Stones, greed, Manchester United, Dermot O’Leary, UKIP, The Daily Mail, queuing, most Chilean Pinot Noir and cheapness. But I’m not like you, and I don’t think my readers really care terribly much about my dislikes.

Now that I have reassured you about your significance, the next step is that I need to encourage you to tell as many people as possible about your dislike of natural wine. It is important that someone of your stature should do everything they can to help stop the spread of this terrible movement.

The idea that people should be free to make up their own mind about which wines they prefer to drink is a dangerous delusion, and could lead to lots of people drinking bad wine and thinking that they enjoy it. You know all about wine faults, and from what I hear from others, pretty much every natural wine you have had has been faulty (by your definition). Unfortunately, most consumers haven’t had the sort of wine education that you have, and there’s a very real threat that they might not realise that as they drink these wines, they are enjoying wines that are flawed.

The nightmare scenario? That people should bypass gatekeepers like you altogether, and begin to explore and enjoy wines without the sort of essential guidance that you offer. They will begin making their own minds up, and that could be disastrous. You have heard about the RAW and Real Wine Fairs that have been held in London over the last few years. The rumour is that these fairs have been rammed with normal consumers who have had a great time drinking natural wines. I suspect (and hope) that this is just propaganda from the organizers, and that the few people who made it to them couldn’t find anything even half drinkable.

So you need to keep telling your readers how bad natural wines are. Really scare them. Tell them that they are cloudy, feral, stinky concoctions, packed full of wine faults. Suggest that the people who make them are deluded hippies with long beards and no clue about wine. Liken them to rough farmhouse ciders.

I realise that this is a distressing time for you. There are people – smart people even – who like things that you don’t. Please surround yourself with like-minded colleagues who share your insecurities about the rise of natural wine. Poke fun at the natural wine movement and its supporters at every opportunity. And remember: confirmation bias is your friend. You are smart, and some of your smart friends agree with you, so you must be right.

I have a tactic for you. If people complain about your negativity towards natural wine, then act as if you are the one being persecuted. Complain that others are insisting you should like these wines. How dare they suggest that your palate isn’t sophisticated enough to enjoy them! Stop forcing these faulty wines on me! It is extremely unreasonable for others to suggest that if you don’t like natural wine, then you should just leave others to enjoy it without pointing out how wrong they are. You can’t stay silent!

Natural wine is just a fad. Give it a year and it will all have gone away, and things will be just as they were before – the nice cosy, compartmentalized, tidy wine world that you learned about in your studies.

34 comments to So you don’t like natural wines – help is at hand!

  • Jason Carey DWS

    RIGHT ON !

  • Dan Mondaye

    Excellent – can think of one or two (or three??) people that could do to read this advice thoroughly!

  • Gordon Richens

    You didn’t include clotted cream in your list of dislikes. Animal.

  • Spot on Jamie. See a relevant forum thread on winepages for how inflexible many people are. I am biased, ‘working’ alongside a natural producer here in the Languedoc but I can’t believe how prejudiced some people are to change, or even thinking about change, in wine. Not all natural wines are good, some are awful but at least try them.

  • Chris Williams

    I’m so with you on the Stones Jamie. Never got it but I don’t think that keeps Mick up at night. Give me Zeppelin or Floyd any day.

  • Gordon Richens

    To say something useful for a change; having started my interest in wine and wine collecting on more “commercially successful” wines I find that the tertiary complexities that normally require 15 or more years of aging are accessible in much younger wines made with minimal intervention. That much is unambiguously good. However when a “traditionalist” encounters the juxtaposition of the aging characteristics with the fruitiness of a younger “natural” wine, it bothers the heck out of them. Putting the two together seems “unnatural”.

  • Olly Bartlett

    I think you should have used more sarcasm mate. As you know, I have given up with the whole natural thing. I now just call it wine and let people drink it and enjoy it… or not, which is fine too. Let the anti brigade wind themselves up.

  • There’s a littlle Hosemaster in this post Jamie. Well done

  • I’m with Olly on this one, I just write “wine” and if the production includes use of chemicals, added yeasts or what ever. Then THATS what I mention. In other words I talk about what – is – not about what – isn’t – like most writers that are into natural wines. Just two different approaches.

  • I’m a bit more with the last few commentators. Maybe in the context of UK winewriters that you sometimes paint, your post makes more sense.

    I would never aim to tell someone what to like or not. I also agree that it’s good to open your mind and enjoy news styles. I’m in Ribeiro right now and personally I love all these acidic reds, which might not be everyone’s cup of tea. However I’m beginning to find this whole natural / conventional argument a bit old hat, a bit like screwcaps 5 or 10 years ago.

    If it’s good wine it’s good. I think this “natural” concept for me is failing because it (a) pisses off a lot of great winemakers who may work naturally but don’t consider themsleves “natural” and (b) in my reasonably limited experience natural wines are often so faulty that they obscure terroir, in which case what’s the point?

  • Mark

    I’m looking forward to the reply piece: “So you don’t like spoofulated wines”

  • Olly Bartlett

    Andrew, drink lots of Foillard, Arianna Occhipinti, Lapierre, COS, Suertes del Marques, Larmandier Bernier, Trevallon, Pattes Loup Chablis, Prieure Roch, Comando G and then come back and let me know exactly how you felt these wines obscured their terroir. I would honestly love to know…

  • Andras Kovacs

    Jamie, do you eat rotten tomatoes if they are grown in a “natural” way?

  • Donald Edwards

    I’ve always thought that given the limited production of so many natural wines, having a few people actively avoiding them is no bad thing at all…

  • I’ll be contrary for the hell of it. If natural wine were just another one style among many others, it would be ludicrous for people to get angry and upset about it. But natural wine isn’t just a style of winemaking, it’s a philosophy. At the heart of all this heat, there’s a battle over worldview going on, being fought through the prism of wine.

    Hence so much evangelical behaviour on both sides.

  • Olly Bartlett

    Examining why there are even ‘sides’… To begin with, there needed to be some evangelism, as it was new (or back to the old) and needed to be explained in a world of identikit international varieties. Now, the time for battle is over. It is all wine; some made in different ways. In my opinion, the problem is that wine is big business. Big business does not like having a light shone on its shady practices: manipulation of wine with enzymes and technology, whole scale use of chemicals both in the winery and the vineyard (killing biodiversity and pollinating insects by the way), etc. Big agricultural business is also hand in hand with big agro-chemical business. I can’t see any reason why these guys have an agenda against more natural farming, can you? I say, stop the big wine producing countries vetoing wine ingredient labelling and let the consumer make up their mind what to buy. Artisanal winemakers generally have nothing to hide…

  • Gordon Richens

    Felicity, perhaps “paleo” would have been a more accurate (and less provocative) descriptor for this style of wine making. But now that both camps have taken the matter to a personal level, it’s too late to adopt.

  • Damien

    Wonder if this post was in response to this week’s Guardian article on “natural wines”? Jay Rayner’s comment in particular: “Given I’ve banged on about them in my column, I suppose I should say something. Firstly there is the clumsy use of language. As the human race is a natural phenomenon, literally everything we choose to do is natural, including fracking, the A bomb and any kind of wine making. This isn’t being obtuse; it’s undergraduate philosophy.

    What they mean is wine made with less human interaction, except that it still requires loads of human interaction. In the end though, for me, what matters, is not the label. I don’t care if it’s mass produced, organic, bio-dynamic, natural, or filtered through the pubic hair of Spanish nuns. I care only whether it tastes nice. I have had dozens of natural wines foisted upon me and they’ve all tasted awful: brutal, unstructured, with the foul back taste of farm yard. And in the way of knit-your-own-yoghurt food trends – much like sour espressos from under roasted beans – if you criticise these qualities you are simply unsophisticated. Fine. I’m unsophisticated. It’s possible there’s a nice ‘natural’ wine out there, but if so it will be precisely because it doesn’t have the qualities the natural wine lobby venerate

    From this I have reached a conclusion: there’s a bloody good reason why wine makers put things like Sulphur in their wines. It’s to make them taste nice.

  • Olly – I feel you may have misinterpreted my comment. I haven’t tried most of the wines you list, so I can’t comment, but thanks for the tips. Suertes del Marqués I sell and I love it. I’m not against wines made naturally and I’m not sure if you’ve been out to the Orotava valley but when I was there recently I felt that these chaps had captured a unique style of wine and are doing a great job.

    I stand by my second paragraph. The problem for me is not wines made naturally, it is people getting on their high horse, trying to assume the moral high-ground in some mis-guided belief that some total-hands-off style is inherently superior to wines which may sometimes get a helping hand from a little know-how accumulated over 1000s of years. I’m not promoting spinning cones, but giving things a nod in the right direction can help. A bit like cooking, generally steak tastes better on the grill than gnawing the side of a cow.

    I’m totally with Damien – my issue is not philosphical – I just don’t like nasty, sour, Bretty, horse-piss wines at 4€ a glass when I just had a lovely glass of Godello for 1.50€, whether they are natural or not. Occasionally I even like horse-piss, but I’d prefer to know what I’m buying, rather than have it as a surpise and feisted on me by someone who things I haven’t got it.

    Going back to Jamie’s post, it’s not just that the old-school wine critic needs to open his/her mind, but the Emperor’s new clothes brigade who dare not criticise natural in case it proves they “don’t get it”, could in my opinion maintain a little more critical insight. Not all natural is good, just like not all industrial is good.

  • Andrew Wieseq

    A bit like cooking, generally steak tastes better on the grill than gnawing the side of a cow.

    I think this is comparing drinking wine to eating grapes. A better analogy might be eating factory-farmed and factory-processed steak cooked in a pan on a stove-top versus organic, grass-fed beef slaughtered traditionally and cooked on a grill over an open fire.

  • Paul Benbow

    Hmmmm. I’ve tried circa 40 natural wines and wouldn’t drink any of them again. I’ll keep trying them and hopefully I’ll find some I enjoy.

    As merely a consumer I recognise Jamie’s characterisation of the virulent anti natural wines camp.I just wish there was some mention of the patronising natural wine zealots that seem to believe that if someone doesn’t enjoy them that don’t understand what wine us or can be. I’d also be more likely to try more if there wasn’t so much knocking of ‘conventional’ wine in an effort to sell natural wine.

    If my expectations and palate have been ruined by chemicals and over processing, well, I’ll just have to live with that.

  • Andrew – thanks for your comment, I take you point about wine and grapes but I’m afraid I just don’t agree your sentiment. With “organic, grass-fed beef slaughtered traditionally and cooked on a grill over an open fire” you are just pandering blindly to my stereotype that “industrial is bad and natural is good”.

    For me that’s just not my angle at all. I like nice wine and I don’t like bad wine. The thing I’m against is people who try and insist that the removal of all industrial processes and the promotion of zero-intervention “must” make all wine taste inherently better and anyone who doesn’t agree is wrong.

  • Andrew Wieseq

    Andrew — I actually agree with you on that, I just think beef is a bad analogy in general for the point you’re making. Just seems a simple set up for the ‘other’ side to hit out of the park.

  • Tim Martin

    Bravo Jamie. I think you have captured the essence of why haters hate. It is because they perceive that something (in this case “natural wine”) is at some level (probably deep in the amygdylae) a threat to their existence. It is really pretty primitive and basic and not very intellectual or grown up at all. A bit like teenagers not liking other teenagers because they listen to the wrong kind of music or support the wrong football team.

  • Tom Ottey

    Isn’t it wonderful that we in the wine trade can’t get along, gripe at each other, bitch, moan, belittle, tie ourselves in knots and the lovely consumers still drink whatever they fancy. It is almost as if nobody is listening anyway.

  • Andrew – thanks for your reply, I will try and remember not to post the first thing that comes into my head when I roll back from the pub. On reflection I agree with you that my beef/cow analogy was not particularly useful.

    Tim – totally agree, it’s very interesting for us wine geeks to have these esoteric debates but it doesn’t make much difference in the real world.

    Jamie – sorry for hogging your comments section, I’ve probably used up my quota for the next 6 months or so. Keep up the good work.

  • Mark Swift

    I’ve only been drinking wine for 45 years and have enough problems learning about the ‘traditional’ varieties and even more at finding them at prices I can, in conscience, pay. I’m not blinkered in my approach but already feel bombarded with choice and to broaden the field actually diminishes the chance of a decent drink.
    If ‘natural’ wine can produce a cost effective wine that ticks the boxes most want then surely it is to be supported; the same argument applies to the whole of the wine industry!

  • To me they are just wines………… and as with all wine some are good, some bad, I agree with you why the labels…..

  • Simon Burnell

    Hi Jamie,
    I hope you do read the comments and reply – I can’t see any evidence above though.
    I’m a bit confused by this. It wouldn’t be the first time that sarcasm didn’t come across that clearly in writing though. I can’t say I agree with Andrew Graham (above) in regards to the Hosemaster – his sarcasm is easy to read.
    I’m sure there are people out there who inspired this piece for their pig-headed criticism of ‘natural’ wines, but it does look awfully hypocritical to me. It seems to me that you’re taking the piss out of others for being too full of their own importance for doing exactly what you’ve done yourself (learn more than a little bit about wine and want to share opinions based on that knowledge). You went so far as to make a career out of thinking people would be interested in your opinions.
    Or perhaps you dropped from the womb as a fully fledged wine writer with an encyclopaedic knowledge of all things wine – as learning enough about wine during your lifetime to feel that you’re qualified enough to voice an opinion is, it seems, a self-indulgence worthy of ridicule?
    Please forgive my misreading of the intent if you actually were simply trying to take the piss out of yourself. The part where you take them to task for their self indulgent critiques on non-wine related topics – in your best
    sarcastic tone: “people are intensely interested in what you
    have to say. They want to know what you had for breakfast, your
    favourite sports teams, your taste in music….”. You imply that
    negative criticism on these non-wine topics is even more self
    indulgent: “Because you are truly important, people are especially
    interested in hearing about things that you don’t like”. So I just
    selected a month at random from your own back catalogue, and lo and
    behold, there is some movie reviews – including telling we, your enthralled readership that the Star Trek movie you watched on a plane
    “is a pile of poop”….I could go on.
    http://www.wineanorak.com/blog/2010/02/films-and-books-and-stuff.html
    Can you explain – were you trying to make others, or yourself look silly, as I don’t get it?
    Cheers
    Simon

  • Well wrote, Jamie. And substituing the word ‘wine’ with another one, substance of post don’t change.

  • Simon Burnell

    Moderation moves slowly in these parts….

  • Sorry, my moderating is slow. I have been busy out and about and it is not straighforward moderating from my phone.

    Simon, I do read comments and I value them.

    I try not to be hypocritical, but I guess there are times when I am. I apologise.

    I try not to take myself too seriously and to a degree I would include myself in some of these criticisms. I am trying here to use humour, though, to point out the absurdity of some of the criticisms of natural wine. For sure, ‘natural’ wine does deserve to be criticised on some counts, but it’s the way some people criticize it that frustrates me.

    So the main thrust of this piece was to expose the odd way of thinking of some of the outspoken natural wine critics.

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