A really good article by Eric Asimov on natural wine (and an accompanying blog post by Eric on the same topic) has got people talking. Ollie Styles, formerly of Decanter and now resident in Toro, Spain has made a response.
Ollie outlines three perceived dangers of the natural wine movement. The first is that he worries that if he dislikes some of the wines, then people will criticize him for not understanding them. The second is that that he feels the natural wine movement is a fashion or fad. The third is that the wines are expensive, and he thinks that they should be cheaper in part because the winemakers are adding less.
Personally, I think his concerns are overstated. First, no one is trying to silence dissenting voices. If he doesn’t like the wines, he’s free to say this.
But it may well be that he doesn’t understand the wines – if others feel, from his notes, that this is the case, then they should be free to say this too.
Second, natural wines are currently fashionable, but this reflects the fact that it is a dynamic movement, and many people are waking up to how good the wines actually are. This creates a flurry of interest, which is what we are seeing. Why are fashions of this nature intrinsically dangerous?
Third, natural wines are quite expensive, but this reflects the fact that they are usually made on a small scale, and are niche items that require speciality importers; dealing with large numbers of stock items in small quantities, when the products themselves are quite fragile, tends to push the price up.
And I would take one issue with Eric’s otherwise excellent definition of natural wine (fortunately a loose one; I think a rigid definition would be unhelpful), and that is with the following:
In the cellar, natural winemakers allow the juice to ferment with indigenous yeasts rather than by adding yeast formulated in laboratories
I think his conception of yeasts needs to be updated somewhat. Cultured yeasts may come from packets, but they are not formulated in laboratories. They are selected from nature and then cultured, before drying. It’s a bit like saving seeds over to plant the next year.