Tuesday, August 14, Lou and I will be leading a guided tasting of some of our favorite Natural wines from Southern Italy (including the Fatalone, white and red, from Puglia).
At the July event, it was fascinating to hear Lou compare the current debate over Natural wine (and whether or not the category really exists) to the dietary laws in Leviticus.
It was such a brilliant analogy: the current dichotomy between the Natural wine purists, on the one hand, and their abjuration of the industrial complex, and the conventional winemakers, on the other, and their disdain for a category they believe doesn’t even exist, is nothing less than biblical in the breadth of acrimony it has generated.
In essence, the laws of kashrut divide the animal world into “clean” that you can consume and “unclean” that you cannot. During the conversation (and btw, it’s an informal setting where wine professionals and lovers chime in with observations and questions), it occurred to me that both parties in this logomachy (a fight over words more than wines) apply the terms clean and unclean. The Natural purists say the conventional winemakers’ wines are unclean because they’ve been manipulated with additives while the conventional winemakers say the Natural wines are unclean because they have unwanted bacteria and “off” aromas and flavors.
At one point, I brought up Eric the Red’s recent The New York Times article “Wines Worth a Taste, but Not the Vitriol” and the Italian authorities’ recent crackdown on the use of the term Natural in advertising.
“Is this a line in the sand?” I asked Lou. “Is this the end of the beginning or the beginning of the end?” I queried in chiasmus.
Lou’s answered simply that he didn’t care. Enjoying the aroma of the Cornelissen (arguably the most extreme expression of Natural wine today), he talked about how much he enjoyed the way was changing in the glass and how he would continue to call it Natural because it’s a term that captures the spirit of these wines (“like obscenity, I can’t tell you exactly what it is but I know it when I see it”). And he said that he agreed with our mutual friend Ceri Smith who recently proposed that the category be defined by “those winemakers who tell you what they put in the wine and those who don’t.”
The conversation at our Oblong Tables is always fascinating and you’ll always find some of the top wine professionals in LA there with us. I hope you can join us!