With increasing audacity, more and more independent California winemakers are finding their way to the once enologically challenged state of Texas, where market demand for wholesome wines is increasingly fueled by unfettered access to information on the internets. Myriad wine buyers in my adoptive state have told me that they read about a given wine on a blog authored beyond our borders or they saw the wine in an email offering or post by a metropolitan wine monger on a coast other than the Gulf. And then they just have to have it.
I first read about the excellent wines of Clos Saron and winemaker Gideon Bienstock on my friend Alice Feiring’s blog (maybe you’ve heard of her, America’s leading advocate for natural wine?). And I was overjoyed to find that a few bottles recently landed on the shelves of my favorite Houston wine retailer.
There’s been so much talk in recent years about the pitfalls of “natural” wine, in other words, wine farmed without the use of chemicals; fermented solely with naturally occurring “ambient” yeast; and stabilized with as little winemaker intervention and sulfur as possible. The natural wine detractors are often right to point out that “natural” and even “organic” are labels sometimes (mis)used to market wines with defective character. They point out that the wines can be “mousy” or “cidery” and that they often show volatile acidity, that vinegar or nail polish smell that usually blows off when the wines are otherwise good. The natural wine label shouldn’t be an excuse for faulty winemaking, they assert.
Now is not the time, place, or space to enter into the labyrinth of semiosis that often accompanies these discussions. But the bottomline is that it’s never counterproductive to maintain a genuinely critical approach to tasting any wine. And as much as I may admire the winemaker for their devotion to her/his laudable mission of making wines without chemicals or additives, I don’t refrain from expressing my opinion as the quality of natural wine — or any wine, for that matter. I don’t like natural wines simply because they are labeled as such. And similarly, I don’t shun wines that don’t claim to be natural (the real issue, in my mind, isn’t whether or not wines are natural or not but rather whether or not we penalize wines that don’t claim to be natural).
I don’t know that winemaker Gideon claims his wines are natural, although I believe the trade generally considers him one of the leading natural winemakers in the U.S. today. I do know, now that I’ve tasted one of his wines for the first time, that his rosé (above) is one of the best wines I’ve tasted this year. It’s made mostly from Syrah with a balance of field blend of red and some white grapes grown in Lodi, he writes on his website.
This wine had the verve and electricity that you often find in the best natural wines. And its fresh ripe red fruit aromas only became more succulent and delicious in the mouth, with just enough savory character to give that yin-yang balance. Man, it didn’t take long for the Parzen-Levy mishpucha to drink it down last Friday evening: the best indication of how lip-smackingly good it was.
What a great wine and what a great night with our families… Natural wine done right and a family jamboree to boot!