Yeaster me, yeaster you, yeaster day

Above: In some parts of the world, the “yeasting” of wines is common practice and is considered a genuinely positive aspect of human intervention, as evidenced in this post by Vinogirl. I don’t know much about Vinogirl but I love reading her blog and her posts about harvest in Napa are wonderful.

Ever the Solomon of wine bloggers, Eric posted Friday on the sometimes “strident” tones tossed about in the debate over natural wine and its definition.

I greatly appreciated Eric’s observation:

    I think that too much effort is spent coming up with a precise definition. Making wines “naturally,’’ after all, does not mean the wines are any good. All things considered, I prefer wine that would fit a rough definition of natural. But I don’t think the dividing line between natural and — what, unnatural? — is always that clear. Certainly, it is not if you are trying to characterize a winemaker.

Above: I tasted with Produttori del Barbaresco winemaker Aldo Vacca this year at Vinitaly. He is one of the most earnest and forthright winemakers I’ve ever met and I love his wines.

It does seem that the one thing that all natural wine lovers — from enthusiast to dogmatist — agree on is that “ambient” or “native” yeasts (i.e., naturally occurring yeasts) are a key if not the key element necessary to be allowed into the natural wine pantheon.

The delicate issue of yeast was illustrated Eric’s account of winemaker Roumier who “tries to make wine as naturally as he can, but he told a story once of having a batch of wine that had gotten stuck in mid-fermentation. The only way he could get it going again was to add yeast, a cardinal sin among many natural wine devotees.”

It made me think of what Produttori del Barbaresco winemaker Aldo Vacca recently told me when I called him to transact some other business but couldn’t resist asking him about the practice of “yeasting” at the winery.

“In a great vintage, we do not add yeast,” he said, “because the fermentation does not need any help. But in many vintages, we use a yeast called ‘Barolo strain’ that was developed based on yeasts that occur naturally in our terroir.”

According to the results of a quick Google search, the Barolo strain was “selected from 4 year study by University of Torino from over 600 isolates taken from 31 wineries of the Barolo region. The selection goal was to find a dominant natural yeast from Nebbiolo that is able to retain and enhance color.”

I never have and never would call Produttori del Barbaresco a “natural wine,” even though I believe the style of the wine jives with the wines of producers who subscribe to the natural wine movement. And I wonder if any of those winemakers have ever used a cultured yeast in a challenging vintage (like Roumier).

Throughout the debate, many have asked rhetorically, would the coinage of an expression other than natural wine offer an umbrella for those wines that aspire to the ideals of natural winemaking but don’t quite achieve its sanctity?

Founder Teobaldo Cappellano dubbed the Italian natural wine movement Vini Veri or Real Wines and added the epigram, wines as natural intended them.

Perhaps we should call these wines “humanist” wines. After all, all wine is made by humankind for consumption by humankind. In the end, I find that the wines I like the best are the ones that take into account not nature but rather “human scale,” as Guilhaume Gerard put it (in his remarks at the Symposium).

We can discuss natural wines and their definition until we’re blue in the face, but in the end, we are human — all too human.

Forget natural wine: the Texas weather will put the fear of G-d in you. I snapped this photo yesterday as Tracie B and I were strolling across the Colorado River. Click the photo for the full-sized image.

Bats! Bats! Bats! And awesome 2001 Inferno

From the “this blew my mind” department…

Last night Tracie B and I were the guests of the lovely LeVieux family, whose daughter-in-law Laura and I grew up together in La Jolla. They live in Austin in a high-rise on Lady Bird Lake (which until recently was called Town Lake and isn’t a lake at all but rather a bend in the Colorado River).

I had heard about the famous Austin bats that emerge every night at dusk but I had never seen them. Wow… bats! bats! bats! They put on quite a show last night — even for those at the dinner party who consider themselves veteran bat spectators.

Watch the videos and you’ll see.

Mrs. LeVieux made her excellent Julia Child osso buco and so I brought a bottle of 2001 Balgera Valtellina Superiore Inferno, which sang in the glass. We’re at the peak of summer temperatures here in Austin and so we served it at cellar temperature. Its tannins were masculine yet gentle, its fruit voluptuous, a fantastic more-mineral-than-earthy expression of Nebbiolo.

The osso buco was tender and fell off the bone and the gelatinous marrow paired superbly with the rich but light-in-the-mouth wine.

Thanks for reading and happy Sunday to everyone!