The Natural wine disconnect (the ideology and spirituality of wine and the importance of a good shit)

Above: The best things in life are free but you can’t leave them to the birds and bees. My good friend Giampaolo Venica employs chemical-free farming and vinifies his wines using ambient yeast exclusively. But he would never call his wine “Natural.” He just calls it “wine.” I took this photo of “Wasp with Ribolla Grape” at his winery in September 2010.

Who will ever know why Eric the Red (as Eric Asimov is known here) decided to write today about the “vitriol” and “hissy fits” that “Natural wine advocacy” can evoke and provoke among English-language wine bloggers and writers? Was it because he overheard some wine hipsters at The Ten Bells — my favorite wine bar in New York City — dissing someone for liking a “yeasted” wine? (Dagueneau or Bruno Giacosa, anyone?)

Or was he writing in response to top American wine blogger and marketer Tom Wark’s satire of the “denigration marketing” embraced by Natural wine proponents in a post this week entitled “Drink Natural Wine Or Get a Bad Rash”?

I like to call Eric the “Solomon” of wine writers (and am a big fan). And if he wrote today about the discord that Natural wine foments in this country, there must be a good reason.

Of course, the greatest denigrator of them all and the instigator of the Natural wine dialectic in this country — Joe Dressner — recently left our world. Joe attacked nearly everyone (myself included; click here for Eric’s pre-obit of Dressner who died in September 2011). But there are a number of people in line for his mantle, each vying — for their own self-interest, whether commercial or purely personal — to take his place as denigrator-in-chief. (Again, please read Tom’s post if you’re interested in that rigamarole.)

Above: A wine shop in peninsular Venice (Favaro Veneto), where Incrocio Manzoni and Malbech [sic] are sold for less than a handful of Euro per liter.

In my view, the misguided and misplaced vitriol of Natural wine advocacy in this country is due to a fundamental disconnect.

In North America, wine is a luxury product only recently embraced by consumerist hegemony. Many in the U.S. may see wine as a means to return to Nature but they rarely embrace it as a means of natural sustenance. Wine is a commodity, often a trophy, a conversation piece and “first world” amenity.

In Europe, wine is a daily nutriment and it remains imbued with ideological and spiritual meaning, at times visceral, at others intellectual. Its origins and roots (literal and figurative) touch the very heart of European society and ethos.

And while many English-language wine bloggers and writers (is there a difference or distinction between the two anymore?) have traveled to Europe and picked and stomped the grapes themselves, few touch upon the deep ideological and spiritual meaning and cultural value that European grape-growers and winemakers cherish so dearly.

Veneto winemaker Angiolino Maule makes Natural wine and stands apart as one of the Natural wine movement’s leading advocates because he believes that Natural wine can save the earth and our humanity by warding off the absolute denaturalization of our species through the inevitable, looming reification of our bodies through consumerism.

This is not stuff of marketing. It is a living, breathing, and often gasping attempt to fight what Marx called alienation or estrangement (please see my post Sensuous world: Marx, Gramsci, Pasolini, food and wine).

Above: The bottom line is that Natural wine helps you to shit good. Camillo Donati’s Malvasia Frizzante not only will help you take a good dump. It tastes friggin’ delicious.

The fact that it’s come to this — “vitriol,” “hissy fits,” and “denigration marketing” — is the very proof in the pudding that the English-language dialectic on Natural wine is misguided. Ultimately, the maliciousness that emerges from the English-language discourse on Natural wine is generated by commercial interests that counter the very nature of Natural wine. It’s important to note that the vitriolic exchange, btw, is unique to Anglophone vinography.

Why do Tracie P and I drink (and advocate) Natural wine? She would tell you that it’s because it aligns with the vino paesano — the country wine — that she discovered on one of her early trips to Europe after college graduation. No need to call it “natural.” To the folks who make it and drink it every day — as a nutrient, not a luxury — it’s simply wine.

Me? I drink and advocate it because it’s delicious and it helps me to shit good. Why does it make me shit good? No one really knows but it’s probably because there is still active yeast in Natural wine — a defect to some in the wine world, a miracle of nature to others.

Who doesn’t feel better after a good shit? It’s the greatest return to Nature and the best way to get the vitriol out…

A wine that Joe Dressner AND Robert Parker like (and a Fellini movie)

People are going to wonder why I continue to write about wines imported by Louis/Dressner. In the light of Mr. Joe Dressner’s myriad waspish attacks, I’ll probably regret writing about the below wine. My blog is about our life and the wines and foods and poems and songs and films and joys and challenges that we embrace and face every day and I just couldn’t omit this wine. As the ex-Wine Digger once pointed out to me (and he was right), wines are an expression of the places where they are made and the people who make them — not the tertiaries who import them. And I certainly hold nothing against Mr. Dressner and only wish him a speedy recovery.

What a thrill to get to taste (FINALLY) the FRV100 by Jean-Paul Brun! The name of this gently sparkling 100% Gamay from Beaujolais is a rebus (as they say at the counter at Brooks Brothers in Manahattan, there are those among us who know Latin and those who don’t): FRV100 for eff-er-ves-cent, effervescent or sparkling in this context.

I loved everything about this wine: the low alcohol (around 7.5%), the gentle fizziness, the wonderful WONDERFUL fruit on the nose and in the mouth, and the playful, bright packaging (the winemaker uses the rebus as an acronym for a wonderful plaisir, a prosodic form adored by the early Occitan poets). FRV100 and barbecue? FRV100 and mole from Polvo’s? FRV100 and Tracie P’s nachos? HELL YEAH! I think it’s safe to say that this will be our wine of the summer of 2011.

But inasmuch as I believe that all wines are an expression of epistemological reflection, this bottling is all the more remarkable because — as I read in Mr. Dressner’s glistening marketese — not only does the Pope of Natural Wine like this wine, but so does Mr. Robert Parker, Jr.! The Emperor of Wine has called Brun’s wines “beautiful” and ranked the winery as a four-star affair, according to the Pope’s site. Felicitously unbelievable!

I loved the wine so much that I’ve paired it with a screening of Fellini’s 1957 Le notti di Cabiria (Nights of Cabiria) on May 18 at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz in Austin, where I’ll be speaking about the film and the pairings (btw, the paperback version of my translation of Brunetta’s narrative guide to The History of Italian Cinema was recently published by Princeton University Press).

Why did I pair it with Fellini’s transitional classic (one of my favorite movies of his, btw)? You’ll just have to come to the screening on May 18 to find out!

@JoeDressner and @RobertMParkerJr: I’ll be happy to comp either or both of you if you’d like to attend!

Dressner pre-Oscar Italian party in Hollywood

When Lou (center) wrote “Examine and fondle real winemakers tonight at Lou!” yesterday on his blog, brother Anthony (left) and I were intrigued. Within minutes, we had devised a plan to crash the Dressner pre-Oscar Italian party in Hollywood.

It took a little coaxing but I finally managed to get Lou to step out from behind the bar for this photo op with Elisabetta Foradori (right), who only recently joined the Dressner Impeccable Academy of Natural Wines, Arts, and Sciences (she also appeared, you may remember, in the debut episode of the Italian Grape Name Pronunciation Project).

I was completely stoked to see Saša Radikon (right). Sasha is such a cool dude and his family’s wines entirely rock my world.

I also got a chance to talk to Alessandra Bera and Francesca Padovani, both of whom make fantastic wines (in Canelli, Piedmont and Sant’Angelo in Colle, Montalcino, Tuscany, respectively).

For many of them, it was a first trip to Los Angeles. I’m so thrilled to see these wines and winemakers here and it was WONDERFUL to hear Italian spoken last night at my favorite wine bar in the world, Lou on Vine.

You can taste all of their wines and many, many more at the Dressner magical mystery traveling road show event today in the City of Angeles.

Joe Dressner and I have made our peace

I don’t know why but eating dinner at the Wieners Circle in Chicago made me feel at piece with my sometimes antagonist Joe Dressner.

I don’t know if he’s ever been there (he’s from Long Island, from what I understand) but I’m sure he would love it.

It’s one of those sine qua non Chicago places. (There are men who know what sine qua non means and others who have to look it up.)

Seriously, the truly lovey ladies at Wieners Circle are SUPER NICE ladies and we had so much fun talking last night after they served me up a killer charbroiled cheddardog with all the Chicago fixins after me and Pat grabbed a beer by Wrigley Field. Highly recommended for peacemaking. Man, Obama, you listening? These ladies could make peace in the Middle East, they are SO FINE!

Together again, naturally


Above: Nothing to Breg about, to borrow Alfonso’s pun. Last night, he, Tracie P, and I shared a bowl of her slow-cooker cannellini beans and escarole in our home in Austin. Decanted and with a few hours of aeration, the 2000 Breg by Gravner bowled me over, in every sense of the word. Thanks, Alfonso!

Natural wine has been on my mind (again) lately. In part because of a recent appeal posted on the Slowine website (and brought to my attention by Italy’s top wine blogger, Mr. Franco Ziliani) calling for Italy’s “natural wine” fairs (namely, Vini Veri and VinNatur) to be incorporated into the annual Italian wine industry mega-fair Vinitaly. I stayed home this year and didn’t attend but when I posted event details for Vini Veri, a number of folks — including some high-profile industry types — weighed in on the side of consolidation.


Above: There’s just no other way to put this. Tracie P’s legumes were divine last night. Every bean was perfectly whole but then melted in the mouth. Did I mention that the beautiful lady behind the lens also has a natural gift for photography? She snapped the above.

Natural wine has also been on my mind because I’ve been following Alice’s truly excellent posts on the nature — semantic, metaphysical, and sensorial — of natural wine, the winemakers and movement(s) that support and profess it, and the new space it occupies in the language and the perceptions of the mainstream. The latest post, entitled “What is Natural Wine?”, may be the best, but I highly recommend the previous two posts (here and here) and the Washington Post article that prompted the series, “Natural Isn’t Perfect” by Dave McIntyre.


Above: Not only did Alfonso bring the Gravner last night, he also brought some awesome bacon from Robertson’s in Salado, Texas. @BrooklynGuy, you would love this stuff.

In other natural wine news, the excellent Italian wine blog Intravino posted a profile of natural wine trailblazer Joe Dressner and the blog devoted to his truly heroic battle with brain cancer (also brought to my attention by Mr. Ziliani and btw here’s a link to Joe’s blog).

In an email I received yesterday from Étienne de Montille, the famous winemaker wrote that “I should have left for Tokyo Sunday but… Nature has decided otherwise.”

Volcano or no volcano, the transatlantic dialogue moves forward as “natural wine,” however it is conceived or perceived, indelibly enters into the collective vinous consciousness. Only good can come of it.

How to make a living by wineblogging and 31 days come to an end

dirty south

A “hardy” mazel tov for Hardy Wallace (above), author of the excellent blog Dirty South Wine, who has emerged as the winner in the Really Goode Job contest and will be heading to Sonoma for a six-month tenure of blogging, tweeting, and Facebooking — and getting paid a handsome sum all the while! All I can say, Dirty, is chapeau bas, you did it: you figured out how to make a living by wineblogging! Tracie B and me have always enjoyed your blog and we’re thrilled that you won the contest. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy or a cooler blogger… I won’t bother explaining what the Really Goode Job contest was but I will say that it was an ingenious marketing tool and it is indicative of how the lexicon and lexicography of wine marketing is rapidly being transfigured. Hardy congratulations, Dirty!

Like Tracie B and me, Dirty contributed to Saignée’s 31 Days of Natural Wine blogging series: the blogilicious event ended today with a post by Joe Dressner, whom many would consider one of the pioneers of wine blogging and whom we all revere as one of the fathers of the natural wine movement in this country.

The 31 Days series got a great writeup at The Cellarist by Jon Bonné, who also participated in the blogging event, as did a lot of our bloggy friends.

There were so many awesome posts among the 31 (and I recommend you read them all, whether you’re just getting into natural wine or whether you are already a natural wine fanatic) but one highlight for me (beyond Tracie B’s post on our visit to Joly, of course!) was Arjun’s treatise on sulfur and sulfites, a subject so hard to get a grasp on and so often misunderstood by wine lovers.

In other news…

I’m about to get on a plane for Vegas and then San Diego, where I’ll be hawking natural wine tonight at Jaynes Gastropub and talking up the first-ever San Diego Natural Wine Summit, where I’ll be presenting natural wines next month (August 9). (Click on the link and you can read a little manifesto of natural wine that I authored.) I saw the above license plate in the Austin airport gift shop and remembered the one that Tracie B brought me the first time she came to visit me in San Diego last year. It rode on the dash board of my old Volvo (“la Dama Azzurra”) all the way from the Pacific Ocean to Central Texas. Tracie B and I have only been apart since this morning and I already miss her…