What is not: a simpler manifesto for Natural Wine?

Last night, as Tracie P and I were sitting on our living room couch, watching our Sunday night TV (gangsters and zombies, please), munching on an excellent potato and leek torte that she made, and sipping Cornelissen’s 2007/2008 Rosso Munjebel 5, it occurred to me that one of the most tormented aspects of the tortuous quest to define “Natural Wine” is the fact that its definition is, by its very nature, a definition of what is not.

In many ways, the art and science of producing Natural Wine are defined by what the winemaker does not do: no chemicals in the vineyard, no pharmaceutical yeast in the cellar, and no manipulation of the vinified must (or as little as humanly possible, because human intervention is required on some level).

The Natural Wine Authorities seem to agree that Cornelissen’s wines are impeccably Natural (and I certainly do not want to descend into the abyss of the Natural Wine debate here). I’m sure even the Grouchy One would agree that Cornelissen’s wines are Natural (even though he’s probably pissed that he doesn’t import them).

In any case, Cornelissen’s “Natural Wine” credo, as published on his label (above), seemed to me a succinct and excellent way to define what Natural Wine is by describing what it is not. (Check out Cornelissen’s site here.)

O, and the wine?

For however difficult they are to track down and buy, Cornelissen’s wines are not prohibitively expensive.

Although the wine was slightly “hot” on the nose (as we say in the biz, denoting high alcohol content), we loved it: bright fruit, bright acidity, light in body, and a rich grapey meatiness that was fantastic with Tracie P’s torte.

Is it a wonderful wine? Yes. Is it a life-changing wine? I’d have to say no. Tracie P noted that it reminded her of the vino paesano that she used to drink when she lived in Ischia.

We enjoyed it thoroughly with our gangsters and zombies and we remembered that sometimes the simplest things in life are the best.

Indisputably Natural in San Diego: Cornelissen, Dettori, López de Heredia

N.B.: Jaynes Gastropub does allow corkage, for a reasonable fee, for wines not offered on their wine list.

Chrissa, her husband Dan, Rikkers, and I opened a memorable flight of indisputably Natural wines last night at Jaynes Gastropub in San Diego. I write “indisputably Natural” with a capital N because any mention of Natural wine these days seems to spark the ire of some of the more cranky among us here in the enoblogsphere. But there’s no doubt in my mind that the community of wine bloggers who have laid claim to this precious and widely coveted epithet would agree that the three wines in question fulfill the criteria prescribed by even the most rigorous enforcers of Natural wine doctrine and dogma.

Perhaps nowhere has more been written about the wines of Frank Cornelissen than at Saignee and, ubi major minor cessat, I will defer to Cory’s excellent blog for a treatment of Cornelissen and the cult that has taken shape around him.

The wines, raised on the slopes of Mt. Etna, are not easy to come by in this country and I was thrilled to finally get my hands on some. Together, we tasted the 2007 Munjebel Bianco (native yeast, skin contact, no SO2, no filtration). Munjebel is dialectal toponym for Mt. Etna, btw (akin the Sicilian Muncibeddu or the Italian Mongibello, meaning monte bello or beautiful mountain).

The synthetic cork bulged out slightly from the lip of the bottle’s neck and the shoulder was very high. I believe this was due to a second fermentation in the bottle and the wine had a slight spritz to it.

I don’t have time today to go into the epistemological implications of this wine, which I find fascinating (the wine and the implications). But I can report that I thoroughly enjoyed it (bright acidity, bright citrus fruit, balanced alcohol). I believe the wine has not yet stabilized (it had rested for about a week in my wine locker in San Diego before we opened it last night). I’m looking forward to opening the other bottles in my allocation: this wine is alive, IT’S ALIVE, as Dr. Frankenstein might say.

The 2006 Bianco by Dettori? This was simply one of the best wines I’ve ever had in my life. Not a great vintage for Dettori but sure to be a 20+ in its cellar life. Tannic and rich, bright bright acidity and a crunchy mouthfeel. It took some time for this wine to open up but it was purely sublime.

We also ordered the 1998 López de Heridia Tondonia Rosado from Jayne’s list. The oxidative wine was a perfect closer after the thought-provoking, intense whites (orange wines, really), and was a fantastic pairing for my schnitzel and spaetzle (recommended by Jayne). Anyone who visits Do Bianchi regularly knows just how much Tracie P and I love LdH — anytime, anywhere.

After dinner we went to a new club on El Cajon Blvd. to see Jon’s band the Fairmounts play their blend of 60s soul.

That’s A.J. Croce (yes, Jim Croce’s son!) on keyboards… how cool is that? They completely rocked the house…

Wrapping up this quick San Diego trip (to ship and deliver wine for my wine club 2Bianchi.com), I just had to share this photo of my awesome nephews Abner and Oscar (brother Micah and sister-in-law Marguerite’s children).

Abner is holding a photo of his great-great-grandparents, mama Judy’s grandparents. It’s so remarkable to think about how far we’ve come from Russia, Poland, and Austria. And how radically the world has changed since then.

Would they have ever imagined that their progeny would be drinking unyeasted wines from the slopes of Mt. Etna on the far-flung shores of California?