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Isabelle Legeron MW: thoughts on natural wine

Published:  19 April, 2011

The comments by Isabelle Legeron MW follow the analysis "Making a Case for Natural Wines" in Harpers Wine & Spirit on April 8.


"I have tasted hundreds of natural wines and I would say that there are really only a few that I have come across that I would say fall short in winemaking terms. All in all, it's a tiny minority. Of course there are faulty wines in the natural wine camp but there are 'bad' wines in every other wine category as well. It is a silly argument to levy against 'natural wine' per se. You'll find poor examples in any 'type' of wine - conventional or natural. So to extrapolate from one example to the category as a whole does not make any sense.


I don't think that all early drinking natural wines are faulty. Far from it. And I would certainly include them on a wine list. My point about easy drinking vs fine wine referred simply to the issue of stability. Easy drinking wine made for early consumption (i.e. vin de soif as it is known) tends to lack ageing potential and needs to be drunk within the year. Fine natural wine, on the other hand, is definitely age-worthy (very important as I often hear critics of natural wine saying 'they don't age') and it is actually incredibly stable, particularly once open. Whereas a conventional wine is likely to have lost most if not all of its character a couple of days after opening, many natural wines hold their own for a good couple of weeks. Extraordinary but true.


I am quoted saying "in the other camp are wines that have been matured properly, have had a long elevage in tank or oak...", which I think is misleading since it's not about the vessel used. The key is that great natural wine is given time to find its own stability rather than being forcibly stabilised through processing and additives. It's all about time and giving the wine a chance to grow up.


I think we need to focus on encouraging growers who are working really hard and taking a lot of risks by producing wines without any additives. Natural wines are live products and yes sometimes things can go wrong and you might end up with a wine that referments, but as an industry I think it is time we started recognising that while wine is in its essence a natural product, unfortunately most wines today have veered off the 'natural' path and have become foregone conclusions defined by processing and predictability. Crushed grapes left to their own device do not necessarily become vinegar, they can and do become beautiful wine. As an industry it is time we started questioning the validity, genuineness and so-called 'authenticity' of the flavours we associate with terroir. Can you really say that added industrial yeast reflects terroir?


Wine is a truly exciting drink but its excitement is only due to its true diversity and irreproducibility - its terroir. It kills me to see the standardisation and homogenisation that has happened in the wine world today. I for one frankly prefer too much brett or volatility to the squeaky clean boiled sweet aromas and excessive vanilla or coffee notes so often associated with modern winemaking."