Art Vs. Artifice In The Search For Natural Wine

Vinted on August 22, 2011 binned in book reviews, wine books

“That’s just… man, that’s just… NOT right!”

The above quote is from a friend of mine, in reaction to learning that some of his favorite wines – and, in fact, probably most wines – are made with grapes purchased from growers. As in, grapes that did not come from a patch of land directly behind a winery building on a farm somewhere, tended with care by the winemaker’s own hands.

Imagine how he would have felt if he’d seen the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau’s list of “Materials authorized for the treatment of wine and juice.”  While it’s not quite as bad as the list of additives that are used to “enhance” our processed foodstuffs, it certainly feels a lot more “McDonald’s” than “Old MacDonald.”

As consumers, lacking evidence to the alternative we have a tendency to assume (naively) that what we consume is fundamentally natural, or that a “natural” product is somehow a superior one.  This premise – that the natural is always the better – serves as a driving force behind award-winning wine journalist Alice Feiring’s new book, Naked Wine: Letting Grapes Do What Comes Naturally ($10 eBook, or about $15 in print – I received an advanced review copy).

Feiring is a self-proclaimed polarizing figure in the wine world, and if her intention with Naked Wine was to solidify her controversial status, she could hardly have chosen a better cement than the topic of “natural wine”…

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Weekly Twitter Wine Mini Reviews Round-Up For August 20, 2011

Vinted on August 20, 2011 binned in wine mini-reviews

Uhm, like what is this stuff?
I taste a bunch-o-wine (technical term for more than most people). So each week, I share some of my wine sample tasting notes via twitter (limited to 140 characters). They are meant to be fun, quickly-and-easily-digestible reviews. Below is a wrap-up of the twitter reviews from the past week (click here for the skinny on how to read them), along with links to help you find them so you can try them for yourself. Cheers!

  • 07 Bonny Doon Alamo Creek Syrah (San Luis Obispo): Who starting blaring Funky Town at Pepper & Black Raspberry’s elegant wedding? $35 B >>find this wine>>
  • 05 Tabarrini Sagrantino (Montefalco): W/ that tar & tannin, will put hair on your chest. And back. And probably everywhere else too. $34 B+ >>find this wine>>
  • 09 Raats Original Chenin Blanc Unwooded (South Africa): Not as complex as previous years but as inviting & approachable as Chenin gets $14 B >>find this wine>>
  • 07 Rudi Schultz Syrah (Stellenbosch): Meaty, Beaty, Big, & Jammy. And Oakey. Ok, & maybe a just a tad too Bouncy as well. $25 B >>find this wine>>
  • 10 Valckenberg Gewurztraminer (Pfalz): Tasty & floral, but with balance like that, it might need to stick to the training wheels. $15 B- >>find this wine>>
  • 09 Joseph Drouhin Beaujolais-Villages (Beaujolais-Villages): Stems are still on those violets & berries, but they look good w/ dinner $12 B- >>find this wine>>
  • 10 Two Princes Riesling (Nahe): If you… wanna drink for hours (at >>find this wine>>
  • 09 Chalk Hill Estate Chardonnay (Russian River Valley): Hello, CA! Golden apple, creme brulee, vanilla, peach & a bit too much heat. $48 B+ >>find this wine>>
  • 09 Chalk Hill Estate Sauvignon Blanc (Russian River Valley): A little (too) lush/creamy but the splash of Sauv Gris is a nice addition $30 B >>find this wine>>
  • 07 Chalk Hill Estate Red (Russian River Valley): Wow. Tough to convey how much ass this could kick if they can get the abv down a bit $70 A- >>find this wine>>
  • Sebastiani Cherryblock Cabernet Sauvignon (Sonoma Valley): Compressed can of well-structured spicy black fruit kickass. Give it 6 yrs $90 A- >>find this wine>>
  • 09 Sebastiani Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley): Chocolates, flowers, and a dark (cherries) side. A dead-sexy combo for date night. $28 B >>find this wine>>
  • 09 Sebastiani Chardonnay (Sonoma County): Put-together, but *well* put-together. Apricot, cream, apples, citris & over-achievement. $12 B >>find this wine>>
  • 09 Foley Rancho Santa Rosa Pinot Noir (Santa Rita Hills): Spicy, weighty, rich but not w/out tart red berry. One for the yacht club. $40 B+ >>find this wine>>
  • 09 Foley Rancho Santa Rosa Chardonnay (Santa Rita Hills): Mineraly & tropical Chard’s more experienced & slightly curvier big sister. $30 B+ >>find this wine>>



Foley, Food Porn, And A West Coast Wine Geek-out

At the end of July, I wound up at the top of Chalk Hill in Healdsburg.  It was one of those events that I should be used to by now but that make me slightly uncomfortable anyway because they a) are held in lavish settings that seem to cost a billion dollars, b) usually end three and half hours late with an over-the-top, impeccably prepared/served lunch cooked by a French chef (and likely weighing in somewhere in the neighborhood of a billion calories – food porn coming in a minute or two, I promise), and c) have winemakers who’ve been flown-in from all over the place, any of whom may or may not be all that interested in making small-talk with you.

Events unfolded pretty much exactly to that plan during my visit to The Hill, though thankfully the folks who make up the winemaking crew of Foley Family Wines, whose portfolio we were tasting through, proved an amicable bunch.

Far and away the most exciting thing for me at these events is not the lavish stuff – and there was no shortage of that shizz: Chalk Hill’s pavilion, where we tasted and then lunched, has a 21-foot limestone fireplace, a panoramic view of the estate, and an Olympic-sized dressage riding arena made of Alaskan golden cedar that required a highway shutdown to transport, in which the horses ride (I am not making this up) on imitation dustless “dirt.”  Not that the setting is intimidating or anything…

Anyway… for me, the most exciting bit is always tasting the wine.  Is it any good? Is it worth the price?  Does it have a story it’s trying to convey?  Having the winemakers there just adds exponentially to the geek-out factor, and so eventually my nose gets in the glass, the surroundings get tuned out, and I enter geek-the-hell-out mode.  And it turns out, in a rare convergence of high incomes and good tastes, that the Foley portfolio has a lot in it that’s worth geeking-out over…

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