Sometimes, it takes a considerable issue to bring a more minor problem in an overall perspective. Consider the ongoing battles in the wine world over conventional versus natural Wine. The sometimes scathing black-and-white rant that boils to “natural wine is flaw-ridden mouse-cage-smelling crap” against “conventional wine is chemically steroided soulless corporate garbage,” began to appear to be a bit…oh, it’s not the whole point after the coronavirus shook all things in March.
The fundamental principle behind natural wines is organically-grown grapes with the least amount of intervention possible: no fining or filtering, no commercial yeast and no harvesting by mechanical means, and with no sulfur at all or minimal. They range from clean and pure to dark and fun. Many people consider them an almost religious vocation; others think them in danger of all they believe to be Wine (and many believe they are interesting and would like to see if they can try them). With Twitter becoming idiotic, we were just 2 or 3 weeks into this outbreak before the more tolerant folks on either side started firing shots at one another.
Why all the fuss? What is the thing about natural wines that makes them so controversial? It challenges an essential, often-forgotten belief about Wine: its taste is as crucial as how it’s produced. (The word “natural wine” also frustrates some people because they believe that every other Wine is unnatural. This could be the reason “minimal intervention” and “raw” Wine have gained traction as alternative terms.) However, all this fuss is happening without much natural Wine worldwide. Zev Rovine, one of the most prominent importers of natural wines, claims, “Even if you took a big estimate of the sales for our whole community, I’d max it out at $70 million in wholesale revenue [in the U.S.]. What percentage is that of the wine industry? Way less than 1%, right?” Actually, “way less” is an understatement. The amount Rovine claims isn’t even one percent of U.S. wholesale wine revenue; however, it’s one-tenth of one percent. It’s minuscule. But the amount of attention focused on natural Wine is massive, as sales have soared.
I’m struck by Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream: “And though she is but little, she is fierce.”Another issue I had in mind during my pandemic isolation was how badly I had missed having a drink out. (Staying at home for drinks? I’ve had plenty). The essence of Wine, at its core, is social. Wine is a way to bring people together; it’s the most magical attribute. Natural or not, it’s not a great match with intolerance. This is why I’ve missed The Four Horsemen in Brooklyn. The Four Horsemen. While it’s a must-visit destination for wine lovers who prefer natural Wine, director Justin Chearno’s list balances different camps. “Sure, most of the wine we love happens to be pretty noninterventionist,” Chearno declares. “But if I get an offer for an exciting conventional Barolo that people will enjoy, I’ll bring it in. We’re not dogmatic. We’re a taste-great-first place.”
The principle of open-mindedness is at the heart of many modern-day wine bars, or at least appropriate to describe this trend of small Sommelier-founded (or forward-thinking wine) establishments. For instance, at Ungrafted at San Francisco, which Rebecca Fineman, who is the Master Sommelier, opened along with her husband and fellow Sommelier Chris Gaither, the list reverses of The Four Horsemen’s: Natural bottles make up the majority instead of the majority. There are many of them. Fineman states that What he seeks will be “a mix of interesting and off-the-beaten-path, with some things very classic things. I get frustrated by the polarities I see in the industry. You go to a Michelin-star restaurant, and all they have is $30 by-the-glass famous names; then you go to a cool wine bar, and everything on the list is natural and $10 a glass. There needs to be an in-between.”
Conventional? Natural? Yes, to Both
These are my picks from my wine list. Many are drawn from lists at my favorite wine bars, including wines from across the range.
NV Juve & Camps Brut Rose Cava ($17)
Juve & Camps, founded in 1796, is the popular name for Cava sparkling wine from Spain. The rose version is made of Pinot Noir, not one of the most common grapes in the Penedes region, but still delicious.
2019 Lucy Rose of Pinot Noir ($19)
Lucy is a side project by the Pisoni family, one of California’s best Pinot Noir cultivators. It’s packed with citrus peel and red fruit notes, and a percentage of the profits from each sale is donated to research into breast cancer.
2019 Clos Du Tue-Boeuf Rose ($20)
Thierry and Jean-Marie Puzelat were there at the beginning of the movement toward natural wines in the 1990s. Their rose, made of wild grapes, is herbaceous and tasty.
2019 Arnot-Roberts California Rose ($25)
Touriga Nacional grapes, native to Portugal and Spain, form the core of this spirited California rose. Its vibrant cherry fruit is a source of floral notes and spice.
2018 Agnes Et Rene Mosse Moussamoussettes Petillant Naturel ($30)
“We poured this rose pet-nat when we opened, and people loved it,” Trent Stewart, of Golden Age Wine located in Birmingham, Alabama, says. It is cloudy and softly fizzy. Its flavors remind me of the tart strawberry.
NV Champagne Delamotte Brut ($60)
Delamotte was created by the same group that created Salon, among the most sought-after (and expensive) champagnes available. It has a delicate balance, with layers of berries and Brioche.
2018 Kofererhof Kerner ($23)
Kerner is a unique variety created in 1929 by cross-breeding Schiava (a red variety of grapes) with Riesling, a popular variety grown throughout Germany. But the most affluent types, like this concentrated, tangerine-scented Wine, originate from Italy’s northern Alto Adige region.
2019 Craggy Range Te Muna Road Vineyard Martinborough Sauvignon Blanc ($27)
The Craggy Range’s Sauvignon Blanc is an exemplar of the New Zealand style: incredibly vibrant sparkling, with fresh passion and grapefruit flavor, as well as a slightly spicy bite that doesn’t go into the land of jalapeno-green peppers as many do.