Particularly in recent months this topic has been on my mind a lot, as I have been drinking more natural wines, thinking about them, and listening to what others have to say. I’ve been wanting to write about it for a while, but couldn’t quite find the right angle. I’m still not convinced, but here goes…
I totally understand that people like the idea of organic and biodynamic viticulture – that it is less harmful to the environment and vineyard workers for example, and results in better wine. I certainly do not agree on all points, but I see where they are coming from. Similarly with natural winemaking. Absolutely there are moral issues associated with wine production, and there is also the possibility that more ethical forms may lead to better-tasting end product.
However. I am increasingly getting the impression that the ideological sense of the word good is getting conflated with good as an indicator of quality. For some, if a wine is ideologically good then it tastes good, and if it does not conform to their worldview then it tastes bad. Not merely because ideology and quality are correlated, but almost as a matter of definition. This ideological quality, as I shall call it, has nothing to do with the smell and taste of the wine, its price, the environment in which it is served, or any number of other possible factors, but is almost exclusively dependent on the ideology of how it is produced.
I was being deliberately coy when I wrote “getting the impression that” at the top of the last paragraph, because it is difficult to find direct and unambiguous quotes. But when you hear some people talking about natural wines the implication is clear. The well-known proponents of natural wines may be a little more guarded in what they say, but by the time these ideas filter down to their followers the message can be a lot more blatant. Some really do believe that anything made with zero percent sulphites is delicious and everything else is crap.
Let me be clear that I am very aware that many lovers of natural wines do not espouse this ideological quality. And actually I am not even necessarily criticising those that do – I just find it an intriguing phenomenon that I am struggling to understand. In many ways it would be surprising if ideology did not colour our judgement of quality in a wine, but for me the shocking aspect is how massive the influence can be.
The idea of ideological quality seems at the moment to be most closely associated with the natural wine movement. But it can be broadened. There is for example the excellence of all wines awarded 100 points by [insert name of favourite wine critic here]. If it seems too far-fetched to regard points as being part of an ideology, just remember Parker’s rhetoric about the democratisation of wine. Also, stretching the concept of ideological quality possibly a little too far, some drinkers seem to worship wines only from the classical regions of France, while others make a virtue of drinking wines from more out-of-the-way regions, and from rare grape varieties.
I absolutely don’t want to tell you which wines you should like, and why. But I do firmly believe we should develop a greater awareness of why we like the wines we do. In that awareness lies the route to greater vinous enjoyment.