There is a lot to like in Naked Wine. She does a good job of taking down manufactured wines while at the same time describing the philosophical virtues of wines made without artifice. The call to arms is “take nothing out and put nothing in.” Sounds simple. Thankfully, Feiring struggles on the reader’s behalf with what exactly does go into wines and what does get taken out.For this reader, the technical discussion of winemaking is very helpful. In fact it is palate changing. Feiring does more than discuss cold carbonic maceration. She investigates it driving to the source of the popular natural wine method, Jacques Néauport. She describes her numerous quests across the Atlantic and in California, which I would refer to as wine travel. Finding out what winemakers think – and do – is her job, after all. Apparently, they drink a lot of wine.
I love wine reporting. Maybe I would love it much less if I had to do it constantly. Large tastings are necessary cattle calls for distributors and restauranteurs. For wine bloggers they provide a chance to discover something new. Better to bundle the whole chase in a week-long trek to the Loire or Spain or even the Sonoma Coast, no? Feiring briskly describes her travels [ed. good come tax time] recounting the pulled corks and personal impressions without sacrificing her dogged pursuit of the truth. Truth is an important word for her. I could not help thinking of the money scene from A Few Good Men. Hey Alice! We can handle the truth. Please keep digging.
So what are Alice’s messages in Naked Wine?
1. What most wine drinkers have been enthusiastically drinking for decades is not wine. It is a “representation” of wine. Now there is a lot of truth to this. Her point is that making wine to a style, which the winemaker believes reflects a region, perversely undermines and even betrays terroir.
2. Terroir became a marketing phrase before it was actually understood. As my former landlord used to say, absofuckinglutely. The same holds for biodynamic, organic, and sustainable. These terms have meaning. For Feiring they are about truth in winemaking. She covers them succinctly which is important for this wine drinker.
3. Farm-to-table and farm-to-cellar are about the same thing: being directly involved in all aspects of what we consume. Feiring’s beef here is the concept of a vigneron who is the person who grows the grapes, picks them, stomps them – pigeage [ed. she loves this word] – and makes the wine without adding chemicals, enzymes, or sulfur. I have shortened the list. You will have to read about the remainder of no-no ingrediments. The struggle with sulfur is endless,in the book and in making wine “naturally.” The norm in the USA is decidedly NOT about being a vigneron. We prefer the term vintner. The success of corporate vintners in Napa and the West Coast is rife with self-proclaimed legends. It all goes back to Chalone. Check out the recent Underground Wineletter for Tilson’s excellent review on the new Kendall Jackson fable.
4. She names vignerons who are no doubt represented in her wine club. These are good names to know. Look for them in your local wine shop. Eno Fine Wine carries quite a few.
Naked Wine is a palate changing book. It is a quick, easy and highly informative read. I will go even further. It is important reading that refreshes a tiring fear of the same-old-wine-gig. Impressions we have shared on this blog such as why do so many Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir wines have the same overblown overripe over-alcoholic taste profile, are confirmed in Naked Wine.
Give your palate a break. Let your mind ferment nativistically with thoughts about what is natural and what is artificial in wine. It is certainly as important to search for truth as to find it. Find a local source for trying some of these wines that authentically reflect the region where they were grown and made. Taste the sulfur, oak and winemaker’s yeast from the Made Style. Then try the juicy space dust of the Natural Style. Natural wines are not uniform at all. Truth is always elusive. While the natural wines may show the true terroir they are also made by people trying to figure out how to make authentic, raw wine. How refreshing.
How this story will look when it hits the silver screen….
Natural Wine Writer: “You fermented in steel tanks and you inoculated with commercial yeasts. Did you order the Code Sulfur?”
Heathen Winemaker: “Ma’am, we live in a world that sells wines. Sulfur saves wines and that saves jobs. I do not really give a damn whether you think I should use sulfur or not.”
NWW: “DID you ORDER the code sulfur?”
HW: “You’re GODDAM RIGHT I DID!“