This wine, Alice Fiering's The Battle for Wine and Love, Sylvie Augereau's carnet de vigne Omnivore 1er Cuvée les 200 vins 100% raisin, which is a guide to 'natural wine' in France, and the forthcoming 2009 Renaissance des Appellations tasting in Angers all put the spotlight on 'natural wines'.
People, who know about Mark's often wonderful wines, will proably have no problem with this 1998 Les Vieilles Vignes des Blanderies. But what of someone who unsuspectingly orders this from a restaurant wine list? The chances must be that they will reject the wine as being out of condition.
How would the wine have tasted and developed with a small dose of sulphur at the time of bottling. Would it have had that almost painful austerity of a long aged dry Oloroso? It surely would have had a more golden colour and different aromas.
Which brings me to the Renaissance des Appellations tasting in Angers. I expect that the 2009 edition (1st February) will again provide some of the most fascinating but equally some of the worst wine that I will taste during 2009.
It seems to me that the current fashion or accent on 'natural' wines leads to a tendency to accept anything from a 'naturally made' wine. A little oxidation can give a wine additional interest but too much will make it undrinkable. Shouldn't the first criteria when assessing be – is this wine drinkable – is it enjoyable or will it be enjoyable in future with a bit more age? Not is this wine 'natural'. Instead too often the apostles and disciples of 'natural wine' applaud that it is 'natural' first and last.
I have no doubt that once again at the Renaissance tasting there will be wonderful wines from Loire producers like Richard Leroy (Anjou Blanc), Thierry Michon (Fiefs Vendeens), Eric Nicolas (Jasnières) and others. Equally there will be some horrors – unclean, impossibly oxidised wines where the producer, blinded the non-intervention, non-sulphur religion will have sacrified their fine grapes on the altar of neo-othodoxy and instead of making something delicious will proudly display crap wines that undermine the serious purpose of the Renaissance des Appellations.
Today everyone claims that wine is made in the vineyard. You can't make good wine without good grapes. Too true but not the end of the story as you can certainly stuff up your grapes royally in the winery as some Renaissance producers demosntrate too well and that was also apparent in the large tasting of reds from the Central Vineyards I did on the 19th December.
The fine wines of the Clos Roche Blanche will also be available at the Renaissance tasting – but not at the Salon des Vins de Loire this year. When we visited them on Tuesday Didier explained the various techniques including a lengthy cold stablisation he had used to lower the naturally high acidities of the 2008s. At the end of the tasting, once Didier had left to finish the row of vines he was pruning, Catherine spoke with admiration of the measures and care Didier had taken over the vinification of the 2008s – an on-going care as many of the ferments are not yet finished. Non-interventionalist winemaking? Probably not but surely an example of a fine and thoughtful winemaker using whatever techniques he can to modify what 2008 has thrown at him as naturally as he can.