My Thoughts on Natural Wine

Discussing the virtues or follies of the natural wine phenomenon and its cult like following has been a favorite pastime for wine professionals for a couple of years now. Lately it has also spread to consumer magazines and wine aficionados pounce on the opportunity to finally take a stance (which is mostly expressed in poorly worded pastiches on Facebook along with much virtual back-slapping). There is little, if any, real discussion.

Frankly, I am bored to tears with the whole thing, and in a way torn as to whether or not I should delete this whole tirade and ignore the topic, instead of adding fuel to anyone’s fire. But on the other hand, if I can just publish my views I can just refer to that and move on to more interesting discussions next time I meet someone in the wine trade, who without a doubt will bring the topic up within the first ten minutes of conversation.

During the last MAD symposium, where luminaries in the world of gastronomy descend on the town for cutting-edge seminars and happenings, I heard the following repeated almost ad nauseum by big-shot international chefs, winemakers and sommeliers who just had to visit all the “cool” restaurants while they were here:

“What the hell is going on in Copenhagen? The food is spectacular; delicious and intellectually challenging, but why is everyone serving undrinkable wine? Of course, I have to remain diplomatic and would never say it out loud.” Some of the more wine-savvy visitors lamented, “They’re not even serving any good natural wine! The more obscure and faulty the better!”

Copenhagen, where I live and work, has in the last few years become a Medina (not quite up to Mecca standards) of natural wine. This is, of course an effect of Noma becoming the most talked about restaurant in the world a few years ago. Noma’s dogmatic approach to rediscovering and interpreting local ingredients resulted in a light, vegetable-driven cuisine with overtones naturalistic purity. Creativity through constriction, you could say. The same radical dogmatic applied to the wine list results in a selection of exclusively European wine, made by using methods of biodynamic agriculture (or at the very least organically, if the farmers beard was deemed long and raggedy enough) without additives, including sulfur dioxide.

Sulfur has been used as an anti-microbial and anti-oxidative agent in winemaking since Roman times. It can be added at various stages in grape growing and winemaking. Without it, wine is prone to spoiling, losing their aromatic freshness and turning brown. However, sulfur is an irritant and there are limits set on its usage. Most winemakers agree that it should be kept at a minimum (optimally only used at bottling), and a few brave souls work without it, or with extremely small quantities. Especially wine made for export usually needs to be protected, unless it can be shipped carefully in refrigerated containers and trucks, which adds a significant cost, and frankly doesn’t happen very often.

Now, back to Copenhagen, via Paris. Although the natural wine scene had been slowly stirring ever since Jules Chauvet convinced a handful of Beaujolais winemakers change their ways in the early 1980’s, it was only 20 years later that the movement gained enough critical mass to really make itself known. Paris especially became a hotbed of wine bars and restaurants featuring only vin nature. These places were edgy, cool and contrarian. They had a clear message and a very black-and-white view of the world: either you were with them or against them. Perfect for anxious foodsters.

Paris is a given on the top list of destinations for any restaurant professional searching for inspiration. Ambitious young chefs and sommeliers everywhere sucked it all up, and by 2007 there were major vin nature outposts in London, New York and Copenhagen. Aforementioned Noma and Bocuse d’Or winner Rasmus Kofoed’s Geranium, also a natural wine outpost, were the hottest places in Copenhagen, booked for months in advance and attracting fledgling and determined volunteer staff from all over the world.

Some more or less natural wines that everyone could and should enjoy!

Some more or less natural wines that everyone could and should enjoy!

Let’s get personal. Back in 2008, when I started my career as a sommelier for real, I was quite drawn to the idea of vin nature. I was (and am still) attracted by the philosophy itself. But it was also a way to be radical and rebellious, to take a stance, seem cool and score all the hippy wine chicks (no, not really, they don’t exist). I read a lot, tasted a fair bit, bought a little and sold almost nothing. Perhaps I was in the wrong, way-too-uncool place. Either way, the interest was not quite there. What did best was those wines which even in classic renditions play around with oxidation; especially Champagne, Loire valley whites and wines from the Jura Mountains in France. The wines made by small, environment-conscious producers here, with minimal intervention clearly had a sense of life and intensity about them that their more conventional peers often (definitely not always) lacked. On the other hand, I never got into the more aromatic white grapes vinified without sulfur (like Riesling). I also generally struggled with the taste of many reds, which often end up with drying, rancid hazelnut-like tannins on the finish. This seems to be a clear sign of oxidation and a sensation that can ruin a wine for me, even though the flavor otherwise might be clean.

Two styles of wine more than any other drew me back from the absolute abyss though. German Riesling with residual sugar and Sherry. These wines literally cannot be made with completely natural principles, both requiring additions of different sorts. Despite this, they are undisputedly unique and belong to the pantheon of the world’s greatest wines. So if I had to forgo the beauty of a Mosel Kabinett with its unparalleled capacity for transmitting terroir, to fully embrace the vin nature dogma, something was seriously wrong.
Even though my wine lists today are made up of 99% conventional wine, I still keep some vin nature favorites on there, (admittedly mostly for myself and other sommeliers). Usually I go for “the classics”, wines that won’t offend and stay true to the typicity of their appellation, but still offer personality and a good story. When I dine out I have natural wine on a regular basis, but I am very picky with what I choose and I have learned to stay far away from wine pairing menus, where I commonly find too many blatantly faulty and unpleasant wines.

Back to the restaurant scene in Copenhagen. Those hard-working poor souls who managed to live through years of brutal 80-hour weeks have now graduated, and Noma-alumni restaurants are popping up like mushrooms. With them follows the wine philosophy they’ve been steeped in, accentuated by the radicalism of youth (and freedom?); sulfur is not just unnecessary but plain evil. White wine is supposed to be brown, or at least orange. Red wines are supposed to foam a little. Champagne is for philistines; you should have (and enjoy) some Grolleau based pet-nat from the Loire. The more muddy sediment that ends up in the iso-glass (chosen with calculated nonchalance) the better.

And here is the crux. The sommeliers that run these lists often lack proper wine education, and points of reference to conventional wine (for lack of a better term). If a classic Meursault somehow crept under their radar, they woulnd’t know how to relate to it. They have worked for their entire professional career with only vins natures and have effectively missed out on 99% of the world of wine. They have been infused with the dogma that everything else is not only different, but it is stuffy, without interest or just plain evil. Their view of what wine is supposed to be is skewed so far away from mainstream that they lose all connection with reality and the palates of their guests. But bolstered by trend-sensitive media and anxious foodsters they feel invincible. It is a perfect parallel to that classic Danish tale of the emperor and his new clothes.

These “sommeliers” may never have tried a classic Bordeaux, and in fact many of them scoff at the notion. I have heard statements like “Cabernet Sauvignon is a shit grape”, “Real wine can not be made outside of Europe”. They fake sneezing attacks when you approach them with a glass of wine with added sulfur (yet somehow manage to drink Perrier or San Pellegrino water on the side without any issues, both of which are high in sulfur). For them, there is no need to try a wine from South Africa. It is inherently bad.

Now, I may be too harsh, but I have simply been served too much decidedly faulty wine in otherwise respectable establishments to let this slide, and then been chided when I pointed this out. No, maderization or rampant volatile acidity is not a sign of terroir, and it never will be. In fact, if all your white wines taste like lambic, no matter where they are from, why not serve beer instead?

That faulty wine is being served to such a degree is creating an unfortunate polarization. Where a few years ago the naturalists (sic!) were the aggressors, today they take a more actively defensive stance. Late-to-the-party winelovers exclaim their hatred of natural wine, scoff and laugh at biodynamic practices, wear “I heart SO2”-teeshirts and in general dedicate way too much time on social media talking about something they could as easily ignore.

Because, really, there are magnificent natural wines and it would be an equal shame if passionate wine drinkers take the contra-contrarian stand and dismiss the whole genre based on a few bad experiences. The wines of Pierre Overnoy in the Jura, of Dard & Ribo in Rhône, Catherine & Pierre Breton in the Loire along with many others deserve to be on as many great wine lists as possible.

All of this conflict because we don’t understand the virtue of moderation. No matter what you think of the most hardcore natural wine, you can not deny that the phenomenon itself has been great for the world of wine as a whole. When I meet winemakers in South Africa, Portugal or even the epicenter of evil wine capitalism; Napa Valley, they all express the desire to use as little intervention as possible and make pure, lively wine. Organic and biodynamic practices are becoming de rigeur everywhere, and for the right reasons too. You would have to be totally daft to think that that is bad in any way. In a way, the natural wine movement has also helped propelled the new interest in traditional wine. All of a sudden the wines of Bartolo Mascarello, López de Heredia, Gentaz and Clos Rougeard are back in style. It is long overdue.

The most undervalued wine in the world today?!? More great natural (although I am sure some will debate that...) wine from Muscadet in the Atlantic Loire valley.

Great natural (although I am sure some will debate that) wine. Perhaps the most undervalued wine in the world at the moment: Muscadet

I prophesize that the term natural wine will fade away over the next ten years, to be replaced by something infinitely better and more powerful. The trend has certainly peaked, and the fact that we cannot yet agree upon what natural wine really is shows how fickle it is. It is also time for the naturalistas to grown up and drop their elitist and borderline racist (again, remember good wine can not be made outside of Europe) views. I hope and think that we can shift focus to something much more important: wine with soul and personality. Let’s leave the devil in the details. If we need a label we could call it authentic, artisanal or just real wine (by the way, when was the last time you had some unicorn wine). It would include the best of the natural group along with classic producers like Vega Sicilia, but also leave room for Eben Sadie and his friends in South Africa, Araujo in Napa and Pontet-Canet in Bordeaux. Hell, we can even find a way to bend the rules to allow Penfold’s Grange in there somehow I am sure, despite its apparent lack of terroir. Let’s be inclusive for once and accept the fact that multitudes make the world a fun (and tasty) place to be.

Let’s end this rambling mess with some quick tips.

TIPS FOR VIN NATURE “SOMMELIERS”

  • Stop being elitist.
  • Help yourself to a proper wine education. Read the books and drink the wines. If you decide to limit your knowledge to 0.1% of the world of wine, you don’t have the right to call yourself a sommelier. I’ll even help (with the drinking part)!
  • Don’t buy wine on good stories or length of winemakers’ beards.
  • Don’t try to pass on faults as terroir. You should at least be questioning yourself and your palate if someone sends a bottle back.
  • If you’re going to sell un-sulfured wine, invest a properly cooled cellar. I bet this is actually the cause of a majority of the faulty wines you’re serving.

TIPS FOR CLASSICALLY MINDED WINOS

  • Drop the polemic bullshit.
  • Give natural wines a chance. Go for the producers that have been doing this since before there was a term and a trend for it. As with anything else, they are usually the most consistent.
  • Be thankful for all that the movement of organics, biodynamics and natural winemaking has done for the world of wine. It’s brought another level of consciousness to conventional producers as well.

TIPS FOR JOURNALISTS AND BLOGGERS

  • Enough with the sensationalism. If things seem black/white it’s only because you don’t know better.
  • Dare to criticize, even if your peers are praising.
  • Realize that in today’s world, you’re powerful. Take responsibility and act accordingly.

TIPS FOR NATURAL WINEMAKERS

  • Realize that you’re in a bubble before it’s too late and get your shit together.
  • Your French witticisms really aren’t all that funny. The naked girl on the label doesn’t exactly help neither.
Comments
62 Responses to “My Thoughts on Natural Wine”
  1. Crespi says:

    Bravo Arvid!

  2. Thank you Arvid.
    I was wondering what was wong about my taste and judgement about what good or bad wine was in my mind and taste. That was after a tree day wisit in Copenhagen late spring this year. I was confused, which ended up in this Blog
    http://gastroogvino.dk/naturvin-den-grimme-aelling-eller-den-smukke-svane/
    How can so many educated and bright sommelier be so sure of the taste of the avantgarde style wine?? I still wonder. Do they not have any self reflection of taste??

    • Arvid Rosengren says:

      In part, like I wrote, it’s up to their “education”. They are conditioned to liking a certain style and disliking everything else.

      But also, like all young people (men) in semi-creative jobs, sommeliers go through a rebellious, contrarian phase. Natural wine fits right in. But being a rebel is the easy way out as it is today. The world they rebelled against is gone.

      Although that’s not to say the world of wine didn’t deserve it back when natural wine was making its strides, with all it’s €500 Bordeaux, Parker scores and reductionist winemaking (and tasting).

  3. Kath says:

    I’m surprised that you are “prophesizing” vs “predicting” or even just being humble to say you believe a trend will go away. The arrogance in the writing is hard to get past for whatever the point is and for me as a reader, is a turn-off.

    • Arvid Rosengren says:

      Poor choice of words perhaps. I guess a bottle of sherry will make anyone a prophet.

    • Turk says:

      Looks like someone feels a bit hurt and called out :)
      and to call the writer arrogant while he advocates drinking classic AND natural seems mean just for the sake of it.

  4. Jan Nilsson says:

    Dear Arvid

    It is so nice to see an open and frank article on the topic Natural Wine and agree 100% with you.

    You may also see our comments on the same topic here: (in Danish)

    http://vinograd.dk/media/Vinograd.dk_-_Nyhedsbrev_03-2013.pdf

    Best regards

    Jan

    P.S. Congratulations with the award “Best Sommelier of Europe” which my dear Brother in Law Dragan Trifunovic told me you won in an impressive way.

  5. Sören Polonius says:

    Good written!
    Keep up the good job.
    /Sören

  6. Frederick Rogmark says:

    Dear Arvid,

    I think this is a brilliant article. Thank you. I am a wine lover of the old school where most of these terms that you relate to were not even invented. In these times the New World wines were not even on the map as far as quality goes except for a very few exceptions. There were no large international conglomerates producing wine on several continents. We were all in an ignorant bliss as we all thought quality wines were produced by what we perceived as men in berets rolling their cask along the cobbled street in Beaune. There were no ecological/organic/nature/biodynamical wines per say. At least not merchandised as such. During my career I have also met a few producers whom adhere to these standards but refuse to label it as such. Why? Well, after producing wine the same way for a 1000 years in the same vineyard these terms means nothing to them in historical or practical terms. They just go on doing what they always have done, great wine without the chemicals…

    So, I think it would be interesting to put matters in an historical perspective for most people to understand the issue. Is ecological/organic/nature/biodynamical wines something new? Why do producers use these terms? As I see it, it is related to the use of industrial pesticides and fertilisers used in modern times, the last 150 years give or take…

    When wine was first truly internationally commercialised over the continents in the 80′s and 90′s, I for one felt that something was lost. I found refuge in the producers (mostly in Europe) that refused to adapt to the “standardisation” of taste by Robert Parker. I have to admit that I still sometimes dishonor inexpensive New World wines as “fruit juice with added alcohol” which is ridicoulous as the same wines is today produced in the Old World in great quantities.

    As far as I am concerned, there are still plenty of fantastic producers all over the world of ecological/organic/nature/biodynamical wines that I love and admire.

    None of them are oxidised, except for the historical wines that you mention in your article.

    I would love to taste a dry oxidised Chardonnay that would change my mind…

    Looking forward to your input!

    • Arvid Rosengren says:

      In a sense, you are correct. I also adhere mostly to those traditional wines that have made wine in a sensible way for generations. And chemical fertilizers and such are actually not even that old. That revolution came in the 60′s mostly.

      However, other additives, like sulphur, resin or lead acetate (!) have been added to wine for thousands of years now, to allow it to keep. Similarly, the primary role of adding hops to beer is not for flavor but for its anti-microbial properties. So where does one draw the line?

  7. One of the very best, and most balanced pieces on this subject that I’ve seen.

    • Peter Healy says:

      Great piece! Considering your few years in the industry you stand apart from most of the others of your generation. Twenty five years of being an Aussie Sommelier and seeing what all the ‘young’ five min ‘Sommeliers’ are doing down here because of this hipster trend has been killing me. I also blame the Restaurant owners/ Managers. A wine list is a business tool (usually the only real way to make money in Restaurants). If these trend setters are allowed to ‘stack’ the wine lists with 90% or more of these wines then the owners get what they deserve… hopefully a broke restaurant. I am often the one who has to come in and ‘fix’ their wine list afterwards and its more of the ‘Sommelier’ personal drinking list than anything you would call a wine list. I also blame the world ‘Sommelier’ authorities/ institutions for not enforcing MORE education on the floor and less PARTY TRICK blind tasting competitions to get a qualification Too easy to be on the floor of a restaurant for 5mins, read some books and then sit an exam/ competition and ‘HEY PRESTO’ your a ‘Sommelier’. Time, depth of experience and mentoring… we need more of this. By the sound of it, more like you too! Well done, love to have a few Sherry’s or Mosel’s with you any time! Peter Healy, Sommelier, Melbourne Australia.

      • Arvid Rosengren says:

        Couldn’t agree more Peter. It might also be a generational thing, like you say.

        Those who started out in the industry in the 2000s have, due to skyrocketing prices, not had the same chance to taste great wines that earlier generations did. Unless you get to work in some prestigious restaurant in NY, Vegas or Monaco, you might never get a chance to taste first growth Bordeaux, DRCs and so forth. Some learned to ignore it, other yearned for it with an almost sick passion and others rebelled.

        And rebelling against expensive Bordeaux, Parker, Super-Tuscans etc. is in a way a natural (!)reaction. In a way, the classic wine world deserved it too. The problem is that it is it’s become an easy way out. You can be an “expert” yet only deal with a minuscule proportion of the world of wine. Journalists, food blogs etc provide a positive feedback loop with all their praise, so I genuinely think many don’t even realize they are serving bad wine.

      • My favourite “natural” wine story: US importer/distributor Kermit Lynch in a US restaurant sends back a bottle. Sommelier replies that there’s no point in opening another because “you don’t understand this style of wine. It’s ‘natural’. Lynch responds. “Yes I do understand it, actually. I’m the US importer and I can tell a corked bottle from a good one.

  8. You nailed it. For the problem is absolutism. It is tiring. I wrote about this is a slightly different manner recently: http://t.co/TQEfDEqZ72

    Thanks for adding balance to this rather stale us vs them discussion.

  9. Arvid, I approached this article with dread, as I am so bored of the ‘argument’ (for me, not an argument) but had been told it was a good read. I agree with most of your points and, as I have said may times before, would put forward the view, good wine is good wine. That my opinion is that these are normally uber-traditional (Lopez de Heredia, Chateau D’Arlay) or made in a way that has minimal additives (excluding sulphur in tiny amounts) is simply that, an opinion. In terms of the ‘argument’ – if you like the wine, great. If not, jog on… There will be another wine around the corner you like more.

  10. Graham Tigg says:

    Brilliant point for all writers “Enough with the sensationalism…..black/white”. Not so sure about the advice to winemakers. At the end of the day and whatever the ‘style’ there is good and bad/indifferent wine.

  11. Shaun Corrigan says:

    Dear Arvid,
    Certainly a thought provoking and intelligent discussion on the merits of understanding what natural wines are, and for those sommeliers out there that just dont know how to judge wines based on their strengths. I agree, many so-called natural wines are so badly made that the term certainly needs to be more descriptive. Those wine makers who have an understanding of their vineyard site and who have little intervention will use what the climatic conditions direct them to do so, whether natural or not. Not sure this will go away though any time soon…..

  12. Thanks, Arvid. Perhaps you already knew this: pre-1971 German Wine Law, Mosel Kabinett was actually termed a “natural wine.” http://www.larscarlberg.com/unlocking-the-kabinett/

  13. You seem to have as much idea and knowledge about natural wines, as you have about cities. Mecca and Medina are two different cities, just like vin naturel is different to the sulphite monster wines, which are called great because they are on hold for 10 years or more even before they open up and are drinkable. The excuse used is minerality and acid, when it should just be called sulpher!

    • Just as I was beginning to imagine that the fundamentalist “how-dare-you-say-anything-remotely-critical?” arm of the People’s Front for Natural Wines might have been disbanded, here’s evidence that at least one member is still out there fighting the good fight. I’m not sure that you have a point to make about Mecca and Medina, Dr Alikhan, but I’m pretty sure that you need to check the spelling of the chemical compound you’re so keen to demonise. Both sulphur and sulfur work. “sulpher” doesn’t.

    • “The excuse used is minerality and acid, when it should just be called sulpher!” – You mean like when oxidation and volatile acidity are excused by “…it’s the terroir!”

  14. Paula says:

    Well said; well thought, and well timed. I wrote my own thoughts out yesterday before reading this, after sitting in on a Naturwein panel last week. The core of which comes down to a — for me– startling revelation. The finished wine was in many cases not the goal but rather an almost accidental byproduct. the byproduct of natural grapes undergoing a natural process in a natural setting. And when each of those steps are respected, the result can only be a natural wine. The process, therefore, not the product is truly at the center of the philosophy.

    This would make sense. It would also explain why it is so difficult to quantify, but so easy to recognize. When one starts with this tenant, and assumes the role of guide rather than maker, then the process is the defining principle.

    Whether it is always commercially salable, consistent, and or tasty, remains in the opinions and tastes of the beholder.

    • Arvid Rosengren says:

      Hi Paula. I think you are right. The process becomes more imporant than the end result. The prime example of this is Nicolas Joly. The wine is sometimes brilliant, and sometimes not. He doesn’t care very much, the road there is the important thing. I respect that, but it is hard to work with commercially. And wine, for better or worse is not only a cultural product, but also a commercial one.

      • Paula, you have described the situation very clearly.

        Your post and Arvid’s response illustrate – in my view – the gulf that separates the artist and the artisan. The artist can make a chair out of ice cream cones if that’s what he wants to do. The artisan has to make a chair that takes a human weight, does not wobble and matches the other chairs at the table.

        Most consumers, I think, like to deal with artisans, unless they have specifically chosen to deal with an artist.

        Artists often look down on artisans (artists taking about “illustrators” for example) and “natural” wine fans often criticise “commercial” wines. This implies that what they favour is “un”-commercial. Which is fine, until they expect someone to buy it from, or sell it for, them.

  15. Brandur Sigfússon says:

    Great article Arvid!

  16. Interesting reading , even for an amateur like me. I was not aware of the extreme conservatism that seems to have taken root in some pundits. Unfortunately , experts have a very big influence on consumers leading to a narrower range of wines in stores and restaurants. Finding your own way in style and taste requires confidence , which usually comes with age. I guess I’ve never really thought about these trends in wine until now, after reading this articel. I have noticed that the selection of wine that I like varies over time. Why is it so difficult (in Sweden) to get hold of a wine from a small producer in the low to medium-price range? It is easier to get hold of an expensive wine from a small producer. So yesterday I looked through the wines I bought the last few years, some are waiting in my cellar. I discovered that many of the wines are natural wines/echo wines. Do I like these natural wines more or have I’ve been ” pushed ” in this direction?

    At the moment its seems like Priorat is out, but if you like pompous read wins the selections of this wins are more narrow in the stores now. And why is there no, easy accessible, wines from Jura (only 1 win available at the Systembolaget compare whit 480 from piemonte) and the same goose for Cahros and Beaujolais… doesn’t the consumers like them or…?

    Thaks, great article btw!

    • Arvid Rosengren says:

      I don’t live in Sweden, and I I shouldn’t comment on the monopoly selections. Generally, I am opposed to this weird, oppressive system, but then again, it does not affect me at all.

      It seems like a strange feedback loop system. They provide what you ask for, which is what they provide. Why are there so many Amarones in the “premium” segment? It could be that is is your (speaking generally) own fault.

  17. Jared Brandt says:

    A very good read. As a winemaker who is often placed in the natural category, I spend time tasting and drinking classics as often as I can. Many great vineyards and winery’s were great before Parker said they were. I am endlessly annoyed how if he likes a winery, it is overlooked by the “in” crowd.

    I am also amazed by the extreme desire for “natural”. I have been criticized by well known journalist since my wines are “too clean”. Natural doesn’t mean flawed though some think it does. No or low sulfur doesn’t mean it has to be oxidized.

    I hope you are right on some of your predictions. I would love the term to disappear and be replaced by something better. Or perhaps by many things better.

  18. Natacha says:

    Tu n’as absolument rien compris ! Quelle honte que tu sois sommelier !

  19. Well, maybe I’m slightly biased by the fact that we agree on most – if not all – of the points, but this is a brilliant piece! Definitely a must-read…

  20. Kurt Eckert says:

    (real) knowledge and experience trumps evangelical nonsense every time. Bravo and keep it up.

  21. Hej Arvid!
    Thank you for a wonderful blog summing up the experience we also had at Noma this last summer. I dragged 15 of my Canadian and American friends there, of whom 8 are serious Burgundy collectors. Your description of their wine philosophy made me understand what actually happened.

    We tasted wines AND food blind, and had an amazing time food wise. Wine wise…. not sure how to describe it (you did a much better job!), but one of my friends ended up doing a 10 minute insensed diatribe at Geranium the day after focussing on why NOMA sucked so much. For wine lovers the amazing and creative cooking does not make up for the wines that mos of us had great difficulty identifying (usually you can at least guees the grape variety).

    Anyways, next time I have an aged Burgundy or Bordeaux, I will salute the Noma staff who is missing out on many great wines bc of their attitude. Fortunately for us, the two lead sommeliers of the restaurants we visited in Stockholm (F12 and Mattias Dahlgren’s Matsalen) did not share the same mentality – something that I as a native Suede appreciated. We ended our Scandinavian gourmé trip with high spirits. Copenhagen for us was great for eating, but the Stockholm restaurants shared our own philosophy that great food deserves great wines!

    • An interesting illustration of the damage the fundamentalist naturalistas are doing… A page of “natural” wines on a list, for those who want them, is fine, but a “natural”-only selection is something else. Especially when, as seems clear, these are hardline examples rather than the many excellent, more conventional wines that fall into this category.

      I guess that the Noma philosophy to food explains its approach to wine. Unfortunately, as you say, the results are less successful.

      The point you make about the unrecognisable character of the “natural” wines is also something that is too rarely addressed and always noteworthy when one considers the value the naturalistas place on terroir. (Moderate use of) SO2 and (neutral) cultured yeasts undeniably make for wines whose origins are easier to identify.

      • “…the unrecognisable character of the “natural” wines is also something that is too rarely addressed and always noteworthy when one considers the value the naturalistas place on terroir.”

        Even if I find it really exciting and fun to taste natural wines, I have to say that I couldn’t agree more…

  22. Pär Wahl says:

    Thanks Arvid, well written piece I’ll be happy to share with others.

  23. Jan Holmström says:

    Well written, and well disposed.
    As I am one of those people who carry an “I Love SO2″ t-shirt I’ll be a little more edgy.
    I think sulphur levels in white Burgundy have been disastrously low the last 15 years. Wines that used to last and evolve durring 10 tears, now alsts for a emer 5. I s see tendencies to go from 20 g to 35 again, I think that’s reassuring.
    The last time a wine drew tears in my eyes was when I tasted Domaine Leflaive’s Bienvenue-Bâteard-Montrachet 2010 from tank. It was an absolute marvel. Now that it’s bottled two out of three botttles are undrinkable from lack of sulphur. I have no other word for that than “syupid waste”.
    I’d aslo like to quote HeleneThibon at Mas Libian who says: nature does not make wine, nature does vinegar.
    Prüm uses sulphur in excess, but the wines are superb.
    I have tried a few wines done without sulphur that have been good, none that have been great, so I see no real point in taking a stand against sulphur, and I am frankly infuriated by having snotty impersonators of a sommelier telling me that my inability to love defects comes from having had too much sulphur through my 40 years of wine tasting.
    Had I not been treated like an idiot, I might have been a little more understanding.
    But I am not.
    Still I am a huge fan of organic and biodynamic practises.

    • Arvid Rosengren says:

      Thank you Jan.

      Sulphur is not the only issue in Burgundy. Excessive bâttonage I think may have caused even more problems. On your Leflaive note, I am baffled. I have had a lot of problems with their earlier wines (2002 being literally 50% either gone or great), the 2010′s are for me just as stunning as they were in tank, all the way from Bourgogne Blanc to Chevalier (I jave not tasted the Montrachet, and probably never will). I have not had any oxidation problems what so ever. And I bought over 300 bottles of assorted 2010′s, and taste at least a bottle a week.

      Prüm for sure uses sulphur, but that character is more attributable to spontaneous fermentation. See the wines of Schäfer-Fröhlich for reference. In youth, almost as stinky as Prüm, yet Tim Fröhlich uses minimal sulphur in the winemaking. Something about spontaneous fermentation is Riesling (with residual mostly) just creates a lot of reductive notes.

      Speaking of insulting sommeliers, I wholly agree that it is just that sort of stance towards people like yourself from vin nature “sommeliers” that will end up hurting them very badly. They should thank you for the opportunity to learn something!

  24. Anders Busk says:

    Arvid, instead of telling journalists (such as myself), bloggers, old-fashioned winos and so forth what the should and should not do, think and say, try explaining to me what the aim of this post actually is – it eludes me in so many ways, I regret to say. Are you really of the opinion that the ‘naturalistas’ have overtaken Copenhagen’s wine scene to such an extent that it is time for someone to speak up and challenge this flawed wine hegemony, whose reign is aimed solely at serving undrinkable wine in their hipster restaurants? Otherwise I don’t get your reference to Andersen’s fairy tale and its critique of absolutism.
    Most of the ‘naturalistas’ I know have a deep and profound knowledge of wine, classics and non-classics, and I’m afraid you’re making too big a deal out of a few snobbish youngsters.
    My main point is, however: Why not name the places where you get such bad wine? And why not name the wines themselves? Why not get it out in the open? You list a handful of wines from the naturalist Pantheon but why not tell us which ones are hyped but undrinkable in your opinion? That would be interesting and hopefully lead us to discuss the wines and not the people serving them.

    Kindly
    Anders

    • Anders, writing this from the US, today, but living in the UK, I know precisely where Arvid is coming from. It isn’t a matter of which “natural” wines are good (and some are very) or bad (and some are horrible), but of the attitude of their proponents. Unlike organic/biodynamic fans, too many naturalistas – my term – have a quasi-religious attitude towards the issue, dismissing “industrial”, “manipulated” etc wines as though they are of no quality (or worse) and frankly disrespecting those who fail to march to the beat of their drum.

      I’m very happy to deal with a sommelier who offers me a choice of wines without being judgemental about my choice – whatever it might happen to be.

      I am far from alone, however, in objecting to sommeliers who bluntly claim that a brettanomyces-riddled wine is merely expressing “terroir” and implying that a customer’s failure to appreciate it (or a cidery, cloudy example) reveals philistinism on my part.

      I recall with gratitude the waitress in a restaurant specialising in “natural” wine asking me if I was “sure” when I ordered a Cornellissen wine, because “other people” hadn’t liked it. I ignored her warning and therefore readily paid for the half-bottle of cardboardy, oxidised red that my partner and I were unable to drink.

    • Arvid Rosengren says:

      Dear Anders,

      To be honest your comment baffles me. I believe I made my intentions clear throughout the text. Out of the hundreds of (unexpected) responses I have received so far, no one has yet questioned the intent of the text. With that said, as a journalist, you may have a clear aim in sight for all your work. I blog (once in a blue moon) and I never claimed the text was anything but a loosely laid out rant, composed over a good bottle of sherry a late evening.

      But if you need it: I will spell it out for you. I feel the guy getting caught in the middle. I listen to endless tirades from people in all camps about how horrible and clueless “the others” are. Somehow I always feel obliged to defend the part not present. But instead of keeping on doing just that, I felt like it was time to go on the offense, call for moderation and less unnecessary conflict. All in all, the message has been very well received from people in all camps, so I think you are misreading something if you feel like I am being the aggressor.

      Like I also wrote early on in the text, the spark that set the text in motion was meeting with foreign visitors (rather prominent in the world of gastronomy) during the MAD symposium that in private confided their views about how “Copenhagen had lost it”. So I think it is fair to say that I am not the one making a big deal out of anything. But no, Copenhagen is not lost or “overtaken”, as you put it, but it certainly is divided, polarized and inflamed. And there is absolutely no need for it.

      As for naming names I hardly feel like that is my role. As a non-neutral business insider, I give my critique face to face and expect as much from others. The naming names I will leave for journalists and critics. After all, that is their job.

      • Anders Busk says:

        Dear Arvid, I don’t know if I’m misreading you. Perhaps I take your ‘thoughts’ too seriously. However, when you call your colleagues ignorant and borderline racist (racism obviously has nothing to do with it, but I suppose you already know that) I feel that you’re pretty far from ‘calling for moderation’.

        Besides, I do not agree with you on the point that it is an important part of wine education to know ‘classic’ wines inside out – to be frank I do not see how an in-depth knowledge of and experience with iconic and highly priced wines makes anyone a better sommelier. Classic Burgundies and Bordeaux are – sadly – not what most of us choose to accompany our dinners. In that respect, natural wines tend to be, if not cheap then at least affordable.
        As for the arrogance of the vin nature sommeliers – well, I just haven’t experienced it in great amount. And the last time I got a flawed (corked) wine was in a very ‘conventional’ restaurant and when I pointed it out I was met with the response that ‘it’s supposed to be like that’. This special breed of arrogance has always been part of the wine world and that’s probably not going to change.
        I heartily believe in having a choice as a guest in a restaurant and I agree that restaurants serving mostly or exclusively natural wine should be able to offer both the mainstream and the more extremist stuff.

        I really hope that wine and food critics from now on will name these undrinkable wines and the establishments serving them – they haven’t so far – so we can get to the bottom of this.

      • “I really hope that wine and food critics from now on will name these undrinkable wines and the establishments serving them – they haven’t so far”

        Anders, this is not true. As you know I named some of these “establishments” in our discussion about Arvid’s article on my Facebook page which is public (linked in my name). Now, I personally find it both fun and educating to taste natural wines, because I’m a wine geek and it’s my job. So when I mentioned these restaurants it was merely because of stories from friends who aren’t critics, just food and wine lovers, and I actually find their opinion very important. Also, I fully understand and agree with most of their experiences and concerns.

        Admittedly, not many will read our discussion on my Facebook page, so here’s what I wrote in a reply to a French wine producer who visited Copenhagen and had several “undrinkable” wines at Bror:

        “I hear similar stories all the time, not only about peoples wine experiences at Bror, but also at Noma, Relæ, Manfred’s, Pluto, Amass… “The food was great, but the wines sucked” – or at least they didn’t “get” them. Problem is, these people are not wine geeks, so they don’t dare telling the sommelier. If they’ve had the same thoughts about the food, they probably wouldn’t have kept quiet. Funny how natural wines can be as intimidating to some people as ordering a wine in an old school, snobby french restaurant 20 years ago…”

        Now your turn to give us the name of the arrogant “conventional” restaurant… ;-)

  25. Arvid Rosengren says:

    Sorry this is not in direct reply to your post Anders, I hope it reaches you anyway.

    I can understand the disconnect now that I have seen the discussion you and André had on Facebook. I will overlook your petty critique of my language skills. I never claimed it was a literary masterpiece, I even went at far as to call the text a “tirade” and “rambling mess” myself, but you might have missed that. If you want to help edit it, be my guest.

    I believe the major fault in your interpretation is two-fold:

    First, you seem to believe that I think that I am saying something novel or revolutionary. I don’t. I am sure you’ve heard many variations on the same thing before. In fact, I expect all sensible wine lovers to hold the same view. Obviously, the fact that there are good wines in both camps (which really is the simple essence of the whole thing) is nothing new. But obviously, the way that has been presented in the past has been ineffective. Otherwise my text would have been overlooked as just another iteration on an old theme. Instead, it has received many thousands of views and some of the worlds’ foremost wine writers, sommeliers and winemakers have praised it and shared it. Why do you think that is? Are you prepared to call all of them out as well?

    Second, you seem to feel my critique is one sided. It’s like you stopped reading halfway through (and I don’t blame you, see “rambling mess”!). All your points are in relation to my critique of the natural wine extremists. Yes, perhaps I am being harsh, but let’s call it tough love. I love the philosophy of natural wine, and I feel like the movement is being discredited from within right now with sub-par products, presentation and uninformed, inflammatory statements. A rough awakening is in order, and if I can help with that, I will gladly take somem heat for it. But I will also gladly help arrange tastings and lectures featuring wines that lie outside of the vin nature-sommeliers’ sphere right now, but SHOULD be on their radar. Even though these wines might be from Sonoma Coast or the Swartland.

    As for personal experiences, I have had quite a few bad ones. But mine are more easily shrugged off than most, because of my general interest in wine and the fact that I often taste for free and thus only have to pay for what I really like. Only a month ago, at one of the new noma-offshoots, I went through 6 glasses of wine (choosing wines I did not know beforehand) before finding something drinkable. The one I ended up with was heavily maderized and stunk of sour old oak in a way that made it taste like a rye whisky, which I thought was fascinating. But a wine I would recommend for anyone but a jaded wino seeking vinous kicks? No. I didn’t bother taking any of the names down, and why should I? Do I need to warm people about all the bad conventional wine out there?

    What is more disconcerting to me is when I hear stories like Jan Holmström’s: Two people with more than 30 years of experience of professional wine tasting each told that they are philistines and have bad palates for sending a wine back and instead being offered juice for the rest of the evening (“because there probably isn’t anything you’d like”). This at a Michelin-starred establishment! No wonder foreigners think the service in Denmark is bad. This reflects poorly on the restaurant business as a whole, especially as these restaurants are so trendy, and are obviously the first choice for foodie tourists and professionals. It is well on the way to becoming a serious stigma. If you don’t see this as a problem, then I don’t know what to say to you.

    • Anders Busk says:

      Dear Arvid, thank you for the time you spend on replying to my – well, accusations we might call it of you escalating and not moderating the debate. I think I understand your point better now, although I think that you’re being too harsh. I actually read your post all the way through to your concluding ‘tips’ which I think are a bit too condescending to be really helpful. They’re probably meant to be read in a good-humored way that I didn’t catch.

      I really enjoy (a lot of) natural wines and conventional ones too and so far I have not had any problems regarding the restaurant scene of Copenhagen. Of course, if you and André hear myriads of stories from people who find themselves being treated in an arrogant manner, there’s probably a core of truth in it somehow. And one thing we don’t need in Copenhagen is a reputation for having a bad level of service.
      Evidently that has more to do with the staff than with the wines they serve – and that’s probably a point I missed or overlooked in your post. Your real target seems to be the ‘naturalistas’ and their attitude towards ‘the rest’ – not the wines themselves. Right?

      I strongly believe that the world of wine should be including and welcoming (I tend to view the moderate price levels of natural wines as a good thing in this respect) and that should be the aim of any sommelier – not the opposite.
      But as I experienced some days ago, it’s still possible to have a badly corked wine served in a ‘conventional’ restaurant and being told that ‘it’s supposed to taste like that. It just needs some air etc’. Ordering wine in restaurants, natural or not, can still make anyone feel like kids on the first day of school.

      I still sincerely hope that these problems get attention by the professional restaurant critics and that wine critics will speak up when they encounter wines that they think don’t live up to the hype. I for one really don’t get Frank Cornellissen’s wines finding them way too cerebral (i. e. to be ‘enjoyed’ only with your intellect) and unclean although I admire his uncompromising attitude towards wine-making.

      Kindly

      • I think we’re all more or less on the same page here. I think we all agree 100% that there is no difference between a sommelier telling a customer that a corked wine is “supposed” to taste that way and that he’s a philistine for not appreciating brett-tainted “natural” vinegar. Both instances simply serve to raise the already-too-high barrier that separates “wine people” from normal consumers.

  26. Clark Smith says:

    What an excellent conversation. I am in nearly full agreement with the original very balanced observations, and it seems that most others are too, now that the smoke has cleared.

    I will make a minor contribution, calling into question your statement that sulfiting goes back to Roman times. In Gods, Men and Wine, the ancient wine scholar William Younger makes a long and persuasive case that although they possessed and used sulfites (“blue smoke”), there is no record of a Roman winemaker using them in winemaking. Younger studiously poured over endless Latin cellar records and found no example.

    This shocked me, so in 2001 I began making sulfite-free reds in small quantities under the WineSmith label. I believe it is like climbing Mt. Everest without an oxygen mask – a game for only idiots and experts. I began with the assumption that to learn this game, I should use wines with a great deal of reductive (antioxidative) power – I chose mountain-grown organic grapes on decomposed granite — Syrah from Renaissance Vineyards in the foothills of the High Sierra. This vineyard also has a lot of minerality – I don;t know what that is, but when I see that energy in the finish, I know the wines will age well.

    Secondly, I was careful to get proper maturity, neither underripe nor raisiny. I also used early exposure to oxygen both to increase the wine’s antioxidative power (I know that sounds backwards, but it’s a homeopathic reaction whose science is well understood)

    For a couple years, I tried the wines with and without sulfites. I was so much happier with the unsulfited that I stopped making the controls. I am now 12 vintages into the project, and last August my Two Jakes 2010 Cabernet Franc “Roman Reserve” was selected as one of the top 100 wines in America on conventional grounds. Paradoxically, these wines actually have much more longevity and take a long time to breathe.

    What really makes these wines work is the development in the cellar of a microbial equilibrium. I encourage a wide variety of organisms, a balanced ecology that causes Brett to have to fight for nutrients with a host of other organisms. I believe rampant Brett is an artifact of half-measures which reduce other microbial populations and give this opportunistic organism free reign. Part of this strategy is to get a complete fermentation without added nutrients so we create a “nutrient desert” which limits microbiology. This can only be accomplished with a balanced vineyard and proper maturity. I also inoculate with a vigorous yeast to prevent sticking in this taxing environment.

    There is nothing more wonderful than a great unpasteurized cheese such as an epoisse or Italian fontina. But these are the highest expression of the skilled artesan, and hardly what we want all cheesemakers doing – they would kill us all!

    Unsulfited wines are an extremely interesting place for very clued-in winemakers to play, and quite counter-intuitive. The Romans, despised conquerors that they were, had to make wines good enough to persuade the village elders of some hamlet in Gaul not to stab them in their beds. I still have much to learn, but i can assure you that the issue of sulfites and oxidation is much more complex than this discussion indicates. There is much more about all this in my recently released book, Postmodern Winemaking, should anyone wish to delve further.

    • Fascinating – as ever – Clark. But I’m not sure that you really replicated the Roman experience. Did they use “a vigorous yeast”. I’ll have to get my copy of Younger down off the shelf (a great book, as we agree) but I don’t recall him mentioning it.

    • Arvid Rosengren says:

      Thanks for that Clark. I’ve followed your writings for quite some time, and as always it is fascinating!

      I do believe that the movement on the whole has also taught more conventional winemakers to work more in conjunction with nature (including microbes) and although I don’t see the need to altogether get rid of sulphur, it is certainly something that is best used at a minimal level. It is hugely positive that “everyone” seems to be in agreement about that for the first time.

  27. Dear Arvid

    Let us keep the debate on wine alive, but let us keep it real and honest.

    Do we all have to be the same? Do we all have to agree on one style of wine, serve the same kind of wines and build the same wine list? Let us know why is it not okay to select the wines you like the best. Is the discussion about being a good sommelier, or should we discuss what the job of a sommelier really is. Is it about building a wine list, or is it about matching wines to the food that he or she is working with? To write a list of wines is easy, but is it not much more fun to mach food and wine? Working freely and creatively, matching the style of kitchen and wines made with the same philosophy, with the same ideas and respect for nature and diversity. We pick the wines we like. You are free to do same. Let’s not copy each other, but do what feels right, let ‘s inspire each other instead of telling what’s right and wrong. And leave space for just as much personality in the work of the sommeliers as for the chefs. We all have differences – and those differences is what makes our jobs as sommeliers interesting and challenging every day.

    Natural wine has become a theme that everyone has an opinion about. The term doesn’t have a fixed definition, but we consider natural wine as wine that is unsulphured, unfiltered and free of any other interaction such as cryoextraction, reverse-osmosis, micro oxygenating and temperature control. Natural wine is natural in the sense that nothing is added and nothing is removed. Natural wine is made from organic or biodynamic grapes. Making natural wine is a long process and the winegrower has to arm himself with patience – both in the vineyard and in the cellar.

    Natural wine is mainly developed in the vineyard, and because of that the grape will taste of its terroir – the climate and soil conditions – along with the winegrowers’ judgment and skills. In the cellar, the wine is fermented gradually, without added sulphur, yeast, sugar or other adulterants. Thus, the wine takes form where the grape is grown and it matures in the cellar, where it creates its own structure, balance and style. Natural wine is a product like a cheese made from raw milk or a bread made from sourdough – it’s alive and a will of its own will constantly develop. The winemaker doesn’t completely lose or relinquish control, but instead, hands it over to the wine itself and braces himself with patience and curiosity.

    The winemaker is resigned to the fact that the return on the vineyard is small. In exchange for another year’s harvest, he has to give the fields back what he has taken from them. Not in the form of fertilizers or pesticides, but with hard work. Wine is mainly made in vineyard, not in the cellar!

    We don’t work with natural wine because it is natural wine. We do it because we work with the winemakers, who produce great wine that fits perfectly with our ideas for a wine menu. These winemakers are as dedicated to their wine, as the chefs are to their gastronomy, and we feel they should be showcased as much as the food it is served with.

    To state that all sommeliers working with natural wine in Copenhagen lacks proper wine education and has no reference to classical wines, is not only a pejorative statement that leads to bickering and infighting, but also simply not true.
    Just to name a few sommeliers working with natural wine, but with classical background; Pontus Elofsson – Noma
    Jan Restorff– Søllerød Kro
    Mads Kleppe – Noma
    John Sonnichsen – Noma
    Bo Bratlann – Amass
    Anders Frederik Steen – Relæ & Manfreds
    Peter Pepke – Søllerød Kro
    Søren Ledet – Geranium

    Don’t tell us we do not like wines from outside Europe. For us the origin and wine label will never be as important as the content. We pick the products we find the best, regardless of the length of winemakers mustache. We enjoy the relationship of the suppliers not for the stories, but because it matters what they do in their vineyards. To know the winemakers we work with, is for us a way to know their world and for us, the key to understanding wine, natural or not, even better. In fact at Relæ you will find natural wine from a great guy from South Africa called Craig Hawkins.

    Why this debate?
    Let’s talk about the things we like and tell us about the wines you really love. Instead of going down the road of negativity on social media, wouldn’t it be more beneficial to all of us, chefs and sommeliers, to drink a bottle of wine together and discuss it in a more open fashion? Criticizing each other for each other’s “faults” doesn’t make us grow as sommeliers, chefs or persons. You wouldn’t tear your friends down for a difference of opinion? Why do that to your professional colleagues?

    You have not yet been to Amass. Please come and dine with us. Our wine paring is only 375 DKK or just above 50€, so we’re not going to serve the mature first growth Bordeaux or Grand Cru Burgundy. But we do believe in the wine in we serve and we took care in pairing it to the food, ambience and style of our restaurant. In fact, we offer you a challenge: If you honestly feel that the wines do not match the food, the meal is free.

    
/Bo & Anders

    • Arvid Rosengren says:

      I’ll keep this one short, as I just my whole draft of a reply, and don’t feel like retracing my steps. Point taken, never press back without copy/pasting.

      Great reply Anders & Bo. It serves as a manifesto and primer in many ways, and is worthy of being passed on in its own self.

      First off, you know me well enough to know that I am not opposed to natural wine or in any way think that “all sommeliers working with natural wine in Copenhagen lacks proper wine education”, which is nothing I have stated. I have a deep respect for all the sommeliers you mention in your post. But you bring an experience to the table, with the points of reference I mention that make your decision-making all the better. Added to that, most sommeliers on that list bridge the gap in a very smart way, focusing on quality over dogma, which is exactly what I am in favour of. And you also know that on my lists, you wouldn’t have to look hard to find something you’d like as well.

      Like you say, natural wine is something everyone seems to have an opinion about. And that is the main point I react against, be the opinion “pro” or “con”. I am simply tired of discussing the merits of a huge bunch of wines as if it was a homogenous group. It really doesn’t matter if that group is natural wine or California Zinfandel, because there are exceptions no matter what (on that note, I think you would be very interested to see what is happening in the states now, that they are really beginning to put their old vineyard with Zin, Cinsault, Chenin, Trousseau and Gamay to use, it is nothing short of spectacular). What is terribly wrong is closing your mind and taking the easy way out of taking on a prejudiced and poorly formed opinion.

      But stories like the ones you can read in this thread, others that I’ve heard privately, and especially the stories I heard during the MAD camp do scare me. Here’s another example from Bruce Palling, who used to write on food and wine for WSJ. Not from a Danish restaurant, but still. Is this the impression people are leaving with.

      http://storify.com/ArvidRosengren/palling-natural

      You (as in people like yourself and Bo) need to realize the immense power you have right now, due to the status of the restaurants you’re working with. You are in a sense responsible for the education of a whole generation of our brightest and best, be they chefs or waiters and sommeliers. They need to be encouraged to have an open and sceptical mind.

      A parallel, even though on different scale, would be Parker during the 80’s and 90’s. He had perfect timing and dared to say what others didn’t: that the “greatest wines of the world” were not really all that good and there was great wines found elsewhere. He lifted up some small, artisanal producers to a high status and made everyone else up their game to match. When his power has became far too great, the counter-revolution was equally needed. I am arguing that all of it has made the wines of the world better. Travelling in places like the US, Australia and South Africa, the impact the natural wine movement has made, no matter what you think of it is equally influential, and it is a hugely positive thing.

      I am not saying that you are the modern equivalent to Parker, but you do have power to shape opinions and palates. That’s not to say that everyone should serve classed Bordeaux. I am in no way defending senseless production methods and ridiculous pricing (I really haven’t bought Bordeaux since 2008, and they deserve all the critique in the world). But as a professional sommelier, you should at least be acquainted with them and be able to separate the good from the bad.

      I am very glad to hear that you have taken on Craig’s wines. He is a fantastic winemaker with a searching mind. I was lucky enough to visit him before he had released any wine on his own, and was really blown away by his ideas and the quality of the wine (also in terms of value for money on the more conventional Lammershoek wines). I’d be interested to see how they transport such a long way though.

      Again, thanks for the great reply.

      As for Amass, I will be there soon no doubt. If I can get a table that is! ;)

    • Arvid Rosengren says:

      By the way, here’s something that I had completely forgotten, that I want to ask you about.

      I remember a discussion that you (Anders) had with the owner of importer Pétillant (for the non-Danes; Pétillant imports a lot of very good “natural” wines and especially great Champagne) while I was present (probably in Champagne in 2010).

      At that time you were toying around with the idea of hosting some tastings and seminars for sommeliers with the goal of educating them on wine faults and how to discern between “good and bad” oxidation for example, implying that at a time not that long ago, you too thought that too many restaurant-goers were being served faulty wine and that this was a problem for the credibility of “the movement”.

      Do you feel your views have changed since then? Because to me that sounds like a brilliant idea, that would save “us” a lot of flak.

      • RD says:

        You can’t blog away a fans passion for punk rock over dad rock with labels, bad record store selections and dj’s who don’t have a handle on the subject. It’s terribly futile and unbecoming. 80% of punk is crap. 80% of dad rock is crap. Leave each to his own.

  28. @ Anders & Bo

    Guys, come on…
    While you call for an open-minded attitude and write about diversity and terroir, some of the sommeliers that Arvid is writing about are building wine-lists based on the sole criteria sulfites/no sulfites, serve wines that are so oxidized that it is impossible to tell origin, grape, age or anything else. A young apprentice of max. 20 years tastes in 2 seconds an artisan-wine produced by a family having 400 years of experience, he mixes up purity and lack of taste and tells you for 20 minutes how the wine should have been made in his opinion. To give some weight to his assertion and to impress with his comprehensive knowledge, he mentions at least 10 names of natural wine producers, showing by this the narrowness of his wine universe (he’s of course not responsible, he’s an apprentice, but his chef sommelier and his management are indeed).

    These are examples from the real life on some part of the restaurant business in Copenhagen. So yes, Arvid’s article is welcome and highly necessary. And some more wine education should be mandatory, especially for those who think that they don’t need it anymore 

    All the best
    Corentin Bauer
    Humble servant of the cause of the terroirs français
    Vinea Nordic

  29. Kristian says:

    Now I’ve spent some time reading both Arvid’s blog, Ander’s and Bo’s response and all the thousand of comments and reactions it has given birth to.

    I know that what I have to say might quickly and easily – by more experienced and ‘well-drunk’ sommeliers – be categorized and put into the same ‘booth’ as ‘that year 2000 generation’ of sommeliers who have been brought up with the ‘hip’ natural wine, lacking the knowledge of older, bigger and better wines. That might be true, I enjoy my natural/honest/minimal-interveened (call it whatever you like) wine, because I feel like it’s purer in taste and substance; but we all have our personal taste, haven’t we (and I am still studying and learning)?

    After working with sommeliers like Ander F. Steen, Peter Pepke and speaking with Jan Restorff, I cannot recognize the accusation, that the Danish sommeliers are just stocking natural wine because it’s hip without regards to faults or if it’s badly made. Most of the current sommeliers have all been ‘brought up’ with classical wine, and master them. Most of what I think has already been said by Bo and Anders.
    The only thing that frustrates me about all of this, is the monotone chanting from the same kind of radical ‘conventional’ wine drinkers/sommeliers saying that all natural wine is undrinkable and oxidized (I know the same thing applies to the radical natural wine drinkers, and I cannot approve of that either!!), patting each other on the backs about how great they are at ridiculing this ‘movement’ that, in all it’s simplicity, is just trying to make wine without harming the nature, creating healthier vines and grapes, and by not adding chemicals and not adding or adding a minimal sulfur at bottling not harming you.

    There is a lot of shit ‘natural wine’ out there, but same goes for ‘conventional’ – but there is also amazing ‘conventional’ and same goes for ‘natural wine’; it’s all about being selective, as with everything in life!

    I like the discussion because I’m still learning and I enjoy hearing both sides of the stories, so that I at one point can put together a wine list with the best of both worlds, knowing the strengths and weakness of both. But all of this ‘throwing mud’, back padding and ‘us and them’ is just making me sick.
    Shouldn’t we as professionals not try and promote good wine, support the people who try and make the product we are selling better and most of all keep our minds and pallets open to new styles and tastes? The world is changing and wine is changing with it, so why not give it a chance and embrace it.

    You don’t have to ditch all of your Burgundy, Bordeaux or Cote du Rhone for a bottle of funky, mineral, reductive wine from Jura; as I mentioned we all have our personal preferences.
    But let’s keep it at that, and then the next time you go to Noma, Geranium, Relæ, Manfred’s or AMASS – try and keep your mind and your palets open, hear out your sommelier about how and why, and just enjoy it for gods sake!

    Now, let’s drink some wine..

  30. Lise says:

    Anders Frederik Steen & Bo Bratlann:
    “Let us know why is it not okay to select the wines you like the best. Is the discussion about being a good sommelier, or should we discuss what the job of a sommelier really is. Is it about building a wine list, or is it about matching wines to the food that he or she is working with? ”

    Just to make it very clear to all young, ambitious somalis: Your job is to be the humble servants of your paying guests, to keep them happy and part of this is serving them wine that both matches the food AND makes them happy. You can be ambitious and high end without losing the paying guests in the process. Challenge the guests who enjoys just that but never serve someone a wine that they end up not liking, unless the guests insist. If it ends up this way you’re a failure as a sommelier.
    “table 3 totally didn’t get the wines, we served them” If this sounds familiar, you’re a bad sommelier.
    I know of quite a few people that have gone to places with ground shatteringly great food. They were served wine that left them much less happy, sometimes so unhappy that they will never come again. Some restaurants have such a large potential base of clients that they can afford to only serve the wines they love and to omit wines that they love a little less. To me this doesn’t justify their decision but makes them economically independent. So good for them and all the worse for customers expecting to find wines that they will like.
    Does this mean that you can’t build a wine list with wines that you like. Of course not. Buy all you want from you favorite producers but at least do your guest the service of leaving a small percentage of your wine list to wines that your average customers like. Don’t always challenge your customers with a Sherry that matches the food perfectly if your guest doesn’t like the yeastiness of a fino or the rancio of an oloroso.
    So be as freaky or as conservative as you want but never underestimate your job description.

    /Lise

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