Tuesday, October 4, 2011
How natural wine changes your palate
One of the things I’ve noticed since I started drinking natural wine regularly is how much it’s affected my palate. I can not only spot a natural wine in a tasting line-up but am also much more aware of winemaking practices such as chaptalisation and acidification and of what I now regard as excess levels of alcohol.
I wince at the harsh artificial acidity of a warm climate white and what now seems the excessive dosage of many champagnes which suddenly taste uncomfortably sweet. It’s like the moment when you realise you don’t need that spoonful of sugar in your tea. I really don’t like reds so lush that they taste like a fruit liqueur. I feel the effect the morning after when I drink wines that have commercially acceptable levels of sulphur.
Conversely I love the pure, pristine flavours of many natural whites and the vivid, delicious fruit of so many reds - like eating a bowl of freshly picked berries. It’s got to the stage where the wines we buy for our own consumption are almost all organic or biodynamic or made following similar practices. (I’m not religious about sulphur or certification.)
Is this a problem for a wine writer (for those of you who don’t know I write a weekly column for the Guardian)? I like to think not. Wine writers have probably always had a different taste in wine from their readers if for no other reason that we get to taste a great many more wines. And our passion for wine means we tend to spend more disposable income on it than many of them will choose to do.
Jancis Robinson, for example, has a passion for riesling and I seem to recall her stating that she's not a big fan of Sauvignon Blanc. Tim Atkin has a weakness for white burgundy.
A generation ago patrician wine writers like Edmund Penning-Rowsell would have had a superb cellar made up largely of Bordeaux. Critics who review cars probably drive a more expensive car than their readers. Enthusiasts invest in their hobby.
Your tastebuds also change. I remember in the early ‘90s when I first started taking an interest in wine I was crazy about New Zealand Sauvignon. Now I find the flavours of many of the cheaper examples overpowering and unsubtle. Even in the states there’s a move away from the ‘Parkerised’ reds to which so many producers and consumers were in thrall just a few years ago. The article Eric Asimov wrote in the New York Times last week on the lack of structure of many New Zealand Pinot Noirs almost certainly wouldn't have been written in 2005.
There’s an element of fashion about all this. We don’t drink the same wines as we did just as we don’t wear the same clothes - though I’m obviously waiting for someone (probably my husband) to tell me he still wears the same coat he bought 20 years ago.
So how - if at all - have your tastebuds changed and if so what wines do you like now and which have you left behind?