Guiltless: Nature vs Intention


Looking at two glasses of Pinot Noir, you might not be able to differentiate which one is the natural one and which one is intentional. The colors are the same. The aromas are similar, but the methods of production are separated by ideology … and ideology is a great distance to travel sometimes.

Standing in the hall at Vinitaly‘s VinItalyBio (Pavilion 8) the small wood-crafted stands are a buzz with interested consumers and buyers. The natural and certified organic wines might be a drop in the bucket of wines presented at this conference, but a few years ago the VIVIT section was housed in a small room in PalaExpo.

The offering of minimal-intervention wines being presented at the conference has quadrupled. No doubt, this reflects the shift in the cultural exchange between consumers and producers, and in the greater retreat from industrialized food toward something more sustainable.

Tasting through the wines, one thing becomes eminently clear—a gentle reminder—variety is the spice of life.

Varietal consistency—from Sauvignon to Chenin to Cabernet and Grenache—does not occur by accident. The hallmark aromas and flavors of “typical” wines have a direct connection to the ways they are made. These characters are created by recipes. We’ve all become accustomed to this concept. You cannot make a cake without flour, for example … or can you?

The flourless cake exists. And it’s delicious, usually. (It depends who’s making it, of course.) The point here is that there are more than one or two ways to make everything. Cars, houses, boats, skyscrapers, and wine.

The variables in any equation are based in our own individual perceptions of the subject being studied and the potential for our expectations to drive those perceptions. While I  prefer allowing myself the uninhibited experience of an unfamiliar wine, I have been trained by recipe-makers. I have concepts of what a thing should be. The problem here, obviously, is not the wine. It is me.

Where a home in the center of a city designed by Zaha Hadid or Frank Ghery might not speak to a hermit, neither does a log cabin cut from the forest it was built in attempt to woo an urbanite. Each of us is cut from a different cloth. We have body memories based on our experiences. It is not easy to permit those perceptions to have free-reign once they have been organized.

Just as a highly conceived malolactic-negative sangiovese blanc de noir saten is not a glera method ancestrale, the discussion about which strategy is better or whether one method for making a sparkling wine is right or wrong, dismisses the real matter at hand.

Your preference matters. What you like matters. What you think is important matters.

Whether you believe spontaneous fermentation or cued fermentation using laboratory yeasts, you should be permitted to enjoy the wines you like without guilt, without feeling like you should be shopping from another aisle, another store.

The key is understanding why you like or don’t like something—diving deeper into the glass than the ether of the winery’s marketing material.

VinItaly provides a unique opportunity for consumers, in particular, to step up and join the conversation. Where the wine industry is headed? Will you choose nature, or intention? Maybe you like a bit of both? Tell the producer. Use your social media to tell your friends. Feel empowered to make your choice and try to understand that other people have choices too. 

It is entirely possible that your choice depends on the grape or the wine category (sparkling, fortified, still). Perhaps somewhere in all of the tastings you discover that the temperature of the fermentation matters, or the amount of rainwater in a growing season makes a wine more palatable. Perhaps you prefer wines with a lower alcohol, a short or extended maceration, or you discover a new variety—Italy alone boasts more than 375 native grape varieties.

What, ultimately, I’m getting to here is that you have a great many choices. The possibilities and potential for flavor combinations are mind-boggling.

Throughout VinItaly beginners and professionals are given the chance to speak directly with the winemakers, to understand the processes, to learn what makes the wines of Italy tick. It’s the perfect opportunity to learn more about what you like and why you like it.

Here are some of my favorite wines from yesterday’s tasting at VinItalyBio.

*Note: I stuck to southern Italy for most of the tasting and plan return for additional regions.

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