Jascha Baraness, sommelier at restaurant Barberian's Steakhouse in Toronto and Star Wine List's ambassador in the city, has issues with some of the increasingly popular so-called natural wines out there. Read his personal view on the natural wine trend here.
Recently I was with a group of friends at a well-reputed restaurant with a focus on so-called natural wines, and the food we were ordering was white wine-centric. There was a bottle of Cheverny on the list, so I jumped at the opportunity: ”We’ll have a bottle of the Cheverny”, I said. ”It’s not your usual Cheverny”, the waiter responded, and since I was not up for a surprise, I changed my order to a bottle of their Chablis.
Then the waiter nodded at me and said: ”This Chablis is a little different”.
Really? What good are all the studying sommeliers do, if the wines being served lack typicity? I can understand daring to be different, but at the end of the day, I want my Chardonnay to taste like Chardonnay.
Over the last ten years, natural wine has become the darling of sommeliers the world over. Spearheaded by the younger generation, this style of winemaking has been fervently embraced, with wine lists everywhere being populated by minimal intervention wines. Wine bars and restaurants have even chosen to specialize in them, and many have lists with these wines as their primary focus.
Also in Toronto, we’ve seen several new wine bars with a focus on natural wines open in the last five years or so – some with great success.
Personally, I have mixed emotions and experiences with natural wine. While I find some to be interesting, different and delicious, I’m cautious about the direction they are trending in.
My struggle with some natural wines is that often this sense of time and place has been sacrificed
The wines I’m referring to aren’t to be confused with those that are organically or biodynamically grown. Many wineries practice those farming methods, and would not consider themselves ”natural”, due to the addition of sulfites, vineyard management techniques or fining and filtering methods.
The natural wines I’m speaking of here are the ones that are funky, volatile and inconsistent at the expense of typicity.
I enjoy good, balanced wines. I like it when they transport me to a specific place where the fermented juice was bottled and trapped in time. My struggle with some natural wines is that often this sense of time and place has been sacrificed. Too often these wines can resemble a mash-up of grape juice and kombucha, but yet, as long as an insta-famous artist created the cool label, it will find its way onto the lists, regardless of how volatile or flawed the final product may be.
Don’t get me wrong; there are many natural wines that I love. Wines that are stable, lifted, fresh and most importantly, sound, the ones that showcase the specific varietal’s (or blend’s) identity. These aren’t the wines I struggle with. My issue lies with the ones where the story of how the grapes were grown, harvested, pressed, fermented, bottled and labelled becomes more important than the content of the bottle.
While the romance of winemaking is tangible, I worry that our opinions of the final product are being clouded by the fabled journey.
Wine is a beautiful thing. It can evoke emotions and memories. People will make pilgrimages for it, and it is the basis of friendships. While I will continue to keep an open mind, I like my wine to speak about where and when it was made. And at the end of the day, I still want my Chardonnay to taste like Chardonnay.