Why really, really good wines can be really, really frustrating.

In Uncategorized on March 14, 2012 at 2:17 pm

I guess at it’s core, this could be a problem that just stems from me being a huge geek about wine. The more I learn about wine, it seems the more I become excitable about wines that don’t fall into any simple or traditional stylistic mold. I experienced this again yesterday, when attending a tasting of wines from Louis/Dressner selections. This is an importer that has made it their mission to champion small producers who focus on naturally-made and terroir-driven wines. Many of their winemakers are certified organic in their respective countries, and those who aren’t are mostly doing as much natural farming and winemaking as is feasible for them.

One of the big things about natural winemaking is that, at least in theory, the less you introduce cultured yeasts and bacteria that didn’t actually come in with the grapes themselves, the more the wine you’re making is a pure expression of the grapes themselves, and by extension the soil in which they were grown, and by further extension, of the region to which the grapes are native.

Cultured yeast has an impact on the final taste of the wine. I’m not going to say it’s an objectively bad impact, because I don’t believe it is. However, I do think it’s fair to say that it’s a homogenizing influence. If dozens or hundreds of producers in a region are using the same cultured yeast, that cultured yeast is generally going to overpower the native yeasts present on the grapes at harvest, and result in making the wines from each of these producers taste more like one another.

The flipside, and the reason that so many winemakers will choose to use cultured yeasts and bacteria is because they are predictable and reliable. When you have one harvest per year, if something goes wrong in one of your fermenters, you could easily lose anywhere from 5 to 20% or more of your juice for the whole year. Adding sulphur to neutralize the native yeasts and bacteria, then inoculating with cultured yeasts and bacteria means you have much more control over the entire fermentation process. That means, among other things, that your cost of production goes down.

So, some of the most unique and interesting wines, wines that a guy like me gets really geeked out about, are also kind of expensive. This is precisely the case with the wines of Radikon, a producer in Friuli who makes some of the most unique and impressive white wines I’ve ever had. All of their wines are produced completely naturally, with organic farming and no additional sulfur, with the exception of two new wines, which did see a touch of sulfur, since they didn’t get quite as much skin contact as their wines normally see. Yes, that’s right, I said white wines with skin contact. A shitload of skin contact, as a matter of fact. Most of the whites see more skin contact than their few reds. When I asked the winemaker’s son how exactly one goes about making white wines with no addition of sulfur, he chuckled to himself. “It’s funny that you put it that way, white wine with no sulfur is the same as red wine with no sulfur. The skin contact extracts the tannins, protects the wine, and makes it able to age like a red wine.” I’m paraphrasing here, I didn’t have a tape recorder with me, but you get the idea. And indeed his wines supported his statement. They’re tannic, intensely complex, and highly age-worthy white wines that will completely change your perception of what white wine should be.

Unfortunately they’re also like $40 retail for a 500ml bottle, and trying to sell them to a public which generally assumes that white wines are inferior to reds, and should always be cheaper leaves one feeling a bit like Sisyphus.

And that is how really good wine can be really frustrating.

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