April 17, 2006

Real Wine by Patrick Mathews

I recently reread one of my favorite wine books, Real Wine by Patrick Matthews. It’s uncommonly well written and one of those truly enjoyable reads that holds up the second time around.

Matthews wrote this about five years ago, yet most of the information seems as current and ahead of the curve today. In it, he surveys wine from vineyard planting and grape growing to vinification and wine selling, telling stories of characters past and present generally possessed by their passion for wine.

The subject, naturally enough, is real wine. Which Matthews defines on p. 167 as “one that tells a truthful story about its growing conditions, and whose concentration of colour, flavor and texture is determined in the vineyard, not the winery.”

Bascially, real wine is authentic to its site, grapes, and vintage. Why else label wine by any of these attributes if we don’t accept the uniqueness that each will provide?

And that’s not code for spoiled, rotten, acidic wine. No, Matthews specifically points out that real wine tastes better. And for all I know, it’s true.

Perhaps the most exciting geek content in this book is that about French soil scientist Claude Bourguignon and the vine’s uptake of soil minerals, transmitting the flavor of the soil to the grape.

That’s a common notion in wine marketing, but apparently not so with the scientists I’ve come across. Yet here I found for the first time a description of soil organisms chelating minerals into forms usable by grape vines. This is one reason Bourguignon promotes farming practices that encourage living soils.

Real Wine is the book that first got me excited about soils and wine, but it definitely has more to offer than just technical stuff. Matthews is a wine lover and journalist, and it shows in his writing. You should read this book.


WINEGUY said...

I was intrigued by the Wine recent Spectator article about the use of spinning cones and vacuum extraction of alcohol from ultra-ripe grapes. Here we have a great many "top winemakers" admitting to essentially engineering their wine rather than making it. I can't help but think this is a bad thing for the art of winemaking, coming at the expense of the science of winemaking. Surely this is purely in response the Parkerization of the wine palate (you've surely seen Mondovino). The use of such machinery amounts to little more than the manufacture of wine. I'm repulsed by the whole thing and vow to never knowingly consume a wine made in this manner. I would much rather have a wine of structure made within the character parameters of the grape itself. Call me old-fashioned, I guess.

Vincent Fritzsche said...

Many thoughts come to mind on this subject:

1. Technology has been ruining wine for ages. Look at what happened in Burgundy in the mid-20th century with "advances" in clonal selection, herbicides, and insecticides. Let's not get started on the ages old practice of adulterating wine without disclosure. Yet "real wine" lives on. As much as the wine world is going to hell in a handbasket, I think we'll survive.

2. There's simply too much winemaking going on in wineries the world over. "Correcting" the grapes to produce a consistent, industrial process. "Correcting" the wine to make it more marketable. I'm not so much against the practices, rather people's failure to come clean about what they're doing. We don't want to confuse the market with facts you know.

3. Matthews does well to specify the "texture" of real wine. Wine writer Claude Kolm, of the Fine Wine Review, has written about the importance of texture in determining the authenticity of a wine you're drinking. While far from all "made" wine is easy to spot by texture alone, I find it increasingly easy to tell when a wine has been messed with, much like the taste of artifical sweetener sticks out in most things it's a part of.

So yes, the manufacture of wine is disheartening. Wine is a business, sure. But there are easier ways to make money, no? And if you still insist on "making" wine, why don't producers drop all the prose about vineyards, grape varieties, and vintages and come clean. "We doctored this stuff to taste just like last year's award winner."

WINEGUY said...

I confess that as an amateur winemaker I have on occasion added small amounts of acid to must that I felt was deficient. I've also added water to grapes that were phenolically perfect but higher in sugar than I'd like due to dry windy conditions, etc. Perhaps it's splitting hairs but I don't consider this manufacturing, just adjusting for what nature provides anyway. It's not my preference, however, and over the years I've learned my grape sources better and I've been able to anticipate such conditions. I guess I draw the line at tearing a wine apart and re-assembling it. I'm shocked that a guy like Randy Dunn would do this and admit as much. I thought the "chemists" were mostly at Gallo and the like but I guess they are for hire to anyone with an ego bigger than his conscience.

Peter FInkelstein said...

Partick Mathews is an anti-emite!

Anonymous said...

Peter FInkelstein is emetic!