I grew up as a child in the 70’s. A confusing culinary juncture for North America. We ate Wonder Bread but hearty whole grain breads were starting to slip in there as well. I was raised in Texas and we were shopping at the early incarnation of Wholefoods when I was a pre-teen. Back then, it was mostly bins of grains, nuts, honey and organic produce. It planted a seed for me.
I don’t remember the first time I had a crusty baquette from a bakery. But I do remember back-packing through Europe at 19 and devouring buttery croissants and cafe au laits for breakfast, as well as simple but delicious ham sandwiches on fresh baquette. I was ruined and rarely, if ever, ate store bought pastries or bread again.
Wine has taken me on a similar journey. I started out with the readily available, conventional wines. I went through the pre-requisite early days of loving big, bruising reds and then later retreating to more subtle and refreshing whites or roses.
The past few years I have been delving ever deeper into wines made with native yeasts, neutral oak, and increasingly organically farmed grapes. Some are made with minimal added sulfites and some are sans soufre or have no added sulfites.
These wines are often lumped into the natural wine category. And indeed we do need a term to help identify these wines. These wines are free of processing from cultured yeasts, toasty new oak flavorings, added acids, purple dyes, and grapes sprayed with toxic chemicals.
Honestly, at the beginning of this journey, I could barely get my head around these wines. It was the equivalent of eating sugary, processed packaged bread for my whole life and then tasting fresh, crusty sourdough bread for the very first time. (like Woah! bread doesn’t taste like this? Does it?)
There were flavors, smells and textures that I had never encountered before in wine, so foreign at first, so endlessly exciting now. So freaking fresh! Honest wine indeed.
Of course, my problem now is that it is becoming increasingly difficult for me to truly enjoy conventional wines. Oh, I can taste them for professional purposes and discuss their merits or flaws. But I just can’t drink them for pleasure or with dinner anymore. In comparison, they taste manufactured. The amount of time spent in new oak barrels is especially overbearing in many cases.
This was highlighted last night, when I popped my last bottle Andrea Calek Blonde 2008, a vin naturel petillant (lightly, naturally sparkling wine made from organic chardonnay and viognier grapes). This wine is so much delicious fun, so exuberantly appley and refreshing.
Earlier I had been tasting a relatively high end pinot noir for review, it tasted dead in comparison. All oak and rich, thick cherry juice.
As I said, I am ruined…..and very, very happy.