Down the rabbit hole: going native

There is no shortage of things that fill me with rage each week (or – if I’m totally honest – day). Most flutter away after a few hours, a G&T or just a bit of distance. But one comment has been going round and round in my mind.

I recently had dinner at a relatively fashionable not-that-new restaurant in London. It’s from an established team, but whose allegiances certainly lie in the natural camp.

I have been fortunate enough to do corkage with a group of four – and so we arrive with four bottles. One – a ‘12 1er Cru Chassagne from Leroux – is corked. A shame, but the way of the (natural cork) world. Then we have a 2011 Pierro Chardonnay (flawless under screwcap), a rare ‘08 Tondonia Rosado, and a phenomenal ‘09 Flaccianello. It’s a delicious, stellar line-up that would leave any sensible wine-lover at their knees.

Early on the sommelier pops over to introduce himself and we – as is good (and expected) etiquette – insist on him tasting the wines and thank him for the opportunity to open them. Tasting the Pierro Chardonnay – a wine about which he confesses to knowing nothing – he nonchalantly, pathetically swirls the glass, looks unimpressed at the bottle. He barely brings his nose to the rim of the glass to deign to sniff it and says, having not yet tasted it: “It’s not my style, it’s a bit inoculated.”

My thoughts were expletive-filled. Yes, I’m biased in many ways having spent time working there, but there are few who could deny the quality Chardonnay produced at this remarkable Margaret River estate.

This sommelier might lay claim to higher knowledge but sniffing out inoculated versus indigenous yeast seems unlikely. He was more likely reacting to the voluptuous oak that wraps the grape in this quiet corner of Australia. It’s struck-match scented but enriched by vanilla and spice, with rich fruit to back it all up. Yes, there is unapologetic new oak – and it’s damn delicious. This carefully hand-picked GinGin clone Chardonnay deserves that lush expense to express itself fully.

Say you don’t like it if you really must, that you prefer your Chardy lean and mean, that reductive is right and oak is bad; but, honestly, if you’re talking to a paying customer who is offering you wine out of courtesy, do you need to express your ignorant opinion?

I’m not in the least bit against natural wine. I’m open to anything made in a sustainable way, carefully farmed and made with respect for the environment – but on a list that I can guarantee includes wines laden with Brett, mouse and VA – how can anyone suggest that something clean and fricking phenomenal is “a bit too inoculated”?

This kind of absolutist view is not ok; yet it is being normalised, at least in certain circles. After Tim Hayward fairly called out Westerns Laundry for their natty list in the FT, the restaurant retaliated with passive aggressive posts on Instagram evangelising their ethos. It’s this sort of vinous extremism that risks leading wine down a faulty rabbit hole, and away from wine that is just straight tasty.


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