Wine World spat last week over the use of the 'Real Wine' term. We are unapologetic.
A whole heap of consternation in a teeny tiny corner of the wine world last week when someone called Tom Wark, an American wine blogger, took several cheap and ill informed pot shots at the world of natural wine and two of its most ardent proponents. You can have a look here
if you like and do read the comments as well. Many are considerably more reasoned and au fait with the reality of the situation than the body of the post.
Among the many points which are causing him so much angst was one which got my attention in particular. Mr Wark is most unhappy at the choice of name for one of the Fairs due to take place in London in May. He thinks that calling it ‘Real Wine’ is a travesty.
He attacks Doug Wregg for supposedly suggesting that wines which do not fall into the real wine category, whether represented at the two Fairs or not, are ‘inauthentic’ and it was at that point that I moved on from feeling mildly amused at how unnecessarily vitriolic he was being and started to feeling really rather pissed off.
We live in a world where, like it or not, far too much is indeed utterly un-natural. And the more wine experts fudge the issue by perpetuating the belief that most levels of interference are no big thing and can still result in authenticity, the less consumers are able to make truly informed choices.
This is a point which goes far beyond the world of wine. Supermarkets are crammed full of foods which are ‘farm fresh’. The packaging jostling for attention on the shelves is adorned with bucolic images of sunlit fields, abundant orchards or contented animals. Very happily, there are ever increasing numbers who are all too aware that this is a fallacy. If you are going to buy in the mass market; you will be buying a product that has been thoroughly interfered with to the point that it bares scant resemblance to the essence of that which it purports to be.
If you care about what you eat you buy only carefully sourced raw materials and assemble these yourself or you shop at small markets or use box schemes etc. You keep it real.
At the other end of the scale, let us consider (by way of an example) the increasing range of ‘raw’ chocolate products on the market, the best of which are delicious. High quality coca made without the flavour interference of diary products or too much sugar. Compare these with an intensely rich black forest gateau, bloated with cream, butter and sugar.
Would anyone hesitate before choosing the former if asked which of the two is ‘real’ chocolate? Even if we all acknowledge that both are made with much more care and from infinitely better ingredients than anything found in the mass market.
And yet no such general awareness exists with wine. Again, thanks to advertising images of verdant vineyards and contented, suspiciously clean people smugly standing around in small cellars; the majority of consumers still believe that wine is wine. Some costs a little and some rather a lot but basically it is all the same thing.
It isn’t though. And just because the use of modified yeasts, various processing agents, aggressive filtration and large amounts of Sulphur at the one end and/or heavy oak flavours enriching over-wrought fruit at the other is now the norm doesn’t make it right. It certainly doesn’t mean that there is not an entirely justified argument which says that any wine from either of the above categories lacks an essential authenticity.
5 years ago, we made the colossal mistake of shelling out a whole heap of cash for a stall at the Taste of London event in Regent’s Park. (Incidentally, if the organisers were to re-name this Taste of Colossally Overpriced Disappointment, it would be nearer the mark). We were told that we were going to be in an enclave of wine stalls, directly opposite the Threshers tent.
In preparation for fact that we were the minnow of this category, we had a banner made for our stall which read Real, Fine Wine and we all wore t-shirts which said ‘keep it real’. We reckoned that as the area would be teeming with bona fida foodies, the promise of the authentic would single us out.
We were wrong. Firstly, the set up of the stalls meant that no-one could see the banner. Secondly, it turned out that most people were feeling so fleeced by the cost of the food on offer that they would not countenance anything but free stuff. The huge Mateaus Rose Gazebo directly to the left of us was permanently mobbed, doling out gratis plastic tumblers of radioactively pink stuff that had, at one time, been related to the grape and so was allowed to call itself wine.
Over the course of four long, hard days, we learnt again a lesson we already knew. Educating the general public on a mass scale needs gestures writ large because otherwise the majority will continue to believe that wine is just wine. Either something you buy as cheaply as possible (within the context of your personal food budgets)or another product which is primarily a symbol of your immense wealth or supposed taste and something which has been extensively manipulated to pander to that. And believing that, they will see no need to ever seek out the real stuff.
Mr Wark clearly hasn’t noticed, but authenticity is rapidly becoming the true luxury of the age we live in. And besides that, making more responsible choices is of the utmost importance both for the environment and the long term health of consumers
As someone who wholeheartedly supported the naming of the Fair thus during the initial planning stages, I remain resolutely unapologetic about the use of the word ‘Real’. Anyone suggesting that no such distinction currently exists in this world is either being disingenuous or is tragically ill informed.