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Wine Confusion Squared


Many consumers would probably like to enjoy and understand wine. People who make wine seemed bent on making understanding as difficult as possible.

There are all kinds of bottle shapes. Labels are not easily deciphered. Smelling and tasting seem pretentious and utterly confusing. Even the selection of what glasses to put wine in does not come easy. For the most part, it all seems to add up to emphasizing the consumer’s shortcomings, not the usual path to product success.

Then there are some relatively new terms, at least to the novice, which at their core don’t communicate simplicity but take the understanding of wine to complicated new heights.

I am not even referring to technical terms here like biodynamic, reverse osmosis or resting on the lees. No, I am looking at the words, “natural” and “orange wine.” Straightforward. Simple. Or at least the meanings should be, but then you remember you are speaking about wine. Oops.

I hate to be the guy in your life who is rated next to the person who told you the truth about Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy. I also don’t want to be the guy who first told you about the mechanics of sex, which none of us believed after the first explanation.

Thinking that all wines are natural is a wonderfully innocent state of mind. And it’s wrong. Wines are manipulated to achieve what the winemaker wants to express. Within limits, vineyard techniques, winery processes, chemical additives to influence color, aromatics and taste, barrel selection and time of storage all can significantly alter the outcome of winemaking and none are natural.

They are all used on a daily basis depending on what part of the world the wine is made and what grapes are involved.

But you will see on the retail shelves today wines that are noted, “natural.” And in a way this is an attempt to return to yesteryear. Simpler times but not necessarily better wines. Some “natural wines are quite palatable. Some not so much given our modern sensibilities. For instance, if a wine is not “bucked up” to withstand the rigors of shipping and the effects of climate at the destination, they can fall apart quickly it won’t be pretty.

Natural wine mostly refers to the lack of artificial additions of stabilizing additives in the winery. Natural wine can be a bit more sour than its more known, widespread and fruitier style confederates, and could be yeasty, sometimes over and above what modern wine drinkers consider comfortable or attractive.

Orange wine does not refer to wines made from Plaquemines Parish citrus. In its industry-defined sense, this is a wine made from white grapes where the must (grape juice) is placed for an extended period, sometimes as long as a year, in contact with skins and seeds.

During this time, fermentation takes place and the result is a wine with plenty of nutty-like qualities, and a sour taste. Often oxidation, which is the result of wine that has been exposed to air, is key to the process since no additives are allowed.

With wine as we have come to know it, oxidation is not a desired quality. We go to great lengths to avoid what happens to wine with exposure to air. We buy expensive bottle sealing apparatus, inject different gases into open bottles to preserve fresh qualities, and refrigerate open bottles after jamming expanded corks back into the opening.

With orange wine, we encourage quite the opposite of what we usually do, then sit back and note how delightful the result. Humans are a confusing lot.

For purposes of experimentation, and for our own knowledge, you may want to purchase a bottle of wine marked “Natural” and a bottle of “orange” wine, also noted on the label. Give them a try.

Then open a bottle of albariño from Spain and a Burgundy from France. At the end of the experiment, with four open bottles, I think I can predict which bottles will be empty and which ones will still have some wine. But don’t let me influence the outcome.

Drink what you like.




Read Happy Hour here on www.myneworleans.com on Wednesdays, and listen to The Dine, Wine and Spirits Show, hosted by Tim, every weekday, 4:00 – 5:00 p.m. on WGSO 990AM and streamed, as well as stored (podcast), at www.wgso.com. Also, check out Last Call, Tim’s photo-feature about cocktails every month in New Orleans Magazine.


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