Thursday, October 28, 2010

What's really in that bottle?

Buzz words are all the rage. During this political season, "extreme" seems to be the buzz word here in Colorado. Apparently every candidate running for public office is extreme, doesn't like America and wants to take my money to spend it on worthless projects. Maybe I've just seen too many political ads! A different buzz word made the rounds this past year in the wine world. From Eric Asimov's June piece in The New York Times, Jon Bonné's San Francisco Chronicle article last month to Rémy Charest's Palate Press tome this month, many in the industry have been debating the merits and perils of using the extreme term, "natural." Perhaps the queen bee of this debate is Alice Feiring.

Natural wine has many different definitions depending with whom you are speaking. Most definitions include no chaptalization, no acidification, no added sulphites and no filtration or fining. Most recently, this debate reared its head via a series of comments between Adam Lee of Siduri Wines and Matt Kramer of Wine Spectator after Kramer's article on wine authenticity. Does the authenticity of a wine or the use of additives affect the quality of a wine? Alice Feiring would definitely argue that anything but the most natural and unadulterated wine is a compromised expression of potential terroir. Others, most notably Robert Parker, would probably argue that if a wine tastes good then it doesn't matter how the winemaker created the elixir.

Not to avoid the controversy, nor to join it (though I doubt enough people will read this post to make my point anything but moot), I actually take both sides in this argument but lean more towards the terroirist/natural wine contingent. In general, I would prefer that my wines be the purest expression of the geography (cultural and physical) from which they are produced. However, if you believe that terroir has a cultural component as I do, winemakers do play an important role in wine production. This intervention can be just as influential as the soil and climate that the vines use to nurture their precious fruit to maturation. Thus, I am able to thoroughly enjoy a tasty, yet engineered, wine and accept it for what it is. However, all too often, the hand of the winemaker is too unsteady with his manipulation of what the vine provides and the resulting wines are watered down or over-acidified farces.

I do enjoy experiencing "natural" wines to see how the non-interventionist approach produces wine with soul. One such winery in Colorado is Woody Creek Cellars. Owner and winemaker Kevin Doyle's self-proclaimed slogan is "making fine natural wines with Old-World methods using only Colorado's finest natural ingredients." Doyle started his winery in 2000 after leaving the Aspen restaurant industry in 1998. His no-frills winery is located in an old apple packing shed in Austin, CO along the North Fork of the Gunnison River just outside the boundaries of the West Elks AVA. Doyle makes his wines using hand-picked grapes without the addition of chemicals or sulphites, stainless steel tanks or filtration and fining in conditions and with equipment reminiscent of an old-world rustic vigneron. All of the wine is transferred from bin to barrel to bottle via gravity. While this approach can lead to unruly wine, it also can give the wine a soul that is often filtered or acidified away. Woody Creek actually accounts for the second most bottles from a single winery in my modest 150ish-bottle "cellar." While not my favorite from my collection, I grabbed a 2008 Merlot the other evening and have been drinking it over the last three nights.

2008 Merlot, Woody Creek Cellars, Colorado

This bronze medal winner at the inaugural Celebration of Premier Colorado Wines competition was at the top of the Woody Creek stack so it has graced my glass each of the last three nights. This dark ruby Merlot offers fruity yet spicy aromas. Plum, cherry cola, mocha and anise tempt my nose. On the tongue, cherry cola, blueberry compote and blackberries are complemented with hints of mulling spices. The subtle tannins don't help to balance the alcohol. Overall, while not my favorite offering from Woody Creek of those that I've previously tried, it is a good wine but out of balance on the palate. 14.1% abv Purchased $17. Good (tasted 10/25/10)

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