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Bring on the natural wines

05/10/2016

Foto para:  Bring on the natural wines

The New York Times

They’re rowdy, unfiltered and extremely unpredictable. Be prepared to have your
mind blown.
When people describe their first encounters with natural wine, it can sound like
a conversion experience — or like the euphoria of turning a corner and bumping into
a wildly beautiful stranger. For the New York wine director Justin Chearno, what
followed when he first dipped into a Lapierre Morgon, an unfiltered red, was an
internal shift that changed the way he experienced his favorite drink. From then on,
he says, natural wine “became my obsession.”
As is often the case with newfound zealotry, his quest became contagious and
all­encompassing. Chearno is now one of the owners of the Four Horsemen, a bar in
Brooklyn where natural wines are the main event. His vocabulary has become spiked
with odd descriptors like ropiness, mousiness and brettanomyces. Even his wife can
no longer drink conventional wine. “I can’t believe you did this to me,” she told him.
Chearno has heard the same thing from his customers.
Conventional wines — those that we have drunk our entire lives, and that
dominate the menus and shelves of restaurants and stores — can start to seem
predictable after a dip into the funkier, cloudier, is­there­a­pasture­in­my­glass
surprises of this category. There comes a surprise, too, when you learn what’s in a lot
of conventional wines. To achieve the desired flavor, clarity, color and easy
drinkability (so that a sauvignon blanc tastes the way a sauvignon blanc is
traditionally supposed to, in other words), winemakers commonly add in sulfites,
sugars, extra yeasts and fining agents that might be derived from egg whites,
volcanic clay or fish bladders. None need to be listed on the bottle. “You can literally
manipulate everything about a wine,” says Isabelle Legeron, the author of “Natural
Wine” and the first French woman to earn the title of Master of Wine. Her mission,
she adds, is to let the world know that most of what we drink is “grape juice and a
bunch of other stuff.”
So what qualifies as natural? Either biodynamic or organic farming techniques
are a must. There can also be unique approaches to the maceration of grapes and
how the wine is aged and stored. But the most prominent signifier of naturalness,
and the primary reason many people take their first sip, is the lack of additives.
What keeps the sipper sticking around for the party (rather than summoning an
Uber and fleeing for the exit), is, of course, taste. And when you leave additives out,
that means anything goes, with flavors that can be all over the map. (Many are clear
and smooth, but at their most extreme, some could be mistaken for cider or sherry.)
That’s the wild trail you set out on when you let nature run its course.
Natural wines can taste tart, dirty, even barnyard­y, and that might be 100 percent
intentional. Indeed, such traits may be integral to the beauty of the pour, and this is
where the assurances of an expert come in. Without the new breed of sommeliers
and shop owners who really know the natural terrain, it can take time to figure out
whether a wine seems “off” — or if it actually is.
In downtown Manhattan, at the restaurant Rouge Tomate Chelsea, the
sommelier Pascaline Lepeltier is a captivating guide, attuned to factors like the
temperature outside as you drink (it makes a difference), the cycles of the moon, the
way that being hauled all the way from France or Italy or Spain may have altered the
contents of a bottle, the radical fluctuations of wine that’s made when nobody gets in
the way. “Natural wines are the toughest to serve in a restaurant because you need to
know when not to serve them,” Lepeltier says. “And because every single bottle is its
own individual.” Her love affair with natural wines occurred precisely because the
vintners have “decided not to hide the imperfections.”
This grape revolution runs in sync, of course, with a concurrent revolution in
gastronomy. We’re long past the days when a classic Gallic feast reflexively required
bottles of classic Bordeaux and Burgundy; when a night out can go in countless
directions — from a New Nordic tasting menu to a Momofuku­style smorgasbord —
natural wines lend themselves to the intrinsic flux of all those unexpected flavors. An
earthier trend has already established a sturdy beachhead in parts of Europe.
Consider Copenhagen: At top restaurants like Noma, Amass, 108, Relae, Kodbyens
Fiskebar and Manfreds, you are unlikely to be poured anything besides natural
wines. In the United States growth has been slower, but purveyors and proselytizers
are now cropping up across the country — in restaurants, shops and bars in Los
Angeles, Detroit, Houston, New Orleans and Boston. (Legeron’s annual Raw Wine
Fair will plant its stakes in America for the first time in early November, uncorking
the new gospel in Brooklyn.)
At the critically celebrated side­by­side restaurants Wildair and Contra on
Manhattan’s Lower East Side, regulars know the secret weapon is Jorge Riera, a man
whose glass­by­glass selections can make him seem more telepath than mere wine
director. He’ll be the first one to tell you that a wine is not automatically good just
because it’s natural. He sees his job as introducing you to what is good as well as
what’s good for you. “I gauge everyone,” Riera says. “If they say, ‘I want something
crazy and weird,’ I ask, ‘What do you mean by crazy and weird?’ Because what’s
crazy and weird for me might not be the same for you.”
What he’s really looking for is a certain flare of light in the eyes. “When a person
seems open, I go there with them,” he says. He’s not just talking about wine; he’s
talking about consciousness itself. He makes a selection. He pours. He watches. “All
of a sudden,” he says, “they’ve been transformed.”