The hot buzz word in the wine world over the past few years is “authenticity”, which Jamie Goode and Sam Harrop define as wine with a sense of place, wine that exudes characteristics that come from the vineyard, region or vintage in which the grapes were grown. Authentic wines have been gently handled in the winery so that the unique character of the terroir is not covered up or destroyed.
Making and drinking authentic wines requires a willingness to accept what the location or vintage is giving you even if it isn’t ideal.
I don’t have empirical data to support this assumption but I would guess far more people favor fruit flavors such as blackberry or strawberry over flavors such as cat’s pee, asparagus, or diesel fuel. Does anyone actually prefer bloody meat to lemon zest? (I do, but more on that in a minute). Yet, if we prefer authentic wines we must develop a sensibility that welcomes these less highly regarded flavor notes. Because sometimes and in some places, these less favored flavors are the more authentic—they are what the vintage or region is giving you.
Thus, someone who professes a preference for authentic wines assumes a certain burden—the task of learning to appreciate aroma profiles and taste sensations that are off the beaten track, assuming off course that they are in balance. This is especially true of emerging wine regions. Encouraging them to make wines that taste like Napa or Bordeaux robs them of that authenticity that so many wine lovers today endorse.
You really can’t have it both ways, demanding authenticity but only when it conforms to a conventional standard. The point of valuing authenticity is that the outcome is not just conformity to an ideal or standard but represents something distinctive or original.
As to my preference for bloody meat over lemon zest, I almost always prefer the quirky to the predictable. The fact that fermented grape juice can smell like bacon, sweaty saddles or tar is a source of endless fascination. Lemon zest is lovely but doesn’t scream originality.
For more on the philosophy of wine visit my Monday Column archives on Three Quarks Daily