From “terroir” to élevage” to “sommelier”, the French have given us a wonderful vocabulary for denoting various elements in wine production and consumption. Their most recent linguistic import, despite the onomatopoeia, will hopefully have less long term significance.
You may not have heard the phrase glou-glou yet. It hasn’t quite hit the mainstream although it’s common in natural wine circles. Roughly translated, it means glug-glug mimicking the sound liquid makes when you chug it down your throat. It has come to refer to wines that are so refreshing you want to grab the bottle and keep drinking. It’s the hip version of porch pounder and among some natural wine aficionados, it’s become almost talismanic. Here are just a few encomia to the glories of glou-glou:
From Helen Johannesen, who owns the LA bottle shop Helen’s Wines:
It’s easy; it’s casual; it’s a vin de soif,” she said. “You’re not going to be swirling it in your glass over three hours trying to extract the tasting notes … It’s also a vibe—like: It’s a party! It’s cool! Life is for the living! (She said “living” in a Frenchy way.)
From Italian winemaker Stefano Bellotti:
So I decided, instead of making serious wine, I just wanted to make wine. Wine to drink. I make a red and a white. It worked out really well because instead of making wines that you have to intellectualize, I’ve also produced ones that just win you over, a wine you don’t think about, that you take great pleasure in drinking. You don’t need to worry what about the region or the varietal or the nose or whatever. When you do this you are intellectualizing wine, and wine doesn’t give a shit about being intellectual. So it’s “Simply” red or white: you bring them to the table and you don’t think about it, you just drink it. That’s it.
Summing up the general tenor, Louis Dressner finds this gem of hyperbole:
It’s more than just drinking. It’s a lifestyle.” said some bearded hipster.
It sounds like someone’s been drinking the adult Kool-Aid.
There are many methods for preserving freshness and fruitiness in wine. Glou-glou specifically refers to the use of carbonic or semi-carbonic maceration in which whole grapes are fermented in a carbon dioxide environment that allows the juice to ferment while still inside the berry. The result is a very juicy wine with low tannins. This is the method of fermentation that gives the wines of Beaujolais their distinctive bubblegum and banana aromas, which finds its most sublimely ridiculous expression in the cheaply made, expensively marketed, insipid Beaujolais Nouveau.
That this has become the cause célèbre of the natural wine movement is a shame.
Wine is of course many things. One of those things is a simple, inexpensive thirst quencher that we can drink while relaxing or occupied with other tasks. There is always room for this sort of wine and glou glou wines are more interesting and drinkable than most of the plonk you find at the supermarket.
But that is not all wine is. Wine is also a deeply complex, fascinating intellectual terrain as well as the source of great beauty, and an emotional lure connecting us to the land, the community, and to history. Anyone who thinks the future of wine lies in wiping out those deep resources in favor of weeknight chug-a-lug fundamentally misunderstands the scope of wine’s attractions. The glou glou wine style has a place; the excitement surrounding it is just juvenile.
As Simon Woolf, an expert on natural wines wrote recently:
Glou-glou dumbs wine down. Our thirst for juice light and bright with not a tannin in sight is being quenched at the expense of other qualities. Why should a winemaker sweat about structure when what’s most prized is fluidity? How many natural wine drinkers still care about longevity? How many importers or bars have the sitzfleisch to lay wine down? Why would they bother? When a market thirsts for something juicy and new and asks no questions (“don’t think” is another tenant of glou) such as whether a wine might be better given a year or two, what the market gets is you-know-who.
I’ve been drinking a good deal of natural wine lately and have visited several winemakers devoted to making wines that minimize interventions in the winery. I only occasionally come across a wine that I would describe as glou-glou. Thankfully, not everyone is on board the glou glou craze.
Natural wine is a fascinating and promising area of wine production driven by sound ethical and environmental principles as well as a search for distinctive flavors and vineyard expressions. If it is taken over by this simple minded pursuit of simplicity it will become just another passing fad attractive to only those unserious about wine. That is neither aesthetically inspiring nor a wise business strategy.
For more on the philosophy of wine visit my Monday Column archives at Three Quarks Daily