The Wine Spectator Lives in a Bubble

bubbleAt Wine Searcher, winemaker and writer Oliver Styles eviscerates the Wine Spectator’s Senior Editor James Molesworth for his apparent dogmatic attitude towards natural wine.

There should always be room for debate, he says, but, only 16 words down the line, he states that the reality is that natural wine “doesn’t work”. This is what natural wine fans have to contend with all the time: a reasoned demand for debate, for reconciliation, a meeting of minds over a nice glass of wine, and then the social equivalent of Molesworth flipping you – all of you – the bird.

For those of you unfamiliar with this debate that now rages in the wine world, natural wine enthusiasts are often accused of being dogmatic because they allegedly insist that there is only one way to make wine—their way. (I seldom hear them actually make this claim but perhaps I’m hanging out with the wrong people)

Styles points out how dogmatic Molesworth is in his comments on natural wine. He quotes Molesworth as saying:

the ones I like I simply consider good, soulful wines – not natural wines.

Molesworth seems to be saying if it’s good it can’t be natural; if it’s natural it can’t be good. In philosophy we call this “the no true Scotsman” fallacy—a logical fallacy in which the speaker attempts to protect a universal generalization from counterexamples by changing the definition to exclude the counterexample.

Styles’ defense of natural wine is right on the mark, pointing out that it’s hardly dogmatic to be concerned about pesticide use.

But I want to emphasize another point he makes in passing.

Which is a shame because, as I’ve said in the past, if Wine Spectator – or any publication, for that matter – were to do a one-off, special edition, entirely devoted to natural wine, it would surely be wildly popular and gain that publication a slice of demographic hitherto closed to them. I don’t know where the advertising revenue would come from – which probably gets to the crux of it – but there it is.

I don’t read the Wine Spectator religiously so perhaps I’ve missed feature articles on natural wine. But my impression, confirmed by a quick Google search, is that aside from an occasional report from the Raw Wine fair and one or two winemaker profiles, the Wine Spectator pays little attention to natural wine. Of course, if you look at sales data, perhaps the thinness of the coverage is justified. Natural wine sales are a tiny fraction of total wine sales. But the Wine Spectator purports to be a journalistic enterprise and discussions about natural wine and its meaning are the hot topic in the wine world—natural wine is wine’s avant-garde.

Furthermore, given the growth in organic vineyards and bio-dynamic farming, along with the interest in natural wine shown by millennials and influential somms, it should be obvious that this is no passing fad. Conversations about natural wine within the wine community are likely to continue unabated and increase in importance.

Thus, the Wine Spectator and other publications that focus on conventional wines only are missing the most important story in the wine world. Regardless of whether their critics like them or not, natural wines pose a challenge to conventional tastes and represent a potentially important shift in our concept of wine quality.

It’s journalistic malpractice not to cover them.

6 comments

  1. Molesworth is guilty of bad writing. He meant he likes any soulful wine and some of them may be called “natural” bu advocates. But it is not the name that attracts him.

    Clearly “natural” wines are an undefined group so we cannot talk about them with clarity. But we can say that wines that add sulfites, use chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides are not natural wines.

    And the results of this minimalist treatment is usually not pleasing to him.

    This sounds like a veiled attempt to swipe at the young somms who champion this trend. But when you look at the wines, they are more often than not affordable at the lower end and imported, made from “lesser” grapes, often from younger vines and so on. It’s a great way to make wine bars catering to Millenials and those recently 21 claim some amount of cache without charging too much for it.

    Molesworth just doesn’t have enough to write about. This is why people like Eric Asimov keep wine loving open minded and bring clarity to a broad, confusing world: he’s paid by the NY Times and not Marvin Shanken.

    1. Hi Jim,
      I agree with what you say about the market niche of many natural wines. A lot of wineries who make “natural” wines but sell to an upscale market don’t fly that flag for that reason.
      If Molesworth likes a wine made without sulfur, why hide that fact by failing to identify it as “natural”. Those wines will always suffer from inconsistency. That comes with the territory. As a category it will be hard to pin down. So he can’t generalize about them. So what? As a senior editor and critic he should understand that.

  2. Not that the Wine Spectator needs my help, but it does have an editorial policy that limits most of its coverage to wines that are in “national distribution” in the USA. in discussions with their editors, I’ve learned that “national distribution” usually means available to consumers it major markets: NY, Chicago, California, Florida, and Texas. By this definition it tends to not cover any wines that struggle in the three-tier system, and this might well include a lot of natural wines.

    On the other hand, the publication does claim to have its finger on the pulse of the wine business…

    1. I suppose it depends on what is meant by “available”. They cover lots of small lot wines that are very difficult to get even in major markets. With wines increasingly available online (for states that permit retail shipping) that seems like a policy a bit out of step with the times.

  3. He write what please Marvin Shanken and kisses his ring. Shanken support Giuliani for President in 2010!

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