If you want a synopsis of the current state of play in the reception of natural wine you could do worse than Oliver Styles’ recent post entitled “Unnatural Reactions to Natural Wine.” He summarizes the current state in a paragraph the economy of which is worthy of Hemingway:
It’s just a risk. One group declaims another for buying a wine that has the risk of smelling like bum. I declaim another group for paying ludicrous amounts of money for wine that risks tasting like wine (sometimes it too smells of bum, especially if you cellar it for long enough). And sure enough, because it’s the wine industry, some people are dicks about it all.
Some natural wines have a spoilage problem and sometimes the quality is uneven but that doesn’t distinguish natural wine from any other category.
I haven’t been in the wine industry a very long time (just shy of 20 years), but you don’t have to go back very far to bring up the same “you have to go through a lot of wines to find a good one” discussions all about Burgundy. I remember when cashed-up wine lovers were bemoaning the fact that you had to really work hard to find a decent bottle of Burgundy. This was due, not primarily to faults, but to quality. Faults were there (are they still? Do you trust wine critics who are tasting Burgundy nowadays to tell you all about the faults they come across?) and the “10 bottles for one decent one” was an accepted trade-off (the reality was an even bigger ratio) for French Pinot Noir lovers a decade ago. But all that’s forgotten now – Burgundy’s where it’s at. We’re all really into Burgundy now, right?
And as Styles points out:
People cellar wines for decades, only to find release in the overtones of sous-bois and tertiary, animal characters. How is this any different from natural wines you can enjoy now? It’s just flavors.
The arguments against natural wine as a category are getting tedious. No one gets worked up because some people like Sauvignon Blanc and others prefer Chardonnay. Some people like natural wine; some don’t. But there are enough good natural wines out there to make moral debates about the category largely irrelevant.
I’m not surprised we’re still having this debate. When people put on their ideological blinders it can be decades before they take them off.