Natural Wine and the Absurd

broc cellars glasswareI’m a fan of natural wine. Some of the most interesting wines I’ve had recently have been produced under that banner. And I like them for the same reason I like conventional wines—for their aromas and textures.

This story in the SF Chronicle about Broc Cellars’ line of glassware would have us believe there must be something else about wine to be enjoyed but it never indicates what that might be:

Traditional wine glasses are tall and wide and often light and fragile. A wide base and narrower rim is said to help concentrate the wine’s aromas when it’s swirled. And a stem is typically thought of as necessary to prevent one’s hand from warming up the wine. But Broc’s glasses are hefty, small, low-profile and stemless. Much less likely to be knocked over, spill and break, they’re designed for easy, casual and spirited imbibing — like natural wines themselves — versus the customary swirling, sniffing and scrutinizing.

In other words, a hopped up water glass.

“They make wine a little bit more approachable. It takes wine literally off the pedestal,” said Bridget Leary, who co-owns Broc with Chris Brockway. “It’s a more comfortable, fun way to enjoy wine.”

Not if it doesn’t concentrate aromas. It not only takes wine off its pedestal; it’s puts it on the shelf with hard seltzer water or alcoholic kool-aid. And it’s suppose the make wine more approachable? They cost $55 per glass. What’s approachable about that?

You don’t need fancy glasses to enjoy wine. You don’t necessarily need a different glass for different wine styles (although its nice to have) or a Riedel Superleggero. But you do need a wine glass. You need a bowl to capture aromas and a stem to keep a wine from getting too warm. And you need a thin glass that distributes the wine in your mouth in order to sense all the textural nuances.

In many respects, natural wine has revolutionized wine. It certainly has expanded the range of aesthetic experiences we can have with wine. But it doesn’t change the basic fact that appreciating wine is about enjoying aromas and textures. That is what distinguishes wine from other beverages.

Sure, some people drink to get drunk and many circumstances in which wine is consumed are not really conducive to appreciating nuance. But in those circumstances you surely don’t need a special glass at $55 a pop.

There isn’t exactly any science connecting compact, low-profile glassware to the enjoyment of natural wines, but this style has nonetheless become a common fixture within the Bay Area’s natural wine scene. They can be found nearly filled to the rim — another traditional wine glass faux pas, as this prevents the ability to swirl — at trendy newcomers like Bar Part Time, Snail Bar, Rose Pizzeria and Shuggie’s.

You swirl a wine in order to release aroma compounds. What this is telling me is that natural wines are not aromatic. That is not really a selling point.

The natural wine movement needs to be careful about throwing the baby out with the bath water.

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