Sunday, March 8, 2015

Are women more tolerant of natural wine?

I’m not sure what’s in the air but there’s been a lot of impassioned debate about natural wine this week - both pro and anti.

Natural wine advocate Isabelle Legeron referred to it in the Guardian as ‘life in a glass’. Jay Rayner countered that they were ‘brutal’ (scroll down to the comments below the piece). Wine critic Tim Atkin referred to it on Twitter as ‘primitive wine’, his fellow writer Jamie Goode poked gentle fun at both while baker and food stylist Claire Ptak enthused about her favourite natural wine diners in the FT.

It’s possible to detect a couple of patterns here. One is - and it's tempting to  argue this on International Women's Day -  that women are more tolerant than men of natural wine. At one level that’s true. I think women are generally less inclined to be confrontational about their preferences and accepting of those who don’t share them. But the people who make natural wine - and other types of wine - are mainly male, as are many of the young sommeliers who champion them.

No, the big divide I think is between people who have a food background and those whose background is in wine. By and large the wine establishment (Jamie and a handful of others apart) is anti and I can see why. Regardless of whether you approve or not of the ’N’ word about which I blogged myself a couple of weeks ago the implication for many is that if these wines are good then there’s something wrong with the rest of the wines we drink. (Not a view I share. I think it’s perfectly possible to enjoy both pet nat and champagne for example but the establishment seems to feel you can't do both.)

Food writers, chefs and younger consumers, are more open-minded. Their reaction to an unfamiliar taste or ingredient they haven’t come across is ‘bring it on’. If they don’t like it to start with (as many of us don’t take to olives or anchovies, say) their response is to try it again to see what the fuss is about. It helps to explain why many of the new wave of restaurants and wine bars serve natural wines. The chefs are into them just as much as their wine guys (or gals).

Regardless of the merits - or demerits - of natural wines, and there are good and bad examples of each, I just don’t see why people (especially middle-aged men in the wine trade) get so angry about them. No-one forces them to drink them or to go to restaurants that serve them. Almost every restaurant - even those with a 100% natural wine list - serves some other beverage - beer, cider, cocktails - that they could drink. Or they could simply say to the sommelier "I’m not that keen on natural wine, can you suggest one I might enjoy?" They might even - and this might come as a shock to them - actually find one they liked.

Image © nicoletaionescu -


  1. Great to read a post in this blog. For what it's worth (i.e. statistically not a lot) I'm a bit more enthusiastic than my other half when it comes to natural wines.

    Given that I've been aware of the "movement" for 5 years I'm disappointed that respected commentators aren't giving consumers who appreciate these wines more consideration.

  2. @Graham. I know! But am resolved to do better!

  3. Both my wife and I feel pretty much the same in that if you don't so some kind of initial inoculation the end result is questionable with massive vinegar wafts. We like to see less than 30mg/L of sulfur in the wine at the end and more like 10mg if possible, but you have to have some degree of sulfites in wine that you're selling or you're ripping people off.

    I don't want to buy a bottle and find that it's turned less than six months later because it's not the least bit stable. I think it's a pretty fair thing to ask of someone you're buying a product from. As for taste and as a dude, I'm pretty open to anything and if I encounter something new or strange, it's intriguing to me if of course it doesn't come across as a bottle of salad dressing. I've often found that many who have suddenly jumped on the natural bandwagon or are conscripts in the Feiring Squad don't really know much about wine in general and think that weirder is better. It's akin to the bigger oak is better trend that swept the wine world not but for a decade or two ago. Anyways, just my opinion as a former IT person.