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10.19.2005

What is an Authentic Wine?

My fellow wine blogger Huge Johnson has got a lovely post this week about so-called "authentic" wines. For those of you who may not be up on the jargon, authentic is increasingly being used hand in hand with "natural" to describe a supposedly unique class of wines -- usually those made with biodynamic processes, in small quantities, using traditional techniques.

Johnson (whom I love for his ability to do just this) properly and deftly skewers the whole idea. Natural wine, he says? No such thing. Left to nature we would have vinegar every time. Wine, is by definition, unnatural -- an intervention made by man in a natural process to yield something that we purposefully craft to our taste.

So what is natural then, or authentic, when it comes to wine? According to Johnson, and I'm likely to agree with him, nothing. You can't build a solid definition on a foundation made of cards. Any claim to "authenticity" or "naturalism" is just a subjective designation. Otherwise known as Marketing.

Now this isn't to say that there aren't virtues of small production wines, made by hand, with lovely expressions of terroir -- anyone who is a regular reader will know that I think these wines are often the best wines. It's also true that large industrialized wine production often strips a wine of these characteristics and qualities. But using the word "natural" or "authentic" to describe the former as a way of distinguishing it from the latter doesn't make any sense.

See what Mr. Johnson has to say about it.

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