No rules? Really?
A short and well written article by Max Allen has got the wine community talking. It’s titled:
In a twitter discussion after its publication, one commentator challenged me:
Read Max Allen’s excellent recent piece. Should I take his view as an enthusiast, or hardline winemaker van Klopper’s? Is mousiness acceptable or not?Robert Joseph on Twitter
I suspect he’s saying, if we can’t decide, doesn’t this call the whole natural wine venture into question? If someone likes mousiness, who are we to say they are wrong?
It raises an interesting question. How do we decide what the rules are in wine? Are there any rules? Or does anything go, now, as Max Allen suggests?
First, we have to separate out personal preferences and aesthetics. If you like something, that’s your choice. You are right, for you. I’m not in the business of telling you what you can and can’t drink, or that your tastes are wrong. This isn’t what wine critics are doing.
Aesthetics is different. How it works in wine aesthetics is that we get together and talk about wines. We taste; we criticise. Think of a wine region: we’ll all pretty much agree on who the top producers are. This list will come from a process of reading, visiting and tasting. It’s how it works. ‘But that’s just your opinion,’ is how some might respond. But it’s an opinion based on expertise. When we join together, several informed opinions built on expertise result in a sensible, considered verdict. This isn’t a popular position these days as it sounds elitist, and we live in an age where expertise is commonly disregarded.
Occasionally, experts disagree, and this gets interesting. The community then starts a process of discussion, and that is where we are with natural wine, whatever that term means. If you have some expertise, then you can join in the conversation. It remains to be seen whether natural wine integrates comfortably within the aesthetic of wine that we already have. This aesthetic was challenged before by the emergence of the new world, but it has been doubly challenged by natural wine. The fact that experts disagree doesn’t mean expertise is worthless.
So you can say that mousy wine is OK, but then you have to defend your position. That’s a tough one, in this case. There are some rules. It’s an unofficial set of rules. If you want to deviate from them then you have to make an argument, and it has to be a good one. The wine world can change, but the process of change sometimes seems quite slow (we are still debating natural wine, of course). But change is possible.