by Anne Burchett

How Natural Should We Go?

‘Everybody has Botox,’ says my much younger friend who thinks she’s old because she’s in her late thirties. I don’t but, having researched the subject, I was almost relieved to discover that I had left it too late. My old face is past repairing, and it is a blessed relief if only because I can’t be bothered to add another time-consuming and expensive procedure to what I grandly call my beauty regimen.

I was reminded of this conversation and the subsequent micro soul-searching moment while judging at the International Wine Challenge over the last two weeks. I normally work from home, mostly on my own, and it was both exciting and a tad overwhelming to be in the same room as more than a hundred people, all carrying, fetching, or tasting hundreds of wines. It made me realise though that the people as well the wines I encountered over those two weeks came in various stages of ‘naturalness’ and that it is increasingly difficult to define what’s the norm or where the buck should stop for both categories, humans, and vinous.

Men may relate less to this issue, but women, whatever our age, must position themselves on a maintenance sliding scale, low maintenance meaning no hair removal or use of makeup whatsoever, dressing for decency and warmth rather than style, and hair au naturel or cut for minimal maintenance. High maintenance used to mean regular visits to a beauty salon and a high-end hairdresser, an expensive and fashionable wardrobe and maybe the odd nip and tuck. Nowadays, the sky sems to be the limit and I swear some women seem to devote all their time and energy to looking good. The array of resources at our disposal is infinite, mindboggling, and mindbogglingly expensive. I find it terrifying.

It’s the same for wine. Even though I am no oenologist, as one of my former bosses used to tell me with a sneer, it is obvious to me and anyone with even just a passing interest in wine that oenological techniques have developed hugely in the last thirty years. Faulty wine is inexcusable nowadays which is a good thing, but it also means that some wines are about as natural as Katie Price or Kim Kardashian.

The wines at IWC were as varied as the people in the room, from over-oaked beasts inevitably served in bottles you couldn’t lift with just one hand to acidified numbers which made me pucker up like a demented duckling and everything in between, including orange wines.

Residual sugar is my bugbear, probably because I started my wine career at the – ahem – commercial end of the spectrum and pushed far too many unforgivably sweetened numbers onto unsuspecting consumers. I now come down hard, possibly too hard, on anything medium dry or medium sweet, because, apart from rare exceptions, the excess sugar is there to do the job ripe fruit should be doing. It is the fake tan of wine and seldom an improvement. I have no evidence for my hunch – this is an opinion piece, Twitter warriors, not a MW dissertation so be kind! – but it seems to me that the use of residual sugar is increasing in wine, especially, of course, at the commercial end of the scale.

Oak also seems to be on the rise, maybe collateral damage of the much hyped premiumisation of the wine offer. For me oak is to wine what make up is to a face. Well done and used sparingly, it magnifies the beauty of what’s underneath, fruit or bone structure, and gives it lasting power. Badly done, used in excess, it destroys the wine it is supposed to enhance as surely as thick orange make-up turns pretty teenagers into badly drawn caricatures of themselves. They must like it though, as much as some consumers like their wines to taste of freshly sawn planks. Who are we to tell them otherwise? Should we live and let live or try to guide them towards more understated numbers? I genuinely don’t know, and the judicious use of oak is often a bone of contention in a judging panel: how much is too much, and should we assess the wine as it is now or according to how it will age.

And then there’s Brett which is as divisive a subject as Botox. A Bretty wine’s score in the second week, which is when we normally award medals, ranged from ‘out’ to silver. It means three or possibly four judges had deemed it good enough to deserve a medal the week before, yet it was at risk of being kicked out as little more than faulty. This is possibly the wine we spent the longest discussing. Because there’s no absolute truth about Brett, and like Botox, in very small doses, it can enhance a wine, or destroy it as surely as it distorts the features of some women.

I came to the conclusion a long time ago that I like imperfect beauty in people as I do in wine: give me Camille Cottin’s nose over Nicole Kidman’s snub appendage. The many wines which were singing last week, in all their brilliant diversity, were all devoid of artifice apart from the judicious use of oak. Let’s raise a glass to them!

Photo by Laura Chouette on Unsplash

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