I have had several conversations in the past few weeks about flaws in wine.
Specifically the perception that natural wines are more flawed than processed wines.
Dagan from TerroirSF told me yesterday that he has a lower tolerance for flawed wines now than when he opened his natural wine bar.
The problem with wine flaws is that they are sometimes, but not always, in the eye of the beholder. As you will see from the flaws listed below, some wine drinkers like these characteristics, in moderation anyway.
And yes,undoubtedly, wines made naturally do have certain vulnerabilities. The grapes must be pristine and the wine cellars 'clean', at least from bacteria that will harm the wine. These natural winemakers know they can not fix a problem via chemical means, i.e. the additives listed below for manipulated wines.
In this context, I am using the term 'manipulated' interchangeably with 'processed'.
By that, I mean, wines that have started out in a vineyard managed via chemicals. From there the grapes move into a cellar where they are made into a consistent product by any means necessary. This might simply include lots of time in toasty new oak barrels and adding commercial yeast strains to impart specific flavors.
But we all know it can also include additions like oak powder, added acids and tannins to provide balance (since it was not achieved naturally), purple dyes for added color and generous lashings of sulfur, just in case.
I am not a sans soufre wine zealot (no added sulfites) by any means. But I do believe sulfur should be added judiciously and minimally. It should not be dumped into the wine simply because the grape and/or winemaking hygiene was not good enough.
It should not be used to cover winemaking flaws.
Natural wines do "walk the line'. They are full of personality, and can be incredibly exciting and gorgeous. They are the vinous equivalent of the sophisticated, world traveling aunt full of exotic stories at Thanksgiving. Definitely not the ruddy faced cousin who works in finance in Nebraska.
My point is that any wine can be prone to perceived or real faults. I have encountered every one of the below faults many times, in both natural and processed wines.
Common wine flaws, found in both natural and processed wines:
Corked wine or Trichloroanisole 2,4,6 TCA - can come from wine corks, barrels or wine cellar environment. Imparts wet cardboard and musty aromas
Brettanomyces yeast - Can be from wine cellar, barrels,and/or grapes. Imparts 'barnyard', gamy, horsey aromas. Some winelovers love these flavors in wine, in moderation, others hate it even in tiny amounts.
Cooked wine or Madeirization - Yep, wine that has had its temperature raised and therefore turns brown and rancid. Or nutty and delicious, depending on the wine. Madeira is a wonderful example of the latter.
Volatile Acidity - Acetic acid bacteria can be found in wine barrels, wine cellars and grape surfaces themselves. Imparts vinegar and even nail polish remover aromas and flavors.
Reduction - Wines made with as little oxygen contact as possible, imparts a rubber tire smell. These aromas can sometimes lessen with decanting.