In the aftermath of any large tasting part of you wants to crunch facts and figures – publicise the nitty-gritty stats detailing how many people sailed through the doors, how much wine was poured, how much money was disbursed and generally dissect who did what to whom how many times under the wheels of what around the walls of where. The other better part of you would like recollect the emotion of the occasion in a moment of rare tranquillity – and bottle the positive feelings engendered.
Looking at the photos and little movies taken of the Real Wine Fair, impresses into my mind the fizzogs of the growers and the visitors, as well as the personalities of the wines themselves, in all their gloriously diverse shades, shapes and sizes. You can’t place a monetary value on the quality of interest, education, discovery, enjoyment and fellow-feeling generated during the two days of the fair and throughout the Real Wine Month with its associated events – it is not about seminal moments or the absolute marketable quality of such events per se but the sense of collectively moving inexorably forwards in the understanding of such wines, seducing hearts as well as opening minds (organic change, dare one say), a process similar to making new friends and keeping them for life. The circle of like-minds continues to widen as more people are brought into the conversation. That an agenda might be as simple as the desire to demystify wine, seems to mystify those who stagger under the weight of their preconceptions or have so much difficulty with the idea that good wine can be made without additives that they can’t bring themselves to taste the wines, let alone discuss them with a modicum of rationalism and humility.
We may ignore the cheese-paring pronouncements of a few sceptical commentators who have plenty of time to hone their critique, but never make the time to come to such events. As Jean de la Bruyère said “Criticism is often not a science; it is a craft, requiring more good health than wit, more hard work than talent, more habit than native genius. In the hands of a man who has read widely but lacks judgment, applied to certain subjects it can corrupt both its readers and the writer himself.”
No wine is beyond criticism, of course, but it is important understand the context in which it is made and the reasons why it is the way that it is. For we are tasting and experiencing properly hand-crafted original wines, made without compromise, that strive to be true unto themselves. The wine that moves us is never perfect but it is entirely true, or to put it another way “nothing that is complete breathes”, as Antonio Porchia said – and these wines live as they breathe. The purpose of the Real Wine Fair is to try to restore a sense of egalitarianism in what is a stratified wine world, by creating a forum where the ingénue may rub shoulders with the experienced taster, where the vigneron and the drinker can exchange information and opinions, and where the wine is treated with the respect it deserves – by everyone.
Finding the words
Beauty comes in myriad forms; great wines can evoke great reactions and poetic impulses by making us explore beyond the limits of our normal responses, by inducing humility and eliciting generosity. When tasting it is satisfying to have a responsive palate; it is wonderful though to take the experience to the next level and give something back.
The wines I loved at the fair made me smile inwardly. (I can’t vouch for my outward expression.)
When the cultured snob emits an uncultured wow, when the straitjacketed scientist smiles, when scoring points becomes pointless, when quite athwart goes all decorum, when one desires to nurture every drop and explore every nuance of a thrilling wine, surrendering oneself emotionally to the moment whilst at the same time actively transforming the kaleidoscopic sensory impressions into an evocative language that will later trigger warm memories, it is that the wine lavishes and ravishes the senses to an uncritical froth. Greatness in wine, like genius, is fugitive, unquantifiable, yet demands utter engagement. How often does wine elicit this reaction? Perhaps the question instead should be: How often are we in the mood to truly appreciate wine? Rarely, must be the answer, for if our senses are dulled or our mood is indifferent, we are unreceptive, and then all that remains is the ability to dissect.
To experience a wine fully you need to savour with your spirit as well as your palate, put aside preconceptions and “taste in the round”.
I didn’t take notes at The Real Wine Fair. I simply tasted wines and allowed their colours, smells and textures to wash over me.
The colour of wine
Colour is not fixed. Natural wine, like natural light, can be gentle, dangerous, dreamlike, bare, living, dead, misty, clear, hot, dark, violet, springlike, falling, straight, sensual, limited, poisonous, calm and soft. And natural light infuses natural wines with life.
By the way, the name of the venue, Tobacco Dock, may conjure an image of a fug-filled venue populated by inveterate puffers, but this was indeed the perfect pitch for an all-singing wine-and-food event. The lavish lashings of sunshine, the kind of brilliant crisp-edged light that floods from a cloudless sky through the glass roof gave a vital seasoning to the tasting. The brightness naturally lifts the spirits and also seems to dynamise the very pigments of the wines themselves. And what a multi-hued palette there was! Liquids that seemed to attract and hold the light, wines saturated variously with dancing mauves, crimsons, pomegranate-reds, coral-pinks, ambers, buttercup-yellows and burnished golds – a painterly spectrum indeed. Over and again one was reminded of Galileo’s effortless description of wine being “sunlight held together by water.”
So to inner light. As the saying goes: Beauty is a light in the heart. Limpid glistening colours in wine denote health, yet even the more turbid examples possessed their own vitality. A wine which is stripped to the gills can, after all, be clear in the sense of a denatured cleanliness – what I saw at the Real Wine Fair was quality and “acoustic depth” of colour. You know it when you see it; it is as if the light – even through a glass darkly – comes from within.
Wine is smell
“At no other time (than autumn) does the earth let itself be inhaled in one smell, the ripe earth; in a smell that is in no way inferior to the smell of the sea, bitter where it borders on taste, and more honeysweet where you feel it touching the first sounds. Containing depth within itself, darkness, something of the grave almost.” –Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters on Cézanne
Here were aromas that flung open the doors of perception. Aromas that bathed the senses, conjured places, brought forth seasons, specific times and personal associations. Vinous smells may be strong and rooted in the earth, or ethereal and transient. And although the wine may be mere processed grape juice, its alcoholic vapours seem impregnated with memories of the vintage and to carry charged particles of information to different areas of the brain. Sometimes I smelled colours or fruits or earth or herbs and spice, sometimes less tangible elements that took my mind on a curious associative journey. When the mood takes, wine may activate a personal synaesthesia, liberating the senses, unifying colours and smells with emotions.
And whenever a wine is overworked I notice the structural joins – it is not that it is not admirably constructed, it is the fact that it is asking to be noticed and thus becomes an object that stands apart and the resultant experience becomes naturally less immersive, more alienating.
Wine tastings tend to distance us from the wines as they are not a comfortable environment in which to taste. The atmosphere of the Real Wine Fair is conducive to these more visceral responses. The visitors do not feel awed or that they have to live up to the wines or that the wines have to live up to their expectations. The wines speak simply and clearly of their origins.
Wine is texture
The wine’s aromas are invariably echoed in the wine’s flavours as what we taste is what we smell. But the wine also possesses a textural impact that may engage every receptor in your mouth. Or to put it differently I love a wine that teases my mouth and asks lots of questions.
There’s something else. Just like the colour that denotes vivacity and the smells that whisk us off on a journey, the very warp and weft of the liquid has a curious potency. For what is life in wine? Life is length and depth, minerality and freshness, balance and focus. Wines with edges, wines that cascade, that slide, effortless and comfortable, but also angular wines that jolt and jerk you awake. Wines with personality that have not been stifled by the dampening (or deadening) hand of over-intervention and super-imposition. Wines with resonance. Wines with rhythm. In short, wines with energy.
An impressionistic walk through the fair visits the cool earthiness of the Gascon wines, wandering amongst the garrigue-scented Med reds and hot rock, marvels at the plump autumnal bounty of Pierre Frick’s aromatic Alsacians, gulps the riverine freshness of the limber Loire whites and reds – the exquisite limpidity of Thierry Germain’s red and white Saumurs, the joyous fruitiness of Brendan Tracey’s vins des soifs and finally sinks into the singular depths of the reds and whites of Etienne Courtois, their amazing inscape inviting a different kind of appreciation.
How a lush-kept plush-capped sloe
Will, mouthed to flesh-burst Gush! — flush the man
the being with it, sour or sweet
Brim, in a flash, full
… yielding those ecstatic moments, little epiphanies that wash through you and make you stop thinking and start feeling. I tasted so many wines that demanded a primal response. It was nice to be an “uncritic”.
The tasting was a journey through endless diverse terroirs. The tasting was also about the growers and their search for a kind of truth-in-wine, that which expresses their personality as well as reflecting the nature of the vineyard and the bounty (or otherwise) of the vintage.
Wines of terroir and typicity; delicious, tasty, unmediated wines; diversity of style and indigenous grape varieties; the endeavours of small independent growers; and the importance of sustainable, organic viticulture. We work from the point of view of understanding the wine by trying to understand the country, the region, the microclimate, the vineyard and the grower. Every wine tells a story and that story deserves to be told.
The future, we believe, lies in reacquainting ourselves with “real wines”, seeking out and preserving the unusual, the distinctive and the avowedly individual. The continuing commercialisation of wine has necessarily created a uniformity of style, a reduction of numbers of grape varieties and a general orientation towards branding. The countervailing explosion of natural wine fairs (or whatever you choose to call them) demonstrates a renewed popular interest in wines that speak for themselves.
Quality wine is what growers make: it is an art as well as a science; it is also, by definition, inconsistent, because it must obey the laws of fickle Nature. Real wine-making is surrounded by an entire sub-culture: we speak of the livelihood of small growers, of the lifestyle and philosophy of the people who tend the vines throughout the year, of how the vineyards themselves have shaped the landscape over centuries and the way the wines have become a living record of their terroir and the growing season. You only have to stand in a vineyard to sense its dynamics. Terroir, as we have said, concerns the farmer’s understanding of the land and respect for nature, and a desire to see a natural creation naturally expressed.
“Science is for hypothetical nature, but it has become dogma; perfection is death, imperfection is art; the authenticity of the craftsman is known by his work and his imperfections”. This could be mantra of The Real Wine Fair. Thus the Real Wine Fair might be described as the counsel of imperfection and the celebration of artisanship. It is certainly a kaleidoscope of colours, smells, taste sensations, laughter, seriousness, puzzlement, engagement and constant exchange. The health of a wine culture can only be felt on these very pulses.