Authentic or natural wine is a phrase that has yet to really establish a foothold in the consciousness of the typical wine consumer, yet it seems to be a bit of a hot topic for the wine world.
Commercial and consumer pressures might be facing a fight head on. Through this book the authors look at exactly what "authentic wine" is and how commercial interests seeking to push a series of standardised products could threaten a centuries-old tradition. The typical wine consumer might already think that they are fairly "green" by drinking wine. It comes from grapes and is a natural production isn't it? Yet many don't know that many popular wines are delivered in bulk tankers for eventual bottling and mass distribution. A carefully-crafted image perhaps hides the reality. Of course, many fine wines are hand-crafted, stored in gothic cellars for years and are real, true artisanal works... but you might see the difference in your pocket as well as in the taste.
This is an academically-focussed book, drilling down with precision into topics weighty such as biodynamics and organics, chemical and physical manipulation of wines and the carbon footprint (caused) by wine. Reading through the book certainly provokes thought, irrespective of which side of the fence you might find yourself on. What is really involved in the chain from field to table: is the source of raw ingredients sustainable? Just how much work is involved in production and transportation? Can demand create more problems along the way? And yet, many consumers believe they are being good, responsible citizens by remembering to take their wine bottles to the recycling bank - yet that is just a very small part of the overall puzzle.
Big business demands have it in their interest to have more harmonised, standard products. Whether it is a standard grape, made into a standard wine and bulk shipped around the world before being bottled nearer to the retail source in identical bottles, there are many economic benefits along the way. It is not just a question of price, certainly many large supermarkets find it easier to handle pallets of a few "standard wines" than lots of smaller boxes of relatively similar but different wines. Is it a balancing act between consumer choice, cost, profit and environmental footprints? You will start thinking about a lot of different things through this book. Maybe you will even start to be sceptical to everything you see and read as it would be oh-so-easy and convenient for "big wine" to push the "environmental benefits" of its mass production but is that the full, true, unexpurgated story?
The popularisation or consumerisation of wine is also a blessing and a curse. Previously wine buffs might compare wines within a certain sector, learning as they go along. Now the inexperienced consumer tends to be swayed by a few big "experts" and their ratings, so it is more "important" to select a well-rated wine which becomes perhaps even more popular as a result. Maybe there will be a scandal affecting wine ratings in the future as one has seen with the financial sector. Where there is temptation, there is a risk and is there a risk of the "Emperor's New Clothes" at play. One's eyes have been opened through this book (from an amateur perspective) that is for sure.
Recommending a book of this type is a difficult thing to do. It is a good book and clearly someone with a professional interest will gain a lot from it and the price is very reasonable for a lot of interesting, if not controversial insights. For the general wine enthusiast or occasional drinker it might be a bit of a hard-going read and the price might be slightly unpalatable (but a worthy loan from a library in any case). It might be fair to say that if you care for an interesting read, about an interesting subject and don't want to get bogged down with typical "wine talk" that obsesses about a specific grape or vintage, then this could be a great little read.
This reviewer is glad that he has had a chance to read this as one doesn't tend to check out wine books at a bookseller because, on the whole, they are so inwardly-focussed to the taste experience. This book is a LOT more than that, even though the subject has the capability of affecting the eventual taste.
on 30 November 2012
even though i am still in the middle of reading it (75% completed), I am compelled to write a praise for this book. so far, i have found it to be an excellent recap of the most essential issues we should be concerned with as wine students and more importantly it provides a treasure trove of excellent "examples" (certainly helpful for a mw exam!!). clear, concise, and really very relevant to my wine studies. congratulations for a great & essential complement to my wine books library!