Bruno Schuller, in his cellar in Husseren-les-Châteaux
Defects in wine do exist. Every wine lover, or almost every wine lover, knows the disappointment of opening a bottle.
In the world of natural wine, there are also characteristics, which can be disconcerting, especially for those whose palate has been formatted by conventional wine.
Our talented winemakers, those who don't use chemistry, take risks, work without a net, so yes, there can be some (mostly rather nice) surprises!
And it's good to know them, to tame them, because many of them can be tamed, can disappear or simply don't spoil the pleasure!
We can even tell you that these flavors and sensations, which were previously unknown and which come to titillate our palate, we become attached to them! They make the soul of the living wine, this wine which evolves, which reacts to its surrounding nature.
If you start learning, you will simply understand that you will be dealing with new tastes! Neither better nor worse (in any case, that's for you to decide), but different!
It is this complex subject that we are going to deal with today, the defects in wine and those that are not really defects, even if it is all a question of perception... We are going to try to sort out and help you to identify what is happening in your mouth.
Certainly the most talked about defect in the world of natural wine! But not the easiest one to describe... Once we have identified it, we recognize it, we feel it coming, it patinates our palate. But to identify it for the first time, another story. Especially perceptible in retro olfaction, we often hear that the mouse has the taste of the skin of sausage, peanut, or popcorn, in short a "food" taste that has nothing to do there.
Frankly disconcerting, it can show up at any time during the tasting of the bottle! Sometimes as soon as the bottle is opened, sometimes much later, because the bottle has been a little too exposed to the air...
You will certainly have drinking companions who will never detect this taste of mouse, it seems that it is a story of acidity of saliva, of pH.
Most of the time, to simply not have to deal with the mouse, you just have to leave the wine in the cellar, to let it age, 1 year, 2 years, maybe more... Trust your (good) wine merchant who will tell you what is the right time to open your bottle!
And if it is when we talk about live wine that we hear about the mouse, it is because the addition of sulfur before bottling minimizes the risk very strongly.
But still, the most important thing to remember is that with experience, our talented winemakers are getting better and better at controlling this rascal!
Volatile, or volatile acidity, is a term that can be used to describe a wine that tends to turn sour. You will hear tasters talk about "volat'".
It is important to know that volatile acidity is naturally present in all wines!
It can become a defect when its level is too high, and even then, the legal norm can be exceeded and yet the wine remains quite drinkable.
Also, too much volatility can be integrated over time. Sometimes, it can even bring a little more to the wine, give it character, energy!
Oxidation is a complex phenomenon of chemical reaction caused by the contact of wine with oxygen.
A wine that is too oxidized loses its balance, becomes harsh, can have an acetate smell and is often given nutty or spicy flavors. It can even change the color of the wine: the Red oxidized wine turns brown, white wine turns yellow.
But oxidation can also be voluntary! Are known in particular the sublime yellow wines of the Jura! Made from Savagnin grapes, these are complex, powerful, long-lasting wines, with a taste of dry fruits and a golden color.
In any case, once the wine is oxidized, there is no turning back.
We can also talk about a sparkling wine. This is not a defect! This phenomenon is simply the result of the fermentation.
Carbon dioxide is naturally produced during all vinification processes. It can remain more or less at the time of bottling. Some degas, others don't, ... it contributes to protect the wine naturally from oxidation and makes the work easier without adding sulfur!
The sparkle can also be seen as a reassurance: yes, if it is there, it is a natural wine! For those who may be disconcerted, simply forget about the wine for a few minutes after opening: decant, shake the bottle a little, ... you'll see, this pearly sensation will smooth out, or even disappear.
This is first of all a loss of nose. The primary aromas are masked by smells that are frankly not pleasant (rotten egg, cabbage, rubber, ...).
Two reasons can explain it: a lack of oxygen during the vinification or a confinement effect of the wine in its bottle.
The solution: aerate the wine! Take out your decanter, turn your glass: oxygenation will do its job. And you will be able to taste your bottle as it was intended.
We are talking about a family of yeasts, called brettanomyces. They are undesirable because they give a "phenol" taste and aroma, which can be similar to leather, or even to a stable. Who has never heard that natural wine smells like a farm, like a cow's ass? And it may even be one of your first striking memories when you discovered this universe (it is for us). Well, the brett might be responsible.
It is very common in the environment of the winery, and pasteurization or filtration techniques used in the conventional wine world prevent them from proliferating in the vats. This is why it is one of the characteristics that can be found in free wines.
Is it a defect? Yes, it is. Even if in small doses, it does not prevent us from appreciating all the other aspects of a nice wine! But as always, there is a debate on the subject, and also a right balance to find.
The corked wine, what a disappointment! We open our bottle, we look forward to the first scents and there ... a smell of cork. There are corks that avoid any contamination: synthetic corks, screw caps, but they are rare! Unfortunately, there is no solution or way back to this defect, you just have to send the bottle back.
This relatively common defect is not associated with the world of natural wine.
- Fatty disease
The wine can turn fat. This defect often goes hand in hand with wines lacking acidity.
The culprits: lactic acid bacteria, responsible for malolactic fermentation. There can be a deviation of the metabolism of these bacteria, which instead of carrying out a normal malolactic fermentation, will give the wine an oily, stringy aspect. If we sulfite, there is no risk, but no such thing here, as you well understand.
It is a rather rare defect, and it can disappear with cellaring!
With this first overview (it is certainly incomplete), we hope to help you during your next tastings and if you feel like it, to analyze your wines, to understand what is happening in your bottles.
This subject can help you to understand the sometimes agitated debate that exists between those who denigrate the natural wine because it is supposedly full of defects and the others who, on the contrary, believe that a wine that is too smooth and without asperity does not bring pleasure.
There is a right balance to be found. First of all, it is essential to understand that the production of a free wine is a huge challenge, a work that is absolutely demanding, from the work in the vineyard to the vinification, including hygiene in the cellar. The winemakers of the Nature School take risks to produce delicious and vibrant wines!
But above all, we hope that like us, you have had the chance to taste a large number of natural wines without the slightest defect! Wines that have the power to give us emotion, to magnify their terroir, to surprise and make our palates dance with joy, all with extreme mastery.
And it is a majority of these wines that we know, and propose, today. These are wines made by talented winemakers who have taken the time to wait, to taste, to observe, to master, and who are just gifted to bring out the beauties.
And as in everything, it is always good to be humble: to each his own, to each his own, the delicious wine that fills your glass will not necessarily be the same as the one of your neighbor.
Photo credit: @clubdesandouilles