November and December are always the months when all the wine lists from various wine publications, wine bloggers, and wine influencers come out. The Top 100, Top 50, Top 10, his or her’s comments on this or that Top list, and on it goes. An endless line of Top this or Best that, the list of the best wines had, the best memories, moments, my dog’s best moments – joking – that start to make you slightly bored by Christmas. Add to this that it is mostly the same wines, or at least the same kind of wines, on these lists every year.
Therefore, I have decided to start the Anti-Top Wine List of the Year. This means that it is not a list, not that I, in general, would make a list anyway. Well, in the end, there might be some pro-list comments but in a support of the marginalized wine categories in an anti-list way. My idea was to talk about three categories of wine or wine producers that are rarely ending up on a major list, and wish that any larger wine publication would take a stand for once for something different. I do know that it is all about marketing and perhaps pay-to-play and that the wines often need to be available in the US. But “wouldn’t it be nice” as the Beach Boys sing if there was a different outlook on wine and wine lists rooting for the underdog?
Only Native Grapes from (More or Less) Lesser-Known Areas
There is such a rich heritage of lesser-known indigenous grapes not only in Italy but in many wine regions all over the world. Why are we still so narrow-minded that we 95% of the time focus on the same 4-5 grapes and styles of wines constantly? I am aware that there is an industry for fine wines, cult wines, and wine investment and I am not against that. It is a small click of people who have the possibility and power to invest in wine though.
On the other hand, I think it would be a sign of greatness and inclusion to award wines that have been made with indigenous grapes and in a way that supports the winemaking techniques and styles in the specific wine areas, or at least techniques that are different than pumping wines full of barrique.
Let us take for example
- native grapes to Puglia such as Negroamaro or Susumaniello or Primitivo made in cement tanks that historically used to be dug into the ground
- native grapes to Calabria such as Gaglioppo produced in purezza in the DOC Ciró appellation or Magliocco in the Alta Calabria area
- indigenous grapes to Georgia such as Saperavi or Rkatsiteli produced in clay vessels, so-called qvevri
- why not wines made with piwi grapes from Scandinavia
Taking a standpoint and being inclusive in all aspects has been paramount for the last couple of years, especially in the US. In my opinion, supporting diversity and inclusivity is not only about being pro-minorities and all groups of people. In the wine world, it is also about what types of wine we choose. How is it that when it comes to wine, in the end, the same old wines or categories of wine are always promoted in the “top channels” or on the Top 100 or whatever lists then?
I would furthermore put a ban on Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot unless they are wines made in their so-called “home regions” in France. I am really not interested in if Bolgheri has become a mecca for French grapes and even if they argue that French grapes are now part of the wine history in Bolgheri. I am not interested in if there is a tradition in California of making wines with French grapes. No French grapes unless the wines are produced in France. Perhaps I do not want to be as extreme, I am exaggerating a bit here, but you get the picture, right?
Aging of Wine in Other Ways than with Barrique
As mentioned briefly in the previous paragraphs, there are so many different ways to ferment, mature, and age wine that there is no need to always choose the one way-street of barrique. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see wines matured in steel, cement, clay vessels, ceramic vessels, amphoras, glass jars, big casks of different kinds of wood, or other?
I am not against barrique in no way, there are many wineries that do fantastic things with aging their wines in barrique. However, often we still see the same type of wines when it comes to wines aged in barrique, and the tendency for wineries in many countries to want to copy the Bordeaux style. I know that the Bordeaux style is to a certain extent still in vogue in many circles and that many still find it good for the finances to produce such wines because they sell. I think that we slowly are moving towards a multifaceted winemaking landscape where certain styles will be less relevant. I also believe that there is a Bordeaux that is so much more than only the parkerized perception of Bordeaux.
Only Organic, Biodynamic, Natural, and/or Sustainable Wines
By now being organic is almost a must and the discussion on whether being biodynamic or following regenerative agriculture methods is at its height. Sustainability is, furthermore, something we cannot look away from if we want to take decisive steps towards a more balanced society where we think about the climate and the well-being of the people around us. Still, we often see wineries on most of the Top Wine lists that are neither organic nor sustainable.
I am not going to argue that the wines have to come only from smaller wineries because it would be easier for them to be organic, biodynamic, or low-intervention. There are larger wineries that have shown that it is possible to at least partially be organic or even biodynamic. Look at Avignonesi in Montepulciano, for example, where the new ownership decided to convert the estate to biodynamic agriculture with the help of Adriano Zago around 2010.
Climate change is raising havoc around the world and we are trying to find solutions for the future of viticulture and winemaking. Wine can never be healthy because it is an alcoholic beverage, still, we can make sure to use as few systemic products and interventions as possible. Do we not owe it to ourselves and to the world around us to take a step in favor of protecting nature as well as ourselves, also when it comes to grape growing and winemaking?
Furthermore, I do not think that wine producers necessarily need to be organically or biodynamically certified or even be certified sustainable, at least not yet. Action is what is important here. There are wineries that are organic and sustainable, self-sufficient with energy resources and doing almost closed-circle agriculture without being certified. Of course, certification is a way to check and make sure that wineries are following certain parameters. If we look at the Vin Natur association they accept wineries without certifications as long as they test negative for any use of chemicals in their soil and wines.
A Recap of the Anti-Wine List Thoughts
Diversification and inclusion will, according to me, become imperative also when it comes to what type of wine to promote. I do not say that it has to be either big conventional wines with strong marketing behind them or wines made with organically grown native grapes from lesser-known areas. Wine is all about taste, I agree. But if it is about taste the question arises why certain wines that are on the top lists today would be so much better or more tasteful than others. As Livio Del Chiaro, sommelier and owner of La Divina Enoteca in Florence together with his wife Bianca Ciatti, put it in a Facebook post the other day:
Above all, they should explain to me why in these classifications very oaked and more or less undrinkable “big” red and white wines are awarded in 90% of the cases.
But a Grignolino d’Asti or a Verduno Pelaverga or a Cerasuolo di Vittoria or a Torrette or…. can’t they be great wines? Can only the “big” wines where you often don’t even manage to finish the bottle in 4 and that cost at least $50-60 win these prizes?
There are several other things I could put on my “anti-list” but I think the three mentioned above are more than enough for now. However, I do think there is a need for change in how we look upon wine, just as there is a need for change in how we travel and treat our environment; we need to be more sustainable.
What wine would you choose to be Anti-Wine Lists?