Where’s the wine and sympathy?

As I sit here re-hydrating with a kale smoothie (to compensate for last night’s over-indulgence) I am reminded of the effect of what I choose to put into my body.

The closer we get to the holiday season, the more the temptation to abandon one’s usual limits on consumption seems to grow.

So how do we approach this naturally indulgent time of year without becoming either overly neurotic or completely out of control?

When it comes to wine, my answer is always quality not quantity.

I’ll cover quality in a more technical article early next year, but in the meantime, here are a few things to consider when reaching for that next glass.

Average quality, over-cropped fruit can never, ever be ‘made’ into great wine. Period. What can be done to make it into reasonable wine often involves a good deal of intervention from the winemaker, including additives to enhance or discourage certain characteristics.

While we can’t say definitively that certain additives give headaches or create dehydration (though we know alcohol does this for sure), both science and common sense suggest that the more processed and additive-laden the food and drink we put into our bodies is, the higher the chances of a negative effect.

Sulphur, for example, is a recognised allergen, which is why it is declared on wine bottles. But what don’t we know about the compounds that leech from new oak barrels? What about the copper that is used (albeit in small quantities) to ‘clean up’ wine and make it fruitier?

Does that mean opting for natural wine only? No, not necessarily. Natural wine can also be made from poor quality grapes. Moreover, too little intervention can also lead to problems of quality, such as too many sulphites created from spontaneous ferments.

For me, quality requires two ingredients: high quality grapes and sympathetic winemaking.  Where you have great raw product – fruit that is from lower yielding vines, left to ripen to optimum concentration and handpicked – there is less need to intervene, to put it through processes or add to it.  This doesn’t mean just leaving the grapes to it, rather it is about managed intervention to produce wines that are free from faults and respect site.  I call this sympathetic winemaking, as the overall philosophy is sympathetic to the site, the wine and – in turn – to the end consumer.  The result: wines with an abundance of character and site expression which are less likely to produce negative side effects for the drinker*.

So how does one go about locating these kinds of wines? It’s a bit of trial and error, but don’t be afraid to ask around, to be curious, to find out what your favourite winemaker drinks and why. Seek out small volume producers and limited runs. While price is a pretty blunt selection tool, generally if a wine is $40 NZD or above for a bottle, you should expect a good base level of quality as well as something pretty interesting.

If a wine isn’t known to me, I tend to err on the side of cautious consumption – in my world, a sympathetically made cup of tea is preferable to a stonking head ache.