A wine list that’s a thoughtfully chosen, slender guide can bring as much pleasure as an overstuffed tome, and it’s certainly easier to navigate. This was one of the thoughts running through my head while perusing a review copy of Natural Wine For The People by Alice Feiring. The book serendipitously arrived after a coworker asked me to explain natural wine. While naturally I did a fine job during a 60-second discourse from elevator to desk, I wish I could have concluded the convo with a segue into having her seek out this concise book.
The subtitle of the book is What It Is, Where to Find It, and How to Love It. The first part of this trio is the one I get the most questions about. The second is certainly easier in the age of the internet and with Feiring’s suggested shops to explore online via the book’s second appendix. For the third, the best way is to just drink it.
However, no category/style of wine begets so many questions about what it might taste like. (If wine is complicated, natural wine is, strangely, perhaps even more so. Though I blame this on its detractors rather than it’s proponents, tbh.) This is where I dig Natural Wine For The People the most. Spoiler alert: there are no absolutes about natural wine. Sorry, no natty Rosetta Stone is out there for dialing up all the answers.
Natural Wine For The People by Alice Feiring, Ten Speed Press, 176pp (2019)
Instead, Feiring requires you to stop, think, and consider. (I almost wrote stop, collaborate, and listen.) She addresses the myths and misconceptions and provides six benchmarks useful for banishing dichotomous notions about natural wine. My only beef with this “How to Love It” section of the book is the Wine Faults vs. Flaws section. All the examples are either Wine Faults or to be judged on case-by-case basis. I would have liked a Wine Flaw example(s) to better understand the difference between the two.
The Producers section is a particular delight because these profiles give Feiring the chance to regale you with first-person anecdotes about the eccentric, inspiring lot of folks behind the bottle. And this is such a huge part of loving natural wine, the cast of characters who are bucking the status quo by saying no way! to vineyard nuking/techno-wanking methodologies. What’s old is new, eh?
You don’t even have to be curious about/into/obsessed with natural wine to enjoy this book. HUH? There are concise discussions about vineyards, winemaking, tasting, navigating events/restaurants. Bonus: it’s got charming illustrations rather than photos of insufferable wine bros with their nose in a glass, eyes half closed while deep in ego-stroking contemplation of their exalted spot in the upper-echelons of the wine world. UGH. Wine bros leave me so unsatisfied.
Conclusion: Natural Wine For The People is imbued with knowledge and personality. It’s a breezy yet informative read. And if you crave certainty in wine, ok, fine. I can promise you this. Regarding natty wine, Feiring will have you understanding why “its influence is outperforming its size.”