Q&A with Alice Feiring
Alice is a journalist, award-winning blogger
and author of several brilliant and provocative books on natural wine.
Do you feel like a wine trade insider, or a quizzical outsider looking in?
A combination of both. You maintain a certain distance as a writer, I suppose a writer is always looking and rarely being.
Why do you think your book The Battle for Wine and Love: Or How I Saved the World from Parkerization, was a sensation? Is it because it attracted a counter-blast from the establishment, or because it articulated what many people privately thought, but were cautious to vent in print?
I think it had its effect, but don’t know if it was much of a sensation, more like a truth that needed to be supressed, but eventually leaked out.
Would you please recap your premise in that book?
I wrote it when it seemed the wines of the world that I adored were becoming extinct, so I went on a journey to find out how this happened, what was being lost, who were the holdouts and what Parker had to do with it and at the same time, wine resurrection.
What were some of the over-rated/Parkerised wines? Do you see an incestuous relationship between those rating and ranking wines and those who make those wines? In what way does it manifest itself?
In the book I went to the areas of wine that I particularly love so I didn’t spend time in California—but there, like SeaSmoke Pinot Noir, or Screaming Eagle. I didn’t spend time in Bordeaux but the Garagistes, like Le Pin. But all of those newfangled wines from Piemonte, such as Cerretto or Scavino or Vietti or Spinetta. The Super Tuscan big bombs. That sort of thing.
As far as the second part of the question, we must talk in the past. As I think scores have less influence. But yes, at the time there was. EG. The rise of Bordeaux and their adoration of Parker, the way samples were manipulated for his palate etc.
In the UK there has been a backlash against powerful, extractive meretricious wines. Is that also the case in the States?
Do you think that your critiques make oenologists and professional journalist/pundits feel insecure because their livelihoods depend on the received wisdom that there is a right way to do things and that certain wines are better than others?
I think the rise of natural wine is a threat to them yes. People chasing the market will always be insecure because they’re losing market share. So, what do you do if you created a biz and all of the sudden people want something else. If you make the wine that you want to drink, that’s the best thing. You will always find your customer as long as you don’t make millions of cases
Should we live and let live, or be prepared to be forceful and call out hypocrisy and bad practices?
Ah, back in the old days when natural wine was this big underground passion, we could let live and drink as we wanted and let them drink what they wanted. The wine was ours alone! But now that the mainstream is curious and not as tuned in, vulnerable to those with marketing dollars and plenty of misinformation, I think it’s necessary for some to gate keep, truth in wine, like any truth, is needed. That said, there are so many stupid stories out there that should just be ignored.
In one of your books you detail the additives allowed to be used in wines. Why are consumers not told about these additives when regulations on food labelling are seemingly more stringent?
Wilful Ignorance? Big wine money?
What are some of the worst things added to wine and why are they being used?
I dread cultured aromatic yeast—because the winemaker decides what flavour and aroma profile they want - and then adds it. Added tannin is an aberration, anti-brett like Velcorin is a known carcinogen, and the idea that gum arabic is added for mouth feel grosses me out. Then there’s the idea of mega purple, grape concentrate. I never touched juice made from concentrate, why would I drink wine with it?
Can an interesting wine ever be flawless?
What an interesting question. I would have to counter that and ask, what do you mean by flawless? By conventional standards? Yes, I can show a conventional drinker a perfectly gorgeous natural wine that would pass the WSET flawless test.
Are additives only used in cheap commercial wines, or do oenologists also use chemical interventions in expensive brands and luxury cuvees?
Used across the board, from low to high. Some like mega-purple mostly used in supermarket brands, but enzyme, yeast, bacteria, acidulation, anti-bretts, tannins and machines like MOX and RO (and other forms of filtration) absolutely.
Can one taste the “manipulations”; how do such wines come across?
Tannins are felt in the sides towards back of the mouth. Acid kind of hurts. Things like yeasts and sensitivity to RO and MOX take a bit of training and tasting vocabulary. The MOX makes a wine feel hollow, as if something is missing.
How should the wine industry face up to challenges such as global warming; water shortages etc?
By going back to higher elevation plantations, correct pairings of vine to soil and climate and changes to pruning system.