THIS MONTH, Slow Food, the international anti-globalisation movement championing good food, publishes its second wine guide in English.
The long-awaited Slow Wine 2012 comes out some 23 years after the movement was created and 18 years after its first English-language wine guide appeared. The Slow Food movement itself originated out of a response to a wine scandal, in 1986, in which Italian wine was adulterated with methanol. Why has Slow Food taken so long to turn its attention back to the product that inspired its birth?
Part of the response is that wine is already perceived as a slow product: it takes at least six years for a new vine to produce grapes worth turning into wine; a winemaker’s year is dictated by the unhurried pace of the seasons; fermentations are often described as “long”; barrel aging takes months, or years; and some grands vins need a decade in the bottle before they are sufficiently mature to be appreciated fully.
Wine is also perceived as a product to be savoured leisurely as part of a graceful art de vivre: opening and decanting wine takes time; observing, sniffing, swirling, sipping and sharing impressions takes time; the qualities in wine are admired precisely for their “length”, or persistence in time; and wining goes with dining and cooking, which all take time.
But just because there is no wine industry equivalent of the “fast food” appellation, is it fair to say that wine isn’t a “fast” product? Unscrupulous winemakers do accelerate winemaking and aging using common techniques. Concentrated jelly additives, for example, quickly add colour, body and tannins to an otherwise anaemic wine and reduce maceration times. A bag of oak chips steeped into a vat quickly gives a wine a barrel-aged mouthfeel. A pummelling dose of micro-oxygenation quickly ripens whatever fruit flavours remain lurking in the abused juice, before all is sealed in sulphites for shipping.
Sadly, this generation of “live fast, die young” old-before-their-time wines won’t leave good-looking corpses. When these instantly-aged wines reach maturity, they will already have turned to vinegar.
There is little evidence that wine is consumed leisurely nowadays, either. Most bottles are opened and consumed on the day of purchase. Few bottles are decanted, even though it’s the young wines being purchased that need it most – a glass of wine sniffed straight from a freshly opened bottle rarely rewards the nose with aromatic expressiveness. More often the reaction is: “I don’t know what I’m getting, Jilly.”
Aromas must first emerge from a wine’s fog of embalming sulphites before they can breathe the air they slowly perfume. Who hasn’t reached the end of a bottle only to notice the flavours starting to come though? If the bottle had been decanted an hour before the meal, the first glass would have tasted as good as the last.
Happily, keeping a wine cellar is not necessary to upholding a “slow wine” attitude. There are good reasons to keep wine at home: having a selection to choose from; anticipating the rewards of waiting for a special bottle to mature; or satisfying a fetish to collect. But a wine collector ruins the drinking experience when he consumes a bottle with undue speed, as if it makes no difference at what speed to play an LP record.
Slow Wine 2012 reminds us that not all the wines of our time respect it or are worthy of it. The wines selected for praise are made from sustainably managed vineyards by winemakers who do not practice methods that simply accelerate output. Qualitative assessments are favoured over a points-based approach. The movement’s “good, clean and fair” slogan sums up what they are looking for.
Unfortunately, Slow Food’s latest English-language wine guide covers only the wines and vineyards of Italy – its first English-language edition covered the world. Expect a leisurely wait before an edition covering the wines and vineyards of France appears. Patience gentlemen, please.
First published in The Connexion (March, 2012).