Alice Feiring Explains Natural Wine

Alice Feiring chats with winemaker
Alice Feiring chats with winemaker

When Anne chatted with wine critic Alice Feiring last fall, the conversation kind of went all over the place – as it is wont to do when wine people get talking about their favorite subject. Feiring, who had just launched her newsletter, The Feiring Line, has been writing about wine since 1990. She said it was something she fell into, as she had been writing about a host of other topics as a freelance journalist.

“I fell into this area of wine technology,” she said, adding that she already had a passion for wine. “It was just inescapable.”

Feiring believes that the role of the wine critic is to help, not judge.

“I think the role of the wine critic is to be somebody you really like in a wine store,” she said.

And, as we have often noted, it doesn’t hurt to find a critic who shares your personal sympathies. Feiring, for her part, has become a strong advocate for Natural or Naked Wine. It’s a small, but growing, trend in the winemaking world, where winemakers are attempting to make wine by doing less and less to it, including even adding yeast to get the fermentations started.

Side note – it is also an area of minor disagreement between us. Anne leans toward the less is more approach, Michael favors more intervention.

Feiring said that she simply prefers the flavors of natural wine, describing wines that have been made with added acid and occasional bits of sulfur (like, part per million bits) as having a heavier, fruitier taste that just doesn’t appeal to her.

“What I find about natural wines is that they are more accessible,” she said. “And they’re not that expensive.”

In fact, she added that there is absolutely no correlation between cost and quality, although some natural wines will cost a bit more because it is a riskier way to make wine – one of the reasons winemakers add those parts per million of sulfur is to kill bugs that can ruin an entire year’s worth of grapes or wine.

But risks aside, native ferments (letting the grapes ferment on their own without adding yeast) and wines made with less and less chemical intervention are getting more popular and more common, which mean Feiring has a lot  more tasting to do. Something which will disappoint her mightily. Uh, not.