Manuel Camblor has been crazy about real wine for half of his life, at least. Due to his sweet temper and kindness to animals, he’s known in select circles of wine geekery as The Latin Liquidator. He writes the Spanish-language blog La otra botella, which is an argument for Google translator in itself, These days he lives in the Dominican Republic with his wife and children. This post is going up bi-lingual, so if you’re a regular reader of his blog see below for the Spanish version.
When I think it over, I can’t recall many moments in my history as a wine geek when my thing has been orthodoxy.
Not that this has been purely for the sake of contrarianism. I was born with a marked tendency to be contrarian, and have had little luck in breaking from that tendency, in spite of the powerful influence of my classical education. I’ve grown older desiring only that which communicates with me in a natural way.
Oh, yeah, right. I said “natural”. There’s that little word. Not counting the mention of it in the title, it came quickly.
I was telling you about the workings of my peculiar system of affinities. There are things with which I connect, just because. And there are things that I can’t swallow—not even by accident. Those things with which I do connect tend, most of the time, to be in the margins when I happen to connect with them. In the world of wine, this has been particularly so… It’s hard to forget those days when I was the lonely voice on the Spanish side of the wine internet defending the virtues of the wines of López de Heredia, those so vilified by people wearing “alta expresión” underpants outside their trousers. The same wines that are now ultrahip and sell for handsome sums. Also hard to forget my crusades for wine “minus titjobs and makeup”, without the point-seeking technowhatevers that became quite the rage in the Nineties. And about the gurus and the damn points, the less said, the better.
I’ve spent a bunch of years talking about the way I wanted things to be, only to realize that what I desired could be summed up in one simple phrase: Natural wine. I sought wine that was authentic, that expressed its terroir, without additives or trafficking to “improve” it, without marketing guys in Hugo Boss suits behind it, or complex corporate schemes, or social aspirations, or smoke, or mirrors. A refrain often repeated on La otra botella lately sums my attitude best: “To drink, to open bottles and enjoy”. Simple as that. It’s all I want. Wine consumed naturally, in camaraderie, with joy; wine of which the main virtue is sort of like those old commercials for Dominican rum: “How smoothly it goes down, how happy one gets”. Naturally.
I now find out there’s a Natural Wine Movement and a number of my acquaintances and friends are part of it. New York is declared (along with Paris and San Francisco)one of its strongholds. Natural wine is now the “it” thing among any number of intelligentsias and hipster nucleii. Cory Cartwright invites me to be part of this brilliant initiative, where 32 bloggers spend 32 days going on about natural wine and I accept. My contrarian streak is not so strong as to preclude me from occasional adhesion to one ideological community of another.
Thing is that for the past couple of years and change I’ve resided in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, on a medium-distant shore of the global enobeverage marketplace. I left behind a good life in Manhattan, friends and all the wonderful wine I could ever want to move to… Well, never mind.
Here you mention to somebody your preference of natural wine and their eyes become double-glazed. “But I thought all wine is natural”, they say in all earnestness. They believe the full canon of supermarket pastoral prose as printed on the back labels of most industrial wine these days. Because, of course, no matter how techy and obnoxiously corporate the global megawinery complexes grow, there’s still the appeal to the myth of wine as a “product of the earth and of artisanal care”.
So there. I live in a place where natural wine—as opposed to industrial crap—is inconceivable to the majority of consumers, who cannot conceive of the pap printed on a Concha y Toro back label as something someone else can associate with the “not natural”. A bottle of wine is opened and consumed here because of the familiarity of its brand, rather than the contents of the bottle. The difference between the two seems irrelevant to most.
I’d be lying if I told you I’ve learned to accept this status quo. The aesthetic proclivities of my neighbor (I will not discuss whether s/he watches CSI Miami or not, as my very own wife seems to be a fan of David Caruso; go figure…) wouldn’t bother me at all if they weren’t quite as hegemonic as they are. I am what I am and my tastes were formed where they were formed, so living here, having left behind what I did, is living in the throes of the nastiest never-ending set of withdrawal symptoms. I could very well be in that Nisswa, Minnesota place that Thor Iversson wrote about a couple of days ago. Sometimes, facing the dismal selection of industrial enoproducts on offer here in Santo Domingo (and the complete acceptance by the public of said industrial enoproducts as “the only possibility”), my mind calls up all sorts of literary figures. Maybe the oppressed subversives in a couple of Orwell’s funnier books. Or I don’t know, the aging anarchist hidden away in an attic in Franco’s Spain. Or the young poet in Communist wherever, devouring over and over the same samisdat pamphlet.
Sorry. I realize I’ve gone on a bit in this self-pity jag. Really, sorry. But an unappeased jones for natural wine can be a truly awful, soul-crushing torture. Anyway, here’s where camaraderie comes in. Taking note of the immense discontent I’ve been feeling with regard to my current circumstances, as abundantly voiced on my blog, a good friend in Spain who happens to make natural wine took pity on me and sent me a couple of cases of selected bottles—made by him and by other like-minded producers. I’ve gone through the cases bottle by bottle, slowly, savoring each one when I feel depressed. Most salutary, this.
The natural-winemaker buddy I’m talking about is none other than Laureano Serres. Perchance, he’s also the author of that “To drink, to open bottles and enjoy” slogan I’ve been using so much lately. I met Laureano in the flesh for the first time about six years ago. Back then he wasn’t the hardcore naturalero he is now. Just a guy trying to make the best wine he could. I’d just flown into Madrid and he’d driven from Catalunya just to meet me and have dinner with me. It was an unforgettable evening: Two new friends getting royally smashed at a posh restaurant where they polished off bottles of Clape Cornas and Clos Rougeard “Les Poyeux”, as well as who knows what else, all under the incredulous gaze of an attractive young lady sommelier. Laureano had brought down some of his wines for me to taste.
I confess I recall very little about a white and a red he served first. But the culmination of the dinner was a 1975 sweet rancio made by Laureano’s father. To me, a revelation. If my memory doesn’t betray me, Laureano mentioned that this had once been a typical style of wine in his area, but is now almost extinct. I, gobsmacked before a wonderful, authentic, profound, genuinely stirring wine, managed to tell him that under no condition should he let such a treasure be lost.
We skip hald a dozen years forward and I’m in Santo Domingo, in front of one of the little wine fridges in my apartment, looking for something to drink with a salad of black beans, sweetcorn, prawns and smoked salmon, cilantro-cumin-bitter orange vinaigrette. I find something that appears to be white. The label, in one of those annoyingly curlicued typefaces favored by so many natural winemakers, identifies the wine as “Virante”, or something like that. I don’t know what to think about that name. I open the bottle. I pour the wine. It’s cloudy, though its orange orange color emits a compelling luminosity. A wine that here in Santo Domingo would be condemned as “spoiled” and unceremoniously poured down a kitchen sink without so much as a sniff. But not chez Camblor.
This smells just glorious. Instantly, it reminds me of Toro Albalá’s “Eléctrico 1922”, one of my favorite wines ever from Montilla. Tiny wild strawberries, almonds, camphor, turpentine, stones, pine oil, more tiny wild strawberries and a citric depth of galactic proportinos. It makes one feel like writing one of those shopping-lists of “descriptors”, with so many aromas coming up from the glass.
What stops me cold is the fact that on the palate it’s almost completely dry. This is very new and doesn’t quite jive with my old idea of a rancio, which tended to include sweetness. Saline, substantially tannic and very long. Definitely waaaaaaay more wine than I expected.
I immediately used that most natural of tools, a Facebook message, to get Laureano to explain to me what the hell is up with this unbelievable wine.
He swore he hadn’t shipped me anything called “Virante” or “Viranti”. Or, for that matter, made any such thing. He didn’t understand, but was happy I liked it, if indeed it had been part of the care package he’d sent
It took another couple of days for me to receive a new message. Laureano said he’d finally figured out it was a “Vi Ranci”, a rancio wine. Not the one made by his father, but something made in the tiniest amount by him–of which, regrettably, he had no more bottles to send me, since he had sold his remaining stock to a wine bar in Banyuls. Or something like that. Apparently, the wine bar in question specializes in just that sort of wine. The world I don’t live in seems to be a wonderful place.
I declared this rancio as the opening of a fascinating new avenue in Laureano’s natural wine adventures. Its character is unique and undisputable and goddam the stuff is good! I told him to explain it to me, for the sake of the readers of this entry who may harbor some sort of enological curiosity as to the wine’s “where” and “how”. And Laureano said:
I bottled this wine in 2006 from a barrel I got out of a bodega in my area which had closed up. What little wine there was I left in the barrel and refreshed it with some of my own wine from garnacha and macabeo. Two years later, the topped-up barrel had lost a lot of wine; it even had a little leak that ended up being plugged by fungi. I filled about one hundred bottles. against all odds, because no one seems to believe in this sort of thing. But I feel like recovering this patrimony—even if it’s only .ooo1% of it. If someone gives me an old barrel, and it’s doable, I’ll take it and put in some wine. You don’t lose everything. That’s what you drank: A rancid wine, one like the thousands there were before, Something the “mother” gave its flavor, an enological deviation…
A pretty story, right? The wine is what its name says. And it’s delicious. The
story is the kind no corporate marketing department would ever dare put on a back label—they’d probably have severe doubts about using anything remotely resembling the word “rancid” in the front, too.. To the natural generosity of this good friend—today the spearhead of the Natural Wine Movement in Spain—I got one bottle out of a hundred. Here, in a place where such a wine probably would never be understood, much less enjoyed. I’m happy, now, to call it by its name: Celler Laureano Serres Montagut, “Vi Ranci”, Vi de Taula NV. Unless I make it to Banyuls before the guys at that bar run out of it, I may never get to drink it again.
But it reached me, which is something to be very thankful for. Without really knowing what we were drinking, Josie and I drank up almost the entire bottle of this magnificent dry rancio and the next day we didn’t have even the slightest trace of a headache. That’s also something to be thankful for.
Follow day by day here: https://saignee.wordpress.com/32-days-of-natural-wine-links/
Up next: i’m in beautiful Moab Utah right now, and i don’t have my schedule. Hopefully someone remembers.