Recently I participated in a panel with six other winemakers to discuss our views on the different styles of wine. One of the winemakers in the panel, representing a well-known, high-end winery, specializing in producing Zinfandels stated that their style of wine is “authentic,” explaining that their varietal wines are always 100% of one variety. They would never blend in any other variety into their wines, nor would they use any “additives.” I found his latter statement somewhat strange since their wines did not taste like they were lacking sulfur dioxide, which one would notice right away.
Their wines tasted very alcoholic and somewhat sweet and “flabby,” indicating the lack of acidity. The winemaker made it very clear that adding tartaric acid to their wines went contrary to their principles of making wine. This would be considered adulteration. In the US, legally you are allowed to blend into a varietal wine up to 25% of other varieties while maintaining the varietal name of the wine. You are also allowed to add tartaric acid (the wine acid) to affect its pH.
In general, I am very accepting of a diversity in wine styles. I understand why some winemakers make biodynamic wines, organic wines (although they would not taste like normal wines) or 100% varietal wines or whatever else there is, as long as I would find the wine somewhat pleasant to drink. What touched my nerve about this winery was that they claimed their wines were “authentic.”
Authenticity means rightfulness, trustworthiness. These are moral values that probably most of us subscribe and some of us practice. I have a hard time with the concept that a winery would take ownership to morality in making their wines while claiming everyone else’s wines, who don’t adhere to their style, are fake.
First, I thought that this winemaker was using the word “authenticity” as a metaphor or descriptor for their wines. But after questioning him I realized this was more an application of the principle of morality into the wine. Like saying that “it’s immoral to make wine any other way.” In some wine growing regions in the world they have laws that regulate the varietals that you can grow and blend into your wine. Like Brunello di Montalcino must be 100% Sangiovese, and not any good old Sangiovese, but a clone known as “Brunello” which means in Italian “the little brown one.” Undoubtedly, this is being done to gain a marketing advantage for wines produced in that area. This is a common practice used in many other regions in the world and I have no problems accepting this.
We are living in an era of multi-faceted divisiveness. We are divided racially, economically, culturally, by national origin, you name it. It seems like we, the people of this country, have nothing in common. Even wine, our last resort to bring people together, is being used as a divisive tool to separate people in the name of authenticity. Authenticity is a way of life and I have issues when people apply it to physical objects, foods or other commodities. To me this is like they are writing the eleventh commandment, “thou shall not make but authentic wines.”