Binner La Salon des Bains Riesling 2016

Spontaneity in a glass in a Alsace Riesling that’s vibrant, racy and alive.

Rich, golden colour, luminous and dense, aromas of baked apricot, juicy peach, toasted nuts and caramel with hints of wild flowers and citrus fruit, on the palate it’s intense but not lacking in finesse, high acidity and very mineral, balanced by a silky texture with a long, salty persistence.

Food pairings: the high acidity and mineral characteristics of this wine lends itself to creamy dishes with moderate structure. Some examples include: shrimp linguine, clam chowder, or chicken in a lemon cream sauce.

Wild flowers

What is spontaneity? Things happening by chance, deciding in the spur of the moment, taking risks and embracing the unexpected and unmediated, not thinking or evaluating or reflecting, but diving right in?

Impulsive, impromptu, unforced, unconstrained, unprompted, unbidden, unsolicited, unplanned, unpremeditated, unrehearsed, unstudied, uninhibited, unselfconscious, unaffected- natural.

There seems to be a lot of “un”-doing to reach this “natural” state. But, to what extent is nature spontaneous, and to what extent is our own “naturalness” determined by our degree of spontaneity?

A few weeks ago, my boyfriend and I went to a nearby town to enjoy an evening together which would be a bit different from the usual. We chose a wine bar to start and booked a table at a new sushi restaurant. Scanning the wine list at the wine bar, we were met with the usual wines from the usual places that are usually found in bars and restaurants in this area, and a vague sense of boredom ensued.

“Aspetta!” Says my boyfriend, jumping up.”Let me go inside and ask if they have anything a bit more interesting in stock.” Sure enough, he returns with the waiter and a bottle of Alsace Riesling.

We try the wine; look at the colour, viscosity, smell the aromas, taste it, swish it around, feel it’s texture and persistence. My boyfriend furrows his eyebrows. “What is it?” I ask. He is questioning this certain aroma of burnt fruit, and in fact, maybe the wine is a bit oxidised. But there are other aromas which haven’t lost their liveliness, the acidity is good, it’s got plenty of minerality, characteristic of Riesling, and in the end there’s enough softness and finesse to create balance. I’m determined to enjoy the evening.

So maybe it’s a bit oxidised, but think of the journey this bottle took to arrive at the table; from the cold, mountainess region of Alsace, France to this warm, Mediterranean town in the south of Italy.

Alsace wine region in France
Alsace wine region in France

Maybe the truck transporting this wine over the border broke down at some point and the wine was exposed to hot temperatures. Maybe it was stored in a warehouse somewhere and was exposed to fluorescent lights. Maybe when the delivery boy dropped it off at the wine bar, he left it in the hot sun and the staff members arrived late because they had a late one the night before. Any number of things could have happened along the way. Already the wine is more interesting. The sushi was a let down, but there’s nothing to be done about that.

Italian street scene, 1960s

Come to find out, this is a biodynamic Riesling, “non filtré”. This wine is produced with a spontaneous fermentation at low temperatures using only indigenous yeasts. It is aged for a year in contact with its lees, where it also undergoes a malolactic fermentation, and there is no filtering or clarification before bottling.

Yes, one of those “natural” wines loved by those smug hipsters, jumping up on their soap boxes, proclaiming, “It’s natural, so it’s good!”. I’m not so sure that’s always the case and I’m not about to jump on that bandwagon. Selected yeasts are chosen in order to create certain conditions that ensure the fermentation is regular and constant and the wine is filtered to remove any organic residue which could cause bacteria to develop or an unwanted second fermentation. These non-“natural” practices make the wine organically and organoleptically more stable.

Young people protesting in Paris in the 1960s

But, forget about stability, the people want spontaneity! As far as I see it, natural wines are a much bigger risk to take on all sides, but then again, with out great risks there are no great gains. And don’t get me wrong, I’m all for sustainable farming.

Perhaps this trend of natural wines is a symptom of the lack of the natural in our daily lives and the desire to reconnect with nature. Maybe there’s a collective consciousness that feels we have failed in some way and the time has come to throw out the rule book and let nature teach us how spontaneity can make life less standardised and dull and more interesting and illuminating, whatever the risks involved may be.

Wild flowers

Impulsive, impromptu, unforced, unconstrained, unprompted, unbidden, unsolicited, unplanned, unpremeditated, unrehearsed, unstudied, uninhibited, unselfconscious, unaffected.

However, this is assuming that nature doesn’t have a complex logic of its own that doesn’t necessarily revolve around our human needs.

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