Book review: “Naked Wine” by Alice Feiring

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231 pp

Da Capo Press

£15.99

Naked Wine is Alice Feiring’s second book on wine and specifically on her passion for “natural wine” or, as it is called here, “naked wine”, which is the catch-all term for grapes turned into wine with minimum chemical or technological intervention by the winemaker.

The book’s main conceit is that the author abandons prattle for practice and makes her own wine – naturally, of course. There is much to enjoy in Naked Wine. “I often think that when Americans talk of great terroir, they’re actually saying they have a great view” is a devastatingly funny putdown of all those vanity winemakers in California.

Some of her writing is first-rate. Albariño is “quiet-smelling”; there was “a contemplative punctuation after lunch”; “The vine arms stretched out on the top wires, like laundry hanging out to dry”; her wine has a “lusty ferment”; yeasts react to sugar “like a teenage boy on Thanksgiving Turkey”. I suppose that I should be flattered that I appear in this book as “an amiable fellow”.

Feiring’s authorial voice is based on an intensely personal style of narrative wine writing in which transparency and honesty is everything and never mind testing readers’ patience with intimate details of the author’s inner and outer lives. For example, there are 1,000 words or so on having wine confiscated at the airport. Then she bursts into tears when Tom Waits’ “Waltzing Matilda” reminds her of “love lost”. Quite what this has to do with wine, naked or otherwise, is a mystery.

To call the “natural wine category” a “phenomenon” is an exaggeration. If it is a phenomenon, then it is a very small one and certainly not “the most powerful movement rocking today’s wine market.” It represents a tiny fraction of the global wine market in terms of both value and volume.

As de facto spokesperson for the natural wine “movement” Feiring has yet to produce a proper definition of what constitutes natural or “naked” wine and why it is better than conventionally made wine. Until that happens her claims cannot be taken seriously.

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