Learning about wine, vines and vignerons whilst living in the Languedoc

The World Of Natural Wine: Book review.

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Buy it. If you’re interested in natural wine or wine in general then this is a must read book. Beautifully produced, easy to read, full of insight and exceptional research and use of images, old and new, Aaron Ayscough’s book has delighted me since it arrived in October. Like the best natural wine itself ‘The World of Natural Wine’ is a work of love, enthusiasm, hard work and respect, pleasing the heart and the head.

I must declare a friendship with Aaron, I have met him just once at Jeff Coutelou’s in 2021 but we have long corresponded and are most certainly on the same side. I admire his eagerness to learn which has taken him around the natural wine scene for many years and led to him working alongside producers such as my friends, the Andrieus, at Clos Fantine in Faugeres. He even embarked on a winemaking course in Burgundy, his scepticism about much of it being a regular feature in his subscription website Not Drinking Poison. Uncompromising in his views Aaron is not afraid to argue his case and express his love for natural wine and the people who make it.

Aaron with Carole Andrieu at Clos Fantine

The book is lavishly produced, quality paper, full of illustrations and set out in readable sections which aim to answer the issues of the subtitle, ‘What it is, who makes it and why it matters’. As other reviewers have pointed out it is very France centred because that is the wine scene which Aaron knows best and where the natural wine scene really began in the 1980s. Other countries are covered and I am sure Aaron will have it in mind to spread his wings at a future time. Let me run through the chapters to show how he tackles those issues mentioned above.

Part I, A Way of Thinking About Wine, begins with the history of natural wine in chapter 1 and let me quote the opening sentence, “Natural wine is wine with nothing to hide”. Excellent. Aaron’s thesis is that natural wine is a reaction to some of the farming practices of the 20th century, especially the increased use of chemicals, the wine frauds of past centuries such as the Bordeaux scandal of 1973-4 and dissatisfaction with the industrialisation of land and winemaking in general. He charts the resurrection of old wine methodology from Beaujolais to wine bars Paris and then to the rest of France with a carefully researched narrative using excellent archive photographs. I know from Jeff that it was in such Parisian wine bars that he became enthused by what natural wine might be.

Aaron goes on to examine in chapter 2 how the grapes are grown, comparing natural methods with conventional farming and winemaking with side by side examples and descriptions. He considers organics, the calendar, and practices such as pruning, ploughing, irrigation and use of copper and sulfur. I like the fact that Aaron does not shrink from issues such as sulfur, he is a natural wine purist but is prepared to consider all points of view and admit where scientific research does not support some of the claims which have been made for natural wine. He is open about his allegiances but is not blindly biased. We also see the first example of a regular theme through the book, looking at how some of the vineyard and cellar practices influence what we drink in the glass, eg, pruning.

Chapter 3 takes us from vineyard to cellar and how natural wine is made. More comparisons between natural and conventional, issues such as yeasts and, of course, sulfites, before taking us through the whole process of winemaking from harvest to bottle via maceration, pressing, racking, fermentation and choice of ageing vessel. All of these are again superbly illustrated helping to explain the whole process and using Aaron’s contacts and experience of cellars across France. Different types of wine including PetNat and sweet wine are covered with recommendations of bottles to buy. We see more examples of how practices such as carbonic maceration influence the final wine we taste and the lexicon of wine is made clear.

Part I is my favourite part of the book and would have made a fulfilling tome on its own but there is more to come. Part II, dare I say more conventionally, takes us on a journey around wine domaines in different regions of France and then other parts of Europe. The choice of domaines is exemplary, their story and philosophies set out with a ‘wine to try’ given, the choice of OW for Jeff Coutelou being an interesting and typically offbeat one by Aaron but showing his understanding of the domaine too. Part II is Francocentric for sure but that is Aaron’s expertise at present.

Part III bears the excellent title of Enjoying Natural Wine, how often books overlook enjoyment. There are three sections: tasting, looking at how natural wines can differ from conventional ones with more honesty about problems and flaws; serving wines including storage and age; finding the wines with recommendations for cavistes around the world. Finally, there is a useful page on further reading which is guiding my own choices at present.

I made my feelings about the book very clear in my opening paragraph, it is one of the best wine books I have read. It can be read as a whole or in chunks, the format makes it easy to dip in and out as you might see from the images above. I learned a lot, enjoyed it and I commend it without reservation and look forward to more of Aaron’s work.

Author: amarch34

I'm a recently retired (early!) teacher from County Durham in North east England. I am going to be spending most of the next year in the Languedoc leaarning about wines, vineyards and the people who care for both.

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