Wine Books: Patrick Matthews
Patrick Matthews penned a couple of interesting titles which tended to focus on small, artisanal winemakers with a penchant for "real wine" and "natural winemaking". In essence, Matthews described the 'natural wine' phenomenon a decade before it actually happened. Sadly, he now seems to have given up writing on wine.
Patrick Matthews follows on from his account of the small wine producing domaines of the world in The Wild Bunch (below) to explore in more detail the challenges and pitfalls that face the quality-minded winemaker, in their efforts to produce what Matthews' refers to as "real wine". This is wine that reflects its origins, being produced usually on a small scale in a traditionalist manner, as opposed to the industrial wines, produced in something more akin to a factory than a winery. In a step by step fashion, this book takes us on a journey which must be familiar to many New World winemakers. From how to choose a vineyard site, methods of planting and sourcing the most suitable grapes and individual vines, the book goes on to describe methods of vinification, maturation and dealing with wine faults. If this all sounds a little too technical, fear not. Matthews holds your interest, illustrating his discussions with appropriate examples from the real-life exploits of many (mainly Californian) New World winemakers and oenological institutions, such as the Department of Viticulture and Oenology at the University of California, Davis, which it seems has not always given the soundest advice. A great read.
Here Matthews takes us on an exploration of wines that owe their existence to the dedication and enthusiasm of their producers. These are as opposed to those soulless wines produced, perhaps even ‘manufactured’, in factory-like wineries, employing every winemaking trick in the recipe book to fashion a wine as inoffensive as possible, many of which seem to grace the shelves of my local supermarket. Matthews divides his journey up into easily manageable sections, starting off in the vineyard, as he meets and tasted with the producers of these wines, discusses the terroir they represent, and the varieties used as well as vineyard practices. He finishes off closer to home, with a section on those members of the UK wine trade who bring these wines to the market. Most interestingly all the sections are interspersed with specific wine recommendations, so that interested readers may try the wines for themselves. Unfortunately these recommendations are now one or two vintages out of date in most cases, but I see this as being of no relevance. I recommend merely making a note of some of the producers discussed and seeking out some of their wines from the retailers in question, as their details are also included. I can’t fault many of Matthews’ suggestions, which include Jean Thévenet, Masía Barril, Tyrells (for their Vat 1 Semillon) and Hamilton Russell in just the first few pages. Matthews rates the wines by an unusual scoring system, with marks out of five for ‘niceness’ (immediate likeability) as well as ‘oddness’ (which does not represent something wrong with the wine, but rather non-conformity to current fashionable wine styles). It sounds strange, but it seems to work, and on the whole where I am familiar with the wines in question I agree with Matthew’s assessment and rating. A great book for those who care about wine, and view it as something other than an industrial product.