Nunc est bibendum.
Nunc pede libero pulsanda tellus.
‘Now is the time for drinking. Now is the time for dancing’. (Technically, it’s something like ‘now is the time for pounding the floor with the wild foot’; Horace must have had friends who were as bad at dancing as I am.)
At any rate, this seems like an excellent fit for the early New Year: Celebrate! The darkest, shortest days are over! But then the cold aftermath of holiday overindulgence sets in, and celebration, drinking, and dancing are out the window, replaced with things like Dry January, various diets, and ‘clean eating and drinking’.
If this term is new to you, clean drinking purports to manufacture alcohol with a lowered amount of toxins. Typically, ‘Clean Wine’ is either organic or biodynamic, and made without commercial yeasts or additives. Possibly, it is also vegan, eschewing animal-based fining methods: eggs, fish bladders.
What it isn’t: new.
It reminds me of another recent trend, the Red Blend. Marketing companies want you to think this is a brand-new category, but in fact MOST red wines are and have always been blends. In older wine regions, the different grapes were designed to balance both flavor and risk: Merlot softened the harsh tannins of Cabernet, but also provided an insurance policy against the later-ripening Cabernet Sauvignon. In a New World vineyard, some (cheaper) Gray Riesling might mitigate the cost of more expensive Chardonnay.
Ditto ‘clean’ wine. Wine, and particularly domestic wine, can indeed be subject to numerous additives. And celebrities touting their clean, pristine brands might seem like the only solution. But alternatives-traditionally-made wines with low or no additives- have been around forever. Organic wine is not new. Sustainable wine is not new. Many, many producers make their wines without chemical herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers. If you care about the environment and/or the possible effects of ingesting various chemicals, these may be good choices for you.
Many producers avoid commercial yeasts, usually because they believe the naturally occurring yeasts from their vineyards better translate the unique flavors of their grapes and their land. This belief has some basis in fact. Likewise, if you prefer to drink your wine un-clarified, or at least un-clarified by eggs or fish bladders, that seems like a reasonable expectation. And the dozens of other additives allowed into domestic wines would seem to point toward a product less agricultural than manufactured. Finally, if you’re looking to avoid extra sugar, ditch the Moscato in favor of a drier wine, where the natural grape sugars are converted into alcohol.
So before you go the Clean Wine route, consider this: If you want to drink less-processed beverages, you don’t need to sign up for a subscription service, or buy your wine exclusively from one of the new ‘Clean Wine’ manufacturers. But you do need to shop with a merchant you trust. So find a reputable wine store, then tell them what you’re looking for. Organic? Natural? Vegan? Dry? Any wine merchant worth their corkscrew will be able to help.
Then, stop worrying about your wine being clean, and start demanding that it be delicious.