Become the wine snob you want to be

The Great Wine Debate | Soho House

Wine connoisseur Hannah Crosbie and sommelier Vincent Gasnier make their cases for either natural or traditional wine

Thursday 31 March 2022    By Hannah Crosbie and Vincent Gasnier

Regardless of how you label it – natural, raw or naked – wine in its purest unfiltered form has never been more popular. These days, you’ll find crate loads of artfully decorated bottles in supermarkets and merchants everywhere, or on the curated wine lists of the world’s best drinking and dining establishments. Some, such as the Dandy Café in London, or Racines in New York, serve the natural variety exclusively. 

For some traditionalists, however, it’s a passing trend: a hipster-fuelled foodie fad that was destined for the sink from the start. For others, it’s a cleaner, more sustainable alternative that’s worth raising a glass to. To settle the debate, we called natural wine connoisseur Hannah Crosbie and Soho House sommelier and traditionalist, Vincent Gasnier, to put words to their reasoning for loving either classic or natural.

The Great Wine Debate | Soho House
The Great Wine Debate | Soho House

Stick to the classics, says Vincent Gasnier

‘There shouldn’t be any bad wines made in the world, thanks to better understanding and new technology. However, some trends have seen some changes in style and methods of vilification – orange wines, vegan wine, bio-dynamic wines, and natural wines. I’ve been exposed to many by fellow sommeliers and at our Houses around the world, but I’ve never understood the fuss around them.

‘I find that most natural wines are expensive and rarely smell “clean” or authentic to where they come from. If you speak to most producers, they will say the respect of the soil, vines and the grapes are key for fine wines. However, in order to keep wine healthy and the flavours clean, the producers will add more than the necessary sulphate to stop any potential refermentation. 

‘To say that a natural wine won’t give you a headache is debatable, too. To say that an athlete is not allowed paracetamol to be fit – it depends how the use of it is controlled and managed, right? 

‘Unlike natural wines, you know what to expect with the classics (or the traditional): a Sancerre will be light, aromatic, citrus, grassy, gooseberry and mineral with distinct acidity and lingering finish (and rarely oaked). Most people know what they prefer and stick to their classic favourites. Some, like a 30-year-old Pinot Grigio or Muscadet pass the test of time, and timelessness is a highly credible asset.’

The Great Wine Debate | Soho House

As nature intended, says Hannah Crosbie

‘Natural wine is on the up. It’s the reason so many young people have discovered wine, and it seems that there’s a new dedicated “cave à vin” opening every week. It’s been the catalyst that’s sparked an entirely new way for them to enjoy wine. But I have to start my spiel by acknowledging something: I do appreciate traditional wine as much as I do natural.

‘I’m aware that this statement might get me hung, drawn and quartered on Broadway Market in London (a hub for wine-lovers), but I’m sticking to my guns. Any winemaker who cares about their craft isn’t going to spray their vines with pesticides or chuck sulphur into their wines by the truckload.

‘Young people are now prepared to spend a lot of money on a “unicorn” bottle. They’re excited to splash out on a pairing chosen by the natural wine sommeliers that are fast becoming stars in London: Alexandra Price from Bar Crispin, Honey Spencer of the Palomar Group, Henny Zinzuwadia of Akoko, or Dominic Smith of Clove Club.

‘Gone are the days of selecting a wine according to the golden price to ABV ratio – a method designed to get you trollied in the most cost-effective way possible. Now, we care about what we’re drinking and want to understand what they’re tasting, rather than drinking a kind of grape-based paint thinner that I can only interpret as subtle masochism.

‘Natural wine’s colourful, imaginative bottle art has had an undeniable part to play in its popularity. It’s also quite the bugbear for the traditional wine lover. 

‘To me, beautiful label art is the logical next step: it appeals to a generation that’s unapologetically aesthetic-obsessed. Stripped of the pomp and circumstance and adorned instead with portraits, paintings and dancing red wolves. And if it takes a nice cover for you to discover a brilliant book, who am I to judge?’

The Great Wine Debate | Soho House
The Great Wine Debate | Soho House
The Great Wine Debate | Soho House
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