It was rotting grape juice. It tasted like unripe limes squeezed into seltzer water and left outside in the heat for weeks. The acidity dominated my tongue like ants on an apple slice. I grimaced, dumped the remainder of my glass, and thought about the nature of wine. Wine is fermented grapes. It is juice, left in a vessel until it changes into a poison you can drink. It hit me like an epiphany, though nothing could be more obvious.
I had tried a skin-contact white wine from Liten Buffel, a natural winemaker in upstate New York by Niagara Falls. It wasn’t my first glass of weird wine, but it was the first time I sipped a wine, understood plainly what it was, and didn’t like it. The fact of wine and its historical longevity suddenly struck me as absurd. So many people for so many years have been crazy over rotting fruit?
Knowing what you’re consuming can snuff out the joy of many delectable treats. Kraft macaroni and cheese lost its magic once I read the box. I bought the cheapest eggs at the grocery store until I realized why they were cheap, and felt bad for the chickens. In America, the bulk of our food is made in industrialized settings, filled with multi-syllabic ingredients we’ve never heard of (unless you’re a chemist), and we don’t like to think too much about how it’s all made.
A week later, someone told me Liten Buffel are one of the few no-sulfur, no-additive winemakers based in New York. They were special. I tried the Liten Buffel again, my mind refreshed by context, and found it didn’t taste so bad. The electricity of the acid still shocked me, but the banana and melon rind fruit held it in check. While the taste still lingered on my tongue longer than most wines, I picked up on a unique trajectory within the way the flavors registered on my palette. Thankfully, with another sip I enjoyed it even more. And like so many of the unfiltered Georgian orange wines I loved so much, the journey to the end of the bottle resembled a plot with a beginning, climax, and end. I even liked the sediment coating the bottom of my glass after the last pour.
While thinking too much about a food or drink can taint your ability to enjoy it, knowledge can also serve as a pair of reading glasses, magnifying and clarifying your experience of consuming whatever it is you have on the dinner table.
A bottle of unfiltered, no-additive wine forces you to think about how wine is made. It tastes exactly like what it is. It’s up to you to like it or not.
My experience drinking Liten Buffel’s “Seneca Lake” Riesling was a turning point on my newfound journey with wine. Now, several months after that first sip, I think more about how what I consume is made.
I want my wine to scream its origins through a mega-phone. I want it to confront me, test me, question me. I want to drink wine that makes me think and changes my mind.