We’re making too much hoo-ha over glou-glou. Worse, its easy to love, one-taste-for-all is straight-jacketing wines’ soul. Glou-glou is the Red Hot Chilli Peppers of natural wine: who doesn’t like it? It’s poppy, it’s upbeat; once a bit edgy, now a crowd-pleaser. A rune placed at the gateway of youth to guide us back to simpler times. I get it, and yes I like it. For better or worse I drink tanks of it. But even if you don’t adhere to the Gregorian calendar, 2019, dear reader, is the year our preoccupation with glou-glou needs to change.
Glou-glou to me means a light, easy-drinking red made to be drunk quickish by which I mean I’m not going to linger over it for hours or cellar it for years. It’s the answer to thirst, a solution to not having much storage and a conduit for more fluid cash flows. It can be structured, have length and finesse, but can also be a wine (and here I paraphrase the French) that you drink to piss or, in other words, forget. Glou-glou is good. It is necessary. It can be great.
Here’s what it’s not. It’s not a church, school or lifestyle. Not a middle finger, black flag or manifesto. With all due respect to Americans, it doesn’t exist to be slammed, crushed or chugged. Glou-glou was never meant as an altar on which to sacrifice serious wine in the name of ‘natural’, and yet as glou got hip, this is what it became.
It’s a tool. But so is a bulldozer, and you wouldn’t want that levelling your terroir.
The cutesy name doesn’t help, but what’s in that name? Huge marketing potential. Not only is getting smashed an easy sell, but by the power of onomatopoeia, glou-glou gives you permission – you’re following instructions. As much as it’s a verb, it’s also a label. Just like its Electric Kool-Aid cousin, it’s got cool potential. Not just a wine style but a lifestyle. Cool like literary cafes and red berets because one feels vaguely political but with smart casual cachet like the weekend FT. Sophisticated (it’s still wine) but fun, a bit nonchalant and totally fuss-free.
But our preoccupation with glou-glou is homogenising natural wine. This isn’t only because more winemakers are making it, but because of how they make it. To coax out that cool gummy-bear glow, winemakers often press grapes directly or use carbonic maceration – a technique more associated with Beaujolais than Banyuls, where it’s now also used. Not that that’s a problem: wine is about cultural exchange. But as long as glou-glou is ala mode, winemakers will be tempted to rely on carbonic as a one-size-fits-all fallback rather than applying it on a wine-by-wine basis. And judging by how often light red wines of the glou persuasion taste pretty samey from Banyuls to Bojo, they’re giving into that temptation. Carbonic maceration irons out the idiosyncrasies we drink for. It gets boring. Sure, it’s a tool. But so is a bulldozer, and you wouldn’t want that levelling your terroir.
Glou-glou dumbs wine down. Our thirst for juice light and bright with not a tannin in sight is being quenched at the expense of other qualities. Why should a winemaker sweat about structure when what’s most prized is fluidity? How many natural wine drinkers still care about longevity? How many importers or bars have the sitzfleisch to lay wine down? Why would they bother? When a market thirsts for something juicy and new and asks no questions (“don’t think” is another tenant of glou) such as whether a wine might be better given a year or two, what the market gets is you-know-who.
Just imagine if the next big thing was complexity?
I’m not hating on glou-glou. But just as crime syndicates on the rise in Mexico because of #avotoast say too much of a good thing is a bad thing, the same is true of glou. So as is fitting for January: everything in moderation. Even glou-glou.
Illustration courtesy of Michel Tolmer.