Discussing rustic

Rustic, is it good or bad for a wine?

Charlie, a participant in my last NYU class, cited it as the reason for his taking the class. He said that a friend had served him some wine recently and described the wine as rustic. Charlie had to find out what that meant.

I heard the word again yesterday at a tasting of wines from the Alto Adige region of Italy. One producer described lagrein, a grape variety, as rustic. So what is “rustic”?

I think of rustic mostly as a good thing. When discussing good value wines, I think of it as off-the-beaten-path varieties or regions that maybe have some quirks or rough edges but also have a certain undeniable charm, particularly in the face of a pasteurized, homogenized wine in an “international” style. One importer used the term “rustic authenticity” to underscore this difference. For varieties I think of connonau, aglianico, falanghina, pinot d’aunis, carignane, or moschofilero. For regions I think of Fitou, Cahors, Basilicata, Sardinia, or the Halkidiki among others. Few of these wines are meant for cellaring–they’re meant to be enjoyed soon, with a good meal.

I suppose if the term were applied to high end wines, such as Burgundies, it would be interpreted as a bad thing or a flaw. But in the context of good value, everyday drinking wines, it’s something to seek out even if it does mix in some clunkers with the charm.

What are your favorite “rustic” wines? Can a new world wine be rustic?

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12 Responses to “Discussing rustic”

  1. To me, “rustic” signals simple, pleasant, accessible, rough-around-the edges. Good for some meals or settings, not so good for others. I eschew notions of authenticity, because I feel they’re so often a ruse, more of a marketing gimmick than anything else.

    A new world wine could be “rustic,” but I couldn’t name one offhand.

    My standard:
    A “rustic” bottle of wine should cost no more than $7.99. 😀

  2. Typical professor, you give us one easy question and the difficult follow-up.

    1. I like the “rustics” of Cahors, Basilicata and Abruzzo — reds all. For some reason, the idea of rustic whites is unappealing. (Falanghina ain’t so rustic to me, Dr. Vino.)

    2. I guess the New World COULD do rustic wine. I just don’t think I’ve ever had one. Maybe our traditions aren’t deeply rooted enough.

    Terry @ mondosapore

  3. Would any wine made in a traditional method without the aid of modern technology not be rustic?

  4. I think these are three great comments! So thank you all!

    I think Paul sums it up well. Rustic is the antithesis of “modern” or “internationalized” wines. So yes, in that regard, new world wines could be rustic too. A carignane from California, even a cabernet from Chile conceivably.

    But Terry brings up the interesting question of whites. I agree that they don’t seem “rustic” at first. But what about rolle, ugni blanc (or trebbiano), vermentino, &c.?

    I think we’re stumbling toward a definition here–what it is, when it’s good, and (for Mark) how much it should cost.



  5. So many to choose from! Without a doubt, my favourite “rustics” are from Madiran, but I have had Uruguayan tannat that I would also describe as rustic. Italy is replete with rusticity – aglianico, nero d’avola, negroamaro! I would also characterize Pinotage from South Africa as rustic. Whites? Hmm – probably the Italians, or perhaps a Rias Baixis? Great topic, Cheers!

  6. This is a good discussion I’ve linked over in the hope you might get a few more opinions.

    Personally I don’t think it’s a particularly good term to apply to wine, as it seems ambiguous in it’s application.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think the definition of Rustic is simple or unsophisticated, as it could be applied to wine. Now I’ve drunk a lot of simple New World wines that I wouldn’t call rustic but I suppose that’s what they are. But I think people often mean that the wine has a sort of basic earthiness rather than fruit character. The other thing I think people mean is that the wine lacks purity or is somehow not “clean”. This may comeback to the wine making style.

  7. I think of rustic wines as wines made because the grapes exist and need to be fermented before they go rotten. In plain terms, not planned-out wines.
    I like the idea of Uruguayan tannats as such, also the very early malbecs from Argentina, not the current bunch, but the ones from 10-12 years ago before they brought in lab yeasts.
    Same with gnarly head-pruned zins in CA.
    Rustisity is the art of leaving the edges unpolished, unsanded so to speak.
    I am sure there are some examples of rustic Cabs in CA from Inglenook and Christian Bros bottlings from the 60s.
    And don’t forget those fine petite sirahs that used to be around.
    Can’t remember any white rustics as such. So much filtering always goes on to clean them up. Maybe some of the early CA Sauternes (pronounce the “s” in CA!) from Nightingale at Beringer?

  8. Uruguayan Tannat is a great example of a rustic wine… Some Argentine Malbecs are also great examples. I recently had one called Tempo. And what about Argentine Bonardas? I think they qualify as rustic in nature as well. Salud!

  9. […] So I wonder if the folks from Cahors are setting expectations incorrectly since Malbec is often understood to be big, soft, and gentle (a Bloomberg story suggested it was “stealing” Merlot sales). Those are not terms usually used to describe the wines of Cahors, which, though some can be charming and surprisingly age-worthy, can have fearsome tannins and acidity. In fact, in my book, A Year of Wine, I suggest trying a Malbec from Argentina and “black wine” of Cahors as a way to understanding the term “rustic.” […]

  10. Well, nice topic, it gives me ideas for my blog !
    Almost everything have been said about rustic wines and maybe as a Cahors producer I would not say that Cahors or Madiran are rustic but where you have more chance to find that kind of wines.
    When I talk rusticity about Tannat or Malbec wines, I talk bad tannins (acidity for white wines ?) and puckery. To me it’s not a flaw but surely a lack that comes as Paul said from winemaking (probably too much press wine) or for most of them not well matured tannins due to vintage and that’s why in Cahors AC approval tasting I don’t ban them systematically. I guess that’s what we call in french “goût de terroir”. Of course they’re not elegant but they’re “authentic” they don’t hide you something, I can say words like, “honnest”, “sincere”, “without make up”, that’s as you say, their “charm”. About “charm”, it may be hard for a drinker to understand but easy for a winemaker when you open a bottle and remember all good (and bad things) that happened during growing, harvest, winemaking, ageing…

    Concerning new world style wines, to me they are not rustic because they have climate and tools to get ripeness and they often keep residual sugar but maybe if consumers ask for it they will.

    Last thing, I think that “Rolle” in Provence, “Vermentino” in Italy are the same variety, you can also find it as “Vermentinu” or “Malvoisie de Corse” in Corsica.

  11. […] view is not so different to that expressed by Dr Vino recently in his Discussing Rustic article:  “If the term were applied to high end wines, such as Burgundies, it would be […]

  12. Thanks for sharing, this saved me a lot of research time!


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