Will's Guide to Natural Wine!
For a while now, I have not approached the subject of ‘natural’ wine, directly. It wasn’t the case that I didn’t like the stuff, it was solely down to the fact that I didn’t fully ‘understand’ it. I had a short-sighted approach and saw the movement as being associated with hipsters.
Sustainable, minimal intervention, terra vitis, organic and biodynamic principles are all practices, in one way or another, already followed by a good number of the producers we champion here at Love Wine. Naked/raw/natural wine has not been an area we have singled out to concentrate on before.
The last few years has seen a change in approach to the way we buy wine. Fashions change and as we move with the times, so do trends and our personal interests and curiosities. Consumer confidence has historically been with the recognised brands, and why not, they deliver on many different levels. Today we are seeing an increase in diversity and choice, confidence in trying new food and drink is very much growing. The common factor for all of these ‘new’ products is wholesome, better living.
As a small specialist wine retailer, Love Wine has had the freedom to move as we wish, with or against the market. One of our main reasons for being in this industry is to source new and exciting products for the consumer. This is where the subject of natural wine fits in.
Imagine a vineyard full of life and vitality, brimming with microflora and goodness. Then imagine a vineyard where the vines stand alone in a baking dessert of mud, challenged with one task only, to produce as much fruit as physically possible. Which grapes would you prefer to make wine with and remember quantity doesn’t mean quality in this game.
‘Natural Wine is farmed organically (biodynamically, using permaculture or the like) and made (or rather transformed) without adding or removing anything in the cellar. No additives or processing aids are used, and ‘intervention’ in the naturally occurring fermentation process is kept to a minimum. As such neither fining nor (tight) filtration are used. The result is a living wine – wholesome and full of naturally occurring microbiology.’ – www.rawwine.com
Perception wise, is it a hipster movement looking to be different for the sake of it; or is it winemaking in its purest form? We are looking at a living product, a wine that is only as strong and stable as the microflora that came from the vineyard. This strength in a vibrant vineyard is what leads a natural wine to flourish and survive without the technological shoulder to lean on. Most people do not know that wine can have up to 60 additives (and lots of processes) done to it by law (and that is just in the EU). Create a healthy vineyard and you create a healthy wine able to stand alone without the necessity of intervention and interruption. Surely if you have a living wine then it will be able to grow, develop and even repair itself.
‘Quality wine is made in the vineyard’, it’s a common philosophy championed by discerning winemakers across the world, not least by those making natural wine. Bio cultures are developed in the micro climate provided (the vineyard) therefore developing a strong culture of bacteria that is then taken to the cellar with the grapes. The grapes are then fermented under their own natural yeasts and the eventual wine left to fend for itself, this is the minimal intervention bit. It is the strength of the living bacteria within the wine that results in the finished wine being its own entity.
In terms of taste profiles, natural wine can vary from the funky and sour to the absolute norm. In both instances there runs a consistent freshness and purity, a complexity that can derive only from a wine that is ‘alive’.
The natural wine I am enjoying tends to be from younger vintages, however I have read that these wines can age impeccably, if made well! Sometimes this is difficult to grasp as with minimal sulfites, if any, added at the bottling stage will a wine have the ability to withstand the effects of oxidization over a prolonged period of time? This said, if the wine is a ‘living’ product would that be enough to enable a progressive and stable aging process? All up for debate and until we taste some aged natural wines we won't know.
As mentioned before, natural wine comes in all shapes and sizes. Cloudy, full of sediment and smelling of sour beer/cider or clear, recognisable and comparable to a premium wine. There are no official legal definitions of Natural Wine and the practice is generally self-regulated. Sulfites, if any, will be added at bottling. Very small amounts in contrast to the commercial allowances for bulk wine.
We are looking at tiny production amounts in the big wine scheme of things, less than 1% of the worlds production, so natural wine is still a tiny market.
The beauty of this subject is the diversity of the wine styles and the creativity that comes with the production. From the purity of the wine within to the design of the labels, each bottle will present itself as individual in one form or another. Not every natural wine maker will want to shout about what they do either and strangely enough, the winemakers I have come across making natural wine are generally modest but super talented individuals and want their wines not judged just as a Natural wine but against all other wines.
Whilst I have learnt a little over the past few years from reading books, I feel that the acceleration of learning only increased once I decided to dive straight in and start actively seeking out these wines. It is on that note that reading a book is very helpful, however taking the plunge and braving the ever-changing natural wine scene by opening that bottle, however cloudy it is, will ironically make everything a little more transparent!
Here are some of the natural wines that we currently stock that you should give a try: