If you’re even slightly into wine, you’ve probably heard about natural wine. Natural wine is the unfiltered, untamed, un-photoshopped version of what we know to be wine. In most cases, natural wine doesn’t look or taste like a typical wine. In fact, some natural wines taste more like a sour beer or kombucha!
So, what is “natural wine” anyway?
According to latest edition of The Oxford Companion to Wine:
Of course, there is no official or regulated definition of natural wine. So, if someone says you’re drinking a natural wine, it technically doesn’t mean anything – ask for specifics!
Think of it as wine unplugged. Natural wines are known for their funkier, gamier, yeastier characteristics and a cloudy appearance. They are often much less fruity and much more yeasty in their aroma profile than a typical wine, smelling almost like yoghurt or German Hefeweizen. Of course, some natural wines are quite clean and fruity indeed. But if you taste a few, you’ll discover most lean towards the sour, yeasty end of the spectrum.
Here are three moderately well-known examples:
Of course, there are producers all over the world making natural wines of all styles (red wines too!). Some winemakers use clay amphora pots to ferment the wines or leave the wine in contact with the skins for an extended period of time (this is called extended maceration). You’re not likely to see much new oak-aging with natural wines, because most producers think this tarnishes the true expression of the grape.
Without the use of additives, sulfites or any other manipulation, many believe that natural wines are better for you. Sometimes this is true, but also sometimes it isn’t. Let me explain.
Second, natural wines are unfiltered as well as unfined, which means that any impurities in the wine (microbes and proteins) are included in the bottle. Additionally, the use of native yeasts occasionally may increase the amount of biogentic amines found in wine. Tyramine is one of these biogenic amines and has been studied and shown to cause headaches and migraines.
Finally, sulfite-free wines are much more unstable in the long term. They are highly sensitive. So, if handled improperly by the shipper or retailer, natural wines are far more likely to spoil. Natural wines are much more stable with higher acidity because it creates an environment unwelcome to microbes (below 3.5 pH and preferably closer to 3 pH).
Since natural wines are more fragile than typical wines, here is a short list of handling best practices:
These best practices above are great for storing any wine you cherish!
After trying natural wines I can say that some are mind-blowingly good (omfg…Gravner) and others are so bad I’ve regrettably poured the entire contents down the sink. So, if you’re on the hunt for a good bottle, you’ll get a lot out of this Decanter article on popular (mostly European) producers. Additionally, check out this great little list of Orange Wines to explore.
Regardless of the negatives and the potential risks of natural wine, it is one of the most exciting styles in the wine world right now. Natural wine flies against the status quo, challenging what people think is “good wine” and even breaking regional wine classifications. Even though natural wine represents less than 1% of all the wine in the world, it has recently become the darling of sommeliers all over. Perhaps for you too?
(Source: Wine Folly)