What is natural wine?
Natural wine has been having a moment for some time now. It’s long been a favourite of many of the world’s trendiest sommeliers, wine bars and producers. There are entire wine fairs dedicated to the stuff. It’s easier to get your hands on natural wine today than ever before. Why, then, is it so hard to define what natural wine is?
Seriously, what is natural wine?
Let’s start with what it’s not: “Natural wine” is not a legally-protected term, and there is no universal definition for it.
This makes things a little problematic, and makes it virtually impossible to state unequivocally that natural wine is one thing or another. Ask around among natural winemakers and drinkers, and you’re likely to hear about minimal intervention, and the desire to neither add nor remove anything in order to create a real, authentic, or “natural” wine.
What makes a natural wine “natural”?
Natural winemakers are not obliged to follow a set of strict rules of the kind that must be followed by, for example, organic winemakers. While most makers of natural wine share a broadly similar philosophy, practices can vary from one producer to another.
Broadly speaking, there are a few universal truths (or at least rules of thumb) that most natural wine producers follow:
- Natural wine comes from hand-picked grapes that have been farmed organically, biodynamically or, to a greater or lesser extent, sustainably. Winemakers aren’t obliged to do this, but most do.
- Nothing is added during the winemaking process, for the most part. Most natural winemakers are horrified at the thought of chemical corrections and additives, from commercial yeasts to sugar for chaptalization. Some producers add minimal amounts of sulfur dioxide, though even this is rare.
- Fining and filtering are avoided outright or kept to a minimum. Most natural wines do not undergo any clarification, which some makers see as removing something from the wine’s character. This thought is not unique to natural wines, with some top Bordeaux producers feeling the same way, though it is a common strand in natural wine. The resulting wines can thus be hazy or cloudy, and carry considerable sediment.
Is natural wine any good?
Perhaps no other category of wine has such a passionate and avid following as natural wine. This isn’t surprising, when you consider the link between natural wine and terroir, its ability to remove pretense and sophistication and perceived benefits in terms of taste and the effects of a hangover.
At the same time, the natural wine movement is not without its detractors. Quality can vary widely, whether that’s down to winemaking style or the inexperience of novice winemakers attracted to what is clearly a fashionable category. Natural wine can be tough to get into and even tougher to master.
Whether you’re into it or not is entirely on you, but don’t be afraid of it, and don’t be turned off by something you’ve tried before. No on bottle exemplifies natural wine, so a little experimentation is well worth it. Check out sparkling pet-nats and orange wines before you make your mind up!