Nurtured by Nature: A Journey into the World of Natural Wines
Redefining Tradition, Embracing Authenticity. Overview of the different styles of Natural wines
The history of natural wines dates back centuries, rooted in traditional winemaking philosophies that emphasized minimal intervention and a deep connection to the land. However, in the late 20th century, the modern movement of natural wines gained momentum, driven by a desire to challenge the industrialization of winemaking and rediscover the authentic expression of terroir. The forefathers of the modern natural wine movement are Jules Chauvet and Marcel Lapierre. In this essay, we will explore the umbrella of natural wines and explore the delicious diversity of styles and flavours they offer. These include low-intervention wines, biodynamic and orange wines, followed by pet nats and Zero-Zero wines.
In this article :
Demystifying Natural wines
For new wine drinkers, the lack of a standardized legal definition of natural wine might be perplexing. However, international, independent groups have their own rigid standards that include minimal cellar involvement and low intervention. Groups like:
-L'Association des Vins Naturels, in France,
-Les Vins S.A.I.N.S. in France,
-VinNatur in Italy and France.
Recently, to demystify natural wine, the National Institute for Origin and Quality (INAO) and the General Directorate for Consumer Affairs, Competition, and Fraud Control (DGCCRF) have officially accepted a Vin Méthode Nature logo and charter in France since March 2020.
Founded on the idea of Vin Méthode Nature, the association began operations in 2019 with 109 winegrowers. By 2021, that number had increased to 156. The new regulations set a number of norms: hand-picking, 100% organic grapes, indigenous yeasts, no oenological inputs, no fining or filtration, and no added sulphites either before or during fermentation. A maximum amount of 30mg of sulphites per litre could be introduced before bottling but must be declared on the label.
Low Intervention Wines
Low-intervention wines are the bread and butter of the natural wine universe with the least manipulation. When it comes to natural, the winemaker naturally ages the wine in the cellar. There's no added sulphur, native yeasts are used instead of lab bought, and, in some cases, no temperature control.
In contrast, in much of the winemaking world today, there are nearly 200 commonly used — and entirely legal — additives: sugar to increase alcohol content; inoculated (or commercially cultured) yeast to kick-start fermentation; sulphites as a preservative; gelatin for texture; colourants; antimicrobial agents; and other ingredients. Sommeliers love the low intervention style because it sets the bar for the cleanest and purest expression.
Glou-Glou” Natural Wines
"Glou Glou" (translating as Gulp Gulp) is a subcategory of low-intervention wines and it's attributed to wines that are quaffable, refreshing with little complexity.
Glou Glou wines are typically characterized by their low tannins, bright acidity, and vibrant fruit flavours. They are often served chilled and are intended to be enjoyed in a casual and convivial setting. These wines are generally consumed young and do not require extensive aging. They are also known as "Vin de Soif" ( translates as Wine of Thirst), a term to describe some of the unpretentious natural wines from the Loire Valley and Beaujolais in France. Glou Glou wines represent an informal and joyful approach to wine appreciation, emphasizing drinkability and immediate pleasure.
Glou Glou wines are often associated with the carbonic maceration winemaking technique. This technique involves fermenting whole grape clusters in a carbon dioxide-rich environment before crushing the grapes. This process triggers an intracellular fermentation within the individual berries, resulting in unique flavour profiles and characteristics in the resulting wine. The fermentation process that occurs within the individual berries produces carbon dioxide gas, which helps to maintain the anaerobic environment and provides the characteristic "glou glou" or effervescent quality associated with carbonic maceration wines.
While not limited to natural wines, organic or biodynamic practices can be employed as a grape growing method.
So similarly but not exactly natural wines, biodynamic wines represent an extremely intriguing and holistic approach to viticulture that goes beyond organic farming. Based on the teachings of Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, biodynamics crystallized in the early 20th century as countering the industrialization of agriculture.
Pioneers of biodynamic winemaking include renowned French winemaker Nicolas Joly, who revamped his domain in the Loire Valley to biodynamics in the 1980s. Joly's strict adherence to biodynamic principles attracted international attention and motivated other winemakers to follow the same path. Today, biodynamic vineyards can be found in various wine regions around the world, from France and Italy to Australia and the United States.
Biodynamic practices emphasize the use of herbal and mineral preparations, lunar and astrological planting and harvesting cycles, and the integration of animals and insects to enhance soil fertility and vine health. The result is a unique expression of terroir and wines that are vibrant, alive, and reflective of their natural environment.
Skin-contact wines, also known as orange wines, are produced by fermenting white grapes with their skins intact, similar to the process used for red wines. This extended contact with the grape skins imparts a deep amber hue and a unique tannic structure to the wines. Skin-contact wines offer a diverse range of flavours, from floral and aromatic to nutty and savoury, making them a compelling choice for wine lovers seeking something distinctive. In fact, they are often described as between red and white wines.
Orange wines employ minimum additives and are made in alternative vessels such as amphora and concrete, making them desirable and esoteric in the natural wine universe. In addition, they are crafted with aromatic white grapes such as Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Friulano, Ribolla Gialla and Muscat, displaying honey and citrus oils notes. The best are light and thrilling, balancing texture and concentration.
In winemaking, Pet-Nat (short for pétillant natural i.e. Natural Sparkling) refers to sparkling wines that are made using the ancestral method, which predates the traditional Champagne method. Fermentation takes place in the bottle with minimal intervention and without adding sugars or yeast.
From zesty citrus to ripe orchard fruits, Pet-Nat wines are often lively, slightly cloudy, and have an array of flavours. With their colourful pop art labelling and innovative metal crown closures, Pet-Nat wines have been called "hipster bubbles.". Originally a French phenomenon, pet nat wines have become more mainstream over the past ten years.
Zero Zero wines
Finally, the last category of natural wines, zero zero, refers to the purest religious form of natural winemaking. These are natural wines with strictly zero sulphur and zero commercial yeasts.
In this extreme style, winemakers aim to create wines that are as natural and unadulterated as possible. Sommeliers call this style the punk rock or acid house of natural wines. According to renowned California winemaker Martha Stoumen:
"Wild yeasts offer a distinct thumbprint on the wine, contributing to a larger sense of the place and season.”
The Kaleidoscope of Natural Wines
In the realm of natural wine, a multitude of options awaits the discerning wine consumer. This fascinating world encompasses an extensive range of styles, each presenting a distinctive sensory experience that captivates wine enthusiasts. From skin-contact wines with their vibrant colours and distinctive flavours to the refreshing and lively pet-nats, and the profound expression of terroir found in biodynamic wines, the diverse styles of natural wine captivate our senses and ignite our curiosity.
In this ever-evolving wine landscape, exploring the diverse styles of natural wine provides an opportunity to discover new flavours, challenge our preconceptions, and embrace the beauty of the unexpected. Whether one's preference lies in the elegance of minimal intervention reds or the intriguing complexity of skin-contact wines, the world of natural wine offers an exciting and ever-expanding journey for wine lovers around the world.
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