When you bring a glass of wine up to your mouth, you swirl it, sniff it, and then bring it to your lips. You may detect hints of chocolate, cherry, or apricot as an expert, amateur, or novice. Today, however, a variety of funkier flavors are making their way onto the palate. Natural wines are on the rise, and wine enthusiasts all over the world are discovering the difference for themselves. Natural wines are gradually making their way into the mainstream, whether through a trendy local restaurant's wine list or a bottle of the month club.
What is a natural wine?
A natural wine is one that is created with high-quality grapes that are grown without the use of chemicals or the addition of any external substances. It harkens back in some ways to the traditional winemaking process. Although some wineries have opted not to be certified for philosophical reasons, natural wines derive from organic or sustainable agriculture. In general, the idea behind natural wine is to forego the addition of yeast and instead allow the grape to ferment naturally thanks to its own natural bacteria.
Natural wines invite you to discover a variety of taste expressions. For instance, a natural Chenin Blanc will have a different flavor depending on the region it is grown in as opposed to a more commercial wine, whose flavor is more uniform. The natural style is characterized by meticulous craftsmanship, small-scale vinification, and low volume.
To drink natural wine is to expect to occasionally be captivated, occasionally startled, and occasionally dissatisfied. It necessitates retraining our palate. Instead of consistently reaching for the same wine that you are familiar with, you must put yourself in an active, exploratory mindset.
Conventional vs. natural wines
Natural wines tend to be savorier in flavor than conventional wines. They better reflect the terroir organoleptic characteristics. In addition, they typically have a lighter body and lower alcohol with more precise and real fruit notes, which are enhanced by flavors from the soil and subsoil. Even in very hot or dry years, natural wines have superior acidity and a longer, more nuanced finish that piques the palate. As a result, they frequently pair well with food, which is undoubtedly one of wine's crucial functions.
Because they are neither filtered or fined like conventional wines, natural wines may appear hazy. Natural winemakers embrace their wine in its entire form, cherishing the natural state. Furthermore, carbon dioxide, a natural by-product of the fermentation process that can produce a bubbly elixir, is another reason why natural wines can be effervescent. In ordinary wines, however, this fizz is undesirable, therefore the winemakers usually remove the gas from their wines by heavy filtration
Domaine Grand Guilhem, Natural wine producers in Corbière, France. Photo credits: Domaine Grand Guilhem.
Natural wines can also have an odd yet pleasant flavor. Some drinkers have compared the notes of natural wine to those found in cider or kombucha, describing it as sour or having a funky fragrance. And that is entirely typical. As with cider and kombucha, natural wine is fermented for a longer amount of time, allowing the grape juice to completely transform into wine. On the other hand, conventional wines use additives to speed up the process.
Sulfites and the language of natural wine
Natural wine introduces a completely new terminology that aims to describe the diversity of styles. It's completely acceptable to refer to the bizarre aromas present in unfiltered natural wines as being "barnyard-y." The phrase "Glou Glou," which translates to "glug glug," refers to a light, easy-to-drink natural red wine. Moreover, natural wines can display notes of "mousiness", brought on by large concentrations of unusual bacterial strains and low sulphur dioxide levels. Mousiness, when well-balanced, is analogous to leather or moss in modest dosages and is welcomed in the style. Continuing, the term "oxidative" refers to a natural wine that has been purposefully exposed to oxygen during manufacturing, which can add a specific character. Oxidative wines are different from oxidized wines, which are spoiled by exposure to air. In conventional wines, mousiness and oxidative aromas are not encouraged.
The usage of sulfites is one contentious topic in the realm of natural wine. Purists contend that natural wines shouldn't have additional sulfites added in the cellar, although some people believe that little amounts of sulfites, much below the maximum permitted in organic wines in the EU, are okay. Sulfites guarantee that the wine you consume tastes nearly identical to how it did when it was first put into the bottle. To get rid of natural yeasts, traditional winemakers add sulfites to the grapes, and they keep adding more as the wine is being made. Natural winemakers, on the other hand, will add a tiny bit shortly before bottling. Industry insiders frequently refer to the purest natural wines as "zero-zero," referring to the absence of superfluous ingredients. However, The presence of sulfites doesn’t necessarily forbid a bottle from the natural wine category, though. For example, a small quantity of sulfite, around 10 to 35 parts per million is considered an acceptable amount of natural wine cognoscenti.
For the time being, natural wine is getting its act together. Producers improve with time and quality rules are being formally formulated. As a result, a new qualitative order is emerging to guarantee that what you buy off the shelves will delight your taste in the ideal way. Do some study before boarding the natural wine bandwagon if you decide to adopt this trend into 2023, because making a mistake early on can ruin a complete evening of drinking and dining.
Find our Natural wines selection on Vintrail wine marketplace:
De-stemmed and crushed grapes. Macerated for 4 months in a terracotta jar, fermentation using indigenous yeasts. Daily pigeage and topping. Pressing on a manual wooden ratchet press. Aging in a jar allows micro-oxygenation to fix tannins and anthocyanins, which helps to structure and preserve these elements over time
Domaine des Espérances GAMMA 2017, 11.40EUR€
Pressed from 60% Syrah Bio and 40% Grenache.
Dark cherry red, intense bouquet of ripe, red berries with a spicy note, well structured with a soft, long finish.
Ideal with poultry, stewed meat, stews, potato gratins, cheese.
A 100% natural Pinot Noir, from several clay-limestone parcels. Matured in vats with zero sulphites. Burgundy, France.