Natural wine

“Natural” wine—next big thing in the avant-garde wine world. What is that all about?

Although there is no legal definition—France tried to create one and failed—common characteristics include:

• Organically or biodynamically farmed vineyards.

• Dry-farmed, low-yield vineyards, manually harvested.

• Spontaneous fermentation with wild, indigenous yeasts.

• Some wineries insist on no temperature control during fermentation.

• No added sugar or corrections for acidity. No corrections for color or mouth feel. No enzymes or other additives.

• No blocking of malolactic fermentation.

• No fining or filtration.

• Minimal or no use of sulfur dioxide.

• No heavy manipulation—micro-oxygenation, reverse osmosis, spinning cone, cryoextraction.

• Some wineries insist on no use of new oak or other barrels that impart a strong flavor.

The result, according to natural wine makers, is “living wine—wholesome and full of naturally occurring microbiology.”

Believers assert natural wine is how wine was made for thousands of years. True, but there are reasons most wine is not made that way anymore. Natural wines can be off-putting. White wines often are darker than usual, and some are so-called orange or amber wines (white wines that spend significant time on their skins and seeds). They also can be a little fizzy and cloudy with visible chunks of yeast floating in them—funkier, gamier, yeastier, much less fruity, although that is not always the case.

Because of the non-use of sulfur, natural wines are unstable. If improperly handled by the shipper or retailer, they are more likely to spoil. Natural yeasts may increase the amount of tyramine, a biogenic amine that can cause headaches and migraines. They also can come across or be oxidized (vinegary).

Aficionados of natural wine—sommeliers in tony restaurants, daring drinkers—celebrate its pureness, its unfiltered expression of terroir, its exclusivity (natural wine is one percent of the market). Because natural wines often are higher in acidity and lower in alcohol, they can be great food wines.

Still, most people enjoy the way wines made with modern tools and practices. Yes, some wineries go too far and make Frankenwines. Such wines are the complete opposite of natural wines, which may be the point behind the natural wine movement.

If you are the least bit adventurous in your wine journey, you should give natural wine a taste.

Last round: What is my favorite wine? The next one you pour in my glass.