Natural wines

What in the world is “natural wine?”

When it comes to food, natural seems meaningless. Food can be unhealthy, but how is it unnatural?

Still, marketing matters, and that’s where “natural wine” comes in, thanks to the French who in 1970s wished to set their wine making apart from ghastly practices of nouveau makers in California and Australia.

Natural wine proponents assert wine is agricultural product: an expression of sun, soil, and grapevine—terroir. Winemakers who do it right employ lightest of touches.

Certainly once true, but science in vineyard and winery changed things. Purists aver this is not good. Not good at all.

When pressed, however, it is impossible to come up with what defines this wine as natural and that wine as, err, unnatural.

Must fermenting yeast occur naturally in the winery, or can manufactured yeasts be used? No consensus.

What about sulfur dioxide, ingredient used by vintners for centuries? Some insist on cap of 10 milligrams/liter, others say 20, others say it doesn’t matter.

What about chaptalization (adding sugar to boost alcohol), another ancient practice? Depends on vineyard and grape. If it was done in past—natural. If not done in past, surely unnatural.

Bottom line: natural wine is pretty much whatever each maker says it is, which means it won’t be long until big industrial producers start labeling some wines as “natural” as they roll out of their wine factories.

Don’t worry about natural. Enjoy the wine.


• Tierra Divina Old Vine Malbec. Sustainably farmed in Argentina, bottled by Laurel Glen in California. Very pure expression of Malbec. $17

• Robert Oatley Rosé of Sangiovese. Dry for a rosé; bright red fruits, crisp finish. Australia. $12

• McManis Viognier. If you like peaches, you’ll love this. California. $12

• Scluapiana Chianti Riserva Rufina Bucerchiale. Full body, silky tannins. Italy. $33