What is natural wine?
After two weeks spent examining what is biodynamics/organic wine and whether we should worry about wine preservatives, now is a good time to look at another category that builds on these ideas - natural wine.
In essence, natural wine is a term given to wines that are made with as little interventions of any kind (which is also why it's known as 'non interventionist wine'). In its purest form, this involves grapes grown organically, with wine then produced using no added yeast (only naturally occurring wild yeasts), added acid, tannin or enzymes, the finished vino bottled without any filtration and minimal preservatives.
The end result is what is purported to be the most pure expression of fermented grape juice around, the most ‘natural’ and unadulterated wines that can possibly be produced.
In effect, it is also a reversion to ancient wine production methods - back before stainless steel tanks and chilling plates allowed for absolute control of the winemaking process.
For more modern producers, natural winemaking appeals as the ultimate protest against the industrial, heavy-handed wine production that is quite synonymous with technological winemaking. In an Australian context, where quite clinical wine production is the norm, this concept has been greeted with considerable scepticism, but also with plenty of interest because it is so challenging.
In turn, the very best natural wines are really glorious drinks. Wines that are utterly delicious and alive, with no hints that they are anything but clean and well made, yet produced with very little additives of any kind. You can almost taste the purity and unadulterated vitality.
Conversely, the challenge with natural wine is that they can be much more variable. Without the preservatives and anti-microbial techniques employed by winemakers, there is a much more increased chance of oxidation and spoilage, not to mention an uncertain shelf life.
Weighing against this variability is the interesting expressions of natural wine. In particular, the rise of white wines produced using extended skin contact. Such 'orange wines' (AKA amber wines if you're a politically correct Australian wine bureaucrat) have a distinctive deep yellow/orange/brownish colour, with this extra pigment achieved by keeping the white wine juice in contact with the skins ala a red wine.
What makes such wines interesting is their texture and mouthfeel, as they can have aromatics and flavours like a white wine, but tannins and body more like a red, not to mention some pretty wild colours.
Again variability is an issue, however the best orange wines - and look towards north east Italy, Slovenia, the Loire and Australia's Adelaide Hills for good examples - are a valid and ancient wine style of their own.
Perhaps the only contention with the idea of natural wines is the use of sulphur dioxide in their production. This ancient preservative (which we talked about last week) is seen by many natural winemakers as antithesis to the concept of natural wines, even though many of the most famous natural wines are produced using it.
Such a sticking point might just come down to semantics, but there remains plenty of ideology behind natural wine production, helping makes such issues contentious.
Regardless, natural wines are not a category that is going away, and we'd highly recommend giving one a go, indeed if you'd ever like to try a natural wine, come along to one of our tastings, as we use these interesting wines quite frequently - purely because they're intriguing!