Natural Wine – What is It?

Maybe you’ve heard the term, “natural wine” or maybe you haven’t. If you haven’t, you for sure will soon if you are a regular wine drinker. Wine, much like fashion, has its trends and right now the trend is what most call, “natural wine.” Merlot used to be the #1 selling red wine until a little movie called Sideways came about. That film created the insane demand for Pinot Noir, the trend in the mid-2000’s. I was working for a wholesaler at the time and couldn’t sell a Merlot if I paid a buyer to bring it in. Meanwhile, our distributor was selling out of Pinots as quickly as Hamilton tickets sell out.

Natural Wine is a bit of a loose term and can be confusing to many because currently there is nothing that classifies a wine as “natural.” Whereas a winery can be certified sustainable, organic, and or biodynamic and have strict regulations to follow. Many of the natural wines that are popular today with the young Sommeliers are funky and gamier, less on the fruitier side of things. There are, however, many “natural” wines that are fresh and fruity. Best to chat up your local wine shop steward to find what you may prefer.

So what exactly is natural wine then? In a nutshell, they are wines that are farmed from grapes with as little human intervention as possible. No chemicals are used in the vineyard and a bare minimum if at all in the winemaking process. Minimal technology is used and native yeasts for fermentation. Most producers will do spontaneous fermentation. Wines are also bottled unfined and unfiltered. Some believe wines have to have zero sulfites in order to be classified as “natural.” This is great if you don’t plan to age the wine, and I’m all for it as I have had some fun wines with no sulphur. However after a year or so, they start to deteriorate. Not very good. In order to properly age, wine does need some sulphur.

The majority of the artisans are extremely passionate and want to showcase their wines in the most pure form. It seems they’re more interested in their wines being drunk today rather than laying them down. There are absolutely many good producers that fall into the “natural” category and make tremendous wine. Then there are those trying to jump on the trend, slapping an artistic label on the bottle (that quite frankly appeals to the hipster), and making wine that is flawed. The novice wine drinker wouldn’t understand a flawed wine and begin to think that’s the way “natural” wine should taste. I’m 100% behind the movement towards caring for our land better and producing a wine with minimal intervention, but I can’t get behind the number of “natural” wines out there that are basically flawed from inexperienced wine makers.

You may be curious if natural wine is better for you. In some sense, yes. No added sugar, so alcohol %’s are going to be lower, thus lower in calories and less chances for a wine hangover. The winemakers also aren’t adding chemicals like the massive wine companies. I’ve never been a fan of manipulated wine, so I do tend to drink more “natural” wines. As I always say, shop at a local independent wine store where you can have a conversation and find what you’d like best, or find an affordable wine to experiment with if you want to try the wild and raw side of “natural.”


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