An Introduction to Natural Wine
In the world of wine, there are the standards: Napa Cabernet, Bordeaux, Burgundy. There are also the trends. Some of these trends look promising but never gain a great foothold. This is especially true in America. I’ve seen South African wines promoted as the next big thing many times. The “Anything but Chardonnay” movement never caught on. It is still the number one white variety people drink the most. But then again, who could ever see the sonic boom that is rosé wine over the past three years. Now it’s all about natural wine.
Natural Wine is the Newest Trend (Or Is It?)
The newest wine trend is natural wine, which is funny because it’s not new at all. It harkens back to a way of winemaking before science and technology took over. A time before chemical pesticides and fertilizers. A time before additives and adjuncts. And, it’s not that long ago. Less than seventy-five years ago winemakers made wine very differently. As a result the wine you see on your supermarket shelves today is missing some of the qualities of those more traditional wines. Today there are winemakers looking back to move forward.
So, What is Natural Wine?
There is no standard definition or rules. There is no governing body. Winemakers use many styles and techniques to make natural wine. Some producers may say that it is a purer way of making wine. Others say that they let the vineyard and grapes make the wine with minimal intervention. The most basic understanding of natural wine would include:
- Organic, biodynamic, permaculture or other natural farming practices
- No additives, adjuncts, or chemicals used in the winemaking process
- The fermentation takes place naturally from ambient yeasts and no inoculations
- The minimal use of sulfur dioxide or no use at all
- No fining or excessive filtration
Natural Wine: A Delicious Gamble
While it may sound like an easier way of making wine, it can come with problems. Refermentation in vats or in bottles (explosion time), reduction, spoilage yeasts or bacteria, oxidation, high volatile acidity, and over-pungent Brettanomyces can be some of the problems that may occur. Some consumers are put off by the cloudiness of the wines from the non-filtration or the “funkiness” that may occur in the aromas. Natural wine is more of a gamble than the high-volume production wines that flood the shelves. But life is full of gambles and that’s what makes it fun. Here are five natural wines I chose to show you how good these wines can be.
“Gwin Evan” Muscadet Sèvre et Maine 2016
Muscadet is one the most underrated white wines. No, it is not like Moscato. As with all things French, the name comes from the area, but the grape used to make the wine is Melon de Bourgogne. The wines are almost always aged on their lees (the decayed yeasts and other solids.) You will the term “sur lie” on the label to indicate this. These are wines made for fruits de mer: oysters, shrimp, mussels, razor clams, and the like. The Gwin Evan is from certified organic vineyards with nothing added in the winemaking process. The fermentation is spontaneous with ambient yeast, then aged up to sixteen months on the lees in concrete tanks. It is cloudy, slightly bitter, and has a touch of effervescence. There is a brininess here that craves seafood, so shuck some oysters and drink up!
“Grain & Granit” 2017
As a son of original “Gang of Four” Morgon winemaker Jean-Paul Thévenet, Charly Thévenet learned early on about a more natural and traditional way of winemaking. He has turned those generational teachings into a dynamic winemaking experience for himself. Charly uses biodynamic farming techniques and minimal intervention. The family planted vineyards planted in 1932 and 1946, so there is old vine goodness here. The grapes go through spontaneous whole-cluster fermentation in the Beaujolais tradition. It is then matured in aged barriques and sees no filtration or fining. The result is delicate, floral, and fruity wine with bright acidity and structure. A soft chill is best to harmonize the fruit and aromatics in this wine.
“Call of the Brave” Red Blend 2017
You knew I had to throw a Texas wine in here! I love what Reagan Meador is doing down in the Hill Country. Reagan first started his wine on the North Fork of Long Island in New York but relocated his family and set up shop in Fredericksburg. He believes in a minimalist approach to the winemaking process in the cellar. The result are wines different from high alcohol, robust wines that we usually see. The Call of the Wild is a blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Franc sourced from the Texas High Plains. The grapes go through whole-cluster fermentation. The Cabernet Franc does sees one week of carbonic maceration, bringing out the fruitier side of the grape. There is no fining or filtration, so a slight cloudiness does occur in the glass. It is light and fruity with cherry and strawberry notes. Dried lavender, savory herb, and pepper round out the palate. It’s like Spring in a bottle: bright, welcoming, and perfect for a sunny day.
I love Garage Wine Co.! There hasn’t been an offering from this Chilean producer that I haven’t enjoyed. This is honest-to-goodness cinsault, sourced from organic and biodynamic vineyards in the cool climate Itata Valley. Cinsault is a perfect grape for natural winemaking. It is low in both acid and tannins, ready to drink early, and showcases stylish bright fruit. This wine shows off lush red cherry and blueberry fruit, allspice and cinnamon spice, crushed violets, and a hint of bitterness to balance the fruit. Check out this beautiful red and other wines from this burgeoning producer.
“Twinkle” Mourvèdre 2017
I am a strong proponent of wineries and producer placing an ingredient list on bottles to show what goes on in the cellar. Donkey & Goat does this and keeps its simple with the ingredients: grapes and minimal sulfur. That’s it. No extra yeasts, adjuncts, mega-purple, acids, or bacteria. Simple, unobtrusive winemaking and a minimum effective amount of sulfur for stability. The Twinkle is 100% Mourvèdre sourced from two vineyards in the El Dorado AVA of the Sierra Foothills. I am used to Mourvèdre wines with a bit of weight, alcohol, and rusticity, but this is just pure fruity joy. Macerated red fruit, a hint of barnyard, crush dark flowers, and spice jump from the glass. The palate is racy and juicy with strawberry and raspberry, citrus zest, and cherry kirsch. Drink this chilled all spring and summer long.
Want to read more about wine? Check out my article about Lambrusco!
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