Here are ten things you should know about the latest obsession in the world of wine.
-1- Natural wine is wine produced with as little human interference as possible. In other words, the grapes are grown in low-yield organic or biodynamic vineyards. They are harvested by hand. And as little as possible is added or taken away from the wine before it is bottled.
-2- It’s not a new fad. Ever since people started making wine, the methods were just as simple - they grew the grapes, they crushed them and allowed them to ferment. So, the oldest winemakers known to archaeology - the neolithic Georgians of 8000 years ago - were makers of natural wine.
-3- It’s not the same as organic wine. For wine to be certified organic, it must be made with organically grown grapes, but chemicals and additives can often be used in the winemaking process. Natural wines are made with organically grown grapes, but use as few additives as possible.
-4- Not all natural wines are additive-free. Some contain small quantities of sulphites (sulphur dioxide, or SO2, to be precise) which are added just prior to bottling. Sulphites help to stabilise the wine, especially if it’s likely to travel over long distances or be subjected to high temperatures. If you’re allergic to sulphites, opt for a natural red wine, which do not require added SO2 due to naturally occurring anti-oxidants.
-5- There is no official natural wine movement. There are collectives such as VinNatur, the Natural Winegrowers Association, which aims to defend and uphold the environmental ethos of producers. On the whole though, natural winemakers are united not by a definitive organisation or guild, but by a common respect for nature and purity.
-6- Don’t go looking for certification on your bottle of natural wine - there isn’t any. Since anyone can claim to grow and produce natural wine, many genuine producers have called for some kind of accreditation for true natural wines.
-7- Terroir is the key to understanding natural wines. The idea is that the land, climate and natural chemical composition of the soil the grapes are grown in are what give a wine its unique character and sense of place. Advocates of natural wines say they offer the truest expression of terroir, since the land itself is left the way nature intended.
-8- Natural wines are an acquired taste. But isn’t all wine? Most conventional wines have endured many processes, additions and adjustments to present a standardised character. But natural wine is an unpredictable living product that can change from bottle to bottle. Natural sediments and fragments of grape skin can give it a cloudy appearance. It can have a slight fizz on the tongue, and it can give off a strong aroma. Like all wines, some are good, some are bad. It’s a matter of taste.
-9- So who makes natural wine? Like makers of artisanal unpasteurised cheese or craft beer, most natural winemakers are small independent producers. Since the 1970s they have grown in number and prominence, though most are concentrated in “old world” countries such as France and Italy. Some established names to look out for are Lapierre (Beaujolais), Joly (Loire), Gravner (Friuli) and Overnoy (Jura).
-10- There’s a lot more to learn about natural wine. Carnet de Vigne, by Sylvie Augereau, is considered the French natural wine bible. If you’d rather read in English, look no further than Authentic Wine: Toward Natural and Sustainable Winemaking by Jamie Goode or Naked Wine by Alice Feiring. An excellent online resource is winemadenaturally by Guardian wine columnist and award-winning food and drink writer Fiona Beckett.