My Take on Natural Wine
The Natural wine movement has been gathering steam for a number of years now, as a growing number of winemakers are choosing to go down the natural route and many consumers are seeking out these wines in the hope of finding a more authentic and natural wine experience.
So, what is Natural Wine?
As with many things in the wine world, a definition that everyone can agree on is somewhat elusive. However, most agree that for a wine to be described as Natural with a capital N, it needs to have the following attributes:
- Vineyard practices need to be organic (no chemicals, pesticides etc) or preferably biodynamic (that’s another story)
- Only natural yeasts used in fermentation
- Minimal intervention in the cellar – no chaptalization (adding sugar) or tinkering with acidity levels (which is often legal, depending on local regulations)
- Minimal or no filtration
- Minimal or no SO2
The theory is that by intervening as little as possible with the winemaking progress, that the wines will express fully and more accurately where they come from and the characteristics of the grape variety. This sounds like a worthwhile aspiration although I’m not convinced that the average consumer is that bothered about whether a wine reflects its terroir or not – most just want a nice glass of wine. Anyway, the idea is to get a more authentic wine and that is probably a good thing. Fans of natural wines also argue that, because the product is made with no chemicals it is easier on the planet and easier on the person drinking the wine, more digestible and without the nasty side effects (headaches etc) that some people get from drinking wine. This could well be true, it seems to make sense, although there is little empirical research to prove it conclusively.
Does the wine live up to its noble aspirations?
This is where it gets complicated and it is an area of considerable controversy. There are many people in the wine trade who argue that natural wines are riddled with faults and that, far from being an improvement, they are actually a step backward in terms of winemaking. David Gleave, the owner of large UK importer Liberty Wines (he knows what he is talking about) went as far as to dedicate the introduction to last year’s wholesale list explaining why they were not embracing natural wines. Tim Atkin, a respected writer with vast experience (he also knows what he is talking about) is always banging on in favour of natural wines.
In Ireland, the natural wine drum is being banged most loudly and successfully by Pascal from Kilkenny-based importers Le Caveau and they have probably the widest range of natural wines in the country – see www.lecaveau.ie .
What do I think?
My own focus has always been on what is in the bottle rather that what the winemaker believes. On one hand, I think the extra care and attention that is required in the vineyard to make this work does sometimes result in better wine. On the other hand I have been at natural wine tastings where maybe as much as 50% of the wines are faulty to the point where, if I ordered them in a restaurant I would send them back, and yet the winemaker is unwilling to admit that there is anything wrong.
So, as with anything to do with wine, there are good and bad wines under the natural wine umbrella – I would never buy a wine just because it is natural, but I do often seek them out because when they are good, they are very good indeed. The good news is that tasting them to find out is good fun.
Here are three reds that are made using natural wine principles but are really great wines in their own right.
Gran Cerdo Tempranillo (imported by Le Caveau) €15
Elisabetta Foradori (good friend of Giusto from COS)
is a great winemaker and makes this amazing wine
from the local grape variety, Teroldego. Intense,
concentrated but elegant and very easy to drink, this is super stuff.