The recent trend toward natural wines attempts to capture the spirit before industrialization
Few developments or trends have aroused as many passions in the world of wine as the recent emergence of “natural”, wines. It’s a philosophy of “don’t interfere” and let nature do the work. Its unabashed name alone pits it against the status quo: When you categorize a wine as natural, you are implying all other wines that do not adhere to the same values are, well, unnatural.
The natural wine movement (there is no formal certification system yet) refers to wines grown organically, with nothing added, or taken away throughout the wine-making process, a recent practice based on how wine used to be made before industry and technology turned vintnering into a chemistry experiment.
What conventional, mass-produced, wines include in terms of additives ranges from eggs and milk, lab-bred yeasts, phosphates and powdered tannins, sometimes even animal derivatives better left unmentioned. Then there are technological processes like micro-oxygenation and reverse osmosis, to name just two. The end result is a wine that can be dialed up in terms of flavor and style, replicated year in, year out.
Natural wine is the antithesis to this. Its philosophy is based on all the work occurring before the wine is even made: 10 or so months in the vineyard, a healthy organic or biodynamic ecosystem; ensuring the grapes have enough microorganisms to naturally change their sugar into alcohol.
The decisions during production are simple: there aren’t any. Some throw in the slightest hint of sulfites just before bottling, but purists change nothing during the transition from vine to bottle – creating a wine that is cloudy, often sedimented, and a taste like nothing you are accustomed to.
It is this final frontier that has everyone on edge. The drinking public has grown accustomed to a universal style that emphasizes a grape’s fruitiness, cleansed of any potentially bad proteins and refined to a glistening, clear liquid. Natural wine advocates wonder if this is actually the true taste of wine, or simply the flavor of technology that has enabled a homogenized wine industry.
Time will tell how much influence this movement will have, but one indicator is that reputable vintners are increasingly adding natural wines to their portfolios.
Meanwhile, across Austria and the world, drinkers are currently going gaga for them. Natural wine promises a novel experience, urging you to forget everything you know.
Tasting natural wine can challenge even the most flexible palate. Forget about primary fruit flavors and think along the lines of earth, herbs, nuts and floral notes, and a feeling that the wine truly is “alive.”
Oenologist Enrico Bachechi, proprietor of the new pop-up natural wine store Vinifero, is a superb spokesman for the movement, having worked alongside renowned Italian producers. He likens natural wine to people. Some days, he says, “they are more open and generous, others more closed or shy. And some people are fascinating but not the first day. Industrial wines are identical every day, every year, and,” he claims, “they die after 24 hours. Natural wines live much longer when opened.”
This may seem esoteric to some, especially conventional wine-makers who see natural wine as having more faults than positives, preferring a more predictably “manageable” product.
The truth is that there is no line in the sand when it comes to style over substance. The spectrum of philosophies, methods, regions and human factors in wine are as diverse as ever, and one need only ask the right questions and feel comfortable that your wine matches your intent. What could be more natural than that?