Corkscrew on: Natural Wine
Updated: Jan 14, 2019
A decade ago natural wine used to be a curiosity proffered by a small band of passionate extremists on the very edge of the UK wine trade. Today if you go to any London restaurant worth its salt you will find an ever-growing section of the wine list given over to #naturalwines and the new generation of hipster restaurateurs often serve exclusively natural wines in their places. But what the hell is a natural wine?
The natural wine movement, which began in France in the 1970s, could be seen as retaliation to all the taste-free, insipid, mass produced brands that litter our shelves. Although it has taken some 40 years to gather momentum, today natural wine is the #buzzword on the lips of many sommeliers. Natural wines are now produced all over the world, but Italy and France are particular hotbeds of activity. But what is unnatural wine?
Until 50 or so years ago most wine was made traditionally (without the helping hand of science). Some was good, but a lot of it was faulty – over-sulphured, rancid, oxidised, dried out, dirty…..the list goes on! In the 60s new world pioneers in Australia and California started producing technically perfect wines through the appliance of science and today most wine is made in this way.
There is no natural wine certification – no handy badge - some natural producers may be certified #organic or #biodynamic, but natural wine making has no rules as such. Natural wine makers believe that much of modern wine is too manufactured and processed, with a reliance on winemaking and chemicals. What earns these wines their stripes is the policy of non-interventionist wine making (letting nature take its course), using wild yeasts rather than cultivated strains and very little or no sulphur dioxide (used in most wines as an antioxidant and preservative). Words you will see are Pet-Nat (naturally sparkling), Skin contact (where wines are left much longer on the skins for flavour) and Orange wines (white grapes but with prolonged skin contact giving the orange colour).
But what do they taste like? A bit like that girl with the curl: when they are good (expressive, pure, vibrant) they are very good, but when they are bad (fizzy, oxidised, rancid) they are horrid! The problem is that the word bad doesn’t exist in the natural wine making vocabulary and faults are often lauded as character. Make no mistake – these wines are often extreme, funky, weird, inconsistent and very difficult to categorise as each producer is so highly individual. Like a traffic light – see orange – proceed with extreme caution!