Sip and Savor: The World of Natural Wine

Sip and Savor: The World of Natural Wine

Natural wine, sometimes called "raw" or "naked" wine, is a special kind of wine made with minimal interference. It's like the grapes are nurtured in the vineyard, not manipulated in a winery. Imagine walking through a vineyard filled with healthy grapes growing naturally without any artificial pesticides or additives

If this image appeals, you’ll need to know how to differentiate between regular wine and natural wine. In this guide, we’ll explore what it is, how it's made, and how it differs from other wines. We'll even share recommendations for the best natural wines to add to your collection. 

Grab your furry friend and a glass of your favorite blend, and let's discover the captivating world of natural wine together!

What is Natural Wine?

At its core, natural wine is essentially about letting nature do most of the work. It means steering clear of chemical interventions and heavy-handed techniques instead of embracing the delicate spontaneity of nature.

In the world of natural wine, pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides are a no-no. Instead, grapes are meticulously grown using sustainable, organic, or biodynamic methods. For example, the vineyards of Domaine de l'Ecu, located in the Muscadet region of France, have been farmed biodynamically for over 20 years with a focus on respecting the ecosystem and viticultural biodiversity.

The natural approach continues in the winery, where no introduced yeasts are used. Instead, winemakers rely on the wild yeast present in the grapes and in the winery to ferment the grape juice into wine. It may seem like a small decision, but this choice significantly impacts the flavor profiles of natural wines, bringing genuine individuality and a sense of place. 

Then there's the absence, or near absence, of additives. While conventional winemakers use a multitude of additives to adjust everything from taste and color to stability and longevity, natural winemakers employ minimal amounts of alcohol to maintain the integrity of the wine’s original taste.

Lastly, natural wines are often unfiltered, retaining the natural sediment that gives them a distinctive look and taste. In essence, natural wine is all about embracing 'less is more' approach to winemaking, allowing the unique characteristics of each varietal and vintage to shine through. 

What Isn't Natural Wine?

Not all organic or biodynamic wines are natural wines. This is a common misconception. While natural wine growers do use organic or biodynamic principles, simply having these certifications doesn't make a wine natural. For instance, some organic wines may be made from vines cultivated without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides but can still see heavy manipulation, filtration, or additives in the wine cellar. 

Moreover, don’t mistake unfiltered wines for natural wines. Though it’s true that natural wines are often unfiltered, giving them a cloudy appearance can be unsettling. However, being unfiltered isn’t a condition that itself determines whether a wine is natural. It's just one potential, but not mandatory, characteristic.

Another thing to note is that natural wines aren't directly synonymous with 'faulty' wines. Yes, natural wines can sometimes have a funky or unconventional aroma and taste profile due to the indigenous yeast and lack of intervention, but that doesn’t mean they are flawed. You may pick up notes of cider, hay, or sourdough bread which give them their unique characteristics.

Additionally, natural wines are not always more expensive. While small-scale artisanal practices may indeed drive up costs, many natural wines are surprisingly affordable. Especially when you consider the painstaking work and dedication that go into each bottle. 

How Was Natural Wine Invented?

The first ever documented wine production was believed to be in the country of Georgia around 6000 B.C. During its infancy, natural wine was purely organic, made with nothing more than crushed grapes, wild yeasts, and time. 

The rise of modern machinery and production methods during the 20th century pushed natural methods into the background. Mass-produced wines became the norm, often relying on additives, preservatives, and chemicals. 

Fast forward to today, natural wine is now experiencing a dazzling renaissance. An increase in the amount of space dedicated to natural wines in wine stores and more restaurants featuring them prominently on their wine lists. In circles of wine enthusiasts, it's become a major topic of passionate discussion. 

The eco-friendly ethos of natural wine fits perfectly with a society keen to reduce its carbon footprint and eat organically. The unique, often surprising flavors of each bottle add a level of excitement to every uncorking. These factors are driving the renewed interest and growing demand for natural wines all over the world.

More vineyards may progressively switch to organic and biodynamic methods as the market for natural wines continues to expand. Wine producers may also see the value in marketing their wines based on their eco-friendly production methods. 

In terms of consumption, a younger, more adventurous demographic is leading the charge in natural wine's rising popularity. This group values products like natural wine that are organic, sustainable, and come with interesting narratives. All that makes now the perfect time to get into the world of natural wine and discover your new favorite blend. 

What Does Natural Wine Taste Like?

When poured into your wine glass, natural wines may have a bit more of a cloudy appearance due to the absence of fining or filtration processes. You may also encounter more variation in natural wines; two bottles of the same natural wine may differ slightly in flavor or color, depending on the nuances of that year’s grape harvest.

On the palate, natural wines often exhibit a raw, rustic purity. The flavor profiles can be a roller coaster for your taste buds; they are unique and unpredictable. For instance, the ever-popular Raw Wine’s Testalonga El Bandito Cortez, from South Africa, has an exquisite balance of fruity tartness, almost cider-like, a far cry from your regular chardonnay. 

This is different from conventional wine tastes, which can be predicted more reliably; your favorite Merlot is likely to hit those familiar notes of dark fruit and spice every time. This consistency is one of the comforts of conventional wines, like a well-loved melody that never fails to soothe.

Benefits of Drinking Natural Wine

Natural wine offers a unique combination of enjoyment and well-being. Not only is it delicious, but it also comes with health and environmental benefits. Let’s take a closer look at some of these benefits. 

1. Lower Sulfite Levels

One major advantage of natural wine is its lower sulfite content. Sulfites are naturally occurring compounds, but too much can lead to headaches or allergic reactions in some people. Natural wine allows you to enjoy a glass or two without worry.

Of course, even non-natural wines can have the same sulfite levels as natural wines. For instance, Hair of the Dog wines have very few sulfite levels, and in fact boast the same amount as natural and organic brand Dry Farm Wines.

2. Packed with Antioxidants

Because natural wines are typically made from organically or biodynamically grown grapes, they're rich in antioxidants like resveratrol, which may promote heart health and longevity—perfect for dog lovers who enjoy long walks with their furry friends!

3. Eco-Friendly Production

The production of natural wine is also kinder to the environment. Natural wine growers avoid synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, creating healthier vineyards for everyone involved, from the grape growers to the consumers. It's like choosing high-quality, organic treats for your dog—fewer additives mean better overall health.

4. A Unique Taste Adventure

Natural wine offers a unique tasting adventure. Each bottle is a reflection of its terroir, yeast, and the winemaker's touch, resulting in a diverse range of flavors, aromas, and textures. For example, Frank Cornelissen's Magma Rosso, a natural wine from Sicily, boasts a complex and exciting flavor profile that's truly one-of-a-kind.

Must-Try Natural Wines: A Personal Selection

Discovering natural wines is like embarking on a taste adventure, filled with unique and earthy flavors you won't find in conventional wines. Here are a few that showcase the best of natural winemaking:

  • Red Wine: the 2019 Occhipinti SP68 Rosso from Italy is a great starting point. This blend of Nero d'Avola and Frappato grapes offers a complex yet fresh taste, with notes of dark cherries and raspberries balanced with a hint of floral sweetness. It's a smooth and velvety wine that pairs perfectly with a hearty meal.
  • White Wine: 2018 Domaine Ostertag Pinot Gris Barriques from France is a must-try. This full-bodied wine, aged in oak barrels, reveals layers of ripe pear, honey, and spices, making it an excellent companion to grilled chicken or spicy Asian dishes.
  • Sparkling Wine: NV Camillo Donati Lambrusco Rosé from Italy brings fun and excitement to the table. This lively, deep-colored sparkling rosé offers a burst of strawberry and cherry flavors, finishing with a savory touch. It's perfect for celebrations with friends and loved ones.
  • Orange Wine: Coenobium Ruscum from Italy is a captivating choice. Made by nuns, this wine is fermented with skin contact, giving it a vibrant amber color and a bold flavor profile of dried fruits, nuts, and honey, with a pleasantly tannic finish. Orange wines pair well with adventurous dishes.

Each of these wines showcases the natural expression of their grapes, resulting in unique and authentic flavors. You can find them online or at your local wine store that stocks natural wines. Simply ask for wines with minimal intervention, organic or biodynamic farming practices, and low or no added sulfites.

Explore the Delights of Natural Wine

Natural wines offer a spectrum of tastes and textures that will tantalize your taste buds, but there are also artisan blends with low sulfites that are worth giving a whirl. From Hair of the Dog’s crisp 2022 Carbonic Carignan to the bold 2022 Albariño or succulent 2022 Pinot Gris, these blends are sure to tickle your fancy. 

Just like our canine companions, natural wines can be unpredictable, with variations in taste and a shorter shelf life. But that's part of their charm. Embracing the unexpected is what makes life, and wine, so much fun!

If you want to start exploring natural wine yourself, a subscription from Wags and Wine is the perfect way to do it. Sign up today, and we’ll send you curated selections of wine and dog treats to your door each month so you and your pup can explore together.