Even if you haven’t personally ordered a glass of natural wine on a recent night out, chances are, you’ve heard some buzz about it.
And if you’re like many foodies and vino lovers, there’s a high probability that you’re interested in learning a bit more about what it actually means for a bottle of wine to be considered “natural.”
Honestly, that’s where my head was at last month when I started working for a local wine bar. I had so many questions about wines and at the top of my list, I was curious about what felt like the trendiest of them all, “natural wine”.
How are these wines different from “organic” and “biodynamic” wines? What do they taste like? And are they actually better for your body and the environment?
Read on for these answers and more — I bet you just might be persuaded to try a glass of natural wine this weekend (and we’d love to hear what you think of it!)
What is natural wine?
Natural wine is unregulated, unpredictable, unfiltered and made with minimal treatments in the winery. While there are technically no rules, most natural wine grapes are grown by small-scale, independent producers, hand-picked from sustainable, organic, or biodynamic vineyards, the wine is fermented with no added yeast, no additives are included in fermentation and little or no sulfites are added. Since this is a loose set of qualifications the quality of these wines can vary immensely and produces some super funky and fun wines!
How does natural wine differ from organic and biodynamic wine?
Organic wine, in the United States, is held to a much stricter standard than organic wines are in Europe. Here, wineries are unable to use sulfites in their winemaking process if they want to display the USDA label. What’s unfortunate about this is that sulfites (or sulfur dioxide) act as a preservative and don’t typically cause any health concerns like many farming practices can. Fortunately, wineries in the U.S. are able to use a different label, “Made with Organic Grapes” which essentially means that their grapes are grown organically — no chemical pesticides or herbicides allowed, wine production is in accordance with the National Organic Program, there are zero GMO yeasts and no more than 100 ppm sulfites per bottle.
Demeter’s certified biodynamic wines get even more unique. The farming and vine growing is quite extensive and often times requires applying homeopathic doses of natural composts and other preparations according to the phases of the moon. Crazy right? But in all honesty because of the special care from these winemakers, you can expect some of the healthiest vineyards and exciting wines around.
What do natural wines generally taste like?
Since these wines are unregulated, taste is going to vary dramatically. Generally speaking, natural wines are funkier, gamier, have yeastier characteristics, a cloudy appearance and often times have sediment floating around in the bottom of the bottle. A lot of the time their aroma is going to be far more yeasty than fruity, but of course because there are no standards – you may also find yourself with a clean and fruity natural wine as well. No rules people, no rules!
Is natural wine better for you?
Still up for debate. Some believe that sulfites aren’t the best for you, but there’s no real evidence that they cause the dreaded wine headaches or hangovers. And what we don’t hear a ton about is the fact that when winemakers aren’t using these preservatives, wines have a much shorter shelf life which can lead to spoiled wines if they aren’t cared for properly. Natural wines are unfiltered and unrefined, meaning they may contain impurities and native yeasts like tyramine which can contribute to headaches and migraines. Of course this isn’t the case for each and every natural wine, but it’s possible!
If you’re sensitive to allergens, you may prefer to avoid the pesticides and additives (like tannins) found in conventional wines by going natural. There’s only one way to find out! 😉
Is natural wine better for the environment?
Long story short, it’s complicated. There is no way to help wine magically appear where it needs to be without proper storage and transportation, which is clearly not great for the environment. But one other way you can limit your carbon footprint when purchasing wine is to choose domestic / local bottles whenever possible. That being said, natural wines, although they are not regulated, generally come from organic or biodynamic vineyards / farms and this, of course, is better for the environment.
How can I purchase, store and best care for natural wine?
Best advice I can give you is to make friends with the folks working at your local wine shop! They can give you more information on what natural wines they personally enjoy and the best practices for caring for your wines. Overall I would say keep those natural bottles chilled, out of the light, and once you open them replace the cork and put back in the fridge.
Sources: 24 Hour Wine Expert by Jancis Robinson, Food and Wine – Natural Wine Explained, Raw Wine – What is Natural Wine, Bon Appetit – Is Natural Wine Better For The Planet, Wine Folly – What is Really Natural Wine.