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Inside Knowledge What is Natural Wine

What is Natural Wine?

In Short:
Natural wines usually don’t contain additives and are made with minimal human intervention. They can be delicious, but their quality and consistency can also be variable.

Natural wine is a bit of a contested term – there is no single official definition. But it usually refers to wines that have been produced in a traditional way. They are often organic and are typically made with as little intervention by the winemaker as possible, with few or no additives. Sulphites, too, which are often used to preserve a wine’s freshness, are usually kept to a minimum.

While natural wines can be made in any style and come from any region, in recent years they have become especially prevalent in the form of orange wines. These are white wines that are made in the style of red wines. Grape juice is fermented on the grape skins (a process known as ‘skin contact’) to give colour, tannin and added character.

Fans of natural wines describe them as being a pure reflection of a vineyard’s terroir (complete natural environment). Many critics, however, remain divided on the quality of natural wines. Because they do not usually use commercially produced yeasts or stabilisers, natural wines can have unpredictable or unusual flavour profiles that may vary from one bottle to the next. Unlike with conventionally made wines, this can make it hard to know if you will enjoy a particular wine, or how it will age.

For some not knowing what a wine will taste like is adventurous and exciting, but for others it’s unnecessary and inconvenient. That’s why sampling these wines is often best done in a restaurant setting, where the sommelier can tell you what to expect from each individual bottle.

What does Natural Wine Taste Like?

Unlike traditional wines, which may have a predictable range of flavours – fruit from the grapes, wood from the barrels, character from any aging – natural wines can have a whole range of unexpected flavours, both nice and unpleasant. Many wines are often described as having a ‘funky’ or ‘savoury’ taste. It helps to think of natural wines as a vinous equivalent to a strong, unpasteurised French cheese. You might love the challenging, quirky flavours, or you might not.

While the terms are not necessarily synonymous, in practice many natural wines are made using sustainable, organic and biodynamic methods, as many of these ethics tend to go hand and hand. If you aren’t sure if you will like the offbeat style of natural wine, you can still enjoy bottles that are made organically or biodynamically (a holistic philosophy tied to the lunar calendar). You can also enjoy wines that are made sustainably.

Sustainable wines should take into account not only how the vineyards are managed and how the wine is vinified but also how the winery is run, how it bottles and ships its products, and other environmental and ethical practices.

Natural wines can be delicious, but also divisive – and they are very hard to pigeonhole. Give them a try in a restaurant, and also consider sampling conventionally made wines that are made using organic, sustainable or biodynamic methods instead.