An Introduction to Natural Wine
Natural wine is the latest buzzword in the wine industry, but why has it become so popular?
With everyone scrambling for "minimal intervention wines" and the promises of a hangover-free morning, it can be easy to get lost in the hype, and in turn, forget what natural wine really is.
This article outlines the main characteristics of natural wine and common styles you’ll find at your local wine store.
Breaking Down Natural Wine
The biggest problem with natural wine is that it has no definition. So, if it has no definition, how do you know if you're drinking one?
At its core, a natural wine is one that has gone from the vineyard to the bottle with as little intervention as possible. This approach is considered to be "hands-off winemaking".
This means, generally speaking, natural wine is farmed:
Using sustainable farming practices.
When the grapes are moved to the winery, fermentation is left to occur naturally with wild yeasts. There are no additions of any kind before, during, or after fermentation (although in some cases, a tiny amount of sulphur may be added to stabilise the wine).
The vast majority of natural wines will use old oak barrels or stainless steel tanks instead of new oak, which is costly and imparts too much flavour.
Natural wines are designed to reflect their environment (terroir) and showcase the personality of the grapes used.
They are generally bottled unfined or unfiltered. Some winemakers even believe that by filtering you remove the "soul" and strip some character out of the wine.
A great example of a healthy, natural, and biodynamic/organic vineyard.
What Do They Taste Like?
Natural wines can come in a variety of flavours, styles, and colours. Often, they are thought of as having a different taste, look, and texture compared to "normal" wines. For example, the presence of sediment, a cloudy appearance, or an offbeat taste profile may indicate a natural wine.
As natural wines become more common, they are increasingly available in different styles, flavours and varieties, with orange wine and "pet nats" being two prominent examples of natural wine.
What Is Orange Wine?
Orange wine is made from white wine grapes. During fermentation, the grape skins and seeds remain in contact with the grape juice. This changes the colour of the wine to its unique orange hue.
In short, think of orange wine as a blend between white and red winemaking techniques.
Orange wines can be described as having characteristics of:
Citrus and tropical fruits;
Dried orange peel; and
Notes of cardamon, anise, and other cooking spices.
Orange wine can even have tannins similar to red wine. What's more, due to their flavour characteristics, orange wines pair very well with food.
Australia has a very diverse range of orange wines. Some examples include Patrick Sullivan from the Yarra Valley, and Jauma and Unico Zelo from South Australia.
If you're after something more international, Radikon from Northern Italy is making some fantastic examples of orange wine, or check out Slovenia or Georgia for other options.
Orange wines can take on many different flavour characteristics.
What Is A "Pet Nat"?
Another example of natural wine you may have come across is a pétillant naturel wine, affectionately known as “pet nat”.
A pet nat is a sparkling wine made using the ancestral method, meaning that its second fermentation is finished in the bottle. This fermentation naturally gives off CO2, which dissolves back into the wine (as it has nowhere to go) to give the pet nat its trademark fizz. The result is a delicate and natural carbonated wine with low pressure and low alcohol.
Pet nats will have naturally occurring sediment or deposit inside the bottle, so don't be alarmed if you see some.
Pet nats can be made using a wide variety of grapes and come in many different colours. They are best enjoyed on a warm day in the park among friends. Be sure to serve them ice-cold.
If you're looking for a good pet nat, it's worth going to your local wine store and speaking to a knowledgeable member of staff who can point you in the right direction (and hopefully has a bottle or two in the fridge!)
Storing Natural Wine
The main thing to remember is that, due to the way they are made, natural wines often have a shorter shelf life than their counterparts. This is especially true if they have a low sulphur content. As such, it’s best to enjoy them early on, and steer clear of long-term storage.
Want to learn more about different wine styles and winemaking techniques? Why not study the WSET Level 2 Award in Wines and Spirits?