Updated: Oct 31, 2021
Is natural wine organic? Is organic wine natural? What are the differences? We have asked many of the same questions ourselves. One reason for this is to date, there is no real consensus on the definition of natural wine. It is above all a commitment made by men and women who choose to cultivate their wine with respect to the environment in order to seek the original taste of the wine. In this post, we will attempt to explain natural wines.
Natural Wine, A Simple Definition
Natural wine is made from grapes that are grown in organic methods, and are determined best for the local environment. The grapes are harvested by hand without synthetic or chemical products (such as sulfur) and with a minimal amount of human intervention in the cellar.
But, There Is More
Winegrowers committed to producing natural wine are typically opposed to industrial methods of viticulture and winemaking. This means that they typically return to old oenological practices and the possession of proper skill sets while respecting nature. Nothing is added during vinification, a natural wine has not undergone fining or sulfate. But in reality, things are a bit more complex because this is a method that is relatively difficult to maintain. Winemakers who label their products as “natural” often have strict guidelines compared to other manufacturers when it comes to the number of additives that are considered acceptable. And this what makes identifying “natural wine” so challenging.
Organic Wine Does Not Always Correspond
Organic wine, by contrast, is produced from grapes via organic farming methods, which must be certified by an independent body. However, this requirement did not apply to winemaking (at least until 2012), during which various chemicals were authorized to be used. This differs from natural wine where the addition of synthetic or chemical products is typically not authorized.
Furthermore, natural wine is produced from ripe grapes manually, using natural or indigenous yeasts and bacteria. The production of a natural wine aims to be the natural expression of a grape variety. You may have heard the term vintage? It refers to an original taste of the wine, resulting from a vinification without additives and therefore is also natural.
The methods presented below are those which are agreed upon by the various associations of natural wine producers. The definitions do not constitute a list of obligations.
– Manual harvest – Practice of organic viticulture, typically means where the vines are not treated with synthetic products. Thus, mitigating the risk of deterioration of the grapes due to fungal disease becomes very important.
– Fermentation by indigenous yeasts, which are naturally present. However, whichever yeast is used, the metabolism that is generated determines the amount of sulfate, which is widely used in winemaking. – Limitation of brutal manipulations and techniques such as flash pasteurization or thermovinification (heating of grapes prior to fermentation). – No additives.
The concept of “natural wine” is however controversial. As mentioned above, winemakers of “natural wine” often have different views than other producers, the main stumbling block being the number of ingredients. For example, minimum quantities of sulfur are used by some winemakers prior to bottling the wine. This challenges the very concept that wines have no additives, which makes the determination of “natural wine” inconsistent.
How to store and taste natural wine?
The initial point to remember here is that it is imperative to store natural wine at a reasonably cool temperature. Unlike wines containing sulfate, natural wines can see their fermentation resume as soon as the temperature increases. Storage at a cooler temperature promotes the dissolution of oxygen in the wine and therefore reduces oxidation. However, there are differing opinions regarding the maximum storage temperature. The range is usually from 12 ° C to 15 ° C.
Natural wines can reveal aromas that can be masked in other wines. The reason for their presence may be due to the fact that the aromatic molecules are not retained during filtration, eliminated during fining, or destroyed by the additives that are typical of conventional winemaking. Thus, “technical” wines can express the aromas of grape varieties in a standardized way, while it may be difficult to recognize them in certain natural wines. This is due to the expression of other aromas.
Some Natural Wines Have Significant Defects
The presence of aromas such as sweat due to phenols is not very attractive. The phenomenon is often prevalent during the oxidation of wines with aromas of chard apple and sourness. Such rancid aromas are due to the uncontrolled activity of lactic acid bacteria. Some winegrowers nevertheless manage to develop wines that can be kept for several years thanks to vinification, and good storage conditions.
For natural wine, it may be best to open a bottle an hour or two before tasting. This allows the wine to breathe. Natural wines are “alive”, healthy, and digestible. They will often benefit from being decanted, which will help them develop optimal aromatic and taste complexity and will eliminate the slight natural gas sometimes present at the opening.
Be on the lookout for natural wine the next time you are out and about.