With food movements like the Raw Diet, clean eating and the rise in people buying organic produce, it was only a matter of time before the wine world followed.
Now, ‘natural wines’ are gracing restaurant menus and popping up in wine shops, as many people lean towards a more sustainable way of living, with less additives in their food and drink.
What is natural wine?
Natural wines are ‘low intervention’ wines that haven’t had anything added or taken away, and only the yeasts naturally present in the grapes are used to ferment it.
Wine is usually filtered – but natural wine isn’t, so you may find some sediment floating in your glass. One of the most important differences though, is that natural wine doesn’t have any added sulphites (SO2), commonly used as preservatives to prevent oxidation and stop bacteria developing.
Organically-farmed wine and biodynamic wine (a more holistic approach) have been big trends recently, and natural wine can be both of these things plus minimum intervention at a winery. But there isn’t a legal definition of what makes a wine natural.
How did it start?
Natural wine isn’t actually new. In the 1980s, small-scale winemakers in France and Italy worked to create completely chemical-free wine – in retaliation to the industry they believed was relying too heavily on additives. Word spread, and soon artisan winemakers across the rest of the world were following suit.
Leaving everything to nature isn’t as simple as it sounds, though.
As Roland Szimeiszter of Rawland Wines explains: “There’s a lot of hard work carried out by hand, relying on nature year in year out, compared to a factory environment where, with a push of a button, you change an entire flavour profile, adding or subtracting aromas, alcohol or acidity. It’s like sailing on the ocean, compared to driving a yacht.”
What’s all the fuss about?
Anny Vexler, from Newcomer Wines, says there’s definitely a rising interest in natural wines and that customers often request wines will little or no sulphur, or which are a bit more “funky” (a term sometimes used to describe more natural-style wines, including organic and biodynamic types).
“Conventionally-made wines wear a lot of make-up, as it were, whereas natural wines are authentic, honest and can speak to the place they come from. More and more people who are conscious of healthy eating and consuming sustainable products are starting to think about wine in the same way too,” she says.
“As an attitude, it’s certainly becoming more mainstream and will continue to do so. You can see this reflected in restaurants too; the best wine lists in London would definitely include some wines that most people consider to be ‘natural’.”
Every natural wine will vary but some people say there’s a certain ‘earthiness’ to the taste.
“Many have a purity of fruit and freshness about them,” Anny says. “They also tend to be less oaky, extracted.”
Not everyone is a fan though. Jay Rayner once wrote in a review for the Guardian: “I have yet to taste a nice natural wine. My exposure to them is merely turning me in to a really big fan of traditional preservatives.”
Where can I find it?
Natural wine is mainly made by small, artisanal winemakers, rather than better-known vineyards, so you may not see it for sale in major supermarkets.
Try independent wine shops or online wine merchants. Shop and wine bar Newcomer Wines in Dalston, London, stocks a lot of natural wines and works directly with growers from Austria and neighbouring countries.
Rawland Wines also have a good selection. Natural wine newbies might like the Rizling – Veltlin 2015, £19.50, which has a minimal amount of SO2 (10mg per litre is added), or the Hummel, Gore, 2015, £25, is unfiltered without the addition of sulphites (email email@example.com to get your hands on a bottle).
Alternatively, there are plenty of restaurants and bars with natural wine on the menu.