The Natural Wines

First organic, then biodynamic, and now ‘natural’. Natural wine is the latest position in holier than thou wine and has invaded Britain surprisingly recently. The British pride themselves on being in the vanguard of new wine fashions. Uruguayan Viognier? Turkish Öküzgözü? Bring them on. But as far as ‘natural wines’ go, they have been seriously behind the curve, starting to import these wines made with minimal interventions in both vineyard and cellar in any serious way only in the last five years or so.

France is the cradle of natural wine, so the French are way ahead of us in this respect. Thanks to pioneering work by the likes of idiosyncratic New York wine importer Joe Dressner and ex-Brooklyn restaurateur Arnaud Erhart, there has been a flourishing natural wine movement in the US for more than a decade. And the Japanese, the most enthusiastic importers of natural wines, were ahead even of the Americans, embracing natural wines back in the mid 1990s because there is something about the Japanese physiology that makes it difficult for them to metabolise alcohol and, especially, sulphur (soufre in French), the all-purpose fruit disinfectant.

There is no official definition of natural wine. Indeed one of the defining characteristics of the movement is a sort of deliberate and delighted anarchy. In my experience,, its adherents would rather revel and party than define and organise. No tennis club ethos here. The closest I can find to any specification of natural wine is that drawn up for his bemused Anglo-Saxon clients by Douglas Wregg of UK importers Les Caves de Pyrène, which has done most to introduce the British, at last, to natural wine.

Basically a natural wine is designed to present the character of the place, grapes and growing season responsible for it as faithfully as possible. It is likely to have been made in small quantities by an individualist, grown either organically or biodynamically (although it may well not have been certified as such – way too heavy, man), but it will furthermore have experienced the lightest of hands in the cellar. No added yeasts – just those present in the vineyard and cellar. No physical manipulations such as pumping oxygen through the wine to soften it or filtering it to rid it of alcohol or water, the lightest of filtrations – no make-up, no Botox. Naked wine. No added sugar, acid, tannin or preservatives – other than minimal levels of sulphur. Sulphur being a natural by-product of fermentation, all wines contain some, but in general the reds will have under 10 and whites under 20 mg/l of sulphur dioxide, less than a tenth of the maximum levels allowed.

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Text above is part of the article by Jancis Robinson “Naked as nature intended?”


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