What is Natural Wine? But what the heck does “Natural Wine” mean? You can say that everything on the planet is natural by some definition, but like most things, they can be improved with a number of interventions and innovations. And what about all the other designators you see starting to be listed on menus, ads, and wine tech sheets? Well, let us help demystify the confusion and rundown some answers for you.
Natural wine: this is more of a concept than a well-defined set of characteristics and the definition is different depending on who you speak to, and their understanding of the wine making process. There are no formal certifications for natural wine. However, natural wine has recently become a trendy topic which is not a new concept and has actually been around for thousands of years. Our perspective of “natural wine” is wine that was made with no additives (oak flavoring, sugar, sulfites, yeast, acid, egg whites, fruit flavoring, etc.) Well, what about sulfites you may ask? Sulfites are naturally occurring and as a common practice, a small amount of sulfites are often used in natural wine as a stabilizer. Sulfites are actually a natural byproduct of fermentation and even natural winemakers will add a very small amount, not to enhance the wine but to keep the wine stable after bottling.
What about fining or clarifying the wine? There are different schools of thought. Some natural wine extremists will be adamant that a natural wine will have no intervention techniques to include fining, so you essentially cannot add or take anything away from the wine. Many natural winemakers do fining to a certain degree and it is a good thing because fining can eliminate extraneous odors like a hideous fecal (sulfur) smell not natural to the grape varietal. How sad it would be to have a beautiful wine and not be able to drink it due to a foul odor. If fining is used, it is minimal, meaning that most natural wines will have some cloudiness and will have more of a “wilder” flavor to them, which is a good thing. In order for these wines to be successful the grapes must be a high quality or the grapes will become off balanced resulting in one or more of the major wine structures (alcohol, acid, tannin, and sugar) to be too high, or non-existent.
Now this does not mean that all additives are bad. Some are natural like oak, yeast, sugar, acid, tannin, etc., which can positively affect the natural flavor and structure of a wine, depending on the varietal. There are additives out there that are synthetic and not natural. Believe it or not, many large production wines use additives to make their wines taste more appealing. In fact, some of the giant producers have research labs where they have hundreds of people taste wines and vote on the flavors they love most and then they design the wines to fit those profiles. If you’re shocked, you’ll be eve