Wine, one of humanity’s oldest and most beloved beverages, has a rich and diverse history dating back thousands of years. In recent times, there has been a growing interest in natural wine, a movement that advocates for minimal intervention in the winemaking process, allowing the true essence of the grape and the terroir to shine through. For beginners looking to delve into the world of natural wine, understanding its principles, characteristics, and what sets it apart is essential. In this beginner’s guide, we’ll explore the fundamentals of natural wine and offer tips on how to navigate this fascinating and diverse category.
What is Natural Wine?
Natural wine is more than just a beverage; it’s a philosophy. At its core, natural wine is wine made with minimal intervention, both in the vineyard and the cellar. This means that natural winemakers prioritize organic or biodynamic farming practices, eschewing the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. In the basement, they opt for spontaneous fermentation using native yeasts, minimal or no sulfites added, and refrain from using additives or excessive manipulation techniques such as filtration or fining.
Characteristics of Natural Wine:
Vibrant and Alive: Natural wines often possess a vibrancy and energy that sets them apart from their conventionally produced counterparts. With minimal intervention, natural winemakers allow the wine to express its true character, resulting in wines that are dynamic, expressive, and full of life.
Unique Terroir Expression: Terroir, the combination of soil, climate, and geography, plays a significant role in shaping the character of wine. Natural winemakers prioritize preserving and showcasing the unique terroir of their vineyards, resulting in wines that reflect the distinctiveness of a particular place.
Unconventional Flavors and Aromas: Natural wines can exhibit a wide range of flavors and aromas, often diverging from the more standardized profiles found in commercial wines. Expect to encounter funky, earthy, floral, and sometimes even challenging flavors that challenge conventional notions of what wine should taste like.
Varietal Authenticity: By allowing grapes to ferment with native yeasts and minimizing manipulation, natural winemakers aim to preserve the authentic expression of the grape variety. This means that natural wines often showcase the true essence of the grape, highlighting its inherent flavors and characteristics.
Navigating the World of Natural Wine:
Explore Different Styles: Natural wine is incredibly diverse, with a myriad of styles and expressions to discover. From light and zesty skin-contact whites to funky and complex orange wines, there’s something for every palate. Experiment with different styles and grape varieties to find what resonates with you.
Seek Out Small Producers: Many natural wines are produced in small quantities by artisanal winemakers who are passionate about their craft. Seek out these small-scale producers at local wine shops, farmers’ markets, or specialty wine bars. Not only will you be supporting independent winemakers, but you’ll also have the opportunity to taste wines that are truly unique and authentic.
Embrace the Funk: Natural wines are known for their sometimes funky and unconventional flavors. Don’t be afraid to embrace the funk! Approach each bottle with an open mind and a spirit of adventure. You may be surprised by the depth and complexity that natural wines have to offer.
Learn from Experience: The best way to learn about natural wine is through tasting and exploration. Attend wine tastings, join tasting groups, and engage with knowledgeable sommeliers and wine professionals who can guide you on your journey. Trust your palate and let your curiosity be your guide.
Natural wine represents a return to a simpler, more authentic approach to winemaking, one that prioritizes transparency, sustainability, and respect for the land. For beginners looking to embark on a journey of discovery, natural wine offers a fascinating and rewarding path. By exploring different styles, seeking out small producers, and embracing the diversity and complexity of natural wines, you’ll gain a deeper appreciation for this ancient and endlessly fascinating beverage. So raise a glass, toast to the wonders of nature, and savor the magic of natural wine. Cheers!