A Beginner’s Guide to Natural Wine

I have always loved wine, just like I love movies. I don’t spend any time trying to understand how and why they are so good. I wouldn’t say I like an oaky Chardonnay. I can see why cheap wine is bad. I will always choose the wine pairing in order to avoid having to make a choice. I’ve always been a casual and somewhat naive wine fan.

Sometimes, however, this fandom can turn into an obsession. For example, you might watch The Forgetting Sarah Marshall and then spend the next ten years telling strangers that it is our culture’s best musical comedy. In the last few years, I’ve been typing the name of nearly every bottle into my Notes App. This is a new class of wine that comes as close as possible to fermented grape juice. The cloudy prosecco tasted like a sour beer with a strong funk, not the kind of stuff people use to make spritzes. After my first taste, I hoarded a magnum of white that tasted like stone fruits rubbed onto limestone and sprinkled with sea salt. Then there was the Partida Créus Sumoll that I drank at a restaurant party. It turned my previously tepid feelings towards red wine into a fanaticism. It was electric juice and not heavy like your father’s favorite Cab or boring like certain types of “light” wine. I’m a cretin and like things that taste something.

This red wine is now The One. It’s the wine I think about when I am planning a party or at a bar that I don’t enjoy and wish I was drinking something else. It is a great example of natural wine. It is surprising, highly drinkable, and not something you need to take too seriously. It also pairs well with beef bourguignon. It’s also a lot of fun.

While some skeptics, including the GQ staff, are quick to dismiss natural wine as an eco-friendly fad, we want to show you how to enter this new, funky world of fewer hangovers, prettier labels, and more vibrant flavors. Marian Bull

The Only Vocab You’ll Ever Need

You may need Google Translate in order to understand what your local sommelier is saying when you ask about natural wines. These are the words that you need to know before you drink. — Belle Cushing

1. Pet-nat

This unrestrained technique has evolved into a whole genre. Pet-nat can be made by bottling a wine before it has finished fermenting, giving it a lively fizz. Pet-nat can be made from any grape. It can also be cloudy, hazy, or refined. It’s a cool party trick to pop the crown cap of a bottle. This shows that you like bubbles but are also chilled.

2. Sulfites

Natural winemakers say that most wines already contain sulfites. However, adding more can reduce the vibrancy of the wine. Producers of low sulfite vintages only add to them “as necessary” – perhaps a little at bottling in order to keep them stable – while sulfite-free wines are left untouched. Others say that fewer sulfites will lead to fewer hangovers. But you can decide for yourself.

3. Biodynamic

Imagine if “organic” was taken to Burning Man, and the people became obsessed with phases of the Moon. The level of commitment can range from being bio-curious to being so committed that you would bury a cow horn full of manure. The lesson is the same: treat your grapes well, and you’ll get nice wine.

4. Funk(y)

“Funky” is the most common word used to describe natural wines. It can be a polite way of saying “fucked up” or a compliment. It is most often used to describe the barnyard aroma of the yeast Brettanomyces, or “Brett,” which can be pleasantly earthy when in small amounts. Faults (like Brett or vinegary, volatile acids) are subjective, just like funk. Decant a wine for an hour if it smells like gas.


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