Unravelling Natural Wine and the Top Picks to Savor

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Natural Wines

This article is a contribution from National Geographic Traveller (UK).

These days, stepping into a brand new restaurant or wine bar will likely present you with a selection of natural wines. Even though not explicitly labeled as natural, there’s a high likelihood many offerings on the list adhere to this category. The concept of natural wine might seem unfamiliar, and indeed, it’s a subject of interest for many.

This term, unfortunately lacking a formal definition, often rubs traditional winemakers the wrong way, as they see it suggesting their wines aren’t ‘natural.’

In essence, natural wines are crafted without the application of chemical pesticides or herbicides, with a reduced amount of sulfites, and leveraging wild yeasts naturally present in the vineyards rather than lab-grown ones. Furthermore, these wines often go without fining and filtering, and in some instances, avoid oak usage, particularly new oak, to maintain the taste of the terroir. The underlying principle of natural winemaking is ‘nothing added, nothing taken away.’

The resurgence of this method initiated in the Loire and Beaujolais regions of France in the 1970s, but today, natural wines are available worldwide.

How do they taste? The red variants are typically vibrant and succulent, a type the French refer to as a vin de soif. On the other hand, the whites often present a more apple-like and cloudy profile (sometimes termed as ‘cidery’), though fresh, more citrus-infused versions are increasingly common. A particular charm of these wines is their clean and aromatic character, particularly when created with fragrant grape varieties like malvasia and torrontés.

Natural wines often contain lower alcohol percentages compared to traditional wines. This is primarily attributed to the use of native yeasts, which aren’t as effective in elevating alcohol levels, and earlier harvest times, as natural wines seldom reach an overly ripe state.

The natural wine movement is characterized by two main styles: ‘pet nat’, or pétillant naturel, a light, semi-sparkling variety where the initial fermentation concludes in the bottle, deviating from the customary champagne technique that involves adding sugar and yeast to induce a second fermentation; and orange wines, white wines produced with red wine techniques, maintaining contact with the juice, skins, and seeds.

The primary drawback of natural wines is their higher cost, primarily attributed to their production by smaller vintners, who manage their vineyards manually. Additionally, some may require decanting to eliminate any initial off-notes.

However, once acclimated to their unique flavors, these wines may reshape your perspective on wine, potentially making conventional wines seem overly sweet and heavy. They’re certainly worth a try.

Five Natural Wines to Sample:

  1. Ancre Hill Pet Nat Pink
    A delightful Welsh natural wine, this light (just 10% ABV) refreshing rosé carries notes of citrus, wild strawberries, and granny smith apples. It pairs perfectly with a sunny afternoon, maybe with a side of crab sandwiches. £18.75.

  2. Ciello Bianco Catarratto 2022
    An affordable yet satisfying Sicilian white with a cloudy, refreshing profile of lemon and grapefruit. A quintessential summer refresher, perfect with outdoor meals like grilled seafood and salads. Best consumed young. £9.50.

  3. Mielie Green Testalonga 2022
    A representative natural white from South Africa’s Swartland region, crafted from chenin vines planted in 1961. It presents a full, rich texture with the enticing flavor of ripe pear and honeydew melon. Possibly a great match for a pork chop. £18.

  4. Pépin Orange
    An intoxicating orange wine emanating the scents of orange blossom, mandarin, and dried mango. Concocted in Alsace using an array of local grapes by a collective of natural winemakers. Ideal with grilled veggies, particularly aubergines. £23.20.

  5. Nibiru Tradition Red
    This Austrian zweigelt/merlot blend from Nibiru winery in the Kamptal region encapsulates the best of natural wine. It exhibits pure, vibrant red berry fruit flavors. Keep it chilled and enjoy with a barbecue. £21.50.

Originally published in Issue 20 (Summer 2023) of Food by National Geographic Traveller (UK).

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Natural Wines

What are natural wines?

Natural wines are crafted without the application of chemical pesticides or herbicides, with a reduced amount of sulfites, and leveraging wild yeasts naturally present in the vineyards rather than lab-grown ones. They often go without fining and filtering and avoid new oak usage to maintain the taste of the terroir. The principle of natural winemaking is ‘nothing added, nothing taken away.’

What are the main styles of natural wines?

The natural wine movement is characterized by two main styles: ‘pet nat’, or pétillant naturel, a light, semi-sparkling variety where the initial fermentation concludes in the bottle; and orange wines, white wines produced with red wine techniques, maintaining contact with the juice, skins, and seeds.

Why are natural wines expensive?

Natural wines tend to be more expensive primarily because they’re produced by smaller vintners, who manage their vineyards manually. Additionally, some may require decanting to eliminate any initial off-notes.

Can you recommend some natural wines to try?

Five natural wines to try are: Ancre Hill Pet Nat Pink, Ciello Bianco Catarratto 2022, Mielie Green Testalonga 2022, Pépin Orange, and Nibiru Tradition Red.

Where was the natural wine method initially revived?

The resurgence of this method initiated in the Loire and Beaujolais regions of France in the 1970s. Today, natural wines are available worldwide.

More about Natural Wines

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1 comment

GourmetGary July 29, 2023 - 2:02 pm

Love the focus on pairing. Theres nothin like a good wine and food match. that Mielie Green Testalonga with a pork chop, now thats a dinner idea!

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