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Wednesday 21 January 2015

What the hell is "natural" wine? And will you like it?

A couple of visiting friends were dining at one of Tasmania's icon restaurants recently. They loved the food but were bewildered by the wine list.

“Why?” they asked, were there so few Tasmanian wines on the list. I had to advise them that this particular restaurant (and it is a growing trend globally) has a list composed almost entirely of “natural” wines.

Now natural wines are an acquired taste; some can taste “funky” or “oxidised” or “flat”, or maybe exciting, depending on your viewpoint. 

Many sommeliers consider them to be the peak of vinous chic and cram as many obscure examples from around the world onto their lists as possible.

This can make choosing wine a minefield for the unwary. An easy solution would be to have a separate section on each list for devotees, but that doesn't happen so much.

The rise in popularity of natural wines, as evidenced by over 13,000 people attending last year's Rootstock festival in Sydney, is the next step on from organic and biodynamic production.

While there is no official definition, "natural" wine is generally understood to be made with minimal chemical or technological interference from the winemaker; containing no added acid or yeast, colouring or oak chips or anything else that is used to artificially bolster flavour. They contain less sulphur dioxide than more conventionally made wine and the wines are often unclarified.

The natural wine movement is gaining momentum, particularly in France and Italy, and the recent Real Wine Show in London, celebrating natural, organic and biodynamic wines, attracted huge crowds. 

Natural wines, usually made in tiny quantities by committed artisan producers, can by their very nature sometimes be volatile, but their fans say they have greater texture.

Closely allied to natural wines are so-called “skin-contact” or “orange” wines. These are white wines made in the same way as traditional red wines. 

The simple definition of the style has white wines left to macerate on their skins for longer periods of time than usual, anywhere from a few days to in some cases, months, says respected wine commentator Mike Bennie, an advocate of the style, who says this winemaking approach ”enhances aspects of texture and flavour”.

Orange wines range in colour from pale gold through to deep ambers and in some cases ruddier, rouge-tinted hues – sometimes they are even named "amber" rather than "orange",” Bennie says.

Orange wine history dates back several thousand years with Georgian winemakers having placed grapes in large vessels, usually clay amphorae, to give them an oxidative character.

The question now is whether both natural and orange wines will remain a novelty, or gain mainstream acceptance. 

Should you be fascinated by foudre fermentations go ahead and try some labels like Jauma, d'Meure or Shobbrook, imports from the likes of Italian producer Radikon, or the growing number of producers brought into Australia by Hobart company Living Wines. 

Alternatively, you may be in the camp that considers natural wines to taste "faulty”.

It is a debate destined to last a long time.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah I know that all the natural wines are quite different in taste. Some are oxidized or strongly bitter in taste. For the first time I tasted natural wine at one of the most popular Las Vegas restaurants and its taste was extremely different from the regular ones. It was a nice experience.