What Is Natural Wine?


Naturally delicious, or natural disaster?

It seems that over the last few years the wine world has fallen further and further in love with “natural wine”. Sommeliers have been throwing it onto tasting flights, shippers have been plugging it everywhere, and winemakers can’t stop bragging about how “natural” their wine is. Which really leaves one question being asked…

“What is natural wine?”

Great question, and one a lot of people in the hospitality world are currently asking or being asked.

Legally? There’s no definition. No concept. No guidance. Literally nothing. Ed compares it to modern art, in which nobody really knows what it is but we’ll believe you if you tell us “This is modern art”. At which point we all nod in agreeance like the Churchill dog and pretend we knew that all along.

The general consensus is that no chemicals are used, in any step of production, no filtering or fining, and no sulphites. “Minimal Intervention” is often the term shouted around bars that are filled with scruffy tattooed hipsters, and whispered tentatively around wine tastings that are filled with grey-haired men wearing red cord trousers.

Here’s the thing though, and I’ll try and stop myself getting carried away with personal bias; The reason sulphur is used in winemaking is to stabilise the wine, to stop it changing in transit, refermenting, going all weird. We need to stop using “sulphur” like it’s a dirty word in terms of winemaking (Have you checked your carton of orange juice lately?). The natural wine movement claims that it shows the true expression of the grape and the terroir, I’m all for that, but it doesn’t have to be fizzy and smell like a farm.

I’m going to put this out there; I don’t dislike natural wines. There are natural wines on our list that I love, and I’ve had some great ones in loads of bars, Birmingham and beyond. Natural wine can be really bloody good, and it can be absolutely awful. Just as conventional wine can be the same.

However, what’s not good is when, as professionals, we give a pass to wine producers that have flawed, oxidised and volatile wine simply because they’ve thrown around the word “natural”. One of my Fathers favourite moments from last year’s wine trade fair was overhearing an assistant winemaker holding forth about the winery’s latest “minimal intervention” offering to be met with the response “I can’t help but feel that perhaps someone should have intervened.”

Instead of drinking something because it’s “natty wine”, drink it because it’s delicious. Chances are, it’s probably pretty natural anyway.

Ok. Rant over.

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