When I lived in Europe I was introduced to natural wine and this changed my palate forever. Although it is a little harder to come by when I am in Canada, the situation seems to be changing. The LCBO magazine Food and Drink published an article in its winter 2018 edition about the top trends in wine, and natural wine was # 2. It also now carries a few organic wines. But does organic necessarily entail natural? What, is the difference and does it matter?
Although there is no board that will certify a wine as ‘natural’, unlike organic or biodynamic wines, I understand natural wine to be altered as little as possible throughout its making process. This means the vines are not sprayed with pesticides, the grapes are harvested by hand, often in a biodynamic manner, no artificial yeasts are added, it may be unfiltered and, most of all, little to no sulfites are added. In short, all the additives found in conventional wines are removed so that instead, the ‘natural’ microbiological process of wine making takes place.
This is why most natural wines are also organic and biodynamic, but the reverse may not be true. Unlike natural wine, conventional wine makers add chemical agents, such as sulfur dioxide, to create a uniform product from year to year. These additives are the reason why after drinking a couple of glasses I might get a headache the next day. And most of all, they alter the taste of wine—drastically!
The first time my husband and I brought home a bottle of natural wine I wondered why it was so fizzy, and why some even taste a little ‘funky’. But with trial and error I learned that to appreciate a natural wine it has to decant for at least an hour—minimum. Countless times I have opened a bottle, tried a few sips, thought it was a bad choice, only to try it a few hours later and discover an amazing new wine. And what a difference in taste! Natural wine really tastes like fruit, and it is not tainted by the vinegary, acerbic taste sulfites bring.
Although natural wine only accounts for 1% of total wine production worldwide, there is a whole array of natural wines that vary in quality, taste, and prices. The bottom line is that the quality of wine does not have to be lesser when drinking natural wine.