Natural wine might be the latest trend at bars and bottle shops, but this ancient method of fermenting grapes actually originated well before conventional winemaking processes did. Addy Lam, head sommelier of BLACK Bar & Grill at The Star in Sydney explains five other things you need to know about natural wine.
1. Natural wine isn’t the same as organic or biodynamic wine
While there aren’t any strict guidelines for what makes a wine ‘natural’, Addy says that the generally agreed upon definition is that natural wines contain no additives, pesticides, little to no sulphites, and are produced with minimal chemical or mechanical intervention.
This means natural wines are often produced through organic or biodynamic farming practices, but the grapes are picked by hand and then fermented naturally with native yeast.
“Natural winemakers fall somewhere on a spectrum of ‘purist’, where nothing is added to the wine and nothing is removed, and ‘minimal intervention’, where they might add a small number of sulphites to prevent spoilage in the bottle,” Addy says.
2. There are lots of different types of natural wine
Natural wine can be red, white, rose, sparkling or orange – perhaps the most recognisable product to come from the movement.
Orange wine is made by fermenting white wine grapes with their skins on (like you would a red wine), which can produce an amber colour and a cider-like flavour. Pétillant-naturel, or pét-nat wine is an ancient way of making sparkling wine, where the wine is bottled before it is finished fermenting, creating a natural fizz.
But the experimental nature of natural wines means you will probably try blends that you have never tasted before, particularly from local wine makers.
“Australia has an advantage because we have a lot of very experienced wine makers and a lot of fruit they can play around with,” Addy says.
3. It doesn’t have to look cloudy or smell funky
Natural wines are often known for their cloudy appearance because they aren’t fined or filtered in the way conventional wines are to make them clear and sparkling. They can also taste slightly sour or downright funky because of the natural fermentation process.
Addy says that certain winemakers will play up to these characteristics because it makes the wine different or trendy, but the clarity and taste of a natural wine often depends on the skills of the winemaker.
“Cloudiness can just be lazy winemaking – it takes a lot of experience and effort to produce a clean natural wine.”
4. It goes great with food
“Natural wines are often light to medium weight and drinkable, making them a great table wine – especially if you’re sharing ” Addy says.
“If mixed correctly, there’s not a lot of food natural wine doesn’t work with but I think it goes particularly well with Italian, Greek and Middle Eastern cuisines and also South East Asian street food.”
“Orange wines are often quite strong and bold so they might not work well with fresh seafood dishes but it’s amazing with spicy and rich flavours.”
5. Yes, you can still get a hangover with natural wine
Some natural wine converts claim that the lack of sulphites will reduce your hangover the next day although Addy isn’t convinced.
“I would say any wine with fewer chemicals will be easier for your body to digest, but you still have to drink it in moderation and with plenty of water.”