No laws govern the term or process for “natural wine.” It’s more of a concept than a well-defined category. In theory, a natural wine sees little manipulation from the wine-maker. Instead, the process is simplified and pure and, if managed properly through time and temperature control, can be extremely rewarding, with interesting outcomes.
The natural wine movement appears to have been first introduced in France and Italy but has now spread to all corners of the globe. Odds are your members have tried some natural wines and might be looking to your list for at least a few options.
The question remains: Is natural wine good or bad? That is for your members to decide. However, you must be prepared to explain how many of us are more accustomed to drinking wine that has been processed modernly, which means we expect a clean, fruit-forward, unoxidized style.
Most natural wines do not have those characteristics; instead, they have gamey, wild flavors that are appealing and interesting to the right membership base.
To be clear, natural wine is different from organic and biodynamic wine. By definition, it is made with grapes typically grown by small-scale producers and hand-picked from a sustainable, organic or biodynamic vineyard, then fermented with no additional yeast, additives nor sulfites.
It’s important to ensure members understand the process before committing to the bottle. Explain that they’ll likely notice a yeasty, gamier funk to the wine—almost like a yeasty beer or kombucha. If the wine is “white,” it will look orange and cloudy. Remind them that these wines are made with minimal intervention, so there is no fining or filtering.
A couple of natural wine terms you’ll want to look for as you’re adding them to your lists:
- Orange/Amber Wine: a white natural wine that takes its color from skin contact
- Pétillant Natural (or Pet Nat): a natural wine with a small amount of spritz
- Col Fondo: a fizzy Prosecco that has not been disgorged
When shopping for natural wines, look for terms like: minimal intervention, raw wine, zero/zero, unfined wine, unfiltered wine, skin contact, fermented in clay amphora and made with native yeast.
Before blindly adding these to your list, find a wine bar that offers a few selections by the glass. This will allow you to taste and explore without breaking the budget. Look for younger wines and wines produced in your local area if possible. Natural wines are not meant for long aging and are more volatile due to the lack of SO2. Store natural wine the same as you store other wines, which are best laid down in a cool, dark room.
Regardless of the lack of regulations surrounding natural wine, it is an exciting new genre in the world of wine-making, and I encourage club beverage directors and sommeliers to pick up a few bottles to offer their membership.
I’ve had some good ones, some great ones, some interesting ones and some really bad ones. Don’t let the bad ones get in the way. Keep trying until you condition your palate to recognize the potential these wines have to offer your members.