Leaner and Greener: Why You Should Try Natural Wines

Embracing the BIODYNAMIC TREND in VITICULTURE is one way of coping with the new year, says MARY DOWEY

To get through January without scowling, coping mechanisms are required. The most effective I’ve discovered is to decamp to Australia – an indulgence with almost as much rarity value in our household as 1961 first growth Bordeaux. Otherwise I’m a firm believer in new year’s resolutions and taking a few positive steps (probably not 10,000) to sort out body and mind. Yes, they include consuming less alcohol – but drinking better wine.

It’s tempting to imagine that the small figures on wine labels indicating the ABV (alcohol by volume) don’t matter much. If you drink only the occasional glass, sipping slowly, maybe they don’t. But in Ireland most of us knock back all alcoholic drinks faster and more copiously than our European neighbours. This means it may not take long for the difference between a shapely red at 12.5 per cent ABV and a blockbuster at 14.5 – 16 per cent more alcoholic – to become palpable; perhaps unpleasantly so, depending on your tolerance. As mine is pathetic, I scrutinise those numbers.

Wine alcohol levels have been creeping up steadily for 20 years. Thanks to fashion and climate change, grapes ripen more fully now than in the past, giving consumers the luscious flavours they enjoy. In a head-spinning trade-off, higher grape sugar levels are converted during fermentation into higher alcohol. Increasingly efficient wine yeasts have also helped to push alcohol levels up.

But there are signs, thank heavens, that the ripeness fad is fading. I’ve tasted heaps of delicious wines at around 12 per cent ABV in the past year, particularly from small, fastidious producers who pick their grapes early to seal in freshness. And I feel so much better in their company that it will be a 2018 mission to seek out more.

As it happens, more and more quality-focused producers are working organically or biodynamically – another welcome trend. It stands to reason that grapes grown without artificial fertilisers, pesticides or herbicides are likely to result in wines that do us less damage than mass-market nasties generated with assistance from an arsenal of chemicals. They usually taste better too, with purer, more vibrant flavours.

Natural wines represent another step in a holistic direction. Although still too fuzzily defined and less consistent in quality than their most ardent fans admit, they reflect organic or biodynamic principles combined with minimal intervention in the cellar. Fermentations often start spontaneously with wild rather than cultured yeasts and the addition of sulphur dioxide (widely used in wine production as a preservative) is either outlawed or pared to the bone.

Specialist retailers, rather than supermarkets are where you’ll find these gems. You may pay slightly more – but drink a glass or two less and your wine economics will remain healthy.

Three to Try


Fuchs & Hase Pet Nat Vol 1, Langenlois 2016.
Austrian producers Arndorfer and Jurtschitsch teamed up to fashion this refreshing, super-trendy natural sparkler. Sustainable agriculture. Alcohol: 12%. From Clontarf Wines, Dublin 3; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6W; Hole in the Wall, Dublin 7; 64 Wine, Glasthule; Quintessential Wines, about €


Filippo Filippi Soave Castelcerino 2014/5.
You’ll find both delicacy and superb depth of flavour in this outstanding Soave with hints of orange peel and honey. Certified organic. Alcohol: 12%/13%. From Le Caveau, Kilkenny; Corkscrew, Dublin 2; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6W; about €



Elian Da Ros Le Vin Est Une Fête, Côtes du Marmandais 2015.
From an area near Bordeaux, this perfumed, graceful blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and local grape Abouriou has personality and charm. Organic/biodynamic approach but this wine includes some non-organic grapes. Alcohol: 12.5%. Terroirs, Dublin 4, €


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