What Do You Know About Natural Wine?

Super-cool … but confusing? NATURAL” wines are trending. MARY DOWEY tells us why …

If the plans I’ve heard discussed at recent tastings materialise, Dublin will soon have a rake of restaurants and bars selling only natural wines. Not enough to rival Paris, London and New York where this trend is well entrenched but a bold advance all the same.

The term “natural wine’” sounds comfortingly wholesome. In fact it’s infuriatingly fuzzy, having neither a clear definition nor any regulations to govern its use. Essentially it applies to a wine based on organically or biodynamically grown grapes, made with minimal intervention. “Nothing added, nothing removed” is the mantra. The aim? To create healthy, vibrant, characterful wines. In skilful hands, the natural approach can work like a dream. Attempted by one less masterly it can result in nasty aromas, off-flavours and gum-drying austerity. Zealots sometimes either fail to notice these flaws or forgive them, so trust your own judgment.

Natural fundamentals:

Organic Grapes grown without synthetic fertilisers, herbicides or pesticides; sulphite levels significantly lower than in non-organic. As not all organic claims measure up, certification is important. Check back labels for logos such as the EU organic leaf-with-stars symbol, Ecocert or AB (Agriculture Biologique).

Biodynamic Organic plus plus. An approach pioneered by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, following the lunar calendar for vineyard and cellar practices, and using specific soil supplements and homeopathic remedies. May sound weird but it seems to work. Demeter and Biodyvin are key certification organisations.

Foot treading Crushing grapes by foot is all the rage again. Gentler than any machine (so the pips don’t burst and leach out bitter flavours).

Wild yeasts The yeasts naturally present on grape skins and in the air are more difficult to control in fermentation than commercial wine yeasts, but they generate more distinctive flavours.

Zero sulphur Widely used for sterilisation and stabilisation, sulphur dioxide is under scrutiny. Risky. Some purists now use none.

Skin contact / orange wine Leaving the juice in contact with the skins for a period is standard in red wine production. Natural fans favour it for white wines too, for extra grip and flavour. They can end up amber or orange in colour, sometimes with cider-like aromas.

Pet nat Trendy term for a naturally sparkling wine (pétillant naturel). The ancient method used pre-dates that of champagne; bottling takes place before the end of fermentation, while the wine is still fizzing and cloudy.

Unfined, unfiltered Fining and filtration for stabilisation and clarification are anathema to natural winemakers. The first involves adding a fining agent (like egg whites or bentonite); the second removing small particles (and maybe some flavour).

Amphorae or qvevri Back in fashion are the big clay pots used to ferment and store wine from earliest times. They allow wines to breathe and evolve without picking up oak flavours from barrels.

Three wines to try

Celler del Roure Cullerot, Do Valencia 2016.

Unusual grapes led by Verdil, wild yeasts and ageing in amphorae make for a super-fresh, offbeat organic Spanish white with creamy depth. Alcohol: 13.5%. From Clontarf Wines, Dublin 3; Green Man, Dublin 6W; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock; 64 Wine, Glasthule, about €17.50.

Mas des Agrunelles Barbaste, Pays D’Oc 2016.

Make a fish pie or grill chicken to suit this full-bodied, low-sulphur, skin-contact white from a biodynamic estate near Montpellier. Terrifically flavoursome Chardonnay/Rousanne/Marsanne with a bone-dry finish. Alchohl: 13%. www.quintessentialwines.ie, €20.

Judith Beck Ink, Burgenland 2016.

New to Ireland, this Austrian is the perfect summer red – smooth, juicy and lipsmacking with a hint of grip. From biodynamic producer Judith Beck, it’s 80% Zweigelt, 20% St Laurent, fermented with wild yeasts. From Bradleys, Cork; www.lecaveau.ie, €16.95.


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