Natural wine is a hot topic in the wine world. Maybe you have not heard of it. There is some range of what is a “Natural” wine. It could fall into the organic, or biodynamic, or sustainable categories for some people. During this seminar at Cornucopia, we had DJ Kearney, wine educator, writing and judge, give her perspective on Natural wines, as well as to give us a chance to try some Natural wines from BC as well as from around the world. According to DJ at it’s simplest, a Natural wine is one that “has nothing added to it“. It may also be fermented and farmed naturally as well.
Adding commercial yeasts for example would not qualify a wine to be “natural”. Wild ferment, with indigenous yeasts, are how these wines are produced. Natural wine makers we are told also like to use inert vessels like old oak barrels or ceramic containers or amphora to ferment their wines. Stainless steel tanks do not qualify for natural wine making. Upon bottling, natural wines are typically not filtered, but they are allowed to filter, using egg whites and bentonite, and other select materials.
The discussion of sulfites is always controversial as it does naturally occur. Wine makers do add tiny amounts to clean and disinfect wine bottles before filling them with wine. Surprisingly we found out that sweet white wines need the most sulfites added to protect them from going bad as they have the least natural preservatives. Red wines have tannins, which is a natural preservative, so need less sulfites. Many natural wine makers do add sulfites, but use as little as possible. Various organic or biodynamic certification bodies regulate the amount of sulfur allowed to be added to these “natural” wines. For example, for the EU, red wines with <5 g of residual sugar / litre are allowed to have 120 mg/l of sulfur, while Demeter International allows 110 mg/l. For white and rose wines with <5 g of residual sugar/l, EU rules allows for 170 mg/l of sulfur, while Demeter International allows 140 mg/l. For sweet white wines, without botrytis, the EU rules allows 270 mg/l of sulfur, and Demeter International allows 250 mg/l. (This information comes from the great book, “Biodynamic, Organic and Natural Winemaking” by Britt & Per Karlsson which I have reviewed in a previous article.)
There are wineries around the world producing natural wines, and as I mentioned some in BC as well. Below are a few of my favourite natural wines from this tasting.
My Favourite Natural Wines
Audrey et Chrstian Binner Riesling, 2012 Alsace, France – Deep pear skin colour. Lots of honey, dried stone fruits and nuttiness on the nose. Medium body with a buttery mouth feel. Medium acidic prickle on the tongue. Flavours of honey, ripe pears and other stone fruits, together with some spiciness on the tongue, minerality and nuttiness. This is an excellent wine that I enjoyed, and have great support from the other attendees of the seminar.
Laughing Stock Amphora Wine 2014, BC – Two Rhone grapes, Viognier and Roussanne, were used to produce this wine. They were fermented in terracotta clay Amphorae, and of course used wild fermentation. Sweet spices, flowers and lychee aromas in the glass. Dry, medium minus body, soft with lower acidity on the palate. Light intensity flavours of baby powder, stone fruit and sweet spice, followed with some light tannins and pepperiness on the finish.
Stag’s Hollow Kiln House Vineyard Viognier ~ Marsanne, 2013, BC – Another white Rhone blend! This one has a deep pear skin colour in the glass. The deeper colour that you get in natural white wines comes from the skin contact from the white grapes with the must. For conventional white wines, the grapes are pressed and the juice immediately separated from the skins. Nice nose, with aromas of lychee, honey and a hint of acacia (which to me has a bit of a spearmint aroma). Fuller bodied, dry with flavours of peaches and pears and another hint of acacia. Smooth and round, but has a medium level of tannins on the finish.
Haywire Free Form Pinot Noir 2014, BC – Violets, fino sherry, raspberries, red cherries, and some sweetness on the nose. Lighter bodied, off-dry with a light mouth feel. Flowers, and bright astringent flavours of red cherries, raspberries and plums on the palate, with sour cherries on the finish.
As you may note, 3 of my 4 favourite natural wines are from BC, with one from Alsace, France. The other European wines that we tasted, came in at 4/5 stars for me, with some of them being quite different in aromas and/or flavours. For example the Frank Cornelissen Munjebel 7 from Italy had an orange & port flavour with wine vinegar overtone for me, and the Angiolino Maule Masieri from Italy to me had dried beef jerky on the nose and palate, along with other more conventional aromas and flavours like honey and citrus.
You may not have tried natural wines before, and some can be quite surprising to your nose and tongue, but it is quite interesting to try these wines and find out how and where they were made. Enjoy!