What Is Natural Wine? What You Need To Know
The world of wine is as diverse as the grapes that make them, and within this vast spectrum, you will find the wonderful sub-world of natural wine. But you may be asking, what is natural wine? To keep it short, this type of drink is simply a wine with little intervention and additives. Its natural essence made it earn its popularity, and it has become a relevant drink in many places worldwide.
In Germany, especially, drinking wine is very important to their people. According to Statista, Germany stands in third place in wine consumption in Europe, where in 2022, it was a total of 19.4 million hectoliters. They are only behind Italy and France.
Natural wine has found vibrant popularity in the city of Berlin, where its consumption has grown exponentially. The reason may be as simple as natural wine becoming a trend because people want to consume natural products that help the environment.
In this article, we explore natural wine—unveiling its essence, distinguishing it from its counterparts, and exploring the intriguing connections it shares with concepts like raw wine. As we navigate through the vineyards of knowledge, we'll address common questions about natural wine, from its potential to go bad to the debate on its superiority.
Section 1: Understanding natural wine
At its core, natural wine is a traditional method of winemaking where additives, pesticides, and herbicides have little to no influence in the process. While there is not a specific definition, you could say, as a product, that it is a type of wine made out of unadulterated fermented grapes, with no sugar or acids added before or after the fermentation process.
There are some features that are included in every natural wine:
No use of herbicide or pesticide in the grapes.
The grapes were handpicked to ensure their best quality.
Only wild yeast is used for fermenting the wine.
Little to no use of sulfites
It's important to distinguish natural wine from both conventional and organic wines. Conventional wines often involve additives, preservatives, and technological manipulation that can alter the final product.
On the other hand, organic wines prioritize the cultivation of grapes without synthetic chemicals. Still, the winemaker can intervene in the process, by using additives to control the flavor and in the filtration process as well. Even though they can use said things, everything they use should be organic and certified.
Organic materials that could be used are:
Organic egg whites as an additive.
Organic grape seeds as additives.
Organic oak to influence certain aromas.
Organic rice for filtering.
Activated charcoal for filtering.
However, natural wine takes it a step further by embracing the holistic philosophy of minimal intervention, which translates into hard manual work for winemakers. Still, at the same time, it ensures the wine will remain as close to its purest possible flavor.
Section 2: What makes natural wine, natural
A diverse use of additives is involved in some winemaking processes for different reasons, the most common being sulfites, yeasts, sugar, fining and clarification materials, acid controllers, and many more. Even though some of them are natural materials, their use may be a relevant disqualifier for a wine not to be considered natural.
Still, you need to know that some of them, like yeasts and sulfites, are present in most natural wines. Yeast is indispensable in any winemaking process as it is what turns the grape juice into alcohol. Sulfites may be present in some natural wine bottles, but just the right amount in order to help with the preservation.
In the world of natural wine, native yeasts are decorated as the heroes of fermentation. These wild yeasts are naturally present in the vineyard environment and contribute to the wine's complex flavors and aromas.
The use of wild yeasts is a topic of debate between winemakers, as you are not able to predict the type of yeast that will be present in your vineyard. Some may prefer the use of cultivated yeast just to make sure the right amount of sugar ends up turning into alcohol and to be able to predict how the fermentation will take place.
But in order to make natural wine, the use of cultivated yeasts has to be discarded, and winemakers must study the type of yeast found in their place, how the fruit reacts to it, the aromas, flavors, and conditions it goes through the fermentation.
Technology has become part of the winemaking process lately, at least for conventional wines. Vineyards have adapted to modern times by having technology implemented in them. Where you can find temperature controllers in fermentation, grape collecting machines with cameras, sensors that can help with the selection of the best grapes, the use of drones and satellites, and more technology use cases in winemaking
To ensure that a bottle of natural wine is indeed natural, minimal use of additives, reliance on wild yeasts, and little to no use of technology must be evaluated, and the combination of these is what culminates in a wine that is an honest representation of its origin.
Section 3: Can natural wine go bad?
Sulfites, which are a topic of intrigue and debate, play a distinctive role in natural wine. Natural wines generally contain lower levels of sulfites compared to their conventional counterparts. This reduction aligns with the overall philosophy of minimal intervention.
The restricted use of sulfites makes it normal to ask the following question: Can natural wine go bad? While not a simple answer to give, it all lies in proper handling and storage. While natural wines can be vulnerable to spoiling if not cared for appropriately, a thorough understanding of the wine's characteristics and storage requirements can minimize the risks.
You may be asking which is the proper way to take care of a natural wine bottle at your house, well here are some quick tips you can take into consideration:
Maintain the bottle in a place with little light and, if possible, in a dark place, with a temperature range of 10o to 15o Celcius (50o - 59o Fahrenheit).
Avoid sunlight and any other heat source.
Avoid too much and too little humidity.
Horizontal placement is the best way to position your natural wine bottle.
If you take into consideration these tips and by informing yourself a bit about best practices, you can be sure that your wine bottle will be in the best possible condition.
Section 4: Raw wine and its connection to natural wine
Raw wine, a term often mixed with natural wine, brings to the forefront the concept of terroir—the unique expression of the land and its influence on the grapes. To keep it simple, raw wine is just another way of calling organic wine. Like natural wine, raw wine places immense value on minimal intervention, allowing the natural progression of grapes to take center stage.
But what makes them different, then? Even though they share some similarities, the big difference relies upon the use of additives and fining agents, which are forbidden in the natural wine process. Sulfites can be added in more significant quantities in organic wines compared to natural wines. Organic wines need to be certified by third parties in order to be called organic, while natural wines don’t need to be.
Now, let’s discuss why are these types of wine confused. The terms organic and natural are often used interchangeably, and people automatically assume that they are synonyms, but they are not. In farming, the difference between natural and organic is the intervention and use of materials for the products. While organic farming allows the use of organic materials to intervene in production, natural processes don’t let it.
Now in wine processes, we have the four elements of terroir: climate, soil, tradition, and terrain, becoming guiding forces in organic and natural winemaking, resulting in wines that are deeply connected to their origins. Even though they are different, their most considerable similarity is that both share a philosophy of reverence for nature and the belief that less is more in the world of winemaking.
Section 5: Is natural wine better than traditional wine?
The dispute surrounding the superiority of natural wine is a topic that divides opinions, as many may have different points of view. Natural wine supporters claim its authenticity, unique flavors, and the harmony it maintains with the land as their biggest arguments against other types of wine.
With their meticulous techniques, conventional wines offer a sense of reliability and consistency. The controlled process, the implementation of new technologies to assist, the additives, and harvested yeasts on fermentation give conventional wine supporters a sense of quality and assurance.
Even though everyone can have their favorite types, brands, and flavors, there is no correct answer to whether natural wine is superior or conventional wine is better. The wine world is a variety of tastes, smells, food combinations, and processes, and most of the time, what resonates with one palate may not work for another.
Ultimately, it all narrows down to personal preference because the beauty of wine lies in its diversity, and each glass is an invitation to explore a world of flavors, aromas, and experiences.
As the sun sets on vineyards across the globe, the story of natural wine continues to unfold. It is a story of authenticity, hard work, and a deep connection to the earth. The surge in its popularity reflects a collective asking for transparency, sustainability, and a genuine taste of nature.
Remember that the key to having a great natural wine is having a process that allows the fruit to be harvested and fermented in the most natural way possible, leaving all the process to happen on its own.
If you want to become a natural wine consumer, remember that you must follow some best practices when it comes to storing the bottle for it to last longer. This way you won’t worry about it going bad.
Whether you enjoy natural wines, organic wines, conventional wines, or all of them, remember that being open-minded to every flavor, smell, consistency, method, and food combination is the best way to explore your taste, don’t judge any type of wine, just enjoy them!
At Caravaggi Naturwein Bistro, you can explore the best ways to taste natural wine. Whether you just want to try a bottle or combine it with the best Italian cuisine in Berlin, we will be excited to help you embark on your natural wine journey.