Sometimes I get to meditate about the world around us. Sometimes I even meditate on things that have nothing to do with wine, matters of great and extreme gravity, with conclusions that never cease to amaze me. However, we are talking about wine here, and my stream of consciousness today is about it. It is about natural wines, which is one of the objects of passion of this website that unites us.
Not long ago I overheard a conversation in which a person asked his companions for natural wines recommendation. He wanted to enter a new world different from the one he was used to. There is still a lot of trouble in the market about natural and organic wines. There is some confusion when a wine bears an organic farming stamp and the wine is thought to be natural. Something to which some natural wine makers who also carry the organic farming certificate can contribute.
First of all, we have to keep two things in mind. There is no such thing as an organic wine but a wine made from grapes coming from organic farming. And two, a natural wine is one to which no chemical products are added during its production, neither enzymes nor oenological products nor anything. Let’s say that to be natural, a wine must first be organic, that is, a natural wine is the next step on the evolutionary scale of an organic wine.
In a natural wine only sulfites are used in minimal quantities to protect it. And not always is this case, of course. France has approved a regulation that accepts up to 30 milligrams of sulfites per liter to identify a wine as natural. In Spain there is no such regulation (that I’m aware of), but 20 mlg/l is usually taken as a reference, an amount that is also considered in other countries. Various associations of producers, such as Triple A, consider that sulfites should not be added anyway, and wine should take only those generated during the fermentation process.
For this reason we can find labels that say that a wine “Contains sulfites” when they have been added above a certain amount, which if I am not mistaken, in Spain is over 10 mlg/l. The label may show “Contains no added sulfites” when nothing has been added and the amount of sulfites generated during fermentation is below the aforementioned limit. We should also talk about free and total sulfur, which are data obtained in an analysis of a wine sample, but that’s a discussion for another day.
After this small talk, and coming back to the subject of this article, what usually happens when someone asks us to recommend them a natural wine? In that conversation that I witnessed, the recommendations for wines that I consider freakish, extreme or radical began immediately. They are wines that in many cases are cloudy or dirty and sometimes with bad smells and worse flavors. Wines that often are reviled by connoisseurs because they show winemaking defects. This means that a natural wine is seen on many occasions as a poorly made wine. This bothers me a lot, because I have friends who know a lot about wines and who nevertheless attack natural wines for this reason. It bothers me because the great work of many people producing excellent examples of natural wines is often put in the same park as the poor and defected work a small bunch of producers do.
Lately I’m drinking more natural wines, wines with little intervention and from people that I choose with great care. I have arrived to this point because nowadays I look for wines produced by producers, not big companies, wines that when I drink them I know who made them and, in many cases, how they made them, because they are people I know. It is quite rare that when I drink a wine I do not know its winemaker. I don’t think that by this way of drinking wine I am limiting myself to a small part of the market. On the contrary, there are more and more wineries working like this. And that’s what I like. This does not mean I reject a wine coming from a winery producing bottles by the millions. Sometimes I do, but generally it doesn’t make me enjoy like the other wines.
I believe that a neophyte must be helped to access natural wine world in a, uhmm, easy way. If I may use the fighting bull metaphor, when someone would like to know how it is to be in front of a bull, we don’t throw them in front of a Miura, but in front of a heifer, do we? No need to risk that they doesn’t want to ever try again neither bulls nor natural wines.
There is a certain tendency among natural wine lovers, including myself, to choose the most freaky, extreme or radical wines, among which in most cases I don’t include myself. There are, I think, a lot of winemakers who hide behind the “natural wine label” to offer cloudy, dirty wines, with bad smells and worse flavors. Sometimes, the excuse of making natural wine serves to hide winemaking errors or lack of cleanliness in the cellar, among other reasons. Once in a bar they served me a wine that exaggeratedly smelled of small onions. In the palate it was not bad (yes, I did try it), but the smell was terrible. I mentioned it at the bar and they told me it was because the wine was natural. No sir!! This wine smells like onions because it is poorly made. No excuses accepted. A well-made natural wine will never smell like onions!
There are many people who dive headlong into these extreme wines appreciating that freakiness. It is true that many of these fans of radical wines have already tasted a lot of natural wines, but that is not why I believe that those wines should be recommended to a person who shows interest in immersing themselves in this alternative world. In some orange wines tasting I have done I have seen the transformation of faces when trying something extreme and realizing that that person was lost to the cause, no matter what wine was presented next.
With all this I want to say that nowadays, and fortunately, there are many producers who are doing real wonders working in natural without their wines having that aspect mentioned above. A natural wine does not have to taste strange or look bad. You just have to search a little bit to find those people I am talking about and their fantastic creations. And those are, in my opinion, the natural wines that we have to recommend. The others will come, but you have to enter little by little, laying the foundations for natural wines.
Sometimes I’m the first to choose and enjoy a bottle that I have to stir before drinking so that all the little things floating inside are spread equally. I also think that eventually this style makes the wines to be enjoyed in rare occasions, sometimes quite separate in time. Returning to those well-made, clean natural wines with rich aromas and rich flavors, without defects is a wine lover’s pleasure. The list of producers of these wines grows every day. And the pleasure of enjoying them also grows day by day.