Ongoing fad or enduring future?
If asked to identify the biggest change in the global wine industry over the last decade, I likely would choose the “natural wine” movement. Established and emerging winemakers and wine merchants in the Americas, Europe, and Oceania all have dedicated resources to creating, promoting, and selling natural wines.
What exactly are natural wines? Although the term is unregulated and therefore varies in definition, natural wines typically are made using organically grown grapes that were cultivated without the use of pesticides and herbicides. The wines also rely on native yeasts, as opposed to yeasts produced in a lab, for fermentation. Natural wines do not employ the addition of sugars or acids during the winemaking process. And while most natural winemakers abstain from any use of sulfites, which help preserve the taste of the wine once bottled, some may add some sulfites to their natural wine (usually far less than in conventional wines) during the bottling process.
The start of the modern natural wine movement reportedly dates back to the 1960s, when a small group of French winemakers rebelled against the popular use of pesticides after World War II. Oenophiles are quick to note, however, that natural winemaking (in the form of fermenting grape juice without additives) has been around for thousands of years. One could argue that natural winemaking is actually the more traditional process and what we consider to be conventional winemaking is more modern.
Regardless of which winemaking method is considered to be more modern, natural wines clearly have entered “woke” culture. These wines are prominently labeled and featured on menus and wine listings of leading restaurants around the world and are known to display some truly creative artwork on their labels. Natural wines also tend to have an appearance and taste that distinguish them from more conventional wines.
As natural wines typically are not filtered in the same manner as conventional wines, they often appear cloudy in the bottle and may contain sediment at the bottom. Natural wine also ferments more slowly, which releases carbon dioxide and makes the wine fizzier and bubblier. The longer fermentation process also allows greater exposure between oxygen and the wine, which contributes to many (but not all) natural wines having a “funkier” and slightly more sour taste. For these reasons, some winemakers and wine merchants recommend decanting certain natural wines before drinking.
As natural wines do not contain added sugars during fermentation, which raises the level of alcohol in the wine, natural wines usually contain a lower alcohol content. That allows for increased enjoyment (read: greater consumption) without the higher risk of a hangover. In this category of fashionable, low-alcohol, natural wines fall into “glou-glou” (French for “glug-glug”), which has developed a reputation for being an easy-to-drink, chuggable wine that does not lack sophistication or balance and pairs well with food.
Finally, because natural wines rely on grapes that are grown without the use of pesticides, herbicides, or other chemicals, they are better for the environment. So open a bottle and enjoy that natural wine knowing that what is good for you is also good for Mother Nature. Win-win, or better yet, Cin-cin!
Danilo Diazgranados is an investor, collector, and lover of fine wines and a member of the prestigious Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, a fraternity of Burgundy wine enthusiasts.