Isn't All Wine Natural?

Isn't All Wine Natural?

Natural wine has sparked many debates within the wine world. From a consumer standpoint, it is simply confusing! Isn’t all wine natural? What is the difference between natural, organic and biodynamic wines? First of all, let’s start with what each of these means.

Starting off with natural wine. It's difficult to pinpoint what qualifies as a natural wine because the rules, well, don't exist. Because natural wine lacks a regulated definition, there's been a confusing narrative about what it is and if it is any good. In general terms, it means a minimalist approach to winemaking that evokes the purest expression of the grape, the land/terroir, and the vintage. In this way, natural wine is more of a winemaking ethos than a specific product, using organic farming in the vineyard and resisting the temptation to use selected yeast, additives, chemicals, and, for some people, even elementary winemaking techniques like temperature control in the winery. Organic wine on the other hand is well defined. While different countries have some differing definitions, it is wine that is typically produced using organically farmed grapes. In America organic wines must be made using organic grapes without any added sulfur to receive a USDA organic seal. Whereas in Europe, wines are permitted to be labelled organic if they are made using organic grapes, with a regulated amount of sulfur permitted. Finally, biodynamic wines, are produced using organic grapes which are also grown in vineyards that use biodynamic principles, such as following the lunar calendar and creating special compost for maintaining soil and farm sustainability.  

So natural wine is better, right? Not so fast! First, let’s dispense with the mass produced and unregulated wines. Wines you will not find on our shelves. If you are drinking a well-made wine from a reputable appellation and winemaker this means that there has been no addition of color, flavor, acid, sugar, or alcohol. However, that leaves two issues around natural wines. One is the addition of sulfur which we’ve discussed at length in our pervious blog “The common myth of sulfites in wine”. Many winemakers produce their wines naturally, organically and biodynamically, though believe in the addition of sulfur for means of preservation. As much as we sometimes love wines with no added sulfur, we tend to agree that at least some use of it helps protect the wine. Some natural winemakers disagree, arguing that the addition of anything, even sulfur, tampers with the natural winemaking process, therefore rendering the wine no longer “natural.”

Second, and on a larger scale, the biggest problem within the natural wine community is that many have embraced flawed wine being conceived as drinkable and of high quality, simply because it was naturally produced, with no intervention by the winemaker i.e., pick organically and biodynamically grapes - let them ferment with minimal stirring and no temperature control until the natural yeast die - do not filter or fine and simply bottle the resulting juice. However, if not carefully supervised during vinification, many natural wines will encounter serious flaws, including refermenting in the bottle, heavy brettanomyces, mousiness, and excess oxidation. Many of these flaws translate into undesirable flavors but also a lot of inconsistency from one bottle to another. This can be excused by consumers or wine professionals, simply because wines were produced “naturally”.

We at Dara Wine are actually grateful to the advances in science that have enabled winemakers to understand fermentation how a winemaker can guide it to produce the best expression of the vines. We take the time to meet our growers and winemakers, and have curated our selection carefully.  We shy away from corporate wines made in factories. Most, if not all of the growers we support would likely fall under the organic, biodynamic or natural wine umbrella. However, our selection is based on the quality within the bottle, while still maintaining a preference for sustainably produced wines. As our very own winemaker says, great wine is produced via great work in the vineyard. We believe in drinking beautifully made wines, while also leaving the Earth healthy for generations to come!

Here are a few wines from each of these categories for you to sample:

Marqués de Cáceres Ecológico 2021 This is a wonderful environmentally friendly wine made from organically farmed vines. This Tempranillo is bright ruby red in color, with a floral bouquet with notes of lively red berry fruits. Fresh and luscious fruit flavors on the palate.

Trediberri Barolo del Comune di La Morra 2018 They follow a low-impact, organic approach to viticulture and a traditional approach in the winery; with extended macerations and ageing in large oak. The wines of Trediberri are expressive, generous and a genuine representation of their spectacular terroir.  Sweet red cherry, orange peel, cinnamon, tobacco and dried leaves are all very nicely lifted in this ethereal, nuanced Barolo.

Chateau Pech-Latt Le Maquis Des Corbes 2017 A journey to Château Pech-Latt in the Languedoc-Roussillon in the south of France is a journey to the end of the earth, where hope lives in the land. Here, nature has always been in control. A preserved and luxuriant Eden, its vineyards are a true representation of what pure terroir can provide. Château Pech-Latt was incorporating organic practices long before the term and has been a defender of biodiversity for years. An intense bright red color that immediately announces a nose of character: spices, violet, pepper and camphor. Of great finesse, the mouth repeats this spiciness, softened by red fruits.