'Natural wine' is a buzzword that is becoming increasingly popular in the wine industry among producers and consumers. While it may seem relatively trendy and new, the practice of making natural wine is based on methods of centuries ago. Since it is a topic on everyone's lips, here is everything you need to know about natural wine and conventional wine, making you a natural wine expert.
The Basics of Conventional Wine
In order to fully understand the concept of natural wine, it is important to discuss conventional wine.
Firstly, the process of making conventional wine starts in the vineyards, where the grapes are grown, harvested, and transported to the cellar. There, the grapes undergo pressing, fermentation, and possibly aging in oak tanks, steel tanks, or bottles. This is the simplified version of the process that can vary depending on the wine style and grape varieties.
With most conventional wine, there are a number of additives, preservatives, pesticides, and herbicides that can be used throughout the process to ensure the wine turns out exactly as the winemaker intended. So in the vineyard, pesticides, and herbicides ward off any disease or pests that could impact the grapes.
In the cellar, sulfites are used to keep the grapes protected from oxygen and are added at different points of the winemaking process. Oftentimes, commercial yeast is used to initiate the fermentation process, which can easily be controlled and monitored. And in addition, there are roughly about sixty other additives that can be added to rectify the color, acidity level, sweetness, etc.
At the end of the process, most winemakers also filter and fine their wines to make them more appealing. Oftentimes, this includes the addition of egg whites or fish bladder, which helps reduce the wine's natural murkiness and makes it clear and bright.
The addition of these additives, preservatives, sulfites, yeast, and colorants was systematically introduced into the winemaking industry and weren't necessarily all used during the first few centuries of winemaking. However, these additives help standardize the wine and move in a direction that fits the consumers.
Natural wine, on the other hand, focuses on making wine that sways away from all the additives and preservatives. If wine is actually just fermented grape juice, natural wine aims to focus on merely making fermented grape juice without all the other additions.
How to Become the Expert
Now knowing how conventional wine is made and how natural wine aims to avoid conventionality, here is how natural wine is made, making it different from what we find on the shelves today.
The Color: Whether it is white wine or red wine, natural wine is almost always murky. It is a hazy, milky color and almost impossible to see through. The reason, of course, is that the wine doesn't undergo any fining. So the natural color is left as-is, highlighting the wine's natural state. Often time, this also means there is a lot of sediment in the wine since there is minimal 'cleaning' of the wine.
The Smell and Taste: A lot of consumers avoid natural wine since of the 'funky' or 'smelly,' and it rarely smells like conventional wine. With most conventional wines, the winemakers are able to balance out the smell and taste so that it is more appealing. However, with natural wine, the grapes are left to smell and taste exactly as they naturally do. Oftentimes this smell is similar to kombucha, apple cider, or yeast.
The Winemaking Process: The fact that the color, smell, and taste are different has to do with everything the wine goes through (or doesn't go through). For instance, most vineyards will not be sprayed with any synthetic sprays to ward off pests. During the winemaking process, minimal sulfites will be used to preserve the wine. During fermentation, the grapes are left to ferment naturally using the yeast found on their skins.
Understanding the difference between conventional wine and natural wine is a sure way to make you a natural wine expert. Knowing what the signs are of natural wine and knowing what the process entails means that finding, trying, and talking about natural wine should be a breeze.
- Conventional wine contains several additives and preservatives to ensure the product is exactly as the winemaker intended, whereas natural wine avoids most additives.
- Natural wine is essentially just fermented grape juice, with little addition or removal of anything else.
- In order to be a natural wine expert, it's important to know what to look for, including the color, taste, smell, and winemaking process.