What's the deal with Natural Wine?
Updated: Mar 26, 2019
With the new year comes resolutions right? Or at least intentions! Usually centered around a healthier lifestyle – mostly food and exercise. But perhaps drinking “cleaner” might also be on your radar.
Clean has definitely become a buzz word in the wine world over the past year alongside natural, raw, etc. But what exactly does “clean” wine imply and better yet how can you find it?
When we use the term “clean” in regards to eating it has come to mean a diet that probably avoids processed foods and most likely seeks out organic, naturally created ingredients. In the world of wine, “clean” seems to be taking on a similar direction with a preference for natural farming methods but also “minimal intervention in the cellar. “
Well if you don’t work in the wine world you certainly might wonder what in the hell that last phrase means. Simply put, folks often say it means not altering wine’s natural state too much. More specifically it has come to mean using lower amounts of sulfur dioxide.
I know sulfur dioxide sounds scary, but in reality it is simply a preservative used in many foods (like fruit juices and dried fruits.) It also protects wine from various microbiological problems. It also sounds a lot like sulfites – which are related but not exactly the same thing. Sulfites are actually a bi-product of fermentation so all wine has sulfites to some degree.
Could certain folks be more sensitive to sulfur dioxide than others – certainly! Hence, the interest in natural/raw/clean wine and claims like: “This wine won’t give you a headache!”
While I personally believe that if you drink enough of any alcoholic beverage you will probably have a headache, I do feel like I never get that “half glass headache” from natural wines.
Okay so enough nerdy stuff – how do you find such wines? Well some mail order companies are certainly jumping on the natural wine bandwagon and offering subscriptions. But the reality is most small wine shops probably have at least a few wines that are lower in sulfur dioxide additions and hopefully a lot of wines that are farmed sustainably. So, no need to ship these wines in – just go talk to your friendly wine merchant! You can also be on the lookout for certain importers that specialize in natural wines. On the back label of the bottle look for names like Louis Dressner, Selection Massale, Jenny & Francois, and Brazos (to name a few!) Also, check out one of my favorite wine regions — Beaujolais, specifically Cru Beaujolais — tons of natural wines there!
P.S. There are no labeling regulations just yet for natural wines, but you will see many wines labeled with various eco-friendly certifications like Demeter (for biodynamically farmed.) When a wine is labeled “certified organic” in the United States it does mean that there is just about zero added sulfur dioxide.