Read on to find out about natural wines and which bottles to buy, then check out 10 of the best UK natural wine bars and restaurants and our pick of the best supermarket rosé, natural and orange wines to buy.
What is natural wine?
Sales of organic wine have soared and we are increasingly looking for other indicators to tick our ethically minded boxes. ‘Natural’ wine is one of these. Originally championed by a wave of hipster wine bars in Paris, Berlin and London, natural wines are now on the lips of a wider drinking public everywhere. However, they are the subject of vehement debate between ardent fans who love their cloudy, slightly cidery extremes and those, generally older and/or classically trained winos, who rant about ‘faulty’ wine-making then bang their fists on the table and shout “all natural wine is bad”.
What is natural wine? Frustratingly, and confusingly, there is no legal definition, but it is generally accepted to be made with minimal intervention in the vineyard and the winery. This means that grapes are grown organically and/or bio-dynamically (where the vineyard is treated as a complete ecosystem and governed by certain ecological, ethical and spiritual principles), and fermented with yeasts occurring naturally in the air in the winery. The wine is made with no additives – up to 70 additional ingredients are permitted in traditional wine-making (including some organic wines) which, allergens aside, don’t have to be disclosed on the label. These include sweeteners, acidifiers, stabilisers and other things to make the wine more palatable, as well fining agents to remove particles in the wine that make it murky, and sulphur dioxide to keep it fresh.
Natural wines particularly appeal to a millennial demographic, a generation turned off by what they see as the stuffy world of ‘serious’ wine, and are often made by their contemporaries who have thrown away the rule book of conventional wine-making. In fact, natural wine is nothing new: it is the way wine was made for thousands of years before progress bought the techniques we now term conventional.
That’s not to say that natural wines are more healthy – the alcohol in all wine is potentially more damaging to health than the minimal residues of substances used in wine-making that have all been screened for safety. The extremes of natural wine-making may be an acquired taste, but many natural wines are immaculately clean tasting and would pass muster with even the stuffiest of the natural wine deniers. These artisanal wines are labour-intensive to make, so tend to cost more than their massproduced cousins – one drinker’s fun and funky may be another’s fatally faulty, so seek out specialist suppliers such as Les Caves de Pyrene, or ask for guidance from wine retailers (virtually, if needed, via social media), and experiment to see where you sit on the natural wine spectrum.
The best natural wines to buy…
Organic grapes are fermented with native yeasts by this exciting winery in Romania. Concentrated peachy fruit and caramelised oranges with toasted almonds and some appetising spice.
Made from organic gamay grapes, this does what it says on the tin. Bottled unfined with no added sulphur and fermented with natural yeasts, this is bright and cheerful and best served slightly chilled with a plate of charcuterie alongside.
Trebbiano, often used as a workhorse grape and often a bit dull, comes alive in this biodynamic wine. Salted nuts and juicy lemons along with mountain herbs and an appetising, savoury depth.
Classic Bordeaux blend made in a modern style by this maker that’s been certified biodynamic since 2000. Fermented in concrete vats, it’s very pure and fresh with subtle layers of floral aromatics, summer pudding fruit and softly astringent herbs.
Wonderfully energetic chenin blanc given crunch and savoury depth by leaving the grapes on the skins after they’re pressed to extract extra flavour and texture.