Everyone seems to be talking about natural wine right now – the pros, the cons – it’s become something of a controversy. Although there’s no legal definition of natural wine, it’s generally considered to be made when grapes are simply pressed and fermented with natural yeasts then bottled with little or nothing else added.
Conventional winemaking, especially when done on an industrial scale, often deploys all manner of trickery to maximise yields, minimise spoilage and make amends for below-par grape juice. Pesticides, fungicides and fertilisers are sprayed on vines, while synthetic yeasts, powdered tannins, flavour enhancers and phosphates are just some of the 50+ additives permitted in the winemaking process. If wine labels had to list ingredients, you might be in for a shock.
Natural wine lovers contend that these wines are lifeless products of the agro-chemical industry, while natural wines are wholesome, living liquids made in harmony with nature. Others think ‘natural’ is just a term used to disguise faulty wines, something more akin to rough cider than fine wine.
I can see both sides of the argument. Some natural wines are clean as a whistle and indistinguishable from well-made conventional wines; others are wildly farmyardy and funky and could be best described as challenging. But while some may take you out of your comfort zone, natural wines deserve the attention of adventurous drinkers.
The best natural wines to buy
Where to buy natural wines: Supermarkets shy away from natural wines so you’ll have to seek them out from independent merchants or online here.
Clos de Gravillas Muscat de St Jean de Minervois 2014 (£13/50cl, highburyvintners.co.uk)
All the wines made by this husband-and-wife team in the Languedoc have a distinctive intensity and clarity. Sweet with pineapple and honey notes, this would be great with Spanish flan.
Marcel Lapierre ‘Raisins Gaulois’ Gamay 2015 (about £13, ewwines.co.uk)
Making wines this way for 35 years, the Lapierre family were early adopters of the natural wine ethos and are now shining stars of Beaujolais. Light and fresh with crunchy fruit, this wine is best slightly chilled.
Alfredo Maestro ‘Lovamor’ Albillo (about £16, vivino.com)
Made in the Ribera del Duero region of Spain, more commonly associated with red wine, this is made from the nearly extinct albillo grape and is wonderfully fragrant and textured. It would drink very well with cauliflower sformato.
Ca’ di Rajo ‘Lemoss’ Prosecco (£12.99, £9.99 during September, redsquirrelwine.com)
So much prosecco is made industrially and offers simple, affordable fizz with little else of interest about it. This is something very different – slightly cloudy with gentle bubbles, it reminds me of lemon curd on toast but is bone dry and incredibly refreshing.