Natural wines: what they are and how to recognize them

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Louise Hay
@louisehay
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How difficult it is choose a "good" wine: satisfying on the palate and of a responsible nature in the whole process that goes from the selection of the grapes to the evaluation of the labels on the market.  


 

The proposals on the market respond to a growing demand for products that incorporate an extra attention to sustainability, but in the variegated wine scene that distinguishes wines from organic grapes, free wines e natural wineslosing orientation when it comes to choosing the bottle for a "big occasion" is always possible.  


 

Samuel Cogliati he is definitely a connoisseur and for this reason he does not renounce the subjective component in the evaluation and selection of what can be defined as "good" wines: he is the editor-editor of the el paesena version of the independent French quarterly LeRouge & LeBlanc, of which he is an associate member. Founder of Possibilia Editore, he is the author of various books, among which those dedicated to wine stand out (he has dedicated one to natural wine: Natural wines. What are they?). 

 

What are the characteristics of a natural wine?

Complex answer, let's try to schematize (and therefore trivialize). 


 

From a technical point of view, a so-called natural wine should be the product of aagriculture free from synthetic chemicals and with low doses of pesticides of natural origin (such as copper and sulfur), the result of a vinification without oenological additives (the EU legislation on wine authorizes several dozen), as well as dispensed with very invasive treatments (such as sterile microfiltration or concentration by reverse osmosis). 

 

On the organoleptic level, natural wines have a very wide range of taste-olfactory variants and it is impossible to schematize. 

 

Honestly, there is a bit of everything: “bizarre” wines, alienating ones and wines without particular originality. Let's say broadly natural wines give, or should they give, the sensation of a scarcely altered raw material, a bit like the difference between an agro-industrial food (often subject to long refining processes, such as for industrial tomato puree or even more a ready-made sauce) and a raw ingredient (such as fresh tomatoes from the garden). 


 

What differentiates a natural wine from an organic wine?

The difference between organic wine e natural wine it is relevant. According to EU legislation, organic wine is made with grapes from certified organic farming, therefore free from synthetic pesticides.

 

From the moment of harvest onwards, however, and therefore in the phase of transformation of the grapes into must and then into wine, the differences with other wines - that we can take the liberty of calling "conventional", a much contested term - they can be minimal, if not non-existent.


 

The so-called natural wine, on the other hand, it does not have an institutional certification, at least for now. At the most it can obtain certifications or self-certifications of individual realities such as associations or consortia, which give themselves their own discipline.

 

The margins of interpretation, and therefore of tolerance, between an extreme approach (zero chemical synthesis in the vineyard and in the cellar, also banning sulphites) and less radical visions are therefore considerable.

 

In summary, an organic wine is not necessarily what the experts define as "natural". On the contrary: to be considered such, a natural wine must necessarily also be organic, at least in the facts if not in the certification.

 

What regulations recognize and protect wine produced according to criteria that respect the sustainability of the entire production chain?

We are on slippery ground because, like naturalness, too la sustainability it is a debated concept. 

 

Let's say that in terms of "labels" and wine certifications, to date the most stringent and demanding ones could be the brands of biodynamic agriculture (the best known is Demeter, but it also exists Biodyvin, eg). 


 

Biodynamics is a complex and much discussed theory and practice - with as many supporters as it is detractors -, but beyond the specific technical aspects it assumes good starting agronomic conditions and therefore a healthy, vital and balanced environment, so much so that any biodynamic wine must first be organic


 

What are the characteristics that a "good" wine (or a wine that you would recommend) must not lack? Are all natural wines excellent wines?

Here we partly overcome the dichotomy between types. In my opinion a good wine must be organoleptically varied and unpredictable (not monochord and stylized), fine and digestible (that is, it can be drunk with pleasure, easily and does not leave too heavy marks the next day). 

 

It should also be able to be at least somewhat long-lived. No good wine "wastes" after a year and it is no coincidence that wine is one of the rare foods that it does not report expiration dates.

 

Let's make a further clarification: not all natural wines are good. Indeed, like some conventional ones, some natural wines can turn out to be bad. However, in my experience, practically all the greatest wines are natural.

 

Can the label help us avoid unpleasant surprises when choosing a good wine in general?

Hardly. Moreover, it depends on what we consider a bad surprise. For some it may correspond to a technically defective wine; for someone else to a wine without a soul. I am certainly part of the second case. 

 

The affirmation of Luigi Veronelli (gastronome and major promoter of the enhancement of the gastronomic culture of the village, ed) in which he said that the worst peasant wine is better than the best industrial wine. Those were other times and the wines were different. But the maxim is more than founded, at least culturally.


 

Therefore, taking this criterion as valid, we could try to deduce from the label if the producer is a small farmer or a large group; but even this does not guarantee anything. 

 

After all Most of the mandatory information on the label is in my opinion almost irrelevant in terms of quality, starting with those often considered "guarantees", namely the DOC or DOCG wording and the alcohol content.

 

Are there vines that are best suited to the production of natural wine?

I do not think so. In return there are areas more favored by geography, starting with the climate. Doing chemical-free viticulture in Sardinia is certainly much easier than in Burgundy.

 

Where to find really good natural and organic wines?

The small size of the companies that produce natural wines usually they do not allow them to enter the large-scale distribution circuit. Therefore, generally these wines can be found in some wine shops and in certain restaurants, online, in trade fairs and market exhibitions (they are more and more numerous) and, obviously, by the producers themselves.

 

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