Its hazy appearance and unfiltered sediments may mislead or off-put shoppers at first, but the natural wine movement continues to influence winemaking processes and reach new customers every year.
Whether you’re passionate about wine or consume it casually here and there, you may have heard about natural wines. The term has been floating around the wine world for decades. And while it is a growing sector with lots of interest from consumers, there is still a lot of confusion and questions surrounding it.
Learn more about natural wine and the unique characteristics that set it apart from traditional options with this guide.
What Is Natural Wine?
Natural wine does not have an official definition. It is not a category with specific standards, nor does the FDA have rules or regulations for how to label it.
So, what makes it a natural wine? Natural wine refers to a winemaking philosophy that involves minimal intervention. The approach can be summed up by the principle that nothing is added or taken away.
Winemakers produce natural wines with either organic or biodynamically grown grapes. The grapes ferment with wild yeasts, and makers purposefully add little to no additives or preservatives. Grapes are usually grown in small batches by independent producers and carefully handled to avoid chemicals and additives, such as:
- Commercial yeasts
- Yeast nutrients
Complex machinery is also not used in natural winemaking processes. The grapes for these wines are hand-picked without mechanical grape harvesting.
What Is the Difference Between Natural Wine and Regular Wine?
The primary difference between natural and regular wine is how the winemakers produce the wine. Conventional winemaking involves heavy intervention from the beginning to the end of the process.
Traditional winemakers use machine pickers to harvest grapes, while natural wine utilizes hand-picking. The grapes in regular wine are grown with pesticides and herbicides to protect and enhance their growth. In the United States, winemakers have different approved additives they are not required to share on a wine bottle’s label. These additives help control:
Natural wines shy away from additives, including preservatives that keep the wine fresh for longer once it’s bottled. The added sulfites that help preserve the freshness of regular wine often receive the blame for headaches and hangover symptoms for wine drinkers. During the fermentation process, makers use lab-grown yeast to boost the conversion of sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide, while natural wines only use wild or native yeast. And unlike natural wines, regular wines are filtered before bottling.
When Did Natural Wine Become Popular?
The use of chemicals in agriculture became popular after World War II. Vineyards started using pesticides and herbicides to protect their grapes. The natural wine movement began in rural France in the 1950s when a few local winemakers began returning to processes with little or no intervention.
The movement spread beyond France in the early 2000s when vintners and winemakers in these countries began implementing hands-off production:
Soon wine importers began setting their sights on natural options. Bars and restaurants started adding them to their menus. By the mid-2000s, distribution was still advancing, partially thanks to growing organic farming trends.
Vineyards and wineries all over the globe have continued innovating winemaking techniques and refining practices. The demand for natural wines is still present today as more environmentally conscious consumers look for cleaner, purer food and drink options.
Are Natural Wines Better for You?
It is a widely held belief that natural wines are a healthier option than traditional alternatives. But, what is the natural wine difference? Thanks to little intervention, the integrity and purity of the ingredients used in natural winemaking can offer more health benefits.
Natural winemaking does not filter before bottling. This helps maintain the gut-healthy bacteria and antioxidants in the wine that come about during fermentation. Regular winemaking filters sediment and bacteria, leaving behind little benefits for your gut.
You can typically enjoy less sugar and fewer carbs when you drink natural wines. It is also often noted that natural wines are better for reducing the symptoms of a hangover. And while hangovers are a result of how a person’s liver breaks down alcohol in the body, natural wines are more easily flushed out of the system, thanks to lower levels of acetaldehyde in the blood compared to that of people who drink regular wines.
Almost all wine contains sulfites. Traditional winemakers add more to the wine to preserve its flavor and freshness. Natural winemakers do not add any additional sulfites, which can have adverse effects on wine drinkers like headaches and even allergic reactions.
Plus, the natural winemaking process is better for the environment. With far fewer pesticides and limited use of machinery, organic farming practices are more sustainable. When vineyards use a regenerative agriculture approach, they waste less water and can maintain healthier soil.
What Is Natural Wine vs. Organic Wine?
Natural wine is sometimes confused with organic wine, but the two are not the same.
Natural wine refers to a minimal interference winemaking philosophy with no added chemicals and additives. Both organic wine and natural options use organically grown grapes, but the key difference is that organic wines are not chemical-free. Instead, winemakers can use organic chemicals and treatments in their agricultural efforts.
Grapes used in natural winemaking cannot have any chemicals, regardless of whether or not they are organic. If vintners and winemakers want to label a wine product as organic, they must meet certain standards set forth by the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program. Wines with organic certification cannot include the following in the winemaking process:
- Sulfur dioxide
- Chemical fertilizers
Natural wine does not have any official category requirements, and there is no certifying body responsible for labeling these products. Natural wine is always organic, but organic wine is not always natural.
Does Natural Wine Have an Official Certification?
While organic and biodynamic wines have certifications that they share on each label, natural wines do not. There is no governing body or set of standards that certify if a bottle of wine is natural.
Natural wines must use organically grown grapes and involve a hands-off winemaking process, but there is no certifying organization to affirm that winemakers meet these standards.
What Does Natural Wine Taste Like?
When it comes to taste, natural wines have unique qualities and notes. Natural options typically have some of the following taste characteristics:
- Funk: Natural wine generally has an acidity that offers a savory or funky flavor thanks to little to no filtration before bottling.
- Light: Many natural options are light-bodied with lower alcohol contents.
- Terroir: The taste of natural wine often reflects the location and growing conditions more so than regular wines.
How Do You Identify a Natural Wine?
Shopping for natural wine can be tricky. There are no official labels or categories to base your buying decision on, so you’ve got to learn how to identify natural wines in different ways.
To help make it simple for you, here are three tips for recognizing natural wines:
1. Familiarize Yourself With Natural Distributors and Importers
Wine consumers enjoy bottles imported from all over the world. It is law in the United States to note the importer on the back label of wine. Familiarizing yourself with wine distributors and importers can then help make the search for natural options much easier.
2. Google the Wine’s Producer
If you don’t know anything about the importer on a bottle of wine, a quick Google search of the producer can be helpful. There are databases and website directories dedicated to wine producers you can use to figure out if a brand uses natural winemaking processes.
3. Do a Local Search
A local online search can make it especially easy to identify natural wines available near you. A few different methods could help you find your next bottle. First, you can look up local wine distributors near you and find both retailers and restaurants with natural options. You could also download a handy app like Raisin that allows users to find natural wine and food options in their area.
A local search can streamline your efforts to find natural wines in your area, but it may not help you identify a bottle if you are shopping or dining in person.
Examples of Natural Wines
Natural wines are available in a wide range of varieties. The following are four of the most common types of wine and some of the natural wine brands that fit into each category:
Natural Red Wine
Winemakers use black grapes that are fermented with grape skins to get those deep burgundy colors for red wines. Red wine is typically higher in tannins, causing it to make your mouth feel dry as you sip. The flavors of red wine can vary greatly from fruity to earthy. Pacific Redwood is a brand with organic and natural red wine options.
Natural White Wine
White wines use both white and black grapes without the grape skins for the winemaking process. Because the skins are left out, the grape juice is clear and light in color. This type of natural wine has very few tannins and is acidic, which results in crisp, tart flavors. If you’re looking for a bottle of natural white wine, Bonterra has excellent options.
There are also natural orange wines, a type of white wine created by fermenting the grape juice with skins and seeds to get the orange color. Anne Pichon produces natural orange wines that have dry, citrusy notes.
Natural Rosé Wine
Rosé is famous for its light pink color. To achieve this shade of blush, winemakers use the juice from black grapes fermented with the skins for a short amount of time. Natural rosé is low in tannins but sometimes dry. Its sweet, light flavor makes it a crowd favorite. Domaine Lafage produces natural rosé wines that are light and fruity.
Natural Pét-Nat Wine
Pétillant naturel, often shortened to pét-nat, refers to sparkling wines that get their fizziness by being bottled while actively undergoing the first round of fermentation. Other bubbly options use sugars and yeast in the fermentation process, which natural winemaking does not. This category can encompass nearly any variety of wines. For example, Johan Vineyards has a sparkling rosé wine.
How to Serve Natural Wine
When serving natural wines, you can follow the temperature rules of traditional wines. Many natural options can benefit from a little chill, but before serving, be sure to let your bottle warm up for about 30 minutes once you take it out of the refrigerator.
Natural wine is also not much different than traditional wine when it comes to food pairings. There are a few basic rules for matching up the right meal with the right wine, such as:
- Red wines pair best with red meats.
- White wines pair best with light meats like fish and chicken.
- Bitter wines pair best with fats.
- Acidity should be greater in the wine than the food.
- Wine should be sweeter than the food.
- The food and wine should have the same intensity.
In addition to these general rules, focusing on flavor combinations can help make food and natural wine pairing simple. The primary flavors include:
Congruent pairings mean the food and wine have shared flavors, and enjoying them together amplifies that taste. An example may include creamy pasta and white wine. Contrasting pairings strike a balance between different flavors that complement each other, such as salty potato chips and tart champagne.
How to Store Natural Wine
Consider the following tips for how to store natural wine:
- Find the proper temperature: The best temperature to store wine depends on its variety, but natural options can benefit from a good chill. It is beneficial to store natural wine at 58 degrees Fahrenheit or slightly above.
- Keep bottles in low humidity: Humidity is an important factor when storing wine. If it is too dry, corks can dry out. And if it is too humid, mold can form. Ideal wine storage has between 50% and 80% humidity.
- Store bottles horizontally: You should always store corked wine bottles horizontally to keep the cork moist. When the cork dries out and shrinks, it can compromise the wine inside the bottle.
- Use a wine fridge: Regular refrigerators are too cold for most wines. Using a wine fridge allows you to set the perfect temperature, so your bottles are ready for consumption whenever you are.
- Keep wine in the dark: Light can cause wines to age faster. UV rays from the sun can actually damage a wine’s flavors and ruin the bottle.
- Store away from vibrations: A surprising tip for storing wine is keeping bottles away from vibration sources like washing machines or stereo systems. Exposure to vibration can dull flavors over time, as the sediment in natural options will mix into the wine.
Can You Age Natural Wine?
There is a common myth that natural wines do not age well, but a bottle’s longevity depends on its variety and the techniques used in the winemaking process.
There are a few key reasons why most natural wines are best if consumed within a few years. Natural wines are often made in small batches to ensure quality and because of limited storage resources. Without added preservatives, some natural wine varieties are not intended for long-term storage. Despite this, some natural wine options can age well.
Where to Buy Natural Wine
There are a few places to buy natural wine these days, including:
- Online: Buying natural wine online is especially easy. In fact, we suggest looking online before doing any in-person shopping. You will be able to order new bottles on the web or perform a quick search to find local establishments that sell natural options.
- Restaurants and bars: Look for natural wines on the menus of local restaurants and bars. You can also call ahead and ask about their available options before visiting.
- Bottle shops: Wine retailers are likely to have some natural options on their shelves. Check inventories online or call ahead to see what natural wines are in stock.
- Organic grocery stores: Health food retailers and organic grocery shops that sell alcohol are likely to have natural wine in the store.
Questions to Ask When Shopping for Natural Wine
The next time you’re shopping for wine, it can be beneficial to know what questions to ask a wine professional to boost your chances of getting a bottle that you love. Use these questions to narrow down your choices:
- What pairs well with…? If you know what meal or snacks you’ll be having, asking a wine professional about food pairings can help you find a bottle that is complementary to what you’re eating.
- What wine should I choose if I like…? Don’t be afraid to share your favorite flavors and fruits when shopping for natural wine. These could help you find new bottles that you are almost guaranteed to enjoy.
- What natural wine do you recommend?: Asking for a suggestion is a great way to get a firsthand account of what the wine tastes like and how to serve it.
Tips for Choosing Natural Wine
The following are some tips that can help you choose the best natural wine for you:
Reflect on the Flavors You Like
When looking for the right bottle of natural wine, consider the fruits and flavors you know you enjoy. Your taste preferences are a great way to begin your hunt for a new option. Think about both wines you love drinking and flavor experiences you appreciate.
Sharing your budget is a great way to narrow down your choices quickly. There are good quality wines for every price range, and letting a wine professional know how much you’re looking to spend on a bottle will help narrow down your options.
Natural wines are known for being cloudy and having some sediment. This is because natural winemaking processes do not use filtration. The sooner you learn to appreciate the haze, the better off your natural wine shopping will be.
Plan Your Pairing
Before looking for a new bottle of natural wine, consider what you plan to eat with it. Research food and wine pairings and look for an option that makes sense with the meal you plan on enjoying.
Learn About Grape Variety
One of the best ways to better understand wine is to learn about the many grape varieties used in winemaking. Some popular varieties include:
- Pinot Noir
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Sauvignon Blanc
As you become familiar with grape varieties, you will start to get a sense of what wines you enjoy best.
Browse Wines from Marketview Liquor Today
Natural wines are an important and developing category that shows no signs of going away any time soon. Today, you can place an order on our site and have it shipped directly to your door, making buying natural wine easier and more convenient than ever.
Are you interested in learning more about Marketview Liquor’s wine selection? Browse our catalog of wines today!