The term “natural wine” has become quite popular in recent years as more and more people become interested in their health and what they consume. While the term has no official or regulated meaning, it is generally used to denote that nothing has been added to the wine, including added sugars, sulfites, or yeasts. It may also mean that the wine was made using organic or biodynamically-grown grapes, but this is not always the case. So what can you expect from a natural wine?
There are a few key factors that set natural wines apart from traditional wines. In traditional winemaking, a number of additives are used to control the fermentation and flavor, and to preserve the wine. Natural winemakers rely on wild yeasts, yeasts that live in the air and on the skins of the grapes, to cause fermentation. They do not use any added sulfites, which are conventionally used to preserve the wine’s flavor over time. This means the fermentation and flavor over time are less controlled and can give the wine a funkier or more kombucha-like flavor.
Sediment and gas are normal byproducts of the wine fermentation process. Most traditional wines are filtered and degassed before selling, to create the clear, flat beverage we are accustomed to. Since natural wines are as low-intervention as possible, natural sediments and gasses are left in the wine, giving some natural wines a cloudy appearance or a light effervescence. These are celebrated characteristics as opposed to defects in the wine.
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Natural wines are commonly touted as good alternatives for people who get headaches from conventional wines due to their low sulfite content. The science behind this doesn’t agree, since sulfite allergies are rare and cause breathing problems, not headaches. But conventional wines do often contain many other additives that could potentially be irritating to a sensitive system, so natural wines may still be a better choice for some.
If you are ready to go on a tangy, bubbly, funky adventure and dip your toes into the world of natural wines – great! Many specialty wine stores stock them and you can usually get advice about where to start. Finding local natural wines can be even more fun, as your get to experience the terroir in your glass and your environment. So, now that you know what natural wines are and why you should try them, go forth and enjoy!
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