The debate over natural wines is frustrating. Most people who condemn them seem not to have a clue about how they are made or what they taste like. Most of their defenders don’t acknowledge that many conventional wines are made with no techno-trickery or additives and have many of the virtues of natural wines. So it’s worth highlighting when someone writes about natural wines and gets it exactly right.
Le Cave De Pyrene is a UK based importer and retailer who makes several worthy points in this blog post. I’m just going to highlight the key points they make.
“…natural wine does not revolve exclusively about the presence or absence of sulphur….There may be absolutism on the fringes, wherein one or two vignerons abjure added SO2, yet there is hardly a grower in our portfolio who would not do something to protect the wine, if the wine in question needed protecting. There’s the judgement call – none, a little before bottling, a moderate quantity, a lot? When does the addition protect/improve the wine, when does it mar it?
“…most natural winemakers do different things to different wines – even to different barrels of the same wine. Which seems entirely reasonable. This fact doesn’t fit into a narrative that caricatures natural vignerons as anti-science and “lazy-faire.”
“Scrupulous hygiene and painstaking monitoring – natural wine is an exacting, hands-on, lips-on process. Some growers work with oenologists who analyse the wine to determine whether it can be bottled without sulphur, while others, like Pierre Frick or Jean-Pierre Robinot, simply draw a glass from the barrel and leave it out for a week or so, periodically tasting to see how the wine reacts.
The growers do great work in the vineyard, and in the cellar, with living soils producing complex micro-organisms which in turn produce living wines of great character.
No sulphur wines are a conundrum for the average critic who wants to (or needs to?) have fixed opinions about wines.
A little fix of sulphur, as I have mentioned, sometimes gives a focus, bringing out a reductive quality in certain wines that is highly agreeable. At times you need it to prevent mousiness, brett and high VA. I say at times, because there is no fixed rule that states that not using sulphur will eventuate in a bacterially spoiled wine.
Writing about the addition of sulphur they conclude:
However, its inclusion (or otherwise) is one part of a very complex story of transformation in which many microbiological variables are in play. My love of no-sulphur is not ideological, for what is in the bottle obviously matters more than a dogmatic approach, but time and again I taste transcendent wines, made with zero – or the absolute minimum – of addition, wines that are thrillingly pure and alive, and I tend to think that to make such a wine without the safety net, the vigneron must be completely attuned to the processes that allow the wine to flourish in such a way.
I’ve talked to many natural winemakers. The approach described here—hands on, empirical, flexible—is typical. It’s time to end the wine culture wars and embrace natural wine as a integral part of the wine community.