Wine has no ingredients

How to read 'natural' wine labels

By Paul Greenhaw
Posted 1/30/20

The term "natural wine" is loosely translated from the French vin nature. In English the word natural is often misused - think Perdue "natural" chicken or Hormel "natural" meats - and has been rendered meaningless by cheap marketing. In French, though, nature connotes plain, naked or untouched. So, vin nature is "naked wine" - untampered with, authentic wine. But how does authenticity play a role in winemaking?

You have exceeded your story limit for this 30-day period.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Wine has no ingredients

How to read 'natural' wine labels

Posted

The term "natural wine" is loosely translated from the French vin nature. In English the word natural is often misused - think Perdue "natural" chicken or Hormel "natural" meats - and has been rendered meaningless by cheap marketing. In French, though, nature connotes plain, naked or untouched. So, vin nature is "naked wine" - untampered with, authentic wine. But how does authenticity play a role in winemaking?

Winemaker A and Winemaker B both make wine in the same area. The vintage has been less than ideal. If harvested now, to preserve acidity, the berries will have very low sugar content - but if left on the vine to further ripen, they will start losing important acidity. Winemaker A knows he can "fix" the juice in the cellar, by simply acidifying with some tartaric acid. Winemaker B decides to deal with what nature has given. If her wine has a lower alcohol, so be it.

Once the berries have been crushed, and the skins and seeds have macerated in the juice for a bit, Winemaker A is not happy with the depth of color nor the mouth-feel of his finished juice. He will darken the wine with some common color additives in commercial winemaking. Winemaker B accepts what was dealt.

The time has come to start fermentation.

Winemaker A isn't pleased with the sugar levels of the juice, as his final wine won't have the alcohol content he hopes for, so he adds more sugar. He also wants his wine to be reminiscent of a classic Bordeaux, so he chooses to inoculate with a laboratory yeast, cultured from Bordeaux strains, even though he is nowhere near Bordeaux, nor is he making wine from grapes found in Bordeaux. Winemaker B will allow her wine to ferment spontaneously, with wild, indigenous yeasts, infusing the wine with a taste of the locality.

When it is time to age the wines, Winemaker A uses both oak chips and oak granulars to impart the flavor of oak more quickly into his wine. He also decides to micro-oxygenate as a way to accelerate aging. Winemaker B opts to age in neutral oak, as she wants the purity of the grape to shine, knowing all that oak flavor will only mask all the uniqueness she has allowed to develop so far.

Obviously, Winemaker B is our "natural" winemaker. She is more concerned with making wine that is dynamic and always changing. A wine that celebrates a time and place in a bottle - again, an authentic wine.

A comparison of Western and Eastern medicine is a wonderful analogy to the difference between the philosophy of manipulated winemaking and natural winemaking. Just as Western medicine focuses more on fixing ailments, rather than preventing them, modern industrial winemaking spends most of its time in the cellar, focusing on issues that, winemakers feel, need fixing.

"Natural" winemakers devote all their energy to their farming and growing fruit that can stand on its own and express itself authentically. Once in the cellar, the wine is, essentially, out of their hands.

No one believes Velveeta is an authentic cheese or Tang is real orange juice, so why believe all wine is created equal?

In Taos, you can find wine made in this fashion at The Cellar, the Historic Taos Inn and the Love Apple.

Also, visit PM Wines at this year's Taos Winter Wine Festival (at the Grand and Reserve tastings), and sample some of these wines for yourself.

Comments

Private mode detected!

In order to read our site, please exit private/incognito mode or log in to continue.