You’ve heard the buzzwords - low-intervention, biodynamic, organic – and politely nodded along whenever they’ve cropped up in conversation. If you’re aware of the trend for natural wine and want to understand what it actually is, then keep on reading.
We know what you’re thinking. Calling a wine natural makes the beverage that’s been imparting sore heads for centuries sound incredibly virtuous. Clean. Healthy, even. But is it? What makes wine natural? Come to think of it, what makes wine unnatural?
We hear you. And while our first reaction was to jump on the trend-led bandwagon and scout out some of the best natural wines on the market right now, we couldn’t do that without doing our research first. So, we made it our mission to suss out exactly what natural wine actually is, whether it tastes different to conventional wine and why it’s so popular right now.
With the help of Alex Price, the Head of Wine at natural wine bar Bar Crispin in Soho, we’ve answered all your frequently asked questions on the subject of natural wine. Have a read, take stock and go ahead and order yourself a bottle to try at home.
Firstly, what is natural wine?
Natural wine encompasses a broad spectrum of meaning, but it basically refers to how a wine is made. For a wine to be considered natural, it needs to be fermented from organic grapes, using low-intervention techniques and with as little as possible added to the final product (zero chemicals or preservatives). The idea is that the wine the customer ends up drinking is as close to the original ingredient as it can possibly be.
It really is about the whole package though. Organic wine, for example, isn’t necessarily natural because wine-makers are still able to add lots of preservatives to it, even if the grapes themselves are grown without pesticides. Really, the wine needs to have been made using a low-intervention approach from start to finish.
How can you tell if wine is natural?
There’s no official certification for natural wine, which makes the term a little wishy washy. As Alex points out: "Not every natural wine is organic or biodynamic certified because certification brings a lot of added costs, which a lot of small wine makers can’t really afford. It can also slightly limit them in terms of protecting their crops. But the general principles are the same and people are still trying to avoid adding or taking anything away during the vinification process, while putting as much love and care into the vineyards as they possibly can."
Note that organic or biodynamic wines will have a symbol on the label to indicate us such, which is a good measure of how the grapes are grown. It’s not a promise that the wine is natural or additive-free, though.
What is orange wine?
Orange wine, also known as skin contact wine, sits under the natural wine bracket and seems to have become a bit of a thing recently. We’ve seen it cropping up on menus for the last year or so and, according to Alex, it’s not just us that’s noticed.
"Orange wine has completely exploded on the market. People are so fascinated to learn more and to taste it.
''Orange wine is white wine made in the style of a red wine. The skins are left on the [white] grapes to macerate and then pressed for their juice. This can vary between a couple of hours to a couple of months depending on the level of intensity you want from the wine.’’
For a little bit more context, rose, red wine and white wine are made using the following parts of each grape:
- Rose: Red grapes without skins
- Red: Red grapes with skins
- White: Green grapes without skins
Because the skins are left on to macerate (hence the name 'skin contact' wine), the flavour can be little punchier than white wine or rose, making it a great option to pair with heavier dishes.
Why is natural wine so popular?
While there’s been a huge uptake in interest in natural wine, the product itself is not anything new. Alex says: "Natural wine is definitely not a new thing. I think one thing people don’t realise is that natural wine has been produced for hundreds of thousands of years. But only in the past 100 years have we seen certifications of organic and bio-dynamic farming."
Ok, so technically natural wine isn’t anything new. But the lid has been lifted on its benefits and now everyone wants a sip from the natural cup. There is also a case to be made for consumers being much more conscious of provenance and sourcing these days, taking into account how the ingredients are treated and which producers they're supporting by buying a product. It’s a lot more appealing to consume wine that’s barely been tampered with, so you can be sure that what you’re drinking is the juice from the grapes and little else.
Does natural wine taste different to regular wine?
Wine that's free of all the bad stuff sounds all well and good, but what does it actually taste like? "Natural wine is such a sliding scale of different styles", says Alex. "With natural wine, I think it’s become a bit synonymous with the cider-y smell that a lot of people pick up. That was popular as a wine-making style about four years ago, but I think there’s been a bit of a move now to cleaner and ‘more correct’ wine-making where the principles are all the same, the sulphur is still very low, the wine is still unfiltered and unfined but it’s a lot less cloudy, it’s a lot cleaner. It’s a lot less funky smelling."
Does natural wine give you a hangover?
Natural wine contains a very small number of sulfites, which are naturally occurring in all wine but much lower in natural wine. This is believed to be the bit that can give you a sore head the next day, which is why it’s been touted that natural wine doesn’t give you a hangover.
The jury’s still out on this one, and obviously you’re going to feel the effects if you drink a few too many glasses. However, we reckon that wine containing fewer chemicals is bound to be better for your body.
Best natural white wine
There are a ton of natural white wines on the market and it's a real challenge to narrow it down to a select few really good ones. Chin Chin's is one of the most popular at the moment, so we had to include it.
Chin Chin Vinho Verde, Quinta Do Emizio
What: This top-rated white wine from Chin Chin has earned itself rave reviews on the web and in real life. Vinho Verde means ‘green wine’ in Portuguese and is just as crisp, light and refreshing as you’d expect. We won’t lie – we’re big fans of the label artwork, too, which was designed by Jose Miguel Mendez, the illustrator for wine magazine Noble Rot.
How much: £12
Rousette de Savoie, Bruno Lapin
What: Rousette grapes are grown in the alpine region of France at high altitude in the Savoie. It results in a drier wine with notes of hazelnut, honey and herbs, a great pairing with cheese.
How much: £19
Salvetore Marino, Vulcano Biano
What: This zippy white wine is a steal at just £14.50 and a good starter if you’re new to the natural wine world. It’s highly drinkable, with light, floral notes and lots of freshness. Wondering about the label? It’s the work of London-based illustrator Gaurab Thakali, who collaborated with wine maker Turi Marino to bring the world this Italian number.
How much: £14.60
Best natural orange wine
Here we go - the most fashionable wine on the town right now. Orange wine isn't for the faint-hearted and is probably better suited to those who love a wine with lots of personality. Get started with this selection.
Les Funambules, Gewurtztraminer
What: According to Alex, this orange wine is very popular at Bar Crispin, with a richly aromatic and textured flavour. It’s grown in the Alsace region in France from the Gewurtztraminer grape, which is typically associated with aromatic wines with a distinctive flavour.
How much: £26.90
"Ograde” Venezia Giulia IGT, Skerk
What: A slightly pricier bottle, but one we wanted to include in this list because it really is very good. This is made from a blend of pinot grigio, sauvignon blanc, vitovska and malvazija grapes, which all lend themselves to a fresh-tasting wine with notes of grapefruit and a slightly tannic twinge.
How much: £48
L'Apical Coll de la Sitja, Ancestral
What: Macabeo is a white grape variety from Spain, which here has been fermented to make a dry pet-nat (natural sparkling wine) with flavours of apple, honey and quince. It’s got a great guzzler quality about it and is alarmingly easy to drink on its own.
How much: £20
Best natural red wine
We've selected a few different natural red wines which we hope will cater for everyone - from budget to versatile.
Gran Cerdo, Tinto Gonzalo Grijalba
What: This one comes up a lot as a solid red wine, natural or otherwise, and we’re not complaining about the price either. This great-value option is rich with red berry notes and a little spice, while a dose of acidity make it great for cutting through rich dishes.
How much: £9.95
Roko Il Vagabondo, Montepulciano
What: Delinquente is a small vineyard in Australia that grows Italian grape varieties with a minimal-intervention approach. This specific 2021 red has got a lot going for it, boasting a deep, pigmented colour but still retaining a bright and fruity flavour. It’s got versatility written all over it.
How much: £17
Fattoria de Sammontana, Sangiovese
What: Here’s a heart-warming story for you. The winemakers of this red didn’t want to forego their low-intervention practices in order to attain the chianti classification. So, this is technically a chianti, it just doesn’t have the official paperwork to prove it. Try it for its well-developed and soft flavour.
How much: £18
Best natural rose wine
If you're a Whispering Angel fan through and through, you might want to look away now. These natural roses offer lots more by way of character and colour, but we think you're going to love them.
Mas de Daumas Gassac, Languedoc
What: Alongside Crispin and Bar Crispin is its very own, very handy online bottle shop, so you can have some of its natural, low intervention, and biodynamic wines delivered to your door. One of its most popular bottles is this light and dry rose made in a Provence style, making it the perfect guzzler for spring and summer.
How much: £16
What: Lovers of lighter, pale roses won't want to hear what we have to say about this one. The deep coral colour of this pink wine sets the precedent for the flavour, which is peachy, punchy and packed with red fruit - we're big supporters of its boldness! For a rose, it’s also fairly strong at 13.5%.
How much: £16.50
Krasna Hora, Pink
What: This bottle comes from Silver Living in east London, which is the UK’s first dedicated skin contact and orange wine bar and shop. They do a mean collection of orange wines, but we’re most taken with this pretty number, rightfully called ‘Pink’, made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes. It’s made in Czech Republic, so a slightly lesser-known region, but we’re all for championing an underdog.
How much: £21
Prefer something with bubbles? Take a look at the best prosecco to buy on a budget