Natural wine

In this article, we’ll explore the popular topic of Thanksgiving food preferences among Americans. The AP-NORC poll reveals a fascinating mix of opinions when it comes to classic Thanksgiving dishes. While there is unanimous agreement on the delectable nature of pumpkin pie, the debate between dark meat and white meat in turkey tends to be a point of contention. Beyond that, we’ll also dive into exciting recipes that offer a twist on traditional dishes, such as Thanksgiving sweet potatoes with Korean flavors and Brussels sprouts sautéed with bacon. Additionally, we’ll touch on a range of other subjects, such as the sad passing of Chef Michael Chiarello, a cookbook inspired by the game Catan, and even explore the world of natural wine. So, sit back, relax, and prepare to indulge in the delightful world of Thanksgiving feasting!

What is Natural Wine?

Natural wine is a term that has gained popularity in recent years, but what exactly does it mean? In simple terms, natural wine refers to wine that is made with minimal intervention and additives, using organic or biodynamic farming practices. It is the opposite of conventional wine, which often involves the use of synthetic pesticides, non-organic fertilizers, and an array of additives during the winemaking process.

Defining Natural Wine

The definition of natural wine can vary slightly depending on who you ask, but there are a few key principles that most natural winemakers adhere to. Firstly, natural wine is made from grapes that have been grown organically or biodynamically, without the use of synthetic pesticides or fertilizers. Secondly, the winemaking process involves minimal intervention – this means no added yeasts, enzymes, or sugars, and no fining or filtration. Lastly, natural wine does not contain any additives or manipulations, such as added sulfites or coloring agents.

Natural Winemaking Process

The natural winemaking process is quite different from conventional winemaking. Once the grapes have been harvested, they are often manually sorted to remove any unwanted material, such as leaves or stems. The grapes are then gently crushed, and the juice is left to ferment naturally, with indigenous yeasts that are present on the grape skins. This fermentation process can take place in various types of vessels, such as concrete tanks, oak barrels, or even clay amphorae. After fermentation, the wine is typically aged for a period of time, often in neutral containers, before being bottled. The result is a wine that truly reflects the characteristics of its terroir and grape variety, without the influence of artificial flavors or manipulations.

History of Natural Wine

While natural wine may seem like a recent trend, its roots can be traced back to ancient winemaking practices.

Early Origins

The concept of natural winemaking can be traced back to ancient civilizations, such as the Greeks and Romans, who favored minimal intervention in their winemaking processes. During this time, winemakers relied on the naturally occurring yeasts present on grape skins to ferment their wines. They also used clay amphorae as containers for fermentation and storage, as these allowed the wine to age naturally without any added flavors from wood.

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Revival in the 20th Century

In the 20th century, natural winemaking took a backseat as conventional winemaking practices and the use of additives became more prevalent. However, in the 1970s, a movement known as “vin naturel” began to gain traction in Europe, particularly in France. This movement aimed to revive traditional winemaking practices and promote wines that were made with minimal intervention. Today, the natural wine movement has gained global recognition, with winemakers all over the world embracing these principles and producing natural wines.

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Principles of Natural Winemaking

The production of natural wine is guided by a set of principles that prioritize sustainable farming, minimal intervention, and the absence of additives or manipulations.

Organic and Biodynamic Farming

One of the key principles of natural winemaking is the use of organic or biodynamic farming practices. This means that the grapes are grown without the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers. Instead, natural methods are used to cultivate the vines and promote healthy soil. Biodynamic farming takes this a step further, incorporating practices such as planting and harvesting according to lunar cycles, and using various preparations to enhance the vitality of the vineyard.

Minimal Intervention

Natural winemaking places a strong emphasis on minimal intervention during the winemaking process. This means that winemakers do not add any yeasts, enzymes, or sugars to aid fermentation. Instead, they rely on the natural yeasts that are present on the grape skins to start the fermentation process. Similarly, natural winemakers do not use any fining or filtration methods to clarify the wine, allowing it to retain its natural cloudiness and character.

No Additives or Manipulations

Perhaps the most defining principle of natural winemaking is the absence of additives and manipulations. Natural wines are produced using only grapes and minimal amounts of sulfur dioxide, which is a natural byproduct of fermentation. Unlike conventional wines, they do not contain any added sulfites, coloring agents, or flavor enhancers. By avoiding these additives and manipulations, natural winemakers aim to create wines that truly reflect the characteristics of the grapes and the terroir in which they were grown.

Characteristics of Natural Wine

Natural wines have a number of unique characteristics that distinguish them from conventional wines.

Unique Flavor Profiles

One of the most exciting aspects of natural wine is the wide range of flavors and aromas it can offer. Without the influence of added yeast strains or flavor enhancers, natural wines are able to express the true characteristics of the grape variety and the terroir in which they were grown. This can result in wines that are vibrant, complex, and full of personality. Natural wines can exhibit a diverse range of flavors, from fruity and floral notes to earthy and savory undertones.

Cloudiness and Sediment

Unlike conventional wines, which are often crystal clear and free of sediment, natural wines can be cloudy or hazy in appearance. This is due to the minimal intervention approach, which allows some of the grape solids and yeast particles to remain in the wine. While this may take some getting used to for those accustomed to clear wines, the presence of sediment can actually enhance the flavor and mouthfeel of natural wines.

Lower Sulfite Content

Sulfites, which are compounds that occur naturally during fermentation, are often added to conventional wines as a preservative. However, natural wines typically have lower levels of sulfites, as they are produced with minimal to no added sulfur dioxide. This can be beneficial for individuals who are sensitive to sulfites or experience adverse reactions when consuming wines with higher sulfite content. It is important to note that even though natural wines have lower sulfite levels, they should still be consumed responsibly.

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Environmental and Health Benefits

The production and consumption of natural wines offer a number of environmental and health benefits.

Sustainable Farming Practices

By using organic and biodynamic farming methods, natural winemakers contribute to the overall health of the environment. These practices reduce the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, which can have detrimental effects on the soil, water, and biodiversity. Additionally, natural winemakers often prioritize the well-being of their vineyards, employing techniques such as cover cropping and composting to promote soil fertility and biodiversity.

Reduced Exposure to Chemicals

Conventional wines can sometimes contain traces of various synthetic pesticides and additives, which can potentially pose health risks. By choosing natural wines, individuals can reduce their exposure to these chemicals and enjoy wines that are made with minimal intervention and without the use of synthetic additives. This can be particularly important for individuals with sensitivities or allergies to certain compounds commonly found in conventional wines.

Lower Sulfite Sensitivity

Sulfites, which are naturally occurring compounds in wine, can cause allergic reactions in some individuals. While natural wines do contain sulfites, they typically have lower levels compared to conventional wines, as they are produced with minimal added sulfur dioxide. This can be beneficial for individuals who are sensitive to sulfites or experience adverse reactions, such as headaches or respiratory issues, when consuming wines with higher sulfite content.

Controversies and Criticisms

While the natural wine movement has gained a dedicated following, it is not without its controversies and criticisms.

Lack of Standardization

One of the main criticisms of natural wine is the lack of standardization within the industry. Unlike organic or biodynamic wines, which have specific certifications and regulations, there is currently no universal definition or certification for natural wine. This can lead to confusion among consumers and difficulties in distinguishing between wines that are truly natural and those that may be labeled as such without adhering to the same principles.

Quality and Consistency Issues

Natural winemaking can be a more unpredictable and challenging process compared to conventional winemaking. Without the use of additives or manipulations, natural wines can vary from vintage to vintage, and even bottle to bottle. This can result in wines that are less consistent in terms of flavor, aroma, and overall quality. While some consumers appreciate this element of surprise and uniqueness, others may prefer the more predictable and consistent nature of conventional wines.

Perceived Funkiness

Another criticism of natural wine is its perceived “funkiness” or unconventional flavors and aromas. The minimal intervention approach and lack of additives can result in wines that have complex, earthy, or even “barnyard” characteristics. While these flavors and aromas can be exciting and intriguing for some, they may not be to everyone’s taste. It is important for individuals to explore and taste a variety of natural wines to find styles that they enjoy.

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Natural Wine vs. Conventional Wine

Natural wine and conventional wine are two distinct categories that have significant differences in terms of production methods, taste, and impact on the wine industry.

Differences in Winemaking Process

The main difference between natural wine and conventional wine lies in the winemaking process. Natural winemaking involves minimal intervention and the use of organic or biodynamic farming practices, while conventional winemaking often involves the use of synthetic pesticides, non-organic fertilizers, and an array of additives. This difference in approach can result in wines that have distinct flavor profiles and characteristics.

Taste and Aroma Variations

Due to the minimal intervention approach, natural wines can have a wide range of flavors and aromas that are unique to the grape variety and terroir. They often exhibit vibrant fruit flavors, earthy undertones, and a certain freshness that is characteristic of wines made with minimal manipulation. Conventional wines, on the other hand, may have more consistent and predictable flavors, as they are often crafted with the intention of achieving a certain style or taste.

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Impact on the Wine Industry

The rise of natural wine has had a significant impact on the wine industry as a whole. It has challenged traditional winemaking practices and encouraged a return to more sustainable and environmentally friendly farming methods. Natural wines have also gained a dedicated following of consumers who seek out wines that are made with minimal intervention and reflect a sense of place. This has resulted in an increase in the number of natural wine producers and a greater variety of wines available to consumers.

Exploring Natural Wine Regions

Natural wine is produced in many regions around the world, each with its own unique terroir and winemaking practices. Here are a few notable natural wine regions to explore:

France

France is often regarded as the birthplace of the natural wine movement, with regions such as the Loire Valley, Beaujolais, and the Jura leading the way. These regions are known for producing natural wines that showcase the diversity of the French terroir and grape varieties.

Italy

In Italy, natural winemaking is particularly prominent in regions such as Tuscany, Sicily, and the Friuli-Venezia Giulia. These regions produce a wide range of natural wines, from vibrant and fruity reds to complex and aromatic whites.

Spain

Spanish natural wines have gained international recognition in recent years, with regions such as Catalonia, the Basque Country, and Castilla y León leading the way. Natural wines from Spain are known for their bold flavors, vibrant acidity, and unique grape varieties.

United States

Natural winemaking has gained traction in the United States, with regions such as California, Oregon, and New York leading the way. These regions are known for their diverse terroir and innovative winemaking practices, resulting in natural wines that are full of character and reflect the unique flavors of the American soil.

Australia

Australia may be known for its big, bold wines, but there is also a growing natural wine movement in the country. Regions such as the Adelaide Hills, Margaret River, and the Yarra Valley are producing natural wines that are fresh, vibrant, and full of flavor.

South Africa

South Africa has a long history of winemaking, and in recent years, it has also embraced the natural wine movement. Regions such as the Swartland and Stellenbosch are producing natural wines that showcase the diversity of South African terroir and grape varieties.

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Finding and Buying Natural Wine

If you’re interested in exploring the world of natural wine, there are several ways to find and purchase these unique and often limited-production bottles.

Specialty Wine Shops

Specialty wine shops that focus on natural and organic wines are a great place to start. These shops often have knowledgeable staff who can guide you in your selection and provide information about the winemakers and their practices. They may also offer tastings or events where you can discover new natural wines.

Online Retailers

Many online retailers specialize in natural and organic wines, offering a wide selection that can be conveniently delivered to your doorstep. These websites often provide detailed information about the winemakers, their practices, and tasting notes to help you make an informed decision.

Winery Visits

Visiting wineries that produce natural wines can be a great way to learn more about the winemaking process and taste wines straight from the source. Many natural winemakers offer tours and tastings, giving you the opportunity to experience the terroir firsthand and discover new wines that are not available elsewhere.

Conclusion

Natural wine offers a unique and refreshing approach to winemaking, focusing on minimal intervention, organic farming practices, and the absence of additives. These wines are a true expression of the grape variety and terroir, showcasing the flavors and characteristics of the vineyard. While natural wine may not be for everyone, its growing popularity and dedicated following speak to its appeal and the desire for wines that are made with sustainability and authenticity in mind. Whether you’re a wine enthusiast looking to expand your palate or someone curious about exploring the world of natural wines, there’s no better time to embark on a journey and discover the diverse and exciting world of natural wine.

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