they landed and instructed the locals in its care and usage. Eventually the locals ousted the Romans, but most of them kept he vines. Since then a lot has happened to the process of fermentation of grapes into wine. What was once purely the grace of gods has become the industry of men. Science has found faster and more profitable methods of transformation. The vines now grow in geometrically planned rows, often sprayed with chemicals too complicated to pronounce. The wine is filtered and, from time to time, flavored with oak chips or sugar. Most commercially available wine is the result of a mountain of technology. Much of it is good–some of it great–but all of it a long way from that first raw encounter. But nature hasn’t changed. She doesn’t close doors on us as often as we close them on her. In the past we had organic wine, but through biodynamics we slip into the world of natural wine; it is a term that seems to imply a kind of chaos. Unlike organic or biodynamic there aren’t any regulations deciding what it is. The one golden rule is to let nature do her thing; the winemaker– being part of nature–is more a helper than a creator. I never know what to expect when I open a bottle of so-called natural wine. When I close my eyes it can be difficult to determine whether it’s white or red. It may surprise me with dry austerity or amuse me with flowery sweetness. But it almost always takes me back to those hills that autumn day 8,000 years ago when the gods first found their way into our cups. There is no real agreement as to what the term natural wine means. Therefore, it often means whatever you want it to mean. It tends to be more about how the wine is made than about how the grapes are grown. Natural wines are usually from grapes grown by organic or biodynamic standards, but more often than ot, the winemakers don’t bother with quasi-official approval. For the record, wine that is approved organic or biodynamic could very well be described as natural–as long as the fermentation process isn’t tampered with by technology.
Once in a lifetime
I could probably pull out some names from Burgundy here,
Domaine Leroy’s top wines are biodynamic and basically natural
and almost worth their weight in gold (for real!). But why not
Champagne? Champagne is a district for
mass-produced luxury, but things change
there as well. If you happen to find any of
Jacques Selosse’s Champagnes on a wine
list, and the price doesn’t knock you out,
Whenever you can
Funny thing about natural wine–
established vineyards in places like
Bordeaux or Rioja, bombed by chemicals
for decades, can’t make it. Not yet. Now
it’s the formerly marginal districts, where
winemakers couldn’t afford the chemicals
and equipment (or they just weren’t
available), that can embrace natural
wine making. Go for Chateau Musar from
Lebanon. They make both red and white
in an ancient place that is not often in the
news because of wine.
Whenever you want
Not cheap exactly, but Domaine Lapierre’s
Morgan from Beaujolais is biodynamic
and about as natural as a classic French
wine can be. Try some Austrian whites.
Both Nikolaihof and Birgit Eichinger take
an old place in a new direction.