Natural wine is experiencing a surge in popularity at present, for all the right reasons. But beware! – if you are sensitive to sulphites and other additives in your wines you need to be very very careful if you plan to rely on “natural wines” as a healthier alternative to standard wines.

Natural wine has no official definition, or any definitive requirements. It relies on ethical producers who claim their wines to be natural, made with minmal intervention. This is a grey area of course which could be easily exploited, but that isn’t the biggest danger!

The biggest danger with natural wine is the lack of understanding from the people involved in the trade importing and retailing it. Natural wine is a new phenomena, and even the small independent farmers who make it have such massively varying criteria, how can any UK retailer even begin to understand the similarities between the various wines, let alone the significant differences.

Is organic wine natural wine? How about biodynamic then? I get so many importers telling me “it must be low in sulphur because it is biodynamically certified”  – which is a load of rubbish, but just shows how little these people involved in the trade actually know. Biodynamic wines are permitted to have 90 mg’l of sulphur added – that is not “natural” by anybody’s definition!

But most retailers rely on the importer’s information when purchasing wines. And there’s nothing like a biodynamic certificate to add weight to the salesman’s argument that it must be a natural wine! Hence the retailer lists the wine and advertises it as “natural”.

For example Artisan and Vine are a “natural” wine shop in London and I browsed their website recently. But they sell mass produced wines (possibly certified biodynamic) which contain enough sulphites to give a sensitive person a severe allergic reaction – I know because I have seen somebody have such a reaction to this particular range of wines. This isn’t A&V’s fault – they’ve bought the wines in good faith unaware they contain significant levels of sulphur (still lower than factory produced wines of course, but not as low as you’d want from a natural wine). As they clearly aren’t allergic to sulphur themselves they have no way of knowing these wines are not as natural as they’re made out to be.

Personally I’m all for natural wines, and have been for a long time before the term was even invented. But it’s clear there’s a need to clarify the term and give stringent criteria to what qualifies and what doesn’t.

Until that day comes, the safest option is to go for sulphite free wines which have no sulphites or other chemicals added. Most are expensive, many are an acquired taste, but there are a  a few which are delicious in their own right and naturally good for you such as Domaine Viret from France and Frey Vineyards from California. Check out www.goodwineonline.co.uk for the some of the nicest (and best priced) sulphite free wines available.