“Natural wine” is THE buzz word in the wine trade at the moment. It is everywhere and everybody is talking about it, but does it deserve so much coverage and publicity? After all, it’s just wine as it used to be, before wine production became a global business, isn’t it?
If you’re looking for delicious natural wines at sensible prices and want to skip this article click here.
For centuries (and still now in remote areas like Sicily and Puglia) farmers in Mediterranean countries were making wines this way for home and local consumption. They didn’t add chemicals and preservatives or use artificial yeasts to enhance aromas and flavours, basically because they didn’t have any. They had a field of vines, a shed and some basic wooden barrels and that was about it. But then again, when we look more closely at these people they have a very long life span, still fit and active into their 90s. For many wine was a staple drink, drunk at breakfast from a mug and throughout the day. A soft drink was basically wine with some added water. Is their logevity down to exercise and good diet alone (as they ate fresh food and had to work the fields to produce it)? I have both Italian and French friends who’s grandparents and great uncles and aunts used to drink four litres of wine a day, every day, and lived till they were touching 100. Yet the BMA announced a few months ago that 1 glass of wine a day can cause cancer! I don’t think so (their research was completely flawed). In fact Dr Phil Norrie who is both an eminent well published physician with over 30 years experience researching the link between wine and health, and also a winemaker himself, will happily explain to you the numerous health benefits of drinking good wine every day in his research papers here. It is a fascinating read that will make you feel good about enjoying a glass of good wine! Natural wines won’t cause cancer, but I do believe this mass produced stuff with a myriad of added chemicals can do. Sulphites, used as preservatives in a host of food and most wines, have been linked with the rapid rise in throat and abdominal cancers, and of course the soaring asthma rate in the developed world.
So we can clearly see why so many people are now searching for natural wines – they’re clearly a healthier option than many of the mass produced alternatives. Obviously we thought we were already onto healthy wines with “organic” and then biodynamic, but the rise of natural wines has exposed the rather unpleasant truth here. “Organic” in the EU only certifies the grape growing and producers are still free to play fast and loose with plenty of chemical additives (up to 80 different chemicals including a large helping of sulphites). And even biodynamic certified producers are free to add sulphites to their wines. The sad truth is both EU organic, and biodynamic wines are not necessarily any healthier than many other non certified wines. At present USA certified organic wines are not allowed to add sulphites but there is legislation pending to change this. So if you want natural healthy wines you’re safer opting for “natural wine” but be careful it is genuinely so.
The recent Natural Wine Fare at Borough Market has received very mixed reviews. Some hale it as a great success for the artisan producer. Others claim it is a publicity stunt for a handful of companies who are trying to dominate this market in the UK (at very unrealistic prices!). One certain company represents the majority of exhibitors, with the rest represented by another 3 or 4 companies. All in all I thought the wines on show were very poor. Of the 100 or so exhibitors I only found 4 who didn’t add sulphur to their wines – so to me that means the other 96 are not natural – and of these I only found 3 wines which were even drinkable (two were actually very good). But they were all horrendously expensive. It seems from this show that we are supposed to believe that all natural wines have to cost this much, and that having one that actually tastes nice is a bonus!
Yet before the term “natural wine” became the in thing this year, I was drinking stunning natural wines made without the addition of any sulphur, or any other chemicals, and at sensible prices starting below £10 per bottle. My own personal judgement aside, were they any good? 3 made it into the Rhone top 100 wines, and one white was even voted “best white wine in the Rhone Valley” by food critic Michel Brittan, so yes they are damned good wines in their own right. If you want to buy delicious natural wines, chemical and sulphite free, at realistic prices click here.
It is important that natural wine is discussed openly and made available to those who choose to buy it. But it is up against a lot of behind the scenes resistance from global wine companies who fear it will dent sales of their “organic” wines. Also just as much damage can be done to it’s reputation by these other natural wine importing companies charging exhorbitant prices and putting it on a metaphorical pedestal as something wonderful and heroic – although it may taste like vegetable soup! Let’s forget the marketing blurb designed to line the pockets of these companies and just be honest. Delicious natural wine is a great thing – let’s have plenty more of it. Poor tasting natural wine may be a labour of love from the producer but is still poor wine. It should be dropped like a hot potato, not doubled in price and sold as an antiquity.