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I have a problem with natural wines

Written by: Gavin Smith

Throughout the world (or perhaps to be more precise, the fashionable neighbourhoods in London, Paris and New York) the natural wine revolution is gaining traction. It seems the more hipster the neighbourhood, the more natural wine bars/restaurants keep popping up. Not surprisingly, some of our own restaurant clients have asked us for natural wine options too. This has been quite a task for me. Over the last few months I have tasted my way through the mire of natural wines being shown at wine fairs in London and in France and my findings of wines that are not faulty, over-oxidised or with a tasting note more akin to that of cider has left me with very little to get excited about. That doesn’t mean I won’t keep trying, but what became immediately clear to me is that, at present, the majority of natural wines currently on the market are borderline undrinkable and anyone selling these wines should be approached with caution.

As with organic wines 10 years ago, the majority of wines back then were also very poor in quality and thankfully that is not at all the case today. Some of the best wines in the world are organic/biodynamic and many more wines at the affordable end are both brilliant and organic. The stigma has well and truly passed and maybe that will happen with ‘natural’ wines, too. My real bugbear with this trend, however, is the name ‘natural’. This ‘natural wine’ movement has effectively commandeered the word ‘natural’ insinuating that other wines are not natural. It implies that all other wines (i.e. wines that use sulphur to stop oxidisation of the wine – sulphur being a naturally produced product that is used on fruit, vegetables and other food products to protect from oxidisation all the time) are not natural, which is just deceptive.

The Natural Wine movement is not regulated by any authorising body (even of its own making). This is not the case with other minimal interventional wine making authorities such as ‘Demeter’ who authorise biodynamic wine producers who are generally making fantastic wines that are both regulated and sustainable. We import many wines from biodynamic and organic growers, none of whom have spoken in praise of the natural wine movement, one stating that it is simply not possible to keep a natural wine in good condition once it has left the winery because it will spoil if the wine reaches a certain temperature (in transit or where it is stored) – like milk, it will go off! Maybe some growers have found or will find ways to protect their wines from this and we will continue to search them out. Until then, we will continue to promote and sell wines from wine-makers who follow sustainable principles at the same time as protecting their wine from oxidisation and spoilage.

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