A thought/question about natural wine

Discussion in 'UK Wine Forum' started by Steve Slatcher, Mar 1, 2017.

  1. Generalising to an extent, it struck me that some of the things I like about natural wines are that they are light in alcohol, have good acidity with sharp vibrant fruit, and often they are quite astringent too.

    But are these characteristics anything necessarily to do with what is supposed to be special about natural wines - organic/BD viticulture, ambient yeasts, no/low sulphur and all that? Of is it is rather picking early, and maceration with stalks? Now those might be decisions made to make sure the fruit is clean and needing less sulphur, and to keep acidity and tannin levels high to protect against oxidation. But on the other hand, presumably the same effect can be achieved with "less natural" wine too if desired.

    All that is necessary perhaps is to roll the clock back a bit and revert to less ripe grapes, and fermentation with "normal" yeasts that are not designed specifically to keep going at high alcohol levels.

    Does that sound fair? Or perhaps even my first para is an unreasonable generalisation. Go easy on me Jonathan, I'm just asking :)
  2. Good question.

    That there are lower alcohol wines that are not natural (in the orange, funky, or similar definition) suggests that might not be the case.

    TWS currently have an offer of wines below 12.5% abv, including a Californian Syrah at 11.9% that the description suggests is natural, and not artificially reduced. Though, as it doesn't mention yeasts, I'm assuming it's a cultivated yeast.

    That would suggest controlling ripeness is a key factor.
  3. Lots of "natural" wines are fairly high in alcohol - depends more on where they come from? I drink quite a few from S Italy and Spain, and there non-interventionist practices naturally often lead to wines over 14%, surely?
  4. Is there an extra 'not' in the sentence?
  5. Interesting question, and I don't have any specific answers, but I will add that I'm enjoying lighter alcohol / brighter / vibrant fruit / refreshing acidity wines, not to the exclusion of more 'prestigious' styles, but definitely to the exclusion of the excesses of the 'bigger is better, biggest is best' mindset.
  6. I hadn't noticed that 'natural' wines were lower in alcohol. Is there data to say that they are? The astringency/bitterness in the whites normally comes from the extended skin contact.
  7. I shall try to find if my impression of lower alcohols levels in natural wines is correct. I thought I had read it somewhere, and it seems to chime with my experience - that is all I can say for now.

    I was thinking more of the reds, Richard
  8. Tom Cannavan

    Tom Cannavan Administrator

    I guess in theory natural/ambient yeasts may not convert sugar as effectively as specifically bred yeasts, so there may be an overall tendency for such wines to be lower in alcohol on average. I cannot say I have really noticed natural wines being particularly lower in alcohol than their peers being made with 'conventional' vinification, and there is definitely a tendency among all wine producers to aim for lower alcohol, so seeing 14.5% on a label is now much rare than it was. I guess natural wine makers are particularly attuned to this, as most I meet seem to be emphasising restraint and the more 'intellectual' side of their wines, and big oak, big alcohol and big extraction doesn't really fit with that.
    Alex Lake likes this.
  9. If the sugar has not been fully converted to alcohol that would surely mean that there is a higher RS than average, and with both red and white 'natural' wines I do not detect a penchant for RS. It is very interesting to compare 'natural' and conventional wines from the same appellation, and even grower which I have been able to do recently. It does suggest that 'natural' as a style tends to ride roughshod over what most people regard as the two most distinguishing features of a wine - terroir, and the typicity of the grape variety. I see 'natural' wines as perfectly OK if that's what you want, but I still feel that the level of faultiness is unacceptable and that ironically 'natural' wine is more homogeneous than conventional wine.
    Jonathan Hesford likes this.
  10. Tom Cannavan

    Tom Cannavan Administrator

    Though maybe not if grapes also picked earlier so with lower potential alcohol - and yeasts do convert sugar into things other than alcohol; glycerine for example, so it might not be quite so straightforward.
    Steve Slatcher likes this.
  11. Exactly the reasoning that lead me to believe the must sugar content was lower. There remains the possibility that high acid levels mask the sugar, but high acid is also consistent with early picking.

    Any lack of typicity in natural wines is another issue. I can agree that they are not typical in the conventional sense. But I don't think it is fair to say they all taste the same. If there is any connoisseurship to be had in natural wine, it is going to take a long time to develop. Remember most drinkers of conventional wines think those all taste alike, and also that the typicity in such wines is not strong enough to allow us forumites to identify them consistently under blind conditions.
    Jonathan Hesford likes this.
  12. Some say that orange wines taste overwhelmingly of the winemaking rather than terroir, for example the extended skin contact and oxidation. It's a reasonable charge to level at them in my view.
  13. That's kind of true, but it doesn't mean that within the category of orange wine there wouldn't be great differences between grapes and areas. But I have long compared it to "spoofulation" in that there is indeed a certain sameness - except for the crucial difference that I happen to like orange but don't like spoof. :D
  14. Agree but spoofulated conventional wines don't show terroir either. I wouldn't be making the point if I liked spoof!

    The question is whether the differences between orange wines reflect terroir or something else. Currently I wouldn't be confident claiming that they reflect terroir...
  15. Well I'm a bit of a skeptic when it comes to terroir anyway. Typicity is a question of typical practices for a certain region more than anything else. So I don't think any wine can really reflect terroir. They only reflect a certain aesthetic of production practices for a certain area. Hence I don't care: I'll drink orange wine without worrying about terroirism.
  16. Ooo - Just discovered I can access the old server by missing off the "www" in the url. Allow me to summarise some of what was lost from this thread with the switch....

    Duncan Hamm wrote what I thought was a very helpful comment:
    But in response to his last couple of sentences, I said
    Mark Temple wrote
    Then there was some confusion about what Andrew Stevenson wrote in his first comment in this thread. I'm still struggling to figure it out, but Andrew did say to me at one point
    To which I reply: I seems you misunderstood my point, Andrew, which was actually pretty much the same as what you wrote in your quote immediately above.
  17. Although there are Natural wines which have higher alcohol levels, I think that you are correct, Steve, that many Natural winemakers are trying to make sure their wines are quite high in acidity and contain astringent phenolic compounds to stop the wines oxidising with low levels of sulphites. I've had enough discussions with Natural winemakers to report that many make that decision. However, there are others who don't care about oxidation too much and are happy to pick at higher sugar levels and lower acidity.

    What I do notice is that even with the more oxidised styles there is always a good amount of clean acidity in the length that you wouldn't always find in more conventional wines. That long, clean acidity is the hallmark of a well-made Natural wine to me and you won't get that if you don't pick for it.

    I think the argument amount commercial versus wild yeasts is a complete red herring when it comes to alcohol content or acidity. There are commercial yeasts available that can achieve those things. Wild yeast is simply more funky and unreliable - making it more interesting in some cases.
  18. Yes. What all the highish-alcohol Mediterranean "naturals" I like to drink have in common is that the acidity is invariably carefully nurtured.
    Jonathan Hesford likes this.
  19. From HRH in the FT today and on her site in the free for all section.
    Jonathan Hesford likes this.
  20. The more I drink wine the less I'm convinced by "terroir" as a broad concept.

    Let me explain. I don't mean to suggest that the reason Napa Cab tastes different to red Bordeaux is not down to the stuff we associate with terroir.

    I also do buy the argument that there's a big difference between stuff like local yeasts and cultured commercial yeasts.

    What I do mean is how wine writers claim really specific differences between different plots in, say, Burgundy, as if it is always so. Or how one Beaujolais Cru is always different from another. It's way more complicated and winemaker actions (or inaction) is far more influential.

    So in a really broad sense I accept terroir. Why does Marcillac taste as it does? Probably the volcanic soils of the region. Why is there a similarity with Etna? Same reason.

    But when it comes to specifics it's often the Winemakers doing stuff differently. And yet...

    At the Viñateros tasting at Tate Modern I tasted lots of Spanish wines made from tiny parcels, one hectare, even half a hectare in some cases. These wines were on different soils/rock at different altitudes/orientations but made by the same winemaker. When vinified in the same way they tasted different. Why?

    I think the answer is that terroir does exist, but sometimes we are too tempted to put down to terroir what may really be the result of a host of different decisions by different Winemakers. Sometimes it's terroir but often it isn't.

    And I agree, Otto. If the wine is good, I don't really care if the way it's made masks terroir or enhances it. I now try not to obsess over terroir. THAT is what I mean by being less convinced by the terroir argument.
  21. Unfortunately, the term 'terroir' is all too often misused as a simple, effective marketing gag... The winemaker makes the wine, and her/his skills, possibilities, financial opportunities, etc. are the deciding factor.
    Steve Slatcher likes this.
  22. Like you David, I am a sceptical about terroir. To a greater extent though, I think.

    For example, I would say there are many possible terroirless explanations that may contribute to Bordeaux and Napa Cabs tasting different. And there are also some rather obvious terroir-related ones - like climate. But there's nothing very mysterious about growing temperatures affecting grapes though, is there? Can we not just say climate in that case, rather than terroir? Or simply temperature if that is what we mean?

    I am also sceptical about there being a volcanic terroir taste. There are a heck of a lot of altitudes, vineyard expsures and soil types that are volcanic. Is there really a distinctive wine taste? But I do stress my attitude is scepticism here, not denial.
    David Crossley and Rudi Finkler like this.
  23. There's nothing wrong with the concept of terroir as long as you don't go all mystical about it, or indeed overuse it as a marketing tool. And it is also quite clear that winemaking decisions can over ride it.

    But the best argument that there is some validity for terroir is shown by regions such as Burgundy, or Germany, or potentially Spain as the country is evolving, or indeed any region where producers typically work with a multitude of sites. here the same (good) producers make wines year in year out which consistently show the same variations between their different vineyards (though occasionally the extreme character of a particular vintage may to some extent trump these).

    But it doesnt necessarily mean that one person's Volnay Santenots or Wehlener Sonnenuhr will have the same characteristics as another's, even allowing for their winemaking influences. The other key factor is quality of plant material, both rootstock and vine.

    So while I certainly still believe in terroir, it is but one factor in the overall jigsaw.
  24. oops, apologies for thread drift in the above post
  25. I started the thread, and I am as guilty as you :)

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