Notes from our Sommelier
Natural Wine (Isn’t all wine natural)
- If you’re even slightly into wine, you’ve probably heard about natural wine. Natural wine is the unfiltered, untamed, unphotoshopped version of what we know to be wine. There currently is no regulating board/group defining natural wine so we have to get a bit more specific. Natural wine is a movement that includes many definable categories.
Sulfur / sulfite removed wine
The Wine making process naturally creates a small amount of sulfites that are found in grape skins sulfur in wine acts as a natural preservative some winemakers choose to add more sulfur to further protect their wines. It is possible to remove the natural sulfites from wine although this process is expensive and results in extremely unstable wine with lots of bottle to bottle variation and little duration when aging.
Wines are made with organically grown grapes, all additives (fining agents, yeast, etc) are organic, no GMO’s (or other prohibited ingredients) are allowed including sulfur additions (sulfites). Despite how good this all sounds, there aren’t that many US organic certified wines due to the fact that sulfur is, at the moment, the best available natural preservative for wine. Because of this, you’ll find that most USDA Organic wines have a much shorter shelf life and aren’t meant to age.
“Made with Organic Grapes”
The next step away from USDA Organic is much closer to the European organic certification. Wines made with organic grapes also have organic additives (fining agents, yeast, etc) and are also non-GMO’s. The one caveat to this certification is that wines are permitted to have up to 100 ppm sulfites. Because of this caveat you’ll find “made with organic grapes” to be more popular with forward-thinking quality wine brands.
Since the 2012 vintage, the EU has implemented defining regulations for organic wine (prior to 2012, wines were labeled only with “wine made from organic grapes”). The new EU organic certification means wines are made with organically grown grapes, all additives (fining agents, yeast, etc.) are organic, and no GMO’s (or other prohibited ingredients) are allowed. Sulfur additions are limited to 100 ppm in red wines and 150 ppm in white/rosé wines.
Beyond organics is where sustainability comes into play with resource management in terms water and energy efficiency in the vineyard and winery. Sustainability will grow in importance in people’s minds as climate change continues to become a reality. Of course defining sustainability is a bit complicated because of the unique environmental stresses of different wine regions. This is why you’ll see a myriad of different sustainability certification programs.
There is a small subset of sustainability called biodynamics that focuses on maintaining soil health and timing planting actions with lunar cycles. Biodynamic wines must also practice low-interventionist winemaking to ensure wines become a reflection of biodynamic vineyard practices. Some of the practices in biodynamics appear strange, such as using bizarre soil preparations made with herbs and bones (so they’re not exactly vegan). And, while biodynamics aren’t necessarily based in hard sciences, followers challenge that the processes produce remarkably consistent results of improved soil quality and overall vineyard health.
Orange wine is a term used to describe wines made from white grape varieties like chardonnay or pinot grigio. But rather than following the traditional method for white wine, pressing the juice from the grapes and filtering the skins away. Orange wine is made using traditional red wine methods letting the skins of the grapes sit with and pigment the color of the wine.
Pet Nat or Pétillant Naturel is the oldest method to make sparkling wine once the grape juice is crushed and any additional yeasts are added the wine is directly bottled allowing the wine to finish fermenting in the bottle trapping the naturally produced CO2 resulting in a slightly sparkling wine.
After wine is fermented there are tiny microscopic sediment particles in the wine that make the wine cloudy in appearance. A process called fining is used to remove the sediment that is too small for traditional filtration methods. It is often traditional finding agents that can make a wine unsuitable for vegans. Egg whites or casein (a protein found in milk) can be used to remove tiny particles of sediment, However, other ways of doing this are becoming more popular. Including using clay or plant protein.
Native or Wild Yeast
While grapes have natural yeast in the skin of the grapes, winemakers choose to add yeasts to either speed up the fermentation process or alter the flavor of their wine. Wine that are made from only the natural yeasts in the grape are called Native or Wild Yeast fermented.
Zero zero wine or no intervention wine is extremely rare these days and is basically a combination of all of these techniques. It is wine in its simplest form naturally grown unmodified grapes that are crushed and allowed to ferment naturally before being bottled.
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