Natural wine? But wine is natural!
The ABC’s of wine.
It is true that wine has a lot to do with nature. Nevertheless, it is and remains part of man’s cultural heritage, and therefore is a child of civilization.
Wine needs the hand of man to transform wild vines into cultivated vineyards and to keep the fermented grapes from becoming vinegar. Man is able to draw on experience. This is how traditions are born and developed, and how progress is made with experience and new knowledge.
In the course of this development, about 40 years ago, the movement for returning to natural wine (vin naturel) crystalized. This movement has matured over the years, and is now taken very seriously in the world of wine.
Modernization and globalization have had a long and a strong influence on the production of wine. To producers who adopt natural methods of making wine, this decisive question comes up: how and to what point should man’s hand push nature in its efforts at domestication?
The question is not simply about ecology and sustainability, the health of consumers and producers, the conservation of the soil or the fertility of the land. Critically, there are also considerations about the authentic ex
Wine is biodynamic… and much more.
The movement began with a group of five French dissidents – “the group of 5” – young winemakers who were mostly from the Beaujolais area. And over time, a network of winemakers, commercial producers and journalists grew beyond the confines of France.
In Switzerland, there are more and more tastemakers who are choosing natural wine, and here too in Italy, more and more professional winemakers are pressing their grapes naturally. Today, natural wines are served in thousands of international restaurants, influencing the world of wine in significant and long-lasting ways.
Natural wine has found a place for itself that it will never lose!
What is natural wine?
- The grapes must be cultivated in a biological or biodynamic manner.
- The grapes must be cultivated by hand only.
The aging process
- The original structure and uniqueness of each grape must be respected. During vinification, all invasive or traumatic technical processes which alter taste must be renounced, such as reverse osmosis (dehydration), tangential filtration, pasteurization, thermovinification, and micro oxygenation.
- The natural grape fermentation process must be respected, i.e., spontaneous fermentation by wild yeast present on the grape’s skin and in in the wine cellar must allowed to take place without interference.
- There can be no addition of any chemicals, plant or animal, such as chosen yeasts, chosen bacteria, sugaring, or treatments to correct and/or beautify.
- Very little or no SO2 can be added: 0 – 30 mg/l for sparkling wines and red wines; 0-40 mg/l for white wines. These amounts are sufficient, regardless of residual sugar content.
Nothing should be added to a natural wine nor removed. Because nothing is added, the wines can also be defined as vegan.
Where does the headache of a hangover come from? As the question implies various factors, there are different possible answers.
With the help of enzymes our liver eliminates alcohol in two stages. In the first stage, the alcohol (ethanol) is oxidized by the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) into acetaldehyde, a very toxic substance created that continues to circulate in the blood. In the second stage, with the help of aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH), the same acetaldehyde is, in turn, oxidized into an innocuous acetate (acetic acid) that the body can easily expel.
The strong headaches from a hangover are therefore attributed to the toxic nature of acetaldehyde.
It has been found that woman tend to tolerate alcohol less well than men because they generally have more body fat. And alcohol dissolves better in water than fat. Thus, given an equal amount of alcohol consumed, ethanol tends to remain in circulation longer for women.
Studies on sleep disturbance have also found that one of the side effects of a hangover is also insomnia. The quality of one’s sleep, is, in fact, effected by the amount of acetaldehyde in one’s body.
The role of free sulfur (sulfites or SO2). An elevated quantity of sulfites added to a wine (more than 50 mg/l), keeps the enzyme aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH) from oxidizing toxic levels of acetaldehyde in the body.
The body’s metabolism also slows down, and the longer a toxic substance circulates in the blood, the worse we feel.
SO2 and oxidation of alcohol in natural wines During the different stages of wine making all, or all most all additions of SO2 are renounced. Some natural winemakers do add minimal quantities of SO2 during the bottling process.
With natural wine there are extremely limited amounts of sulfites added, that is, a maximum of 30 mg/l for red wines (versus up to 200mg/l in traditional wines), and a maximum of 40 mg/l for white wines (versus up to 400 mg/l with traditional wines).
Elevated levels of SO2 (that is, levels more than 50 mg/l) prevent the body’s ALDH enzymes from transforming the toxic acetaldehyde (formed during the oxidation process of alcohol in the blood) into a harmless acetic acid.
This does not happen with natural wines: the non-existent or at least irrelevant amounts of SO2 have no effect on the oxidation process, thus the toxic acetaldehyde is processed and expelled. And so we do not suffer -- and are better able to enjoy the wine!
Bouquet and flavor: the link between smell and taste. There are three levels that distinguish the aroma of a wine: the primary aromas are contained within the skin of the grape, the secondary aromas develop in the fermentation phase, and the tertiary aromas develop in the refinement phase (with wooden barrels, wine tanks etc.).
Primary aromas depend essentially on the type of grape and its cultivation. In the case of natural wine, we begin with a healthy grape, grown in a biological or bio-dynamic manner, harvested by hand. The roots of the vines grow deep into the earth, absorbing minerals and nutrients. The leaves and the fruit are allowed to grow and mature freely as they adapt to the climatic conditions. Thus, the wine receives the pure flavor of the grapes.
Secondary aromas are formed during fermentation by yeast and lactic acid bacteria. The natural fermentation process is neither induced (with grown yeasts) nor arrested (with SO2), but rather occurs spontaneously with natural yeasts already present on the grape skins or within the winery. Pure or natural wine have different original ingredients -- outside of fructose, acids, various bacteria and yeasts, colorants (phenol) and tanning agents (tannin), there are also three different types of alcohol: ethanol, methanol (in limited amounts), and the alcohols that are considering more “noble” or “long chain” which give the aroma to the wine.
Using selected yeasts during the fermentation process, the wine is regulated both for aroma and taste. Conventional production adopts this method to “fix” the flavor of a wine (so it will be the same year after year), or to change the wine depending on the fashion of the moment. In contrast, the flavor of a natural wine changes every year, as it is dependent on the particular climactic conditions and the technical details of the year of the harvest.
Tertiary aromas develop while aging inside barrels or bottles. The winemakers of natural wines follow the natural process of wine in the aging process as well. Some age their wines in wooden barrels, other use stainless steel or fiberglass tanks, others use amphorae or concrete tanks. The choice is always determined however by the will to maintain and develop natural aromas.
Natural wines can be stored and aged in bottles for years, with careful attention being given to a wine cellar’s temperature, which should be, if possible, between 14° and 17° degrees.
Natural winemakers pursue the production of “beautiful wines with little alcohol and a lot of aroma“, just as was intended for Beaujolais, said “the father of natural wine,” the chemist and winemaker Jules Chauvet, sixty years ago. Just as wines were produced once upon a time. For Chauvet, wine was, above all, “an aroma not an alcohol” – an authentic ex
For the winemakers of natural wine, Chauvet’s instructions represent an enormous challenge that requires very healthy grapes, and also a vast knowledge of wine cellars.
The term “domaine” means a vineyard, or even better, a farm that cultivates wine – that produces and often sells wine and its derivatives (sparkling wine, brandy, etc.). The winemaker cares for the vineyards, harvests the grapes, and supervises the production and bottling of the final product.
The vineyards are often family businesses of monistic or noble origins. Many vineyards also offer guided tours and tastings in their wine cellars.
Considering that the production of natural wines are so sensitive to differences in quality (relative to other agricultural products), winemakers often tend to identify their vineyards with a brand. In particular, this happens when some factors, such as position, microclimate, conformation of the soil, have a particularly positive effect on the quality of the harvest.
In this regard, the production of natural wine calls for even stricter rules, such as the total renunciation of additives and harmful substances, from the cultivation of the grapes to the bottling of the wine.
“Istamina” or histamine in Engllsh, is present in many everyday foods and is also produced naturally by our bodies. It is a substance that is needed in our bodies for its regulatory abilities.
Histamine is also found in fermented red wines, along with other “degraded” by-products. Its production is a normal phenomenon that accompanies the decomposition process, like the one that occurs in the fermentation of wines. The larger the amount of additional (sub) products to the wine during fermentation, the more “degraded” byproducts there are.
When foods are consumed that contain histamine, the enzymes of a healthy body are able to degrade it naturally. The same process occurs with other “degraded” by-products. Unfortunately, the enzymes work first on “degraded” by-products, and only afterwards on histamine – so sometimes the most sensitive consumers can become ill.
Pétillant naturel, abbreviated “pet nat,” is the most natural method of producing sparkling wine, in other words with the least amount of intervention from external factors.
In short, pet nats are spumanti (or sparkling wines if they are under 3 bar), that, as opposed to champagne, do not require a second fermentation. The still fermenting must (whether in a stainless steel tank, a wooden barrel, a concrete tank, or amphorae) is bottled with residual sugar content and capped under pressure. It is under the crown cap that the carbon dioxide develops thereafter.
Generally, yeast is left in the bottle and discharges are rare. Today, most pet nats are “sur lie” (on the yeast), and have a longer storage time. This method is customarily defined as the “méthode ancestral” or ancestral method (in the sense that its origins are from a long time ago). In Italy, Prosecco was originally produced in this manner. The “methode ancestral” may seem easy, but the fermentation process within the bottle is actually very hard to control, and there is not a lot of competition among winemakers in Italy who use this process. It was in the 90s in France that ambitious winemakers returned to this style. Today, with the growing interest in and attention to natural wine, there has also been an increase in attention to pet nats. In London, Paris, Copenhagen, Tokyo, and New York, this light wine which naturally contains carbon dioxide, has found a place in a large range of restaurants, not simply high-end ones.
“Terroir” is a French term without a matching Italian (or English) equivalent. It indicates the set of geological, physical and climactic conditions of a defined area in which a vine grows. The term used to be used to also designate a region and its typical culinary products (cheeses, meats, oil, etc.).
Most of us know what “terroir” is, even if we do not know of the term itself. Take for example the berries and wild fruits and other agricultural products of a pristine land of a specific geological area with a particular climate or soil – or also, the fresh unpasteurized milk of cows grazing in the Alps.
Terroir and viticulture. When France in the 1930s began to classify the locations of vineyards, the term “terroir” began to be used in winegrowing – referring to the combination of climate and soil that can be ascertained by certain obtainable objective factors:
- Solar energy (irradiation, duration of irradiation)
- Temperature (nighttime and daytime temperatures)
- Soil surveys (permeability)
- Geology (slope and conformation of the land)
- Soil moisture (quantity and distribution of rains)
Interpretation and production of wine. As mentioned before, there is not an exact translation for “terroir”. Depending on the interpretation, the term is also not necessarily limited to refer only to nature’s influences, but also can include factors produced by the cultural activities of man. In general, for winemakers, this is a standard factor. However, for natural winemakers, this is a particularly critical factor.
A bitter aftertaste. There is no denying that today, the term “terroir” has become a marketing concept. In fact, it is sometimes overused and, at times, degenerates into an empty symbol of “quality,” and used without scruples around the world. even for industrial products.
For the tastemaker therefore, it is even more important to understand the exact origins and types of cultivation and winemaking.
Free SO2 in natural wine Grapes naturally contain traces of sulfur. In the traditional production process, during vinification, there is a step that includes the addition of free sulfur to the grape juice, so that the wine can adapt to any temperature. In natural red wines, the added free sulfer is limited to a maximum of 30 mg/l (versus up to 200 mg/l for traditional wines), while for natural white wines the maximum is 40 mg/l (versus 400 mg/l for traditional whites).
When wine has a high amount of free SO2, the body enzyme ALDH can not transform the toxic acetaldehyde during the oxidation of alcohol into a harmless acetate acid.
Not so with natural wine: the complete lack of, or minimal amount of SO2 does not affect the body in this way, therefore the toxic acetaldehyde is processed and expelled. We do not suffer from the wine, and instead we can handle and enjoy even more of it!