What is natural wine?

Written by Emily Humphreys

There are few wine terms more loaded than that of natural wine. To refer to some wine as natural would imply that the alternative is "unnatural" wine, right? To some, its' a legitimate label for wines that have been made with less technological intervention than modern "conventional" wines. To others, it’s a bit of a con, designed to excuse faulty wine or tap into the millennial quest for authenticity.

To define what natural wine is can be tricky, as there is no real rulebook for natural winemaking and no universally agreed definition.  It's probably easier to talk about what it isn't. It's wine that isn't made from grapes grown using synthetic pesticides or fertilizers and It’s winemaking that isn't heavily processed or manipulated.  In its' purest form, natural wine is made from unadulterated, fermented grape juice; with no added yeast and low or no sulphur added.  

Fermenting grape juice

Wild Yeast  

Saccharomyces Cerevisiae is the main strain associated with winemaking because of its tolerance to alcohol and predictable nature. However, it’s rarely found in nature. Because of this, natural winemakers prefer to rely on the many strains of wild yeast that are indigenous to their vineyards that they claim are more representative of the wine’s unique sense of place.

Low or no SO2  

Sulphur’s antiseptic and antioxidant properties protect grapes and wine from both bacteria and oxygen, and its use has until recently been almost universally excepted as standard. Proponents of natural wines argue that adding sulphur to wine is rather like putting it in a straight-jacket; preventing it from expressing itself so they choose to work with as little of it as necessary.

How to spot a natural wine

Skin contact in white wines can lead to an orange appearance

Not everyone who makes wine in this way will choose to label it as a "natural" wine so they're not always that easy to identify. Other signs to look out for include being a bit lower alcohol as wild yeast isn’t always as efficient at producing it, a lack of obvious oak flavours as many producers favour clay, characteristics associated with skin-contact in white wines, and a cloudy or hazy appearance as natural wines are rarely filtered.

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