Dirty wine’ isn’t the drink that’s been sitting out in the pub garden for too long. No, natural or ‘dirty’ wines, are simply fermented grape juice without the addition of any artificial chemical fertilisers, pesticides, fungicides and herbicides. In a sense, it’s wine at its purest.
The natural wine phenomenon is often compared to the enduring obsession with craft beer. Natural wine is developing a cult following made up of trendy, adventurous and iconoclastic drinkers.
But, unlike the traditional wine-drinker, natural wine enthusiasts not are lead by experience, rather, they’re spurred on by the urge to experiment. Non-wine experts can take part in this craze without judgement.
Funky wine is in vogue…
…and it’s only natural. The modern, cosmopolitan drinker is entranced by the ethos and the novelty of this approachable yet vibrant wine. The more egalitarian approach and the relatively low price of many fine-quality natural wines, mean that the drink might be favoured by dilettantes, as well as connoisseurs.
But expertise in natural wine can still be cultivated. The app Raisin was designed purely to fuel the growing intrigue around the drink. Raisin compiles a global database, listing which restaurants, bars and shops stock the product, provides information on hundreds of winemakers and helps users record the different natural wines they’ve tried – creating an inventory of tastes.
The wine market is esoteric
The wine industry has historically been distinguished by expertise. A layman might be able to tell a Sauvignon from a Chardonnay, a profile of fine wines from Bordeaux by The London Wine Cellar displays how a true oenophile will be able to tell the difference between wines made with grapes from either side of the Gironde estuary. Such precise and careful cultivation of knowledge has formed the very basis of the traditional wine industry.
But now, with natural wine, a new drinking culture is beginning to emerge. In tasting and evaluating natural wine, there is supposed to be no objective truth; no indisputably flinty undertones. Instead, wine drinking is taken to be a subjective experience, endowed with meaning through the stories of individual winemakers and their loving efforts.
Mattia Bianchi, co-owner of Berber & Q Shawarma Bar in Clerkenwell explains: “Taste is subjective, you can never assume someone is going to taste the same thing you do, so instead of saying it’s dry, crisp, I’ll tell a bit of a story,” Bianchi explains that the distinctive tastes of natural wine are supposed to be derived not just from the grape, but from the nutrients and minerals in the terrier or the soil from which the vine grows.
Natural wine’s causing a bit of a stir.
Or, more appropriately, a swirl. Whichever way you put it, natural wine is certainly shaking things up. A couple who set up a retail shop and wine bar in Maine, both specialising in natural wine, have explained the knock-on effects of their efforts: ‘Now almost every distributor in Maine has some natural wine, and they’re less scared or timid about selling it.’
But will the fervour for organic, biodynamic and natural wines spell the end for the likes of Bordeaux and Burgundy? Or will the novelty factor of an orange wine begin to wear?
It seems that natural wine is no longer just a craze. It has firmly captured the enthusiasms of a new generation, and won’t be going away anytime soon. But, that said, it seems unlikely that natural wine will come to dominate the market. Why?
Well, naturally, there can be problems …
There are a few obstacles to overcome in the line of production for natural wine. Such wines can be unpredictable and unstable, quickly becoming ‘mousey’ and virtually undrinkable if they’re not shipped and packaged with the utmost care. The bottles may also be slightly reduced, thereby restricting the amount of oxygen that the wine is exposed to. This can create a slightly sulfury smell or an excess of carbon dioxide (meaning the wine has an unintended sparkle).
Whilst these issues can be overcome, natural wine providers don’t seem to be craving industry domination. In fact, the success of natural wine relies on its quaint, intimate feel; it’s the product of the passions of small-scale farmers and the dedication little retailers.This elixir is the result of its own fairy tale and its taste is inextricable from its charming origins. From a long-abandoned vineyard to a brand new city-bar, natural wines can’t afford to lose their personal touch.