Natural wine or nature wine?

In the second of her monthly columns for T&C, Sandia Chang explores the historic roots of natural winemaking

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Evidence of grape wine has been dated as far back as 6000BC in areas of Georgia, Armenia, Iran and Greece. I can only imagine the parties they must have had back then, when the consumption of wine was purely for the enjoyment of its alcohol content, rather than being about swirling glasses and picking up scents of ocean breeze or having a palate of freshly crushed ripe blackberries. In those days wines were organically made, with no pesticides or chemicals, no intervention, wild yeast, natural fermentation and the attitude of “whatever happens, happens”.

In 2018, our knowledge of wine-making has improved massively and technology has provided us with greater consistency. Yet many producers have reverted to the natural way of making wines, which means farming organically and, in some cases, biodynamically, with low to no intervention and no additives. In particular, these makers use little or no sulfur, which is normally employed as a preservative to prevent oxidation and maintain freshness (a high dose of sulfur in wine is usually what gives us hangovers).

However, without any intervention, it takes a very skilled winemaker to make a drinkable product. There are no rules or regulations to say what natural wine has to be like, and this is where what I call “nature wines” come into the mix. Imagine leaving a glass of organic grape juice out in the garden next to a flowerbed, letting it ferment – this falls into the latter camp. There is a fine line between a good natural wine and a poorly made one that can get away with it purely because of the simplicity of the process. Here are two examples of natural wines that are actually worth drinking…

Arianna Occhipinti, SP68 Rouge 2016 (Sicily)

Not only is Arianna Occhipinti a female force to be reckoned with, she is also one of the most prominent figures in the natural winemaking world. Her SP68 is a blend of Frappato and Nero d’Avola and represents the true nature of Sicilian terroir. £19, Wine Direct

Vouvray Sec La Dilettante Pierre Breton 2016 (Loire)

Catherine and Pierre Breton are disciples of the godfather of French natural winemaking, Jules Chauvet. Being in the northern climates of the Loire Valley, taking a natural approach is no small feat. They must take immense care of their vineyard with no chemicals, low yields, indigenous yeast, no filtration and no added sulfur. Their Chenin Blanc is dry with notes of white flowers, lime mingled with chalk, minerals and a lacing of honey. £17.95, Buon Vino

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