Here today, gone tomorrow. Some things live on, others don’t last a wet Irish week. Step aside organic wine (so last year!) – the latest fad among wine enthusiasts and winemakers worldwide the love affair with natural wine. Natural wine is in some ways mysterious, marking a return to the practices of winemaking first used long, long, ago.
Unlike our traditional wine that we appreciate and love today, natural wine is produced without the use of additives, such as chemicals and stabilisers; it is all about the winemaking process.
A natural wine will vary from winemaker to winemaker, as no specific classifications exist for guidance.
The grapes applied in natural wine are grown using organic and bio-dynamic certified farming practices, restraining the use of fertilisers and fungicides. In biodynamic viticulture, farmers implement a range of holistic measures to the vineyard, such as treating the soils with herb applications such as chamomile and basing their growing around the lunar calendar.
While most of our conventional wines will have additives used in the winemaking, like egg whites for filtration, natural wines will commonly be additive free. The natural-wine producers will even forego much of the technology used in winemaking today, favouring more traditional techniques of hand harvesting, foot stomping (to crush the grapes, a process also known as ‘pigeage’) and little to no filtration.
Some winemakers will even use very neutral oak barrels, so the oak does not impart any flavour to the wine as it ages in the barrel.
In conventional wines, the application of additives is necessary for attaining consistency, such as colour, flavour and density. Due to the absence of additives, natural wines can therefore be cloudy (because of the minimal filtration) and darker in colour, as well as incredibly complex and flavourful.
Natural wines apparently carry several health benefits too (when drunk in moderation, of course). Wine is naturally high in antioxidants, and another compound called resveratrol, which is good for brain and heart health.
Ireland’s leading natural wine retailer and importer Le Caveau (www.lecaveau.ie) has over 80 different natural-wine options from such countries as France, Spain and Italy. While the price is not necessarily higher or lower than traditional wine, natural wines can offer serious diversity and complexity, giving the consumer something a little different.
A fabulous example which you should taste if you’d like to give natural wine a try is Le Caveau’s ‘Peza do Rei’ from Galicia, in the northwest of Spain. This wine, produced with the Mencia grape, is a wonderful introduction at just €17.95.
‘Peza’ is Galician dialect for ‘pieza’ or ‘trozo’, meaning ‘parcel’, while ‘rei’ is Galician for ‘rey’ meaning ‘king’. This wine is named after a famed five-hectare parcel of prime vineyard that was considered one of the best vineyards in the time of Castilian kings.
Peza do Rei is fermented and aged in stainless steel and sees no oak at all. It is described as a ‘light bodied, sappy, mineral red with crunchy red fruits (redcurrant/cranberry) and refreshing acidity’.
Irish Times wine columnist John Wilson is a fan too: “Regular readers will know that I love red wines from this part of northwestern Spain, and this was one of my favourite wines … fresh juicy raspberry and cherry fruits, with a lovely minerality. I could drink this all night long.”
Philip Dunne is Head Sommelier at Ashford Castle, Cong. Trained by the Court of Master Sommeliers, he is part of the team voted the Best Wine Experience in Ireland 2016 at the Restaurant Association Awards in Ireland.