They serve natural wine everywhere these days.
But this trend is much older than you might think.
Natural wine entered popular awareness via the restaurant trade. Its way there was paved by ambitious sommeliers ever anxious to serve their guests something new. Wines from exotic wine-growing regions, for example, with an unusual note or produced by tiny wine estates. It was only a matter of time before natural wines would make their grand entrance. Now, every restaurant worth its salt has a few natural wines on the menu. And even if you don’t actually order one, you’re likely to be served one as part of a wine pairing.
One of the more inscrutable aspects of natural wines is not just their natural clouding. It’s also the fact that no one really knows what natural wine actually is. The name promises purity, pristineness and a return to the essential: the untainted essence of the spirit of wine; a wine that’s handmade by real people, not a factory mass product.
AN OLD TERM
The term is closely linked to the life-reform movement which emerged in Germany and Switzerland in the middle of the 19th century as a critique of industrialisation and the onus of materialism. The 1930 wine law defines natural wine as a “wine that contains no substances other than those needed for cellar treatment”. Unlike today, however, sulphur was considered indispensable at the time.
At the end of the 1960s, the term “natural wine” was superseded by “Prädikatswein” (a top quality wine with certain attributes); although it wouldn’t occur to anyone today to equate the two.
Should natural wine come from organic or biodynamic vines? Which auxiliary agents are allowed? And what about sulphur? According to Mathias Alexander Klotz, junior wine buyer at the KaDeWe, the answer is: “Natural wine should be spontaneously fermented. No culturing yeast should be involved. It should be unfiltered. And the use of sulphur should be minimal if not absent.” Klotz particularly likes natural wines that mature in amphorae – bulbous vessels made from clay.
However, this aspect is not always apparent at first glance. The Portuguese wine estate Herdade do Rocim was kind enough to name its natural amphora-matured red wine “Amphora”.
The Melsheimer family has been growing wine in Reil an der Mosel for generations; their range not only includes the wonderful Rieslings “Vade Retro” and “Molun”, but also the sparkling wine “Rurale”, named after the ancient sparkling wine production method “méthode rurale”. The “méthode ancestrale” process was employed for the great sparkling wine “Brut vom Steil” from the Solveigs wine estate, a process that’s either even more ancient or more traditional, depending on your perspective.
With all this in mind, says Klotz, there’s one thing one shouldn’t lose sight of: “A natural wine should, first and foremost, be a good wine that’s characterised by three aspects: the soil, the climate and the people who make it”. That’s what all good wines have in common.