Most people seem to have a love/hate relationship with it.
Natural wine is well and truly steering the bandwagon at present – after all it’s how the sacred stuff has been made for thousands of years – with the continued rise in our obsession with leading a more ‘organic’ existence.
Punk-rocker turned winemaker Taras Ochota from Ochota Barrels and SMH’s 2017 Sommelier of the Year Tim Watkins from Automata have provided the definition of natural wine, cuisine pairing and how venues can encourage diners to trade in their usual glass of Marlborough sauvignon blanc.
Categorising natural wine is not an easy task due to the absence of guidelines and regulations. “There is no official classification for natural wine and that’s been part of the issue with defining it,” says Watkins. “I define it as wines that have been farmed organically and/or biodynamically and produced in a way that’s minimal or low intervention in terms of farming and the wine-making practice itself.”
For Ochota, taking the organic and biodynamic route from start to finish is the key to creating authentic natural wine. “To me it is simply farming organically/biodynamically and not adding anything besides a bit of sulfur dioxide at bottling,” he says. “Natural wine festivals around the world generally have a limit of 40ppm and we add about 20ppm.”
From acidity to fizz and funk, natural wine has a fluid range of characteristics. “I find greener phenolics from picking early give the wine more energy and a nervous tension,” says Ochota. “I love drinks that make your mouth water for more … compact little bullets of tightly wound flavour drops that pulse your saliva glands. Some ‘faults’ in balance give a wine gorgeous character and interest.”
Due to the fact that it is a low-intervention method, there can be variations between bottles which can be alarming for consumers who have always experienced wine that never falters in consistency. “With low-intervention wine making, the risk of wines having variation between bottle to bottle is greater,” says Watkins. “With natural wine, I’ll open a bottle and the same wine may taste a little bit different. In one rule of thought, it could be looked at as a fault, whereas for other people, it’s not better or worse — it’s different.”
The flavour profile of natural wine is also subject to alteration due to the lack of preservatives. “The philosophy with a lot of people in the natural wine community is that the wines are alive and will change quite frequently over time,” says Watkins. “With natural wines, this will occur within a year or a short timeframe. It won’t be bad or good, it will just have a different profile over time.”