It never ceases to surprise me how ratty people in the wine trade get about natural wines. Admittedly, the description is ill-defined and confusing, but to make that a basis for objecting to the entire category is disingenuous. We all know what we mean: namely, wines made without chemical additions, generally with wild yeasts and with very little, if any, added sulphur.
That doesn’t mean they’re all brilliant, of course. There are talented and less talented natural winemakers, just as there are more or less competent conventional ones. I drink both for the avoidance of doubt. Why do I like them? I find there’s a vibrancy and freshness about natural or natural(ish) wines that really appeal to me, especially at this time of year. Others may find their acidity and occasional slight funkiness unappetising. That’s fine: you don’t have to drink them. Just don’t diss those who do.
None of this argy-bargy is new, of course, but these wines are now beginning to creep into supermarkets and traditional wine merchants. Not in any great numbers as yet, true, but you can definitely buy wines today that you would never have got hold of even a few years ago.
Red wines are a more accommodating starting point than whites, because they tend – as you’ll find if you buy the Davida in today’s recommendations – to be light, bright and breezy, the kind of wine to crack open on a picnic. That said, though, if you’re used to the more full-bodied, riper style of red that’s currently popular, they may confound expectations. Not everyone on the Berry Bros & Rudd website, for example, likes its new Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 (£9,95), which is made, like another of the wines below, by natural wine producer De Martino, but I do, not least because it’s just 13% and like an old-school “lunchtime claret”.
Whites, too, can be unusual if they involve skin contact (which may classify them as “orange”) or if they’re made with indigenous yeasts, which can give them a slightly appley, rather than a clean, citrussy or mineral character. But if you’re bored with sauvignon blanc – and I wouldn’t blame you – they can make a very welcome change.
So how can you tell whether a wine is natural, short of it stating so on the label? Likely indicators are that it’s biodynamic, has been made with indigenous yeasts without added sulphur and that it’s unfined and/or unfiltered. They also tend to have unconventional names and modern, colourful labels. And at this sort of price, they’re worth a punt.
Four natural(ish) wines to try now
£8 Co-op, 14%.
Exuberant, juicy Spanish red from Rioja’s neighbour, Navarra. Mainly garnacha, no added sulphur. A real vin de soif (thirst-quencher).
Orange Natural Wine 2018
£6 Asda, 12%.
A good first step into orange (aka skin contact) wine. Drink this Romanian with meze.
Arestel Cava Ecologica
£6.99 Lidl, 11.5%.
Organic cava in the fashionable brut nature (unsweetened) style. Rich, full-flavoured and toasty.
De Martino Gallardia Old Vine White 2018
£14.50 bbr.com, 13%.
Gorgeously summery, fragrant, muscat-based white from one of Chile’s most exciting producers. Great aperitif.
• For more by Fiona Beckett, go to matchingfoodandwine.com
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