Along with sourdough and oat milk lattes, natural wines have become a buzz word in the food and drinks world of late. But what exactly are they and are they any good? It seems London’s hip wine bars are turning a nose up to the masses and offering a selection of cool, curated and all natural wines on their menus.
We wanted to know what all the fuss was about, so sat down with self-confessed wine geek, founder of wine bar Diogenes The Dog and curator of cool new wine speakeasy Bar Aspen, to find out what they’re all about, and most importantly, if they really do give you less of a hangover…
What exactly are natural wines and how are they different from the wines we all know?
There’s no legal definition for what a natural wine has to be. In practise, natural wines follow an ethos, where restrictions are self-imposed by the individual, groups of people or brands making them. But essentially, with natural wines, we rely on the sole use of organic or biodynamic grapes from the vineyard (not always certified), and make our wine in a manner where nothing is added, and nothing is taken away.
Does that make them taste different?
All wines should taste different but yes, many natural wines will have a character different from those found in most high street wines.
The biggest note of differentiation may be found on the nose, where a ‘funkiness’ may arise. Don’t be alarmed! This could be because no or little filtration is used (no taking away remember), which means natural wines could be cloudy. Or that little or no SO2 has been used – SO2 is an antibacterial and antioxidant used in most foods and in wine in much smaller quantities. S02 kills bacteria, hence when no sulphur dioxide is used and bacteria can be allowed to grow in the wine.
It’s not harmful at all but can smell a bit funky! It’s worth remembering that smell and taste are linked very closely so smelling something may lead to thinking you’re tasting something else.
OK, we think we’re on board. What should we be looking for? Good years? Types of grape? What are the insider tricks?
There are no tricks to wine, wine is meant for people, and we all have massively differing personal tastes and preferences. What I think is a good year or grape, may not be what most people like. I believe it’s really detrimental to the enjoyment of wine to get caught up on single grapes or styles. It’s like food, we try and explore different things, don’t we?
Are natural wines less consistent than non-natural wines? How do you know you’re picking a good one?
Natural wine can be less consistent than your run of the mill wines, they’ve had less or little work done to stabilise them, whether through chemical processes or otherwise, meaning bottle variation can be significant for some. If you’re going to a reputable wine shop they should all be good, maybe not all to your individual and personal taste, but still good. Chat to your local wine merchant about what you’re looking for, they’ll know what to suggest and be happy to help.
What’s the difference between organic and natural?
Organic refers to a set of regulations adhered to when growing fruit or grapes, in this case, they require reduced chemical fertilisers and pesticides. However, in the UK at least, at the winery all sorts can be added to the mix in making the wine, the wine is still organic and can be certified organic if the winery are willing to pay for it.
In natural wine, we use similar fruit as organic or biodynamic require, however nothing is added or taken away from the wine in the manufacturing stage.
Are natural wines a better choice for vegetarians and vegans?
Most wines you can call natural, should in theory be vegan. The thing that makes most wine (and beer) non-vegan is the addition of isenglass to the mix or sometimes egg whites. These are added and used as gloopy liquids sprayed over the top of your wine mixture to sink, and stick to cloudy particles in your wine, hence making it a clear liquid. It’s then removed from the bottom of the tank afterwards, leaving a negligible or trace amounts left. This process is called “fining”, and of course cannot be done in natural wines if the follow an ethos of “nothing added, nothing taken”.
Is it true natural wines don’t give you as much of a hangover? We’re hoping the answer is yes…
It’s dehydration that causes hangovers, and alcohol causes dehydration. There are a good proportion of people who are allergic or intolerant to sulphur dioxide, whether mild or severe, and this reaction will definitely not help anyone’s hangover. Natural wines do have much less SO2 than your average wine, however dried fruit will have almost triple the amount of SO2 than your average wines, and if you’re fine with raisins, you should be fine with wine. It’s good to know what’s in the wine we’re drinking, just like the food we’re eating, which is why we highlight the SO2 usage in wine at Bar Aspen – each wine has free SO levels listed next to them.
Read on for Sunny’s top picks on wine whether you’re looking for a crowd-pleasing white to take to your next dinner party invite or some fabulous fizz to pop on Christmas Day…
Sunny's Top White Natural Wine Picks
Sunny's Top Red Natural Wine Picks
Sunny's Top Natural Rosé & Orange Wine Picks
Sunny's Top Natural Sparkling Wine Picks
You’ll find Bar Aspen in Camden every Friday from 5pm-midnight. Wines range from £5-£14 per glass.
Bar Aspen, The Cellars @ Music & Beans, 82 Camden High Street, NW1 0LT