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ADVERTISING: Advertorial — The Natural Wine Movement: A return to roots

by LAURA OLSON/The Dinner Party
| May 15, 2024 1:00 AM

For wine drinkers seeking a more authentic, minimalist approach to their favorite beverage, the natural wine movement has been gaining momentum. But what exactly are natural wines, and why are they becoming so popular?

At their core, natural wines are crafted with little to no intervention in the winemaking process beyond what nature itself provides. Unlike conventional wines, which can employ additives and heavy-handed cellar techniques, natural wines let the grapes speak for themselves with minimal manipulation.

The concept of natural winemaking goes back to how wines were produced for centuries before modern winemaking technology emerged. Vintners of the natural persuasion avoid adding cultivated yeasts, enzymes, tannins, or other common additives. They also forgo techniques like acidification, heavy filtering, and excess sulfur use. 

The result is a wine that is a pure expression of the grape variety and terroir – the unique combination of soil, climate, and other environmental factors that give a wine its distinctive character. Many natural wine advocates claim these purer, more soulful wines offer a deeper connection to their origins.

Of course, this hands-off approach comes with inherent risks. Without the safety nets of modern interventions, natural wines can sometimes develop flaws or faults that would be corrected in conventional winemaking. A bit of volatile acidity, residual fermentation, or microbial characters can sneak through. But for those who favor a more rustic, unvarnished style, these quirks are part of the appeal.

While the methods go back to the old days, the natural wine movement itself took root more recently, in the 1960s and 70s. Winemakers began experimenting with ancient, non-interventionist techniques, looking to recreate wines with more vibrancy and life forces.

From those modest beginnings, the movement spread across the winemaking world, finding fervent disciples from Italy to Australia. Today, it's easier than ever for curious wine lovers to get their hands on natural wines. Look for producers who embrace terms like "natural wine," "naked wine," "wine sans soufre" (without sulfur) or similar phrasing on their labels.

When seeking out natural wines, consumers should embrace an adventurous spirit. With minimal interventions, each bottle may vary vintage to vintage with subtle (or not-so-subtle) differences emerging. It's all part of the rusticity and realness that natural wine disciples find so appealing.

Depending on your personal tastes, a natural wine may strike you as vibrantly alive or un-altered by modern chemistry. Farmier, funkier, more savory sensations from grape compounds and wild yeasts can emerge. Slight effervescence or haziness from unfiltered particles may be present. For fans, these are the very qualities that denote a more honest, artisanal wine crafted with a philosophical commitment to non-intervention. Of course, such a hands-off approach may not be for everyone. Those who favor polished, fruit-forward styles may find some natural wines too rustic or volatile for their liking. There's certainly a broader margin of potential "flaws" versus squeaky-clean commercial wines.  

As we’ve been tasting our way through natural wines, two have stood out as wines we’ve come to respect for their rustic, yet refined flavor profiles without being too far unique on the funky spectrum. New Zealand producer, Vandal wines produces a few fun varietals for the more conventional wine-drinking palate, making the introduction to natural wines a bit friendlier on the tastebuds. Their Gonzo Comat Rouge offers up  notes of berry fruit followed by smooth herbal undertones. Slovenia’s Gönc Winery showcases the unique Blaufränkisch varietal, offering notes of blackberry, black cherry, and pepper as an elegantly delicious natural wine. Both are wines we carry in the shop should you choose to explore the fun and unique world of natural wine.

For the growing ranks of drinkers seeking an authentic taste of terroir and tradition, natural wines deliver a unique, soul-baring experience that reconnects them with the origins and essence of what wine is meant to be. Slightly quirky yet profoundly pure, they are wines crafted not by technicians but by winemakers in tune with nature's magic. Drink them with an open mind and an appreciation for the living complexities that bloom in the glass.

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Laura Olson is co-owner of The Dinner Party along with her partner, Joe Petersen. You can also follow us on Facebook at facebook.com/#!/dinnerpartyshop or visit www.thedinnerpartyshop.com.