Natural wine is exactly what it seems… organically grown and farmed, before being fermented and bottled without any filtration processes or additives thrown in, and without any corrections made to the end product to mould it to the wine-grower’s own preferences and specifications.
It is, quite simply, wine that remains true to its veritable roots, maintaining its close association with nature and the ground in which the grapes are grown, with each bottle reflecting the characteristics of the soil and serving as a symbol of the region from which it hails.
In contrast, the majority of mass-market wines no longer have this connection to the land and, as such, could almost be considered fraudulent in nature as a result.
Why so? Because the use of synthetic fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides, sulfites, copper sulphate, artificial tannins, tartaric acid and many more additives and ingredients have become commonplace in the industry.
This has become the norm in order to counteract the effects of synthetic chemical farming, as well as to make it less expensive and time-consuming to produce bottles.
Of course, it’s certainly impressive that we’re now able to make alterations like this to wine, affecting flavour, changing alcohol levels and so on… but it also cannot be denied that it does have a relatively homogenising effect, with many wines now tasting very similar to one another because of it.
Now, mass-market wines may not seem particularly problematic at first glance, but issues arise when you consider that they’re promoted based on their geographic origins and their cultural heritage… but, in reality, because of all the changes being made, they could ultimately come from anywhere.
This could almost be considered wine fraud, although not perhaps in quite the same way as that seen in the 18th century. Back then, the phrase was typically used to refer to the selling of cheap wines from unknown regions as more expensive bottles from renowned places.
Wine fraud also involved throwing in huge amounts of sugar during the fermentation process in a bid to increase the alcohol content of the wine, or even adding in distillates or colourants… all of which served to change the nature of the drink and dilute its individuality, no longer reflective of the character of its vineyard in the way it would have done without all these changes.
You could almost look at modern transformative oenology (the study of wines) as the 21st century version of wine fraud, where wines display labels suggesting that they hail from world-renowned wine-growing regions such as Burgundy and Rioja, when in fact they ultimately fail to truly reflect the unique characteristics their natural terroir.
But there is light at the end of the tunnel for avid wine drinkers and there is an alternative tipple to enjoy… natural wine! Put a few bottles on the table at your next dinner party and see what your guests have to say.