There was a time when calling a wine “natural” was unnecessarily redundant since all of them were the miraculous transformation of grape juice into the glorious beverage we all know and love. No need back then to say it was organic as they all were.
Nowadays, many yearn for those bucolic vineyards were the human touch was subtle and alcohol was the only chemical that came to mind. Truth said, modernisation and massification of the industry brought progress and an unprecedented improvement in quality, but it came with a price: closer to science than to art, winemakers’ intervention and the palette of available additives ranged from the ubiquitous and often misunderstood sulphur dioxide, to the really shocking resources (many still remember the antifreeze scandal of the eighties that led to tighter controls and which transcended to the point of being parodied on an episode of The Simpsons).
Keeping it Real: Organic, Biodynamic and Natural Wines
Hence things come full circle as producers and enthusiasts go back to basics with all the gathered know-how and a renewed respect for tradition. The Real Wines trend is born out of the realisation that nature is the original winemaker and that man’s role is to guide instead of to impose, that way the resulting wine will truly reflect the terroir, the fruit and the vintage, not just the flavour-profile that has been decided in a lab.
Organic, biodynamic and natural wines make the main branches of this tree. And although they share the common principles of sustainability and environmental and social awareness, there are a few key differences in these paths to green winemaking.
Organic wines are those made with grapes farmed without the use of synthetic additives, fungicides or pesticides. Biodynamic wines come from vines grown according to the principles of biodynamic agriculture, in which the ecological and the esoteric converge to bring the land to harmony. These beliefs include the treatment of the fields with a series of compost preparations meant to ensure fertility and health that are applied during specific moments determined by the phases of the moon. While some dismiss it as little more than fairy dust, others swear by it and make of biodynamic winemaking more than a profession, for them it is a lifestyle.
Natural wines go beyond the vineyard and into the cellars, and those who walk this clear path are certain that when it comes to winemaking, less is more. The grapes have to be organically grown, but the process is also as important for them: the use of indigenous yeasts, minimal or no filtration and the addition of as few sulphites as possible (ideally none) make the triad of natural winemaking.
Lovely… But is the wine any better?
The answer to that question will vary greatly. Flavour and quality wise, Real Wine can be as good or as bad as any other, and while certainly the extra care put on the land and the vines will positively affect the resulting wines, experts call for caution when looking for a bottle since wineries are not always certified and it’s up to the maker’s honesty to live up to their claims (at the same time, since their reputation is so important, serious but uncertified winemakers will be very strict in their practices and hold themselves to high standards). However, ecologically speaking, there is no question about it, their impact on the environment is definitely lower.
It will be up to wine lovers to decide whether or not to dwell into this trend or to simply enjoy good wines that happen to be organic, biodynamic or natural. In case you’re curious, these bottles are a good way to start…
This refreshing sparkling comes from a new Catalonian DO, Classic Penedés, a privileged area within the DO Cava where organic and eco-friendly practices are strongly encouraged.
Its name and label honour Zeus’ foster-mother, usually depicted as a goat which reminds you of the sheep and wildlife that roam around the vineyard that produces this structured and highly acidic sparkling, elegant and almost restrained, with a minimum aging of 15 months in bottle that adds to its complexity and character. With very little added sugar, it’s crisp, tangy and citrusy refreshing.
Domaine Jean Bousquet Chardonnay Grand Reserve 2010 (Organic)
€23,95, Searsons Wine Merchants
13,% ABV / 100% Chardonnay
Very aromatic and with a smooth beginning that leads the way to candied pineapple and green apple notes, this lively white comes from Tupungato, the northernmost sub-region from the Uco Valley in Argentina. Rich and full bodied, it benefits from the ten months in French oak barrel where it’s kept for aging, and that adds a pleasant layer of spiciness to its flavour profile.
Long lasting and with a hint of sweetness at the end, this is a wine that manages to be voluptuous yet elegant, not overly loud but definitely not shy. Serve it with roasted chicken, rich fish dishes or a strong cheese risotto.
Hand picked grapes from the Rueda DO in Spain are organically grown to produce this natural wine, fermented thanks to the indigenous yeasts that nature provides, and with zero added sulphur. The maker’s hand is only evident in the malolactic fermentation that gives it volume and adds dessert-like notes to the taste.
A medium bodied white that surprises: not only the honeycomb notes merge with the usual acidity of Verdejo for a milder, subtler taste, but it shows that, left to her own devices, nature is a fabulous winemaker.
Matsu “El Recio” 2013 (Organic)
€27,99, Baggot Street Wines
14,5% ABV / 100% Toro (Tempranillo)
Also known as Tinta de Toro, Spain’s flagship grape Tempranillo grows ripe and sweet in the warm DO of Toro, where the old vineyards (up to 100 years old in some cases) retain the best from the organically treated land they grow in and make this red which name loosely translates as “the though one”. But despite living up to its name, this intense ruby coloured and notably alcoholic wine feels balanced on the palate.
An eye-catching label gives “El Recio” a face, that just like it, seems a bit rough but peaceful, aged but full of life. On the palate, expect a combination of dark chocolate and blackberries with a dainty hint of vanilla.
Gabriela’s passion for writing is only matched by her love for food and wine. Journalist, confectioner and sommelier, she fell in love with Ireland years ago and moved from Venezuela to Dublin in 2014.
Since then, she has written about and worked in the local food scene, and she’s determined to discover and share the different traditions, flavours and places that have led Irish food and drink to fascinate her.