Like in many areas of the wine world, the French were the first to forge rules and bring order. Two years before any formal recognition, the French association ‘AVN’ (L’Association des Vins Naturels) had already come up with a specification according to which natural wine must be:
- made from organic or biodynamic grapes with guaranteed traceability and from low yielding vineyards
- made from hand harvested grapes
- vinified without any input or additives
In March 2020 natural wines were officially recognized by French authorities: wines that fall within that category will be labelled as ‘vin méthode nature’ which allows the addition of up to 30 mg/l of sulphites at bottling as opposed to conventional wine making where up to 10 times more than that amount is added, and at different stages of the vinification process.
Organic and biodynamic viticulture should be taken more seriously. Their environmental implications are enormous: the preventive rather than interventive approach enhances biodiversity and improves the health of soil and vines which may yield smaller volumes but much tastier fruit.
In the winery, it is probably worth talking about what can’t be done rather than what is done. Fermentation has to occur spontaneously without the inoculation of cultured yeast. Wild ferments are usually slower and gentler, but the way they contribute to the level of aromatic complexity is still underrated. The greater number of yeast varieties naturally present in the vineyard generates a larger number of compounds (mainly flavonoids and anthocyanins) and many believe they are partially responsible for regional distinctiveness.
The ageing vessels of choice are usually inert and have minimal impact on the flavour profile of the fermented juice.
Finally, any sort of manipulation, like acid regulation and clarification, is forbidden or avoided. The finished product typically presents with less alcohol and an extra degree of freshness, a wine that taste alive.
So how do the wines taste? Sparklings, be it a Pet Nat or a Prosecco col Fondo, are cloudy and less effervescent. Whites may appear slightly cloudier than their conventional counterpart (but not always) with various shades of orange/amber if they undergo maceration on skins; reds on the other side, tend to be crunchier, fresher, lighter and can be often enjoyed chilled.