Having a glass of wine over Zoom – as is the way, lately – I was talking to an old colleague who lives in Sydney. She wanted to know what wine was in my glass. It was a natural wine by Monteforche in the Veneto.
“It looks cloudy, is it a wheat beer?”
“It’s a natural wine.”
“It looks faulty.”
“I think you would love natural wines. You do have to get your head around it first.”
“Yeah? Why should I have to get my head around anything? I have wine to relax. Not to think too hard.”
“Give it time.”
“Time?” she laughs, “That’s one thing I don’t have,”
I let the conversation drop.
After all, I can’t put my hand through the screen and offer her a taste of what’s in my glass. As much as I wanted to.
The natural wine journey begins…
Recently, I met Edwin from new natural wine, art and music platform, Oranj Wines. His background is in craft beer. So it was interesting to hear him mention he had been on a “natural wine journey.”
What is a natural wine journey?
(And it is a journey.)
I started my natural wine journey in bars and bistros in Paris. Nowadays, fantastic natural wine can be found in most wine shops and restaurants in London (and around the world). And there are new start-ups such as Oranj.
Let’s start at the very beginning. How can you tell who will understand these wines or even if these wines are for you?
1. Spend the majority of dinner trying to decide whether a wine is faulty
One night you’ll be at a fancy restaurant, dressed up for the occasion and ready to spend considerable money on your evening. Then, usually, an alpha person will stand up to point out to the sommelier, and so everyone in earshot, that the wine they are drinking is FAULTY!!!
Usually announced when everyone else at the table is midway enjoying their glass of said “faulty” wine.
Instead of being the professional he/she claims to be by such announcements and swiftly telling the staff to change the bottle without fuss, they bring all the focus to them and carry on about their “wine knowledge”.
All wines have faults. Natural wine or not. It’s not a crime. It’s wine. The irony is that after ruining everyone’s meal, it might not even be a fault.
It is very unlikely this person will ever have the patience to understand how natural wine works. They have to get over their ego first, and that can take decades, if ever.
2. Tasting in acronyms
You will recognise this one if you have ever studied wine.
We all have acronyms to get through the endurance test that is the WSET (Wine & Spirits Education Test) exams. As long as you tick the boxes in the WSET exam, and learn the acronyms to help you do that, then you will pass.
There is a need to have an industry-wide standard of wine language such as WSET. It’s just that natural wines don’t readily fit into the checkboxes that are drilled into you.
If you continue judging natural wine this way, you will get lost pretty quickly.
Some of the Masters of Wine alumni are experts in orange wine and natural wine, so it is not necessarily about the wine education system.
Think outside the box.
3. First impressions mean everything
Isabelle Legeron MW did an interesting experiment in her seminal book, Natural Wine: An introduction to organic and biodynamic wines made naturally. It’s quite cunning.
Without anyone looking, she put red dye in people’s white wines. Asking everyone to tell her what they tasted, she found they described cherry and berry characters, which are more reminiscent of a rosé.
For white natural wine: it is usually cloudy due to no filtration. As my friend said in our Zoom call, it looks faulty. Is it orange or white, sparkling or still?
First impressions don’t mean everything when it comes to natural wine. And anyway, these wines take time.
4. Point and trophy gatekeepers
Usually deeply involved in the process of giving out points and trophies in the wine industry.
Natural wines just don’t fit into the schema.
As is everywhere, some people love to wear their white scientists’ coats in a room full of wines, and then others are happy to hang up their coat when they walk out the door of the tasting room.
Natural wine can make these people very unhappy. Nul points!
5. Not open to recommendations
On the other hand, some wine gatekeepers can be immensely helpful.
A sommelier with an interest in natural wine, or a wine club such as Oranj wine, can point you in the right direction.
Nowadays you can find someone in every wine setting who is on their natural wine journey. And you know wine people, they love to recommend a wine given half the chance.
Let go of clenching the wine list. Some of my best natural wine experiences have been on-the-spot recommendations. These are small producers with tiny productions. It’s not easy to follow up wines that you have enjoyed in the past so it pays to ask.
Natural wines are small producers working within a low-impact philosophy. It is fair to say it is the opposite of wines made in larger quantities for supermarkets.
My humble advice is to let your natural wine breathe, give them time, and even shake the bottle vigorously to let more air into the wine. These are not instant, grab and go wines. It’s closer to the slow food movement.
The takeaway is natural wines can be difficult, they can be different, but they are also delicious and worth the time on a Sunday afternoon on a balcony somewhere. Breathe and let the wine unfold.
A good wine is a good wine. Good natural wine is simply a good wine.
It may take time; free your mind and the rest will follow.
Thanks to Oranj Wines for the wine samples that are part of their Summer Wine offer.
Special offer for Wine Woman & Song readers –
Until the 6th of September, Oranj is running a ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ offer on all individual bottles and mixed cases from the bottle shop: customers can get 20% off using checkout code SUMMERWINE.
Image: Artwork in the September Jura case by Rachel Bungey