Those who’ve been paying attention to the Italian wine industry will have noticed that there has been a fairly steep rise in the number of organic wines making their way to the market.
Believed by some to be inferior to traditional wines, organic wines sell themselves on the fact that they create far fewer issues for the land.
But there’s another type of wine that goes into the mix as well. You may have heard of natural wines. In fact, many confuse these types of wines with organic wines. That’s understandable, given the all-natural nature of organic wines. But they’re actually two different things.
So, that brings us to the topic of this article. Traditional, organic, and natural. What are they and what are the differences between them?
Traditional Italian Wines
Even today, most of the wines that you’ll drink fall under the traditional banner.
It would be inaccurate to claim that traditional wines face no restrictions. In particular, they fall under the restrictions placed on all Italian wines by the DOC. To carry a particular label, a traditional wine must contain a certain amount of specific grape varieties, as well as coming from a particular region.
The major difference comes in the grape growing practices employed in the making of traditional wines. While there are still some restrictions when it comes to these practices, traditional winemakers will often use man-made fertilisers and other chemicals when creating their wines. They’ll use chemical pesticides and other tools that make it easier for them to grow their grapes. The trade-off is that these chemicals may have a negative impact on the land that they use.
Many argue that these processed play an important role in making the type of wine that they wish to create. Of course, many also argue that the use of chemicals make such wines less safe to consume.
Traditional wines also make very heavy use of sulphites. These chemical compounds play a crucial role in preserving the integrity and quality of a traditional wine. In fact, many winemakers argue that they’re absolutely essential.
But it’s important to note the context of the word “heavy” when it comes to traditional wines. Though they contain more sulphites than their organic counterparts, this still typically means somewhere between 20 and 200ppm of sulphites. Your wine isn’t so loaded with chemicals as to make it undrinkable. The sulphites just help to preserve the quality of the wine.
So, a traditional wine still relies on the natural qualities of a grape to give it its flavour. But the winemakers will happily use pesticides, fertilisers, and sulphites of man-made origin to achieve what they’re looking for.
Organic Italian Wines
It’s in the farming that organic wines have the most difference to traditional wines. Organic and biodynamic wines use no man-made chemicals or fertilisers during the farming process. This does not mean that organic farms don’t use fertilisers and pesticides. Anything that falls under the organic banner is safe to use on an organic farm. But there are no man-made chemicals used purposefully in the farming process.
This is done for a few reasons. Firstly, the organic label now carries a certain amount of prestige with a niche of consumers. People have become more aware of the foods and drinks that they consume. In particular, they’re more aware of the effects that various chemicals can have on their bodies when consumed in high enough doses. An organic wine is one that’s certified to be free of these chemicals.
Moreover, many winemakers argue that organic wines offer a truer representation of their land than traditional wines. The lack of chemicals in the wine means that the taste is in not altered through chemicals. This tends to lend such wines a slightly mineral quality. But there’s no denying that they’re more accurate reflections of the land, even if you can dispute the quality.
The use of sulphites is something of a grey area for these wines. On one hand, the number of sulphites in an organic wine is far lower than the number in a traditional wine. On the other, they’re not completely absent. An organic wine can contain as many as 10ppm of sulphites.
Organic wines also carry certification from a relevant organisation. A wine cannot legally call itself organic if it does not pass one of these certification schemes.
Natural Italian Wines
All of this makes organic wines sound like natural wines. And the similarities are there. Both make use of natural farming practices that eliminate the use of chemicals in the growing process.
In fact, most natural wine growers use either organic or biodynamic farming practices. Of course, this leads to a lot of confusion. The same farming practices must surely produce the same type of wine?
That’s not the case. The “natural” term was coined specifically to separate these types of wines from their organic and biodynamic cousins. The differences between the two comes in the cellar.
A natural wine is one that uses a process in which nothing is added or taken away from the wine during the making of the wine. Typically, this means that a natural producer will not add any sulphites to their wine. If they add even a little, the wine ends up falling back under the organic banner.
Natural means natural in the truest sense of the word. The wine is the closest representation of what the land has to offer.
However, unlike with organic wines, natural wines don’t yet have a certifying body. This means that a wine may claim to be natural when it really isn’t. As a result, you must take more care when buying a “natural” wine than you would when buying an organic wine. Research the producer and ensure that they actually stick to natural practices throughout. Otherwise, you may end up with a wine that doesn’t meet your expectations.
The Final Word
The debate still rages in relation to which of these types of wine is the best. In truth, it’s a conundrum that likely won’t be resolved. Traditionalists argue that the quality dips when you go organic or natural. But those in the latter two camps appreciate the lack of chemicals in their wines.
Which you choose depends on your personal tastes.