There’s no denying the fact that the Italian wine industry is subject to trends. In fact, the global industry ebbs and flows depending on the tastes of the masses. There are plenty of examples of wine trends that have had huge effects on the industry.
Take the British developing a taste for Prosecco about a decade ago as an example. That trend has played a part on Prosecco becoming the world’s most popular sparkling white wine. And now, the wine is seeing increased acceptance in other countries, such as the United States.
We also saw a trend towards Pinot Nero winess in the late-1990s and early-2000s. That was inspired by, of all things, a book and its associated movie.
The point is that the industry evolves based on some strange things. At times, these trends last a year or two before dying out. At others, they become important parts of the industry and may even set new standards for the industry to follow.
And that brings us nicely onto the subject of natural wines.
In a world where so many people value organic products and have such a huge concern for the environment, can we consider natural wines a trend? Or, should we consider them to be the next evolution of the Italian wine industry?
Let’s find out.
What is a Natural Wine?
“Natural” is something of a blanket term that encompasses both organic and biodynamic wines.
With such wines, the producer uses no man-made chemicals when growing their grapes. That means no pesticides, fertilisers, or other chemicals that could harm the natural integrity of the vine. Anything that is used needs to be a natural product that won’t have an effect on the ecosystem surrounding the vineyard.
But the concept stretches beyond the vineyard too. When the grapes are transferred to the cellar and turned into wine, the producers neither add nor remove anything that could change the complexion of the wine. Again, that means now unnatural chemicals used during the fermenting or ageing processes. There are no processing aids or additives used. In fact, any sort of intervention is kept to the bare minimum to ensure the fermentation process is as natural as possible.
That means that no fining is used to alter the wine. Plus, it’s unlikely that the wine will go through filtration or see the addition of sulphites to help preserve it.
The end result is the creation of what many dub a “living” wine. Natural wines differentiate themselves because they claim to offer the most wholesome and realistic representation of what the grape and the land that it grew in is capable of. Some would argue that you can only truly taste the terroir if the grape isn’t tampered with.
Going completely natural also means that all of the microbiology that occurs during the winemaking process remains in-tact.
As such, you could have a natural and non-natural producer create the same type of wine. And when you taste tested the wines, you’d notice a marked difference. That doesn’t mean that one is automatically going to offer higher quality than the other. It just means that the natural process lends something different to the wine.
The Trend Towards Natural Wines
The interesting thing that we’re seeing right now is that there’s a definite trend towards natural wine adoption.
For example, it’s not difficult to find natural wines available from many different vendors. At xtraWine, we offer a range of organic and biodynamic wines that fall into the natural category. Each has been selected because we believe that it offers something that you might find interesting.
You’re also much likely to see natural wines appearing at restaurants and trade shows. In many ways, the rise of natural wines mirrors that of the rise of artisanal beers. There’s almost an “us against them” vibe that you get from some natural winemakers. They’re the rebels in the industry who are changing the way that people do things.
And the sales figures certainly show that natural wines are on the rise.
In the UK, the Waitrose shopping chain reported a 57% increase in organic wine sales for 2018. We’re seeing similar increases among merchants from all over the world.
So, natural wines have definitely found a niche. There’s a defined market for the products, which means more winemakers are throwing their hats into the natural arena. Even some major producers have started to explore the concepts behind natural wines.
The question now is will that niche become the new standard for the industry in the years to follow?
The Natural Wine Controversy
The answer to that question depends on who you ask.
There’s a full-blown controversy brewing about the topic of natural wines. Some say that these wines are true representations of the land that produced then. They’ll argue that such wines are more traditional than any wine that’s made using modern chemicals and production techniques. As such, they should garner instant respect from all who drink them.
Others take a far less favourable view. Many a sommelier has expressed their dissatisfaction with the natural wines that they’ve come across. Take Master Sommelier Alpana Singh as an example.
She claims that the natural wines she’s tried seem to have a strange fizz to them, even when they’re meant to be still. She also says that they tend to be quite cloudy and they have a strange aroma to them that she bluntly says is like a barnyard.
However, others will say that the wines are as they should be naturally. Many also believe that natural wines offer a juicier and more acidic taste that’s far closer to that of the grapes that produced them.
The Final Word
The one thing that we can’t deny is that there is a definite demand for natural wines in the market. And if the sales figures are anything to go by, that demand is intensifying year-on-year.
Will it be enough for natural wines to overtake current wines in the years to come? It appears unlikely. There’s a lot of divided opinion on the subject, especially when it comes to quality.