natural wine, organic wine, and responsible wine drinking

Natural wine, including biodynamic and organic wine, is well worth seeking out, especially if you’re interested in being a responsible wine drinker. Here’s what you should know.

In the age of wellness Instagram influencers and food bloggers, and the prevalence of cleanses and detoxes, consumers are much more mindful about what they’re putting in their bodies than ever before. That shouldn’t stop with the wine they bring home.

All too often wine is an afterthought, and bottles with familiar labels and cutesy names are thrown in the grocery cart with the organic produce and cage-free, farm-raised eggs. And that, my friends, just doesn’t make sense.

Many places still consider wine and liquor stores to be essential businesses during this time of shelter in place ordinances—and for good reason. Wine is a source of comfort, pleasure, and something we can share at home or via virtual happy hours to make self isolation more tolerable. While there is an emphasis on immune-boosting foods, and staying healthy during quarantine, the kind of wine we drink should be a part of that conversation.

Do yourself and the earth a favor by being a better wine drinker. Follow these tips for how to pick out responsibly made, unadulterated, clean wine that won’t blow your budget, made even easier by contactless pickup and delivery services.

Related Reading: The Best Ways to Buy Alcohol Online

What You Need to Know About Natural Wine

If you’re in touch with the wine world at all, or even if you’re not, you’ve probably heard this term “natural wine,” an old practice that’s had quite the resurgence in the past five years or so. So what does natural wine mean, and why should we be drinking it?

Well, it’s not super clearly defined or regulated, but it’s essentially wine grapes that are farmed without pesticides or herbicides in the vineyard, are handpicked, and fermented spontaneously with wild, native yeasts. There are no additives, no filtration, no manipulations. Natural wines are authentic, pure, raw, and naked. Sustainable, organic, and biodynamic wines all fall into the natural category.

Isabelle Legeron, who is a Master of Wine, the founder of the RAW WINE fairs in London and New York showcasing natural wine producers, and all around authority on natural wine, says we should be drinking natural because “Natural wine hasn’t been tampered with. Something that is really artisanal and small production gives you wine that’s more authentic. It’s more of a representation of where it’s from.”

It also has important environmental benefits, especially for biodiversity. Legeron says natural winemakers are “Encouraging biodiversity and wildlife to come back to the vineyards. It’s encouraging butterfly populations, birds to be nesting nearby,” which for human enterprises is becoming increasingly more rare.

Natural wines are wild, very expressive, sometimes funky, often lighter bodied, with chunky sediment at the bottom and higher in acid. Some of the natural wine touchstones to look out for are light, chillable reds—or “glou glou” reds; whites that are cloudy or have skin contact, a.k.a. the trendy orange wines; and pet nats—sparkling wines made using the original, single fermentation method.

Besides making the more responsible choice for the environment, you’re also being good to your body by drinking natural wine. When you drink natural wine, you’re just drinking fermented grape juice, with little to no added sulfites, no chemicals, and nothing fake. Natural wine skins also have more antioxidants, says Legeron.

Another perk: Often, natural wine has a lower A.B.V. which means little to no hangover (if consumed in moderation), and you can drink more of it without getting hammered.

wine sulfites: what are they, are they harmful, and how do you get rid of them

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Mixed Opinions on Natural Wine

While many wine drinkers—especially millennials—embrace the natural wine movement of the past several years, there are some traditionalists who vehemently denounce it.

For many years leading up to this newfound interest in natural wines, it was big, bold, oaky, fruity, heavy, opulent reds of Napa and Bordeaux that were deemed superior, in large part thanks to the Robert Parker points system and the wines the famous critic favors. Much natural wine criticism stems from the category being legally undefined, and for that critics like Parker have called it a “scam.” Ironically, it’s the wines that are meddled with to taste the same vintage after vintage that seem like the scam, not the wines that have nothing to hide.

It’s these expectations of what a wine from a particular winery, region, or grape varietal should taste like that lead to opposition of the natural wines that disrupt that mentality. Because there are so many artificial ways to protect grapes in the vineyard and tinker with wines in the cellar, there is little to no variation with each vintage. Natural wines can be very inconsistent from year to year, and that’s considered a good thing, at least in the natural wine community.

As for those conventional wines with smoothed over edges, Legeron says “Those wines can be redundant. Why have the same thing year after year? Why have ratings and critics at all?”

Regarding the natural wine backlash, Legeron says “It has ruffled a lot of feathers. It’s made a lot of noise for something that makes up so little of the marketplace. Fortunately, the amount of coverage it gets is disproportionate to the space it holds in the marketplace.”

Legeron also points out that a lot of these critics can’t necessarily identify the region or the name of the wine that they’re rejecting. “It’s people who have a lack of experience, or haven’t tasted that many natural wines,” says Legeron.

Legeron’s advice? “Take it with a pinch of salt and try it for yourself.”

No matter your preference or stance on the issue, wine made without the use of pesticides or synthetic materials is undeniably a good thing for your body and the environment. Not to mention, you’re supporting farmers, small business, and a reduced ecological footprint, which is crucial—now more than ever.

How to Find These Wines

If you’re new to sustainable, organic, and biodynamic wines, all of which fit under the natural umbrella, it may be unclear how to find them. Here are the best ways to begin your natural wine adventures:

  • Shop at a local, independent wine store. The natural wine selection at big box and grocery stores are meager at best. The staff at wine boutiques are there to help you and they are your top resource for finding the best bottles to fit your tastes and your budget. For an even bigger range of options, do a little research to see which of your local wine shops might specialize in natural wines.
  • Look for or ask for wines from natural importers. If you’re unsure whether a wine is natural, check your local shop to see what they have from importers focusing on natural wine producers, like Jenny & Francois, Louis/Dressner, SelectioNaturel, Rosenthal, Von Bodem, Brazos, European Cellars and Ole Obrigado.
  • Look for natural wine indicators. Another way to search for natural wines is to look for clues on the bottle. First of all, natural wines will rarely be one of the brands that almost anyone could name, like those that have a cupcake or a kangaroo on the label. Some natural wines actually get certified for being sustainable, organic or biodynamic. However, many don’t have that certification because it’s very expensive, even though they are practicing the same methods. The logos of the companies that grant certifications will be on the bottle, like Demeter, LIVE Certified, USDA Organic and a host of others specific to certain countries. Most will include the words “organic,” “sustainable,” “green,” or “biodynamic” and will likely have a leaf or plant motif.

For when you’re just getting into natural wines, Legeron says to keep an open mind and don’t be afraid to try something different, even if it looks cloudy. She recommends starting with the “uber drinkable, super juicy” pet nats. After all, who doesn’t love bubbles?

Header image courtesy of CatLane / Getty Images

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