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Natural wines - more than just a niche product?

No subject is more hotly debated than natural wines. But what exactly are they? “Natural wine” isn't a protected or legally regulated term. However, certain guidelines do apply to their production. For instance, natural wines should be additive-free wherever possible. Only the use of wild yeast is permitted, to spontaneously ferment the wine. Nothing is added or taken away: no enzymes, no sugars, no deacidification or acidification, no fining and filtration and, ideally, no added sulphur or very small quantities of no more than 40 mg/l. Out of respect for nature, the vintners manage their vineyards according to environmental or even biodynamic methods.
With this vinification method, scrupulous hygiene must be observed in the cellar, otherwise, you will end up with wines that have dubious microbiology, are oxidized, or smell distinctly off. “Natural wines have to be clean and must neither smell nor have volatile acidity,” explains Austrian winemaker Stefanie Renner, who is one of the stars of the natural wine scene. Together with siblings Susanne and Georg, she has established the “Rennersistas” line. For some time now, the trio has been causing quite a stir with these wines. For the Edition Peter Keller, the Burgenland estate has bottled an exemplary, exciting, natural Blaufränkisch 2017 (available exclusively at www.mondovino.ch).
What Stefanie Renner likes about natural wines is that the stylistics cover a broad spectrum. However, the dedicated winemaker adds, the aim is always to bring the terroir – the origin – authentically to the bottle. The creations are distinguished by their authentic fruit and greater vitality than conventionally produced wines. Unlike other producers, Renner is not dogmatic about sulphur, and will add a small amount if needed.
Natural wines can be fermented and aged in a variety of containers, from the traditional wooden barrel, to concrete egg-shaped tanks or amphora. White wines from an amphora have particularly unusual aromas. This is because they are often orange wines. A natural wine can be, but is not necessarily, an orange wine, a term denoting a white wine that, like a red, is fermented in the mash. Whites are normally pressed immediately, or after a brief maceration. Because the grape skins are in contact with the juice for longer, the colour ends up far more intense: orange, in other words. Moreover, the wines are often cloudy, because they are not filtered.
Natural wines are an exciting addition to Planet Wine - but only when they are really cleanly vinified and a pleasure to drink. However, among the vast array of wines out there, natural wines are a niche, and always will be.