Top Picks From the Wine Cellar: 5 ‘natural wines’ to savor
In today’s social media cauldron, nothing generates more heated diatribes than the topic of “natural wines.”
Pontificating pundits — most self-appointed — routinely unleash clickbait fodder with full-throated opinions either for or against the wines. Yet this blathering does little to enlighten casual wine drinkers just hoping to understand “natural wines” while also scoring a tasty bottle at a decent price.
Alice Feiring’s “Natural Wine For the People: What It Is, Where to Find It, How to Love It” (Ten Speed Press; $18.99) offers a handy, intelligent alternative. Written in an opinionated, yet always humane and measured voice, Feiring’s tidy volume traces the current “natural wine” revolution to the late 1970s in France’s Beaujolais region.
Pioneering winegrowers abandoned synthetical chemical treatments in their vineyards. They instead turned to organic and biodynamic methods to enliven and revitalize the soils. At the same time in the wineries, the credo became, “nothing added, nothing taken away.”
These growers such as the late Marcel Lapierre fermented grapes with native yeasts and stopped adding commercial “gimmick” products to enhance color, aromas and flavors. Final bottling occurred without mechanical refinements and with little or no sulfites added as preservatives. The resulting wines, at their best, offered intriguing earthy aromas, pure fruit flavors and vibrant freshness, just the sort of well-balanced style that Feiring prefers.
Today the movement has spread across France, Europe and other wine producing regions. This “revolution” exalts “natural wines” with pronounced, strong personalities that vary unabashedly with each distinct vintage. Feiring’s book gives the skinny on leading “natural wine” producers with insightful backstories and practical guidance on wines worth discovering.
Keeping with the fun spirit of Feiring’s narrative, Nishant Choksi’s inventive, colorful illustrations add light-hearted, whimsical touches throughout the book.
Pick up “Natural Wine For The People” for your reading pleasure while drinking the following “naturally” produced, tasty bottles:
• Thanks to the Vosges Mountains’ sheltering peaks, France’s Alsace region enjoys a dry and sunny climate perfect for organic and biodynamic viticulture. Grower Jean-Marie Bechtold takes full advantage in producing the delicious 2016 Domaine Bechtold, Pinot Gris “Silberberg,” Alsace, France (Luxury 76918; $26.99). He uses only natural products to treat the vines and practices ploughing between rows to keep soils vibrant in this limestone-rich vineyard. Harvest occurs by hand, and fermentation takes places in stainless steel tanks with ambient yeasts. Bottling occurs with minimal added sulfites. The wine’s golden color delivers beguiling floral and ripe apple aromas. Pure, ripe flavors of peaches and quince with rich concentration balance with zesty acidity. A marvelous dry finish with plenty of pure fruit lingers nicely. A beautifully balanced, honest wine. Highly Recommended.
• The 2017 Matthias Hager, Grüner Veltliner “Pét-Nat,” Österreich Perlwein, Austria (Luxury 75213; $24.99) comes from grapes grown biodynamically in Kamptal, Austria near the Danube River. Winegrower Hager harvests by hand, ferments with ambient yeasts, and neither fines nor filters the wine before bottling. Before fermentation finishes, he bottles the wine to capture a little CO2. This creates light, tantalizing sparkle for added freshness. And it requires an old-fashioned crown cap enclosure just like those found on bottled beer and ciders.
The wine’s light golden color offers ripe apple, white pepper and light yeasty aromas. In the glass, ripe peach and apple flavors mix with zesty acidity, frothy bubbles and a touch citrus creaminess carrying through the dry finish. Only 11.5% alcohol by volume. Highly Recommended.
• The 2018 Agricola Ampeleia, “Unlitro” Toscana Rosso, Italy (Luxury 81499; $21.99 for a full liter) offers a delightful red wine from Tuscany, a region not widely known for naturally made wines. But in this case, a collaboration led partly by leading “natural wine” proponent, Elisabetta Foradori, produces the wines. The fruit comes from vineyards in Tuscany’s Maremma region, an area of varying altitudes located near the Mediterranean Sea. Biodynamic farming provides marvelous fruity purity in this wine’s creative blend of Alicante Nero (a.k.a. Grenache), Carignano, Mourvèdre, Sangiovese, and Alicante Bouschet grapes. Fermentation and aging of the wine in cement tanks allows the fruit to shine. The attractive ruby color offers raspberry, black pepper and earthy aromas. Juicy red fruit with light savory notes balance with fine acidity and smooth tannins. Chill this easy drinking, delicious red and enjoy. Highly Recommended.
• The 2018 Vignobles Bulliat, Beaujolais-Villages, France (Luxury 81426; $12.99) offers a delicious gamay based wine made naturally. Grower Noël Bulliat and his son Loïc switched their sizeable family estate to organic practices in 2010 with official certification in 2013. Grass grows between the vines to limit yields and eliminate herbicides treatments. Harvest occurs manually. The fruit comes from vines growing primarily in granite soils which lend refreshing mineral notes.
In the glass, a gorgeous ruby color pleases the eye and unfolds fruity black cherry and light earthy notes. Delicious, lip-smacking red fruit flavors balance with zesty acidity and elegant tannins. The wine has only 12.5% alcohol by volume for easy drinking. Highly Recommended.
• The “Little Bear”wine — or “Petit Ours” in French — returns! The juicy and delicious 2017 Matthieu Barret “Petit Ours” Côtes-du-Rhône, France (Luxury 81004; $24.99) comes from the irrepressible and immensely talented organic grower, Matthieu Barret. Located in Cornas in the northern Rhône Valley, Barret purchases the Syrah grapes for this wine from a like-minded, dedicated winegrower in Visan, a commune farther down the Rhône River. The vines grow in clay and limestone with organic and biodynamic methods in Visan’s relatively cool climate. There the grapes develop complex fruitiness while retaining vital freshness.
Fermentation occurs with native yeasts in neutral concrete vats. Aging occurs without new wood. Bottling occurs with minimal added sulfites. Barret’s “Little Bear” delivers a dark-purple color with spicy red and black-fruit aromas with peppery nuances. Fresh, juicy red-fruit flavors balance with zesty acidity and marvelous, refreshing mineral notes. If possible, decant the wine for a couple of hours before drinking it. Highly Recommended.