Driven by health and environmental concerns and the desire for more natural flavors, more and more people are embracing wines without additives, popularly known as natural wines. These wines are the result of evolution in the methods used in their production. While these additives may improve certain aspects of the wine, winemakers realize that these are detracting from its natural qualities. The growing demand and the realization to meet that demand, both led to the natural wine movement, a movement of going back to basics.
The Rise of Additives in Winemaking
The use of additives in winemaking is very normal, where these can incorporate all that from sulfur dioxide as an additive, to catalysts, yeasts, and fining agents. While some additives are fundamental for the winemaking process, others are utilized simply, to control the flavor, color, and texture of the wine.
The increased use of additives in winemaking sparked debates among wine enthusiasts and experts. Proponents argue that additives help to ensure consistency and quality in the final product, correct any flaws or imbalances in the wine, and achieve the desired taste profile. On the other hand, critics argue that excessive use of additives compromises the integrity of the wine and masks its true characteristics. They believe that the minimal the intervention in the winemaking process, the more the grapes and their terroir shine through.
One of the most debated additives is sulfur dioxide, used to prevent oxidation and microbial spoilage. While sulfur dioxide is essential in small quantities, some winemakers use it in excess, resulting in wines that have a strong sulfur smell and taste. Another commonly used additive is enzymes. Although they are used to enhance clarification, improve color extraction, and aid the fermentation process, their use can lead to artificial flavors and a loss of complexity in the wine.
Next, fining agents, such as egg whites, gelatin, and bentonite, are used to achieve a clear and visually appealing wine by removing unwanted particles. While fining agents are effective in clarifying wine, they can also strip the wine of its natural flavors and aromas. In the end, the use of additives in winemaking is a matter of personal preference and style. Some winemakers prioritize consistency and control, while others prioritize authenticity and expression of terroir. Similarly, some health-conscious and aware consumers prefer wines without additives, while others remain unaffected by their presence.
The Downside of Additives
No matter how many benefits of additives we highlight, their downside cannot be ignored. One of the main concerns is that additives can mask the true qualities of the wine and create a generic flavor profile, making it difficult for consumers to distinguish between different wines and regions. Additionally, the health concerns, these additives give rise to. For example, sulfites can cause allergic reactions in individuals with sensitivities or allergies, and excessive consumption of certain additives might have long-term health implications. And the growing awareness of these potential risks further drives the demand for low-sulfite wines.
Another disadvantage to additives is they hinder natural process of getting older from the wine. The additives, like acidifiers or tannins, can artificially enhance or affect the flavors from the wine, which might not be desirable for wine enthusiasts who understand the complexity and subtlety of naturally aged wines.
Furthermore, the use of additives can detract from the authenticity and purity of the wine. Many wine connoisseurs value wines that are made using traditional winemaking techniques and minimal intervention. Additives may be seen as a departure from this philosophy and can diminish the overall quality and integrity of the wine. Lastly, the environmental implications of using additives. Some additives require the use of additional resources, such as energy or water, in their production or application, contributing to a larger carbon footprint.
The Natural Wine Movement
As the concerns about additives grew, so too has the natural wine movement, which proposes the use of traditional winemaking techniques with minimal intervention in the cellar. This means that no additives or chemicals are used during the winemaking process, and the wine is left to ferment and age naturally.
Natural vino is frequently produced from biodynamically grown, handpicked, and thoroughly selected grapes, that are cultivated without using synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, to ensure just the greatest quality fruit can be used. Following the grapes happen to be harvested, they’re lightly crushed, and wild yeasts around the grape skins permit the juice to naturally ferment.
Unlike conventional wines, natural wines do not undergo any filtration or fining processes, which strip away flavor and texture. Instead, they are usually bottled with minimal or no sulfur dioxide added, allowing the wine to develop its own unique flavors and characteristics over time, resulting in more expressive and nuanced wines.
Due to their minimal intervention approach, natural wines can have a wide range of flavors and styles. Some may appear slightly cloudy or contain natural sediment, while others may be earthier or funkier in character. These wines can be a mixed bag for some, yet for other people, they offer an invigorating choice for efficiently manufactured wines.
Consumers who are looking for more authentic and sustainable alternatives have become more receptive to the natural wine movement in recent years. Natural wines, according to proponents, better convey the essence of the grape and the land from which it originates while also highlighting the environmental advantages of organic farming.
The return to the basics of winemaking is allowing to embrace the true expression of the grape and the terroir with its unique and authentic taste experience. Natural wines are not only delicious, but they are also in favor of sustainable and environmentally-friendly practices. However, it is important to note that not all wines labeled as “natural” may meet the same standards. As a consumer, it is essential to do your research and support winemakers who are committed to producing wines with minimal intervention and no additives. By embracing natural wines, you are not only enjoying a delicious beverage but also contributing to a more transparent and sustainable wine industry.