Snapping, drooling hordes of wine savages have been in a frenzy of late over so-called ‘natural wines'. The naming conjures images of scantily clad nymphs, cooing white doves and pristine rivers cascading through verdant valleys. But the simpler truth is one of minimal winemaking intervention, low- or no-sulphur (preservative) addition, minimal filtration (clarifying the wine) and the process of fermentation taking place without introduced yeasts. In essence, were talking about wines that have little done to them, where others are manipulated by winemaking or vineyard fiddling. These wines take organics and biodynamics to another level.
The natural wine movement has been well established in Europe, but curious wine drinkers have turned their attention to the complexity and inherent expression of fruit, and the sense of place the grapes portray in each wine. "For me wine has to be good quality first before‘natural'" says Andrew Guard, from Andrew Guard Wine Imports – a specialist wine importer who boasts a searing portfolio of wines that have had minimal work. "The best natural wine producers also produce wine from the best terroir."
Regardless of the compelling nature of such wines, there is argument that ‘natural wine' is now a convenient buzz-word – a PR wet dream – the next big thing since focaccia and pesto. "I'm not in it for the sake of being a fashion victim. There's not much of a PR machine behind the wines I'm importing" says Guard.
There's also the argument that wines without preservative and human intervention become fragile, then susceptible to spoilage. A struggle then ensues between desire to look to the unique and a recognition that your wine may just be rooted.
For me, natural wines offer a slender, poised, trembling thread between the seductive world of delicious, base nudity of grape and the power a vineyard has to changing the individual personality of a wine in its most expressive state.
Sami-OdiWines from Barossa Valley fruit and born from quirky winemaker Fraser McKinley, are whole-bunch pressed, naturally fermented, minimal sulphur wines made with a nod in the direction of ‘natural wines'. Very rare, and most unlike Barossa in their delicacy, they range from $65–$85 for 2008 releases. Vaucluse Cellars; 58 New South Head Rd, Vaucluse 2030. (02 9337 1765).
Domaine Gramenon, Sierra du Sud 2008 is quintessential Syrah ‘natural winemaking' from the upper end of the Côtes du Rhône appellation of the Rhône Valley in France. This is a pure, densely packed wine that offers spice and herbal touches with layered, supple flesh texture ($40).
Ultimo Wine Centre; 99 Jones St, Ultimo 2007. (02 9211 2380).