Natural, Organic & Biodynamic Wines - What's What?
A wealth of new ‘natural’ ‘organic’, or ‘biodynamic’ wines is sprawling around us and defining the buzz words of the decade. But how can we know what we are getting into?
The important differences between the three are debunked in this blog post and we also have some great suggestions of wines easily available near you that you can try to see the difference for yourself.
(1) Natural Wines
Let's start with ‘natural wine’: although there is a big ‘buzz’ surrounding them at the moment, in reality wines like these have been around for thousands of years. In fact, back in the day they use to be the norm, and the exception.
There are no legal definitions of natural wine. However, ‘official-ish’ rules have been set in various countries (Italy, France and Spain) where growers self-regulate themselves and in fact can be stricter than those set by the official bodies that write the rules for organic or biodynamic wines.
A ‘natural wine’ is made with no (or very little) chemical and technological intervention – in the vineyard, with the grapes and the process of making the wine. Only organic fertilisers are used in the vineyard, and nothing is added or removed in the cellar. No additives or anything else is used to help fermentation. The wines are not fined or filtered so the end wine is a ‘living wine’ full of natural occurring yeasts and may have quite a lot of sediment in the bottom of the bottle. So, as you can imagine, with all the uncertainty that comes from doing away with all technological and chemical support, it takes enormous skill to make a natural wine and a real awareness of the soil, grapes and terroir.
(2) Organic Wines
When it comes to organic wines instead, strict official rules come into play. Unfortunately, there's no internationally agreed standard but several countries have regulated the labeling of organic wines separately. A good starting point is to look out for the EU and US certification (see the logos alongside this paragraph).
Laid out bare, organic wines can include sulphites but must be made from organically grown grapes along the lines of certified protocols that apposite bodies can review for quality control. Man-made synthetic chemicals are a big ‘no no’ and wines labelled organic will have no chemical fertilisers, pesticides, fungicides and/or herbicides used in the vineyard.
(3) Biodynamic Wines
A biodynamic wine is very similar to organic wines but the 'naturalness' of the winemaking approach is taken one step further. In particular, the Austrian philosopher Rudolph Steiner’s ideas on agriculture are the base of the approach: in this case, the winemaker will think about the vineyard as an ecosystem and will take into consideration lunar cycles and other astronomical influences. To respect the cycles of nature, a complete lack of chemicals is prescribed, together with the use of herbal sprays and natural composting (think horses…). Among other things, for biodynamic growers the calendar tells whether it is a lunar ‘root’ or a ‘fruit’ day, and believe that the day chosen for the harvest will influence the resulting wine. Apparently 'fruit' days are the best days to drink wine.
Do we believe them? Does the moon really effect how good a bottled wine taste? For sure these are insights that farmers used to follow for centuries and all the way till the end of the 1950s. I think this is worth a further blog post as it’s definitely an interesting concept!
see for yourself
Here are a few of suggestions of wines widely available at major wine shops and supermarkets to try the difference first hand.
Natural wines: there are some very good online retailers that specialize on them, carrying a large set of natural wines. Buon Vino is our go-to-option given they have some of the largest set of natural wines (as well as organic and biodynamic).
Organic wines: Before getting into the more unusual wines, Vina Albali produce an organic Tempranillo (that can be found at Waitrose) which is a great one to start on an easy note.
Biodynamic wines: For a good bet Domaine Roche-Audran in the southern Rhone (all their wines are organic however) produce a Cote du Rhone which is worth picking out if you want to give one a go.
Why does It Matter?
Is it worth paying more for this kind of wines? In our humble opinion: yes it is! The care and attention that has been given from the growing of the grapes to the making of the wine is above average. It is harder to produce a natural/organic/biodynamic wine because it would be much easier to throw chemicals at the problems that winemakers always face rather than keeping with nature and a natural process.
Venture that little bit more and see if you like the result. Cheers to that!
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