Natural wine terms explained

Natural wine terms explained

Natural wine seems to come with a language all of its own. Pet Nat, orange wine, unfined, unfiltered, you’ll see them all the time.

For the initiated, it can seem a bit daunting. So we’re here to explain some of the most common natural wine terms out there.


Orange wine / Skin contact wine

Orange wine is a white wine made as if it were a red.

Instead of pressing white grapes straight away and running off the clear juice (as in white wine production), the juice remains in contact with the skins. This can be for a few hours, days, weeks or even months. As with red grapes, white skins hold colour compounds which bleeds into the wine, making it orange.

The skins also contain flavour compounds and tannins which will also become more present in the wine.

Some people like to use the term ‘skin contact whites’ because not all skin contact wines are orange in colour. Depending on the grape variety used, they can range from a dark gold through to deep amber.

If you’re looking for an easy drinking skin contact wine, Menti’s Monte del Cuca 2020 is a great place to start. For something full bodied and deeply orange, try Joan de la Casa’s Nimi Tossal 2017.


Pet Nat

Pet Nat (from Pétillant Naturel) is a sparkling wine method that has gained huge popularity in recent years. It’s an ancient and very simple way of making sparkling wine where juice is bottled half way through fermentation. As the fermentation continues, carbon dioxide is produced, but it is trapped within the bottle. This in turn creates bubbles in the wine.

The bottle may be disgorged (a process where the lees - or yeast cells are removed) or the lees can remain inside, causing a hazy look.

If this has you ready to try pet nats, try Winzerhof Altmann’s Orange Pét-nat.


Unfined and unfiltered

Fining is a process where a compound is added to a wine to remove unwanted particles such as tannins or phenolics. Fining agents include egg white, milk casein and occasionally isinglass (derived from fish bladders) which can result in wines unsuitable for vegans. Vegetable protein or a type of clay called bentonite are also often used and result in wines that are suitable for vegans.

Filtration is exactly what it sounds like - wines are filtered, often through a filtration machine, which can remove even the smallest of particles.

Many natural winemakers don’t like to fine or heavily filter their wine as they believe it strips the wine of character, so you’ll often see ‘unfined and unfiltered’ on a label. Whilst these wines may be more cloudy in appearance, they’ll pack more of a flavour punch.


No added sulphites

Sulphites - or SO2 - is a common addition to wine which acts as an antioxidant and antiseptic which helps to stabilise the wine before it is bottled.

Some (but not all) natural winemakers will not add any sulphites to their wine. However, sulphites do naturally occur which is why even ‘no added sulphites’ wines will say ‘contains sulphites’ on the label.

No added sulphites wines are still the exception rather than the norm. Most organic, biodynamic or natural wines will have some level of sulphites added in order to keep their wine stable, even if it’s just a small amount at bottling.

If you’re interested in trying a ‘no added sulphites’ wine, pick up a bottle or two of Château Cazebonne’s Galet de Cazebonne 2019 from Bordeaux.


Wine faults - brettanomyces / mousiness / volatile acidity

Of course, we try to avoid selling any wines with faults, but there are some to be aware of in wines which have not been manipulated.

Brettanomyces is a type of yeast that in large concentrations can make a wine smell and taste of manure, horse or band-aids. In smaller concentrations it can often actually be pleasant, giving an aroma of lilies or olives.

Not much is known about the fault ‘Mousiness’ because it only affects some people. This is when a wine tastes like a hamster cage or sour milk on the finish. It is more likely to occur in wines with low acidity and very low sulfites and your ability to taste it will depend on the pH of your saliva. Some people can’t detect it at all, others find it offensive.

Volatile acidity (VA) shows on the aroma of a wine. In high levels it can make a wine smell like nail polish remover and in the worst scenario as vinegar. But at lower levels it can be quite pleasant, helping to elevate and lift fruit flavours in the wine.


Indigenous yeasts and spontaneous fermentation

Much like making bread, it is possible to ferment wine with either added, or naturally present yeasts.

Added yeasts will kickstart a fermentation quickly but it is not the preferred method for natural winemakers because it is possible to manipulate the flavours of the resulting wine using different yeast strains. Instead, they will wait for fermentation to start naturally (the spontaneous fermentation) from the indigenous yeasts that are everywhere in the cellar. This is thought to result in a more characterful wine that better reflects its terroir.

To discover natural wines for yourself, visit our store.

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