I have taken to avoiding use of the term “natural wine.” This has nothing to do with wines largely considered to be natural wines, some of which have beguiled me (though most too often are a disappointing combination of everything I don’t want in a wine married with a distinct lack of what I do want in a wine), and everything to do with the fact that I have to type things like “largely considered to be natural wines” every time that I bring up the topic.
This is because, despite now having garnered more mainstream publicity and hipster cachet than at any previous point in recent memory, natural wine producers, purveyors, and proponents have yet to define what in the f*ck a “natural wine” actually is.
Somehow, despite having a marketing designation that implies tanker-loads of douchebaggy superiority, natural wine has managed to get a foothold into the door to a wider fine wine audience, but its serious lack of definition is feeling like the dog caught the car and now has no idea what to do with it….
This elephant-in-the- amphorae-fermentation-vessel issue of vagueness surrounding natural wine has grown so large that it is now well past the point of absurdity. To wit: as of the time of this writing, the world’s single most expensive wine – an indigenous variety, amphorae-vinified, limited edition from Liber Pater in Graves – could seriously be argued to be a natural wine… or maybe not.
At this point, you’re no doubt wondering “dude, when the f*ck are you going to define what natural wine is?!??” And mostly all that I can do is point you to its Wikipedia entry, which itself is an exercise in frustration for the detail-oriented. The term is basically the minimal-interventionists spiritual equivalent to “reserve” wine in the USA, which is similarly vague to the point of being meaningless for consumers. There is no formal definition of what constitutes a natural wine.
I know that the natural wine crowd has its collective pants down when I read things such as this (also from the Wikipedia entry):
The inherent ambiguity of the term has been defended by Bradford Taylor, owner of Ordinaire, a wine bar in Oakland, California that exclusively serves natural wine. According to Taylor, “there’s something productive about how nebulous the term ‘natural’ is, how it opens itself up to debate every time it comes up.
No offense to Ordinaire, Taylor, or Oakland, but there’s nothing quite like redefining failure as success, is there?
There absolutely is a place in the fine wine market for the natural wine movement; its best products are authentic and superb, and its message about wine lovers caring what additives they allow in their foods (and, ultimately, their bodies) justifiably resonates with informed vine geeks. But let’s be clear: when we allow this kind of ambiguity, we are only benefiting the people who use the term, while allowing consumers who could become lovers of the movement and its wines to confusingly scratch their heads.