No shame if you normally pick your favorite wine like most people (which is purely based on the label, obviously). Words like tannins, legs, and “mouth feel” are enough to kill your buzz before it ever starts. And don’t even get us started on complicated pairings. Which brings us to another hot—and yet thoroughly confusing—topic in the wine world: organic wines versus natural wines.
If you’re struggling to understand the difference between the two, you’re not alone. Let’s start with organic. Much like all other organic foods, an organic wine comes from grapes that have been grown in a vineyard without any synthetic chemicals, like fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides or fungicides, says GuildSomm, a nonprofit international organization for sommeliers and wine professionals. Taking chemicals out of the equation early on means there’s only good stuff left in the soil: worms, insects and bacteria, which means healthier grapes. But that’s kind of where the happy news ends. Even if grapes were grown organically, once they’re picked, a winemaker can still manipulate the wine in the cellar and use all sorts of additives, filtration, or preservatives, like sulfur dioxide.
But then there’s natural wines, which have been the buzz of the wine world lately and are served up at hipster havens like Contra in Manhattan’s Lower East Side and Bar Crenn in San Francisco. Natural is kinda of an umbrella term for a vino that’s made from organically-farmed grapes and doesn’t have additives or sulfates. (That means that all natural wines are organic, but not all organic wines are natural.) If we’re getting technical here, you could say that natural wine would more accurately be called non-interventionist or lightly interventionist wine because the winemaker is only making small additions or subtractions in the cellar during the winemaking process. And almost all winemakers agree that natural wine is made without fermented yeast, additives, or sulfites. That said, there’s no real regulating board of natural wines, so you’ve pretty much got to take the winemaker’s word for it when they say it’s natural.
So, can you taste the difference?
Sometimes! Organic wines are pretty similar to most traditional wines out there, but natural wines tend to be more funky-tasting, even veering into sour beer or kombucha territory. And beyond that yeasty kick, some even look different. Orange wine, for example, is a natural white wine that’s made like a red, meaning the skin and seeds stay in contact with the juice during fermentation, giving it that amber glow.
Do I have to store natural wines differently than organic ones?
Because natural wines are less stable than typical wines, make sure you keep the bottles in a cool place away from light (like a wine fridge) and you drink them within a year of purchasing. Once you’ve opened a bottle, seal it with a cork up before putting it back in the fridge.
My wine store guy used the word Pét-nat. What does that mean?
That’s a term used in the natural wine world. These wines are bottled before the fermenting is totally finished, which means you’re going to get a bit of fizz. Not like champagne bubbles, but definitely a pop.