Three questions prevailed in 2017, rising above the mundane in strength and numbers. I’ll address the first two swiftly:
1. The Tito’s is located in the back of the store, under the window with the rest of the vodka.
2. Yes, our chip reader does work.
The third question necessitates a more thoughtful response. We do carry natural wines. But when you say natural…
It’s cool that natural wine is trending. The trend suits our store, which specializes in small, family-owned wineries that produce with little intervention. A good chunk of the bottles on our shelves are certified organic or biodynamic. Nearly every bottle is produced in a sustainable manner, conscious of its environment and its impact thereon. And several go the extra – natural – mile, where fermentation is allowed to occur without inoculating with commercial yeasts, without the control of temperature, and without the addition of sulfites. Like I said, the trend suits our shop, but it’s still a trend, and the word often buzzes about precariously from a certain level of innocence.
When using the word “natural,” we’re starting up a slippery slope before ever hoping to establish footing. Is it natural that we fill a stainless steel vat with grape must, which we then allow to go through fermentation? That we could ever be in a position to “allow” something to occur “naturally” is problematic. Semantics aside, from the position of salesperson, a more tangible challenge presents itself, pertaining to the experience for which the customer is searching. When you say natural... do you actually mean natural?
Rather than attempting to define natural wine or address specific misconceptions I’ve come across, I thought the most fruitful approach I could take to discuss the current trend is to come up with a Top Qs List.
Top Questions of 2017 Concerning Natty Wine
Where are your natural wines?
The natural wines are not grouped together. The store is organized by region & grape variety. Any vineyard that’s certified organic or biodynamic is notated as such on the shelf talker that we place in front of each bottle. However, not all natural wines are certified and not all certified wines are considered natural. Most of our natural wines come from the Languedoc-Roussillon or Loire Valley of France, so I would recommend starting in those sections. Pick up a bottle from Côtes du Roussillon and take a look at the back label. If the bottle is imported by Louis/Dresssner, Jenny & François, or Fifi, there’s a good chance it’s trending as natural wine. Also, always feel free to ask us! We’re happy to point them out.
What’s the Difference between Natural Wine & Organic/Biodynamic Wine?
Organic & biodynamic are certifications. Without getting into what it takes to gain certification ($$$ for one), let’s talk about how a natural wine might depart from one that’s certified. The first thing to consider is that natural wine actually has no binding criteria to meet in order to earn natural trending status. Since a wine is determined to be natural by the person drinking the bottle instead of by an organization certifying that no herbicides or pesticides have been used in the vineyards, etc., then it’s really the end result rather than the winemaking process that qualifies a wine as natural. That being said, certain practices must be in place in order to achieve a flavor profile/texture that fits the bill.
Natural wines tend to be lively, youthful, bright, sometimes bretty & slightly effervescent, and they can err by being too volatile. A wine that’s had a lot of preservatives added, for example, wouldn’t express these tendencies. A wine that’s certified organic/biodynamic wouldn’t necessarily express them either, just as a wine that is funky and lively and youthful and bright wouldn’t necessarily be certified organic or biodynamic.
Is Natural Wine Better Than Regular Wine?
That depends on whom you ask. I tend to like vibrant, juicy wines that have an acid backbone. Sometimes natural wines fall right into my wheelhouse. Sometimes they’re too funky for my taste. My co-worker Jami, on the other hand, prefers the liveliness and the nuance that natural wines tend to offer, and she even finds the risk of volatility interesting.
From a purely sensual perspective, natural wines are often versatile and food friendly, yet light enough that they don’t demand a meal. Most are better young and therefor don’t require aging. And then there’s your health to consider…
Is Natural Wine Healthier Than Regular Wine?
The short answer: Maybe. Certainly some of the additives that are found in the big bruisers from California contain toxins that probably ain’t great for ya. But is the difference between “no sulfites added” and “very little sulfites added at bottling” significant enough to have an effect on your health? I kinda doubt it. At least, I’m willing to take the risk of drinking wines from France that have less SO2 than a small piece of Parmesan Cheese so long as I like the way they taste and they make me feel good.
Trends come with baggage, but as far as trends go, the buzz about natural wine is a great one. It’s a slippery thing to talk about and it’s often not quite grasped; but that being said, it’s encouraging customers to try wines that might be a little out of their comfort zone. Since the trend is helping to educate the dilettante and connoisseur alike, I don’t see it fading away anytime soon. Perhaps the craze over funky wines will die down, but I don’t think the pendulum will swing all the way back to the overripe, high-octane wines of yesteryear.
Great job, 2017! Now, what else did you have to offer? Let's see... I finally watched La La Land. It was good, but not great.