Natural wines have gained cachet as more oenophiles seek out boutique brands and small-batch production.
Even if you’re unwilling to abandon your favorite big-name Pinot, trying more natural wines often increases the chance of discovering a really interesting one that’s less expensive than those of comparable quality from a bigger brand. They’re geeky but cool. The market research firm Nielsen reported last year that they appeal, in particular, to millennials: wine drinkers between the ages of 21 and 34.
The term “natural” references a niche that gained momentum in France in the ’70s, yet it has only caught on in this country recently. Its popularity correlates with the rise of maker culture and fermented ingredients such as kombucha, pickles and artisan bread made with a starter. What makes natural wines more popular dovetails with why people support craft beers: they’re of a place, they offer value, there’s joy in discovering a great local brew and in supporting an underdog.
Yet unlike local brews, natural wine and its connotations polarize winemakers and sales people because there are no clear boundaries or labeling requirements for them. The term offends vintners who consider their winemaking technique inherently natural, regardless of methods used for pest-control or fermentation.
So what exactly is natural wine? There’s loose agreement that natural wines aren’t mass-produced and they’re usually organic, even if they’re not officially certified as such. There are no additives or flavor enhancers. Often they don’t add sulfites, which can make for a less stable wine.
Natural wine lovers are very passionate about them. “The natural wine movement is the antithesis to the big wine brands, with their industrial production and excessive techniques of manipulating wines in the winery,” said Michael Amendola, wine director for The Wine Merchant, a 5-year-old Sea Cliff wine shop that specializes in natural wines.
In Massapequa, Salumi Tapas and Wine Bar offers close to 50 wines on its list, with about 10 that fall in the natural category, whether they’re organic, biodynamic or vegan.
Most of them are Old World wines, such as the 2014 Equis Equinoxe Crozes Hermitage, a 2014 Syrah. Ten wines on a list of 50 is significantly higher than the ratio of natural wine sales to conventional wine sales in the United States right now. But education starts somewhere — such as a specialty wine shop or an ambitious neighborhood restaurant.