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Wine

Natural Wine

Natural wine is the hottest thing in the world of wine right now, the boozy buzzword from Brooklyn to Bondi and all licensed points in between. The term ‘natural’ wine is problematic, more on that later, but in essence we’re talking about a winemaking movement that seeks to produce wines with the bare minimum of human intervention. That means no additions, no adjustments, no filtration or fining.

Basically we’re talking about removing human intervention in the winemaking process from everything that happens between the picking of the fruit from the vine and crushing it to get the juice through to getting the resultant wine into the bottle. The juice begins to ferment not through the addition of commercially packaged yeast, but rather through the naturally occurring yeasts floating around in the vineyard and winery.

The various options winemakers have to fill the gaps that the vagaries of vintage can create are also shunned, which means no added acid, enzyme, nutrient or tannin.

Manic organics

Any discussion of ‘natural’ wine will invariably touch on organic and bio-dynamic practices and while they’re intertwined, they’re not indivisibly so. When we talk about organic or bio-dynamic wines, we’re referring primarily to the farming practices in the vineyard, while most of the requirements for classifying a wine as ‘natural’ occur, or more accurately, don’t occur, within the winery. So any ‘natural’ wine worthy of the name will come from organic or bio-dynamic vineyards, but there will be wines produced from similarly certified vineyards that can’t be considered ‘natural’ because the winemakers responsible for them choose to be a little more ‘hands on’ when it comes to helping them along the journey from grape to glass.

That’s just part of the difficulty with such absolutist terminology. Also tied up in this milieu are the wines that proclaim themselves ‘Orange’, not because they come from the central New South Wales wine region, but rather because they range in colour from the bruised umber of a hobo’s urine to a turbid tangerine akin to flat Fanta.

Thrill or spill

In essence, Orange wines are white wines made as if they were reds, meaning the juice is kept in contact with skins, often in oxidative environments, to allow the extraction of tannin, phenolic compounds and colour. This can make for some intriguing wines, but anyone expecting them to behave like conventional white wines might be seriously weirded out by the step up in texture and weight.

Advocates for natural wine will say that the removal of winemaking fingerprints from these wines allows for the purest expression of terroir, a wine’s ability to express the true nature of the place from which it comes. In theory, this should be right, but experience tells me that’s not always the case.

I’ve had natural wines that have thrilled me utterly and I’ve had natural wines that have made me wonder if I should rip my tongue from my mouth and wipe my arse with it rather than subject it to another drop. That’s part of the pleasure, and part of the problem, too.

A natural division

There is a political statement inherent in the whole ‘natural’ wine movement that makes me a little uncomfortable, an unfair juxtaposition that banishes all other wines that don’t fit the criteria into a bin implied to be ‘unnatural.’ I prefer the term ‘ low-fi’ that some of the best exponents use.

It also has to be accepted that a more open-minded attitude to winemaking faults is required to enjoy a lot of these wines and I’m cool with that. There is beauty in the flawed as well as the perfect.

But there is a worrying trend amongst the loudest advocates of natural wine to treat any criticism as simply the old-fashioned windbaggery of an old guard who just don’t get it and I think that’s wrong.

A natural wine isn’t good just because it’s been made in line with the philosophies and methods that define the movement. A natural wine is good, just as any wine is, when it’s simply a delicious liquid you want to put in your mouth.

The world of natural wine is one well worth exploring and some real thrills await those who seek them.

Just remember, the best guide is always your own palate and a wine with nothing but a philosophy to commend it will always leave a bad taste in your mouth.

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The 10 Biggest Wine Myths
‘All wine gets better with age’, ‘The more expensive the wine, the better it tastes’, ‘The French invented Champagne’ – can you tell myth from fact? Discover the truth on the 10 biggest wine myths   Myth 1: All wine gets better with age
Fact: A lot of wine in Australia is made to drink within 12-18 months. There’s a real trend at the moment, especially with reds, for winemakers to craft young, fresh wines to drink immediately rather than to age. You can still find wines that are made to age for decades, with Hunter Valley Semillon and Australian Shiraz being great examples.     Myth 2: Bottles of wine sealed with a cork are better than those with a screw-cap
​ Fact: In a perfect world, the perfect cork is the perfect closure, but in reality, perfect corks are extremely rare. Screw-caps eliminate many of the problems that can come with corks such as cork taint, oxidation and leakage and give the wine-lover confidence they’re getting quality and consistency. Find out more about corks vs screw caps here .   Myth 3: The more expensive the wine, the better it tastes
​ Fact: One of the joys of wine is that it comes down to personal taste. How much a wine sells for can indicate the quality of grapes and how expensive the winemaking process was. However, a lot of wine pricing is driven by economics and supply and demand, but this will never guarantee that a $500 bottle will taste five times better than a $100 one.   Myth 4: Blended wines are inferior
​ Fact: This myth has been driven by Australia’s insatiable thirst for single variety wines. However, one of the ironies of this is that some of Australia’s greatest wines ever made were blends. In fact, one of the most famous blended wines in the world is Champagne . Blended wines are a classic case of the end product being greater than the sum of its parts.    Myth 5: The French invented Champagne
​ Fact: It is argued that English scientist and physician Christopher Merret invented Champagne in the 17 th century when he added sugar to a finished wine to create a secondary fermentation.   Myth 6: Red wine with meat, white wine with fish
​ Fact: This is not a myth in that generally, the high tannins in red wine are a delicious complement for the fat in red meat, and the acidity in white wine gives brightness to a match of chicken or fish. However, it’s not a hard and fast rule. For example, you can pair red wine with fish; the secret is matching weight with weight. If salmon is poached, it will be silky, therefore a Rosé or Pinot Noir can work, while roasted salmon/ barra might pair well with a bolder red. Sauce is another factor, a creamy sauce screams for white wine, but a spicy red sauce or mustard sauce could work well with Sangiovese or even cool climate Shiraz !   Myth 7: A heavier bottle equals higher quality
​ Fact: Bottles with thicker glass are pricier because there is a higher investment in the packaging process, but it says nothing about the wine quality.   Myth 8: The correct serving temperature for red wine is “room temperature”
​ Fact: The ideal temperature to serve red wine is 14-18ºC. Serving it too cold will dull the aromas and ultimately the flavours in full-bodied red wine. Room temperature in Australia during the peak of summer may be anywhere from 25–35ºC, so don’t be afraid to pop your favourite red wine in the fridge for half an hour before your barbeque, unless, of course, it’s come from a temperature controlled environment. Learn more about how to store wine at home here .   Myth 9: An expensive decanter is the only way to decant wine
​ Fact: You can decant wine in any clean vessel such as a vase, a saucepan or a teapot. The process is simply to bring the wine into contact with oxygen to really bring out the aromas and flavours and help it to breathe. A stylish decanter obviously looks beautiful, though, and adds to the theatre of wine enjoyment. Learn more about how and when to use a wine decanter here.   Myth 10: If a wine smells and tastes like a particular fruit, it has been made with the addition of that fruit
​ Fact: The only fruit wine is made from is grapes. The other aromas and flavours you might detect are the result of aroma and flavour molecules that a grape shares in common with a particular fruit. For example, Cabernet grapes contain the same flavour molecules as blackcurrants, and Sauvignon Blanc has the same molecules as those found in green vegetables.
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The Gee in Pinot G
Words by Peter Forrestal on 12 Aug 2015
The rise Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio in the Australian marketplace has been nothing short of remarkable, especially as it has occurred at the same time as the country has been drenched by a tsunami of increasingly cheap Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. While there has been a knock-on effect with increased interest in local Sauvignon Blanc , and substantial growth in plantings of Muscat à Petit grains (from a small base) for Moscato, there has been huge consumer interest in Pinot Gris/Grigio. So, what better time for the Wine Selectors Tasting Panel to line up 60 of the country’s finest and put them to the test? The Panel was joined by two learned Pinot Gris/Grigio producers: Mornington Peninsula vigneron Garry Crittenden and King Valley winemaker Sam Miranda, as well as yours truly. A quick history lesson Pinot Gris was planted in Australia much earlier than most would have imagined. Chris Bourke of Sons & Brothers in Orange mentions on his website that when James Busby imported his collection of grape varieties from France and Spain in the 1830s, what he had thought to be Cabernet Sauvignon was, in fact, Pinot Gris. As with much of Busby’s collection, it didn’t survive. Today’s Pinot Gris/Grigio was pioneered on the Mornington Peninsula in the 1980s by Kathleen Quealy and Kevin McCarthy at T’Gallant and, although slowly at first, in the past decade it has taken hold of the public consciousness with increasing speed. Kathleen sees three factors coming together to enable Pinot Gris to succeed on Mornington. It was the right region for the right variety. The clone that was available was ideal as it produced small berries, small bunches and only moderate vigour. There were adequate good sites (north facing slopes), which were as vital to ripening Pinot Gris as they were to ripening Pinot Noir. Consumers were the other key in this equation and she saw them as being interested in new varieties: looking for unwooded whites and wanting premium varieties as expressive as Pinot Noir . In Australia no variety, except Sauvignon Blanc , has grown more impressively than Pinot Gris/Grigio in the last five years when the industry trend has been to stabilise or decrease the supply of grapes. In that time, it has moved ahead of Viognier , Verdelho , Muscat, Colombard and Riesling : more of it is produced than any of the major white varieties except for Chardonnay , Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. There are in excess of a hundred different labels of Pinot Gris/Grigio on the market in Australia at present. What’s in a name? A major marketing and consumer issue in Australia is that the same grape variety is produced and sold as both Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio and, for many, this can seem pretty confusing. This difference has its roots in the vineyards of Europe. Pinot Grigio is most successfully grown in the regions of Fruili, the Veneto and Alto Adige in North-Eastern Italy where it is picked early and produces a fresh, zesty, racy style with clean savoury characters. In France, it is known as Pinot Gris and is popular in Alsace where it is picked riper and therefore has a richer, fuller, plumper profile and is higher in alcohol. The variety produces bluey grey grapes (deep purple with green flesh when fully ripe) that make white or lightly pink wines and are thought to be related to (or a mutant of) Pinot Noir. Throughout this tasting the issue of colour was rigorously discussed. Garry Crittenden said he liked his wine to be clear, while others on the Panel thought the wine should have a pinkish tinge to it. Whatever the preference, it is important that the consumer knows most Gris/Grigio will have a ‘pink-grey’ tinge to it, and that is completely normal. Another key issue for Gris/Grigio has been the importance of identifying the places where it can be grown most successfully. Kathleen believes that far too much Gris/Grigio has been planted in warm Australian regions for which it is patently unsuitable. For Garry Crittenden, Pinot Gris/Grigio, like Pinot Noir, has become genetically adapted over the centuries to showing its full phenolic character in cool climates where the grapes ripen slowly over a long period of time. Low vigour is also vital to producing Pinot Gris/Grigio grapes that show concentration and character. The results reveal Firstly, the results supported Kathleen Quealy’s theory that Pinot Gris/Grigio does best in cool climate regions. The majority of wines in the tasting were cool climate and all of the top 20 wines were sourced from cool climate areas. More than half of those wines were sourced from Victorian vineyards, with the King Valley accounting for six of the top 20, while the Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula claimed three each and Geelong , one. The Adelaide Hills , Eden Valley and Tasmania also registered as strong regions for Gris/Grigio, while Orange and Tumbarumba were the only regions of note north of the border. Seven of the top 10 scoring wines were Pinot Gris. This result was explained by the fact that this varietal style is generally more malleable to winemaker manipulation. The Grigio style should be lighter, drier and more minerally, so will generally be picked quite early, cool-fermented in tank, then bottled, whereas the Gris style would be picked later and therefore riper, which means it can handle some winemaking artefact, such as lees stirring and barrel fermentation or maturation. Pinot G? The results also showed the Gris tasted were significantly removed from the wines of Alsace, while the Grigios were substantially different from their Mediterranean counterparts, and there were some wines that sat in between. Panellist Trent Mannell posed this revolutionary hypothesis: had Australia developed its own style of Pinot Gris/Grigio, a style that is neither Gris nor Grigio but sits somewhere in between, a style we could simply label as Pinot G? For instance, the Thorn Clarke Sandpiper Pinot Gris showed floral aromas but had some minerality on the nose with zippy acidity, while the The Pawn ‘Caissa’ Pinot Grigio was described as having a delicate acid balance and vibrance while at the same time was lauded for its muscaty aromatics and thick viscous texture. So you can see in these two examples there is some overlap in styles. If the results of the tasting were seriously scrutinised, then the outcome would suggest that we do indeed have three styles of this versatile varietal in Australia: Gris, Grigio and G. The element of food One of the other main issues that the Panel discussed during the tasting was the importance of drinking Pinot G in the company of food. These are textural wines, much more savoury and less fruity than most Aussie whites. They are transformed by being paired with appropriate foods. One of the magic moments during the tasting came when Chairman Karl Stockhausen condemned a Pinot Gris as being lean, tight and watery. “I want some flavour,” he growled. Sam came to the Eden Valley wine’s defence, agreeing that it was neutral but insisting that placing it alongside food would bring the wine alive. Then he asserted, “I could drink it all day!” With Pinot Grigio, you could try oysters, clams, prawns, grilled whiting, lightly battered barramundi fillets, mildly spiced stir fries, and with Pinot Gris, go for onion tart, lobster, barbecued or roast pork, or roast chicken. It’s a question of finding dishes that you think will work with the crisp zestiness of Pinot Grigio or the richer, fuller, weightier, more viscous character of Pinot Gris. Overall, Sam believed that the tasting showed how far Pinot Gris/Grigio has come in Australia in the past decade. He said that if we’d held a similar tasting in the 1990s, far too many of the wines would have been bland or faulty. Most importantly, he was impressed at how well producers achieved the style that the label told us they were aiming for. For you, though, the message is both clear and welcoming. Pinot Gris/Grigio, or for that matter, Pinot G, is doing very well in Australia. So when you are sitting down al fresco-style to a shared mezze plate or some antipasti this summer, crack open a bottle of Australian Pinot G and discover what all the fuss is about.
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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