Recently, I’ve been exploring natural wines. Although they’ve been trendy for the past six or seven years, I was not naturally drawn to them.
In fact, I thought the whole natural movement was just some hippie-dippie fad all the cool kids were into. I mean, how much more natural can wine get? You take some grapes, squish the juice out of them, mix in some yeast to convert the sugar of the grapes into alcohol, wait around for a few months and bada-bing! You’ve got wine.
Of course, if yeast is being physically added, that’s not natural, that’s intervention, and natural wine is all about the absence of intervention or intervening as little as possible in the winemaking process.
Because I am a wine drinker and not a winemaker, I am not going to pretend I know how to make wine. I do, however, know it is hard work and Mother Nature plays a leading role. And if Mother Nature is off of her game or misbehaving, the whole winemaking thing just gets harder.
A perfect growing season that ends with a poorly timed hailstorm right before harvest can easily spell disaster for a winemaker; and being faced with tons of less-than-perfect fruit could require a lot of manipulation on the part of the winemaker, unless … you’re making natural wine.
To better understand how different natural wine is from conventional wine, consider the following: Dial-up internet versus high-speed wireless; playing an album as opposed to listening to Spotify; natural childbirth as opposed to something a little less painful. You get the picture.
Natural wine is the OG of wine and has been around since God made dirt.
I am in no way advocating for one type of wine over the other; when it comes to wine, I have a very open mind. In fact, you may have already had a natural wine and not know it because it tastes just like the wine you’re used to. However, some wines are so natural I guarantee you’d taste a difference like I did.
The first thing I noticed when trying some natural wines was their aliveness — it’s almost like letting a genie out of a bottle — and how the acids dance along your tongue and the fruit tastes just-bitten.
Then there were a couple of wines that were a little too natural for me and the genie went sideways. It’s not that the wines were flawed in any way, I just wasn’t expecting such fermented character, not unlike kombucha or gose-style beer.
The “zero-zero” wines — uber-natural wines in which nothing is added, not even sulfites — were the most intensely natural, cloudy and a little funky.
For the purposes of this article, I’ve selected four naturals that can ease you into the “OG” experience of wine.
Naturally, I had to stop in at Seifert & Jones Wine Merchants and have owner Ted Seifert recommend a not-too-natural wine to kick off my exploration. I thoroughly enjoyed the 2021 Tamellini Soave ($19.99) from Italy and its pure expression of the varietal. It was like biting into a crunchy Granny Smith apple with lingering notes of tropical fruit. Energetic acids make this a very lively white.
The next stop on my wine adventure was to Gold Fern in Fairhaven. Gold Fern, at 1201 11th St., is a relatively new addition to the wine scene of Bellingham and specializes in natural wine. Following are a few that I recommend:
2019 J. Brix Wild, Wild Sea Jurassic Park Vineyard Chenin Blanc, Santa Ynez Valley ($32). The J. Brix Chenin reminded me a lot of a Chenin that you would find from the Loire Valley of France — crystal clear, very clean and lean with oyster-shell minerality notes and bright citrus acids. If you’re a fan of oysters, this would make a magical pairing.
2021 Vinous Obscura Apini, Columbia Gorge ($33). This orange wine is a blend of 50/50 Fiano and Semillon. Fiano is an ancient Italian white grape known for its citrus and honey flavors; when blended with Semillon, it created an elegant wine with notes of chamomile, honey, citrus and dried grass. The golden honeycomb label pays tribute to a species of bees that make honey, the Apini tribe.
To end my journey, I tried the 2021 Civic Winery Gamay Noir Amphora, Oregon ($31). Civic Winery specializes in foot-crushing grapes in amphora clay pots for fermentation and letting nature do the rest. The nose of wild, tangy berries made my mouth water and my first sip was like eating a handful of slightly underripe raspberries. This is a very charming and “chillable” red with enticing sweet and sour flavors of cherries and berries. It’s a great red to keep in mind for savory fall dishes.
If you occasionally like to drive a stick shift instead of an automatic, I highly recommend you take natural wines for a spin; the adventure will take you back to when wine was born.
Katie Bechkowiak owned Vinostrology wine bar in downtown Bellingham from 2013–19. If you have wine suggestions for her monthly column, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.