Pét-nat? Skin contact? Wine's got weird on us. We spoke with Matt Hildebrandt and Phillip Caspar James from wine event company Wine Lips to help us decode all the terms buzzing through the grapevine (add WeChat ID 'WineLipsChina' for more on their upcoming parties and tastings).
Here's what you need to know about natural wines, plus a few places to try them around Shanghai.
The buzziest of all wine words for the past few years, this is an umbrella term for minimal-intervention winemaking. Think handpicked grapes pressed off before fermentation begins naturally, indigenous yeast from the grape skin eating the sugars from the grape flesh before finally being racked off into barrels, then bottled unfiltered with minimal or no sulphur added.
No preservatives are added to stabilise or sterilise the wine, which has the dual benefit of keeping the true intention of the wine and also reducing hangovers and red face syndrome. Natural wines will always be either organic and/or biodynamic.
Organic relates to the fruit, not to the winemaking process. The vineyard will use ‘certified’ organic fruit but after that the winemaker can use all sorts of industrial and commercial processes, adding preservatives, acids, tannins, sparking fermentation with packet yeasts, and so on.
In itself ‘organic’ is not necessarily representative of the varietal, the terroir or the winemaker being good, but it does suggest consideration for the product. Organic certification can be super pricey, so wineries may follow these standards, just not formally.
Biodynamic is always organic. Organic is not necessarily biodynamic. It is a stricter form of organic farming, and can even mean growing and harvesting in line with the lunar cycle. Again, like organic wines, it doesn’t determine the quality and other interventions that might happen later in the winemaking process. Typically though, it’s a good indication that there’s a lot of care put into the vino.
Short for pétillant naturel, this is a very old-style method for making sparkling wine predating and different to the method for making Champagne. Pét-nat is an unfinished wine – from either red or white grapes – that’s bottled first, then allowed to complete fermentation. These are lightweight, fizzy and hazy in colour.
Something consenting adults do? No, but really, these are often referred to as ‘orange wines’ however the colour can vary. Made from white grapes, the seeds and skins are crushed along with the grapes and included during fermentation. Generally funky and with a prominent sour, fermented edge.