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Natural Wine in Italy
All visitors to Italy (apart from children...) have heard of Chianti, Barolo, Brunello, Frascati the famous Sagrantino from Umbria etc!
But there are some new kids on the block in the form of what people generally call 'natural wines'. Mainly small 'cantine' (cellars) produce them and have until now only revealed their charm to a small number of lucky souls.
So, what is that all about, these so called 'natural wines'? They are wines made with grapes and nothing else. Now you will ask, “What do you mean only grapes? Isn't all wine just made from grapes?” No, most vintners make wine with grapes, sulfur, selected yeasts and a lot of other ingredients that help turn the grapes into wine. The wine is in a way 'constructed' to become what the wine maker has intended. It is 'forced' into a product with certain qualities.
The artisans who make the natural wines are of the opinion that wine is nothing more or less than healthy grapes bung into a vat. Sometimes, and this is a point of long discussions, a modicum of sulfur is added during bottling. The results, usually, are wines with a fantastic fruity freshness and unparalleled drinkability and (if you don't drink gallons of the stuff in one go) they mostly don't give you the splitting headaches that some of their more industrialized cousins can bring on.
Unfortunately they are not easy to make and most of the bigger cantinas could not afford to make wines this way because there is less control over the outcome of the whole winemaking process. If the end product is not to the liking of the big buyers they would be throwing away a whole year of work and income. The very small wine makers can take more risk and are doing so. They experiment with small batches. If you speak to them a lot of them will tell you they learn by doing and by making mistakes. Yes it sometimes ends up being a 'curious' product but when they succeed they've made a fantastic product.
In Italy this type of wine is making inroads. If you are interested in this kind of wine and would like to order it in a restaurant, ask for 'vino tripple A', 'vino naturale', 'vino biodinamico' and 'vini veri'. A good sommelier, and those are rather thin in the ranks unfortunately, should be able to assist and find you something interesting. Don't be put of by sommeliers that are rather 'strict' in their views and will explain that what you are asking for, does not exist ... or that all wine is made in a natural way.
Also note that natural wine has nothing to do with organic wine. There are many organic wines that are made in more industrialized ways using a whole bag of tricks available to the winemaker these days. The 'organic' says something about the grapes and nothing about how wine is being made from those organic grapes. Not all natural wines have an official 'organic approval stamp', however, it is impossible to make natural wine if you do not keep your vineyard in an organic way.
Here is a very short list with wine makers that work naturally (there are many, many more):
Also, in case you visit Rome, you can go to Enoteca Bulzoni, this enoteca has a vast collection of natural wines and occasionally they organise wine tastings. They do also have an Internet shop.
Finally, in the beginning of November a nice 'natural wine' festival takes place in Fornovo, close to Parma. Another important natural wine event is during the Vinitaly wine show, in Villa Fidelia (close to Verona where the Vinitaly takes place). During the year some other natural wine events are also being organized in other places.
Would you like to know more? Feel free to ask (see Discuss this article below). You can also check Willemijn’s Umbrian blog (see details below).
http://www.vinidivignaioli.com: Natural wine festival in Fornovo (site is in Italian and French).
http://villainumbria.wordpress.com: Willemijn's blog, Umbria Blog, where you can find more information on Natural Wines.
© Willemijn Lindeboom, 2010
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