In a few hundreds years, when our alien overlords descendants are sifting through our internet-enabled legacy, two things will be clear to them: we loved dogs and we loved wine.

Every second meme seems to be about wine. Sure, it might be your lipstick-on-the-teeth Aunt Janice sharing those ‘wine is cheaper than therapy’ ones, but they’re getting shared nonetheless.

And that’s because wine is the GOAT.

Red, white or bubbly, wine enhances meals, fosters conversation (this rich, oaky Cabernet Sauvignon comes from where?!) and has been a hallmark of celebration since Dionysian times. We drink it (responsibly, of course) and are merry.

There’s been a lot of hooting and hollering lately about natural wines. You know, the ones that look a little orange. But what are they, exactly?

If you’re anything like me, wine is already intimidating enough. I tend to avoid ordering wine at restaurants primarily because, no matter how many YouTube pronunciation videos I watch, I can’t get the word ‘sauvignon’ out without twisting my mouth into a dog’s breakfast and ruining my chances at a second date.

Consider this a no-frills explainer on natural wine. Feel free to quote it at the next dinner party you’re cordially invited to. Or just quote it out loud on the street to let people know you’re one sophisticated operator.

So, making wine. It’s a process.

While wine is a primarily grape-based beverage, there are a lot of chemicals and additives that are added in the winemaking process. It goes a little like this (again, this is the bare bones of wine making and my name is certainly not Pernod or Ricard):

Grapes grow in a vineyard.

Said grapes are harvested. Factors like the weather, where the grapes are grown, how old the grapes are when they’re picked and whether they’re harvested by hand or machine all affect the finished product.

Grapes are de-stemmed before being crushed or pressed. In ye olde days, people used to crush grapes with their tootsies. These days, though, it’s usually done with a machine because feet are gross. The result of pressing is what winemakers call ‘must’, which is another word for grape juice that contains the skins, seeds, and solids. For white wine, winemakers separate the skins etc from the juice quickly to prevent unwanted colour or tannins seeping into the mix.

Next up is fermentation… the bit that makes your beloved beverage alcoholic. This process of converting the sugar to alcohol begins anywhere between 6 – 12 hours after crushing, and can continue from anywhere between ten days to a month or more. Some winemakers add yeasts, sulphites and other additives at this point in the process.

Once fermentation is done with, clarification begins. It’s the process in which solids like dead yeast cells, tannins and proteins are removed and wine is transferred into different vessel, like oak barrels or stainless steel tanks. Wine can then be clarified through fining or filtration.

Ageing and bottling is the final part of the process. This is the fork in the road for the winemaker. They can either bottle the precious liquid straight away, or let the wine continue chillin’ in its barrel or tank. This leads to vintage varieties which are often a pretty penny. Penfolds’ $168,000-a-bottle Cabernet Sauvignon is a nice lil’ example of this.

Then boom! You got yourself a wine, my friend.

i need a wine after writing that

So what happens in the natural wine process that makes it so natural, after all?

We asked Aussie wine retailer Vinomofo‘s Wine Expert, Eddie Swchweitzer.

“There is no strict definition of a ‘natural’ wine,” says Swchweitzer. “However, most winemakers, producers, and reviewers agree that natural wines must have very little (less than 10ppm) or no added sulfur, no new oak and are wild yeast fermented.

“Basically, in layman’s terms, they are wines with nothing added and nothing taken away; no acid, sugar or tannin additions. There is little to no intervention, so it’s wine made the way nature allows it to be.”

Does that make them better for you?

It depends.

Natural wines are made from grapes grown with little or no conventional pesticides, herbicides, fungicides or synthetic fertilizers. In addition to this, little or only traces of sulphur-dioxide preservatives, acids, enzymes or tannins are added to the finished product.

So, if you believe those chemicals are no good for your body, then yes, natural wine is a better choice.

But natural wines are not without their quirks. The lack of intervention during the winemaking process means there’s less uniformity in the final drop.

Take for example the beloved Fruity Lexia. This choice tipple will always taste exactly the same, all year round. But natural wines? They differ every harvest. Depending on how you look at it, this can be entirely exciting or a little frustrating.

“Natural wines by their very nature are unpredictable,” adds Swchweitzer.

“They present the varieties of the vintage and conditions without the safety net of conventional winemaking, meaning they’re completely reflective of their environment, which for passionate wine connoisseurs is really exciting as they tell more of a story on the palate.

“In general, though, they tend to be lighter bodied in the reds, can have a bit of skin contact in the whites which translates as bigger, bolder texture on the palate, and often have unusual and really vibrant aromatics. Expect the unexpected with natural wines – these tend to be for the adventurous drinker.”

Folks with allergies to certain additives in wines might find natural wine to be a more attractive choice at the cellar door. Ever heard of someone breaking out into a rash or having their asthma flair up after drinking certain wines? It’s most likely a reaction to additives, like sulphate, which are avoided if they drink natural wine.

Despite these benefits of natural wine, it’s by no means a health drink. It’s still alcohol, and if you drink enough, you’ll still wake up with a belting headache and a few regrets. That’s just an unfortunate fact of life.

Guess what? You now know the basic difference between regular wine and natural wine.

Go ahead – pour yourself a glass, sit back and relax. Eddie would have wanted it that way.

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Image: Big Little Lies