It’s hard not to love the idea of natural wine. Fewer chemicals, less intervention, more environmentally friendly — nebulously defined “natural wines” hit a lot of touchstones for modern drinkers, especially sommeliers.
Natural wines are usually small-production and usually come with a romantic story of a winemaker who has a deep connection with their biodynamic vineyard, and who plays symphony music to their ferments. On the flip side, we’ve all had one of those natural wines that tastes more like a cider, is a little too cloudy for comfort, or is spritzy when it’s not supposed to be.
So, what’s the verdict? We went straight to the source and asked nine somms: Is natural wine overrated?
“I don’t think natural wines are overrated… If people value eating food organically, they should hold the same principles for drinking wines made naturally.” — Akari Yamamura, Hayden Wine Bar, Culver City, CA
“ The reason why SO2 has been used in winemaking forever is to help stabilize the wine and preserve it… This is wine, it should not taste like kombucha.” — Jose Luis Betancur, B&B Hospitality Group, Boston, MA
“When farmed and vinified with a delicate yet balanced approach, natural wines are the truest form of terroir in a bottle. Is it overrated? Well, without additives and any form of human manipulation it can be slightly volatile. However, at the end of the day, if all goes well in the vineyard and a strict hands-off approach in the winery, it can be some of the most amazing and unique wine in the world.” — Aaron Forman, Table 6, Denver, CO
“Natural wine as a trend is different than natural wine as a practice… Anytime a buyer or a consumer latches on to a trend without digging deeper for knowledge, there will be some backlash, specifically not-so-great wine and misappropriation of an intention that is ultimately a very healthy thing. But pushing the conversation forward and bringing awareness to the public consciousness is moving things in the right direction, which I believe will impact the wine industry really positively.” — Ashley Ragovin, All Time, Los Angeles, CA
“There are good natural wines and bad natural wines, just as there are good and bad conventional wines. The onus should be a) how a wine was made (farmed, produced, finished), [and] b) the emotions evinced by the wine in the glass. At the end of the day, though, the winemaker’s imperative is to make a wine they like and to sell it; if they can do that, who am I to say that they’ve done anything wrong?” — Morgan Harris, Sommelier and Educator, San Francisco, CA
“The natural wine movement has largely coincided with an American rediscovery of forgotten vineyards, more obscure grapes, and old farming practices. Intervening in a fermentation to prevent flaws may always be a necessity, but virtually any winemaker will tell you that wine is made in the vineyard, not in the cellar. I’m certainly excited about the variety that the movement is bringing to the dinner table, and diners’ willingness to explore a new wine. But it doesn’t work everywhere! Don’t expect to see ‘natural wine’ from Bordeaux, Rias Baixas, or any other region where disease pressure is higher.” — Austin Farina, Jeffrey’s, Austin, TX
“Although it may seem that natural wine is the new kid on the block, this older practice has been a constant in places like France, specifically in the Beaujolais regions like Moulin-à-Vent. If attention to quality of microbial biology found in the soil, water, and overall production of wine is considered ‘too much’ or ‘overrated,’ then we may risk ignorance… Why can’t natural wine have a fighting chance above and beyond the trend status?” — Lamar Engel, Wine Militia, Irvine, CA
“Well, it’s complicated. Is natural wine overrated? No. Are there producers of natural wine that are overrated? Absolutely — not all natural wines are created equally… What I’m not O.K. with is other wine professionals giving a hall pass to producers who have made flawed, oxidized, and un-ageable wine simply because their process is the zeitgeist of the wine world. Sulfur isn’t a bad word and we could all benefit from renouncing it a little less.” — Amanda McCrossin, PRESS, Napa Valley, CA
“Natural wine is not overrated. I believe that it’s misunderstood… If what we preach as a profession is the belief in ‘terroir,’ then natural wine needs to be at the table, be it at a bistro in Paris or at at a three-Michelin-star restaurant in Manhattan. I believe natural wine is here to stay, and to push back against it is to push back against progress and transparency.” — Anthony Cailan, The Usual at the Nolitan Hotel, NY, NY