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A primer on natural wines

A primer on natural wines

“Bring It” wine is available at Ranch Acres Wine & Spirits

Greg Bollinger

Natural wine means a lot of things—or nothing, depending on whom you ask. It’s true that there’s no legal definition or certification associated with it (unlike organic agriculture, for example) but when folks talk about natural wine, they usually mean wines made from grapes grown well and without chemical pesticides. But there’s more to it than that.

Natural wines are fermented with ambient yeasts instead of lab-developed yeasts. They are unfiltered and are not clarified with the use of fining agents like bentonite or isinglass. No enzymes or other yeast food are added to speed up the process. The grapes are harvested by humans rather than machines. And finally, they have minimal or no added preservatives like sulfites.

This may seem like a long and tedious list of requirements, but what it really means is that natural wine is wine made simply from grapes, with maybe a scooch of sulfites added to stabilize the wine if needed. There are hundreds of legal additives in winemaking in the U.S. and the vast majority of wines include some—but you won’t find them here.

Additionally, natural wines tend to be made from unusual grapes, from places that aren’t usually considered the paragons of winemaking. As a result, natural wines tend to be cheaper than other wines of similar quality. Natural reds are more likely to be lighter and brighter (as opposed to big and bold). The wines in general are, like a lot of fine dining today, more driven by freshness rather than heavier flavors.

Natural wines are becoming more accessible in Oklahoma, thanks to distributors like Provisions, Artisan, and Thirst Wine Merchants. Here are a few excellent offerings available in Oklahoma that embody the characteristics of good, natural wine.

Les Lunes, Chardonnay

This is a fun, fresh, zingy wine made by Shaunt Oungoulian and Diego Roig near San Francisco. Shaunt and Diego aren’t just winemakers, they also farm most of the fruit they use for both of their brands: Les Lunes and Populis. They’ve got plots with some of the oldest fruit in Northern California and are working to spread the gospel of good grape farming. The wine is full of dense fresh apple and electric acidity. It’s not your mom’s Chardonnay, but I bet she’d like it anyway. (Artisan, $26)

Donkey & Goat, Twinkle Mourvèdre

Mourvèdre is a grape from Southern France, typically blended into hot and heavy reds and chuggable rosés—but in the hands of Tracey and Jared Brandt at Donkey & Goat, it’s a lively and floral red that you can cool down. All of Donkey & Goat’s wines are fun and delicious. Sometimes this wine can have a just-lit-match smell. If you encounter that, pop it into a decanter (or pitcher or whatever) and swirl it around until the smell dissipates. (Boardwalk Brands, $26)

Les Vins Pirouettes, Le Bildstoecklé Riesling de Stéphane

Les Vins Pirouettes is a project by Alsatian Winemaker Christian Binner where he pairs with grape growers and teaches them how to make wine. This wine is wild. It’s dense and higher in alcohol, but has brilliant and bright acidity. It’s got lots of fruity apricot and herb flavors, but it’s not sweet. It’s a weird wine, but I can’t stop going back to it. If you want to taste something unlike anything you’ve ever had, try this. It’s especially good with simple food like cheese and some salad or, really, even a hot dog with sauerkraut. (Artisan, ~$33)

Joe Swick, Bring It

This wine is a juicy blend of 50 percent Pinot Noir and 8 percent each of Syrah, Graciano, Malbec, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, and Pinot Gris from Oregon. Joe Swick is a fifth-generation Oregonian who used to work for Orin Swift but has since fully converted to making natural wine. The name refers to Swick’s not-so-secret slogan, “FBIB,” which stands for “Fucking Bring It, Bitch.” (That’s what you should chant if he ever shows up to a party, in case you were wondering.) You’ll drink this wine faster than you ever thought possible because of how fresh and delicious it is. (Provisions, $23)

Catherine & Pierre Breton, Elle est pas bulle la vie

This is a crisp and sparkling Chenin Blanc from one of my favorite winemaking regions: the Loire Valley. Catherine & Pierre Breton are OGs in the natural wine world; they’ve been doing this stuff for decades. A lot of sparkling wine isn’t worth the price tag, but I’d drink this stuff over Champagne just about any day, and pair it with just about anything. (Provisions, $33)

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