Recently, a friend and I met for drinks at Pearl & Ash, the new restaurant on the Bowery known for excellent cuisine and one of the most dynamic wine lists in New York. We ordered a bottle of Eric Pfifferling’s l’Anglore Tavel rosé. By the time we’d finished the bottle, neither of us felt the familiar dizzying buzz of too much wine, nor had we consumed even a bite to eat. Later, with dinner, we downed two subsequent bottles of wine, both made in a similar style to Pfifferling’s. The next morning, after comparing notes, both of us woke unscathed. My friend made his early tennis match and played well; I spun strong at my morning spin.
The secret to our hangover free morning? Natural wine.
The initial wine, one of the natural wine movement's most beloved and hard to track-down bottles, is—unlike most wine you drink—made from ripe grapes and not much else. The fruit ferments with native yeasts. Pfifferling, like most natural wine producers, adds no sulfur dioxide aside from minimal amounts when he bottles the wine. Supplementary sugar, nitrogen, tartaric and malic acid, oak essence, mega purple, reverse-osmosis…none of these laboratory-created additions make their way into the vinification process, and the resulting wine tastes clean, pure, and textural. These are natural wines. Wines like your great-great-grandmother might have drunk.
"Natural wine" is a relatively recent addition to the wine world’s lexicon. The movement began gathering momentum in the early 2000s as a reaction to high-production, mass-produced wines that either sought high scores from influential wine critics (see Robert Parker) or that enabled large and uniform production. In truth, the movement began decades before that. Winemaker and chemist Jules Chauvet, an iconoclast best known for transforming Beaujolais’s soiled reputation, is often credited as spear-heading the movement in France. During the 1970s and early 1980s, he worked closely with winemakers Marcel Lapierre, Jean-Foillard, Guy Breton and Jean-Paul Thevent teaching them how to taste meticulously and to make wines with minimal intervention from non-natural additives and chemicals. Chauvet’s theories were revolutionary at the time. His impact still resonates today.
While natural wines have a host of merits, some can be a game of Russian Roulette if you aren’t familiar with labels. The term, which is nebulous and unregulated, can apply to any wine made without very few winery manipulations. Some wines that fall under the natural wine umbrella are lambasted for trying to pawn off technically flawed wines. Some of them have the tannic composition of splintering plywood, and others have the aromatic make-up of fermenting dill pickles, nail polish remover, and unwashed feet. Plenty of wines seem to get a free-pass on wine lists and retail shelves simply because they are “natural.” But like all wines, some are good, some are bad, and some are truly extraordinary. Lately though, more and more wineries are producing quaffable, satisfying examples of these non-intervention wines.
Indeed many of the world’s great wines are natural wines. Growers such as Pierre Overnoy and Jean-François Ganevat, in the Jura, are global benchmarks. So is Thierry Allemand, in Cornas, Stella di Campalto in Montalcino, and Arianna Occhipinti in Sicily. These are delicious, interesting wines—full stop.
You’re probably wondering how we can be sure that natural wines don’t cause headaches. While there is little scientific evidence that supports that Natural Wines don’t produce hangover headaches, I have plenty of anecdotes to substantiate the claim. On a scientific front, as Jamie Goode notes in The Science of Wine, sulfur dioxide occurs naturally during fermentation, and it also kills Vitamin B1 (thiamine), which converts carbohydrates to energy and which can cause headaches. Of course, if you drink enough of a natural wine—and the best are delicious enough you’re probably can’t resist—you’ll end up reaching for the aspirin come first light.
Whether or not you’re concerned about a potential headache in the morning, it’s worth noting that sulfur is simply one of several chemical additions and possible manipulations present in certain wines. If you fall victim to headaches, allergies, or just that feeling that the world has ended, natural wines are definitely worth exploring. Or if you just like to drink something good.
A few top producers of natural wines that you should seek out.
1 - Stella di Campalto, Tuscany, Italy
2 - Arnot-Roberts, Sonoma, CA
3 - Van Volxem, Mosel, Germany
4 - Domaine Jean-Louis Chave, Rhone, France
5 – Jean Foillard, Morgon, Beaujolais, France
6 - Le Coste de Gradoli, Lazio, Italy
7 - Clos Saron, Sierra Foothills, CA
8 - Patrick Bottex, Bougey-Cerdon, France
9 - Domaine Vacheron, Sancerre, Loire Valley, France
10 - Arianna Occhipinti "Frappato," Sicily, Italy