Wines of the Week

What Makes a Wine "Natural"?

Natural Wines – The Next Big Thing

There’s a reason why so-called “natural” wines are making such a big impression these days.  Mostly, it’s an indication of the overall trend for foods and lifestyles that are closer to the earth.  Non-GMO products, all-natural ingredients, yoga, and the like.

One Florida resident is betting the farm (so to speak) on the quality and appeal of natural wines.  He’s Peter Rizzo, and his new store, Natural Wines Naples, is educating both wine lovers and newbies to the flavors and appeal of natural wines.

More about Peter in a second, but first let’s figure out what natural wines really are.  Basically, they’re made in the purest, simplest way possible.  Vineyards are organic or even biodynamic.  Winemakers use only naturally-occurring yeasts to induce fermentation – no addition of other yeast strains.

Plus, the winemaking is what’s known as “non-interventionist.”  That means no filtering, no additives, no manipulation.  Grow the grapes, crush them, and let nature take its course.

“These wines have a place on every wine lover’s shelf,” says Peter Rizzo.  “They’re very expressive, and a lot more interesting than wines made in a more commercial manner.  I really believe in this.”  And so do I, after the tasting session we shared.

Even though natural wines are something of uncharted territory for most of us, there are plenty of reasons to get to know them.  These winemakers believe that great wine is made in the vineyard.  The growing areas are free from any insecticides, pesticides, herbicides or other chemicals.  The wines are made without any additives, no extra acid or flavoring compounds, no industrial yeasts or enzymes, and extremely minimal sulfur content.  There’s no weird manipulation, like micro-oxygenation, reverse osmosis, or concentrators.  As you might expect, vineyard yields are low, so quantities are not very high. 

The result:  wines that are alive, that express a sense of place, and that improve – quickly – over time.

Rizzo, who spent most of his career in advertising, relocated with his family to Naples in 2002 and opened Natural Wines Naples in October of 2016.  Since then, he’s seen a steady increase in interest, and in store traffic.  While some natural wines are made from fairly exotic out-of-the-way varietals (I saw a bottle of Romortin and Orbois blend), you’d recognize the vast majority of wines in his extensive selection. 

“I need to show people classic representations,” he believes.  “Even though many makers of natural wines push the envelope with non-traditional varietals, we have all the classic wines, and all the classic flavors.  Just because a wine is natural, it doesn’t sacrifice the familiar taste profiles we all enjoy.” 

He makes sure of that, with extensive descriptions of each wine’s flavor and aroma profiles on bottle tags that he hand-writes.  And he’s especially proud of the fact that his wine selection offers interesting choices in all price ranges.

“There’s nothing rare or exotic about natural wines,” says Rizzo.  “You might be surprised to see some bottles with crown caps on them instead of corks, and we do have some wines made from grapes you may not be familiar with, but you’ll find all your favorites here, with many priced under $20.”

He was kind enough to offer me samples of his selection in several price ranges, and the quality was striking.  Here are some we especially enjoyed.

Les Quarterons Sancerre 2013 ($30) – A sweet floral nose, completely unlike traditional Sauvignon Blanc from this region or New Zealand, with flavors of apple, peach, and quince.  WW 90

Skeveldra Sancerre 2012 ($42) – Absolutely zero sulfites in this zippy, fragrant version.  Exotic floral, lemon, apricot, and vanilla aromas and flavors.  I’ve never decanted a white wine, but I’d give this one an hour or two in the glass before sipping.  WW 91

Donkey & Goat White Blend California 2014 ($35) – As mentioned above, some makers of natural wines stray a bit off the reservation.  This is a blend of Vermentino, Grenache Blanc, Picpoul, and a few other northern Rhone varietals with interesting flavors of red apple peel, yellow peach, and cantaloupe.  A boldly structured white.  WW 92. 



New Favorites for Summer

So much wine, so little time...

One of the things I like best about being a wine columnist is the opportunity to sample and review the gratifying number of sample bottles that show up in my office from time to time.  Recently, I called together a few friends who have great palates (and great wine collections) and asked them to help me sample through about 20 or so bottles that have been waiting forlornly in my cellar for me to open them and swirl, sniff, and sip.  Although everyone, of course, has different tastes and likes and dislikes, we were all pretty much in agreement that these wines were worth looking for and enjoying.

They should be in fairly wide distribution, so if you try any, let me know how you liked them.  Cheers!

Ciù Ciù Passerina Evoè Marche 2015 ($7) – This wine would be a steal at three times the price.  The Passerina grape is an ancient white varietal, not seen much these days.  In fact, it was new to me.  The nose offers fragrant flowers and cantaloupe, with similar flavors on the palate.  Highly recommended.  WW 89+

Scacciadiavoli Montefalco Sagrantino 2008 ($32) – A rich, powerful Sagrantino with a nose of leather, smoke, and deep black fruit.  The palate of dried plums, prunes, and chocolate goes on forever through an amazing finish.  Killer stuff.  WW 92

Fontanafredda Barolo 2012 ($46) – Possibly the most translucent Barolo we’ve ever seen.  Pleasant

Matanzas Creek Merlot Sonoma 2013 ($30) – A full-bodied effort, dark ruby in the glass and bold aromas of chocolate and red fruit.  Very fruit forward, and certainly a great food wine.  WW 90-91

Avignonesi Rosso di Montalcino 2014 ($17) – This “baby Brunello” would be great with grilled meats.  Medium-bodied on the palate, flavors of red currant, cherry, and violets.  WW 89

Concannon Petite Sirah 2014 ($11) – Great value, and a steal at the price.  A big, dark, black wine in the glass, it delivers aromas of warm earth and smoke, but fruit flavors on the palate.  You’ll enjoy the complexity of the blackberry, raspberry, black pepper, baking chocolate and mushroom.  Lovely.  WW 89-90.

Bousquet Malbec Tupungato Valley Mendoza Grande Riserva 2013 ($25) – A wine that’s very much about the place and the soil…an Old World style.  Bold flavors of earth, truffle, and black tobacco.  WW 88

Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay Grand Reserve 2015 ($14) --  From the middle-range of the KJ portfolio, this is a great everyday sipper.  Medium bodied, with balanced oak notes supporting apple and lemon flavors.  WW 87-88

Meomi Chardonnay California 2015 ($13) – Grapes are blended from three very diverse regions in this wine.  It’s bold and creamy with a buttery mouthfeel and an entertaining hint of buttered popcorn. Straightforward flavors of pear and white peach. WW 88