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Ah, natural wine, you hipster enigma.
It’s darn near impossible to go into a private wine store, open a wine publication or go to a cool restaurant without running head-on to the biggest wine trend to hit the industry in yearsnatural wine. But for all it’s hype, for most people it’s a topic they experience anecdotally rather than the proper way: by pouring a glass and deciding for yourself if it’s for you. Partly this is a problem of supply. For the most part, it’s made in small quantities that sell out very quickly. And then there’s the problem of definition. Unlike California Cabernet Sauvignon, which is a description that’s easily ascertainable, “natural wine” has no official definition and means different things to different people. Some of the elements that are usually present are organic and/or biodynamic grapes, little or no sulfur, using no or only neutral wood to age and/or ferment the wine…and I feel like I’m that teacher from Ferris Bueller. It can feel more like a trig exam than enjoying something new when you start reciting the checklist.
But the reality is that for even the most casual wine lovers, it’s 100% something you should try to see where you land. The question is, where to start? Go to the extremesomething with a solid dose of volatile acidity (that’s what makes wine taste like vinegar to many people)and a palate used to super polished wines will recoil, maybe never to return. What you need is an introduction wine to ease you into a few of the traits of natural wine, like this mind-changer from Okanagan Crush Pad’s Free Form Label (which is dedicated to natural or low-intervention wines). This Sauvignon Blanc is made from organic grapes, fermented with natural yeasts and sees little or no sulfur. It’s fermented with a combo of stainless steel tanks and clay amphorae. It looks unrefined and unfiltered. It hits almost all the notes for being part of the natural canon.
But what makes it a great entry wine is that it’s made by a non-natural winemaker. It’s Matt Dumayne, a perfectionist who makes all sorts of wine at Okanagan Crush Padfrom rich Chardonnays to earthy Pinot Noirs to crowd-pleasing Pinot Gris. He also possess a serious bullshit detector. One of the knocks on the natural wine movement is that it is welcoming to flaws of all stripes in the name of being natural. Dumayne does not strike me as a man who accepts faults in his practicehe’s super dialed-in and he’s experienced enough to know that making natural wine doesn’t mean taking your eye off the ball. The result of having a winemaker like this as your guide is a wine that’s amazingly clean (i.e. fault-free) but that still gives a clear sense of a light hand. It’s unspeakably juicy and alive but with a swack more texture and richnessthink marmalade on toastthan a traditional New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or even other Okanagan Sauvignon Blancs.
It’s still not for everyone. If you want Kim Crawford and only Kim Crawford, then stick to Kim Crawford and be happy. But if you like to experiment, this wine is 100% your wingman, steering you into a new territory with confidence. And if you like what you taste, you could move on to Free Form’s Rosé, which is made with Cab Franc and ratchets up the puckering juiciness a few notches. And if you like that, then it’s off to the more cult-y one like a Sunday in August or Neon Eon…but let’s take one natural step at a time.
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