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Funk’n Fun: What exactly IS Natural Wine?

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Certified Wine Specialist Ben Mackall’s recommendations for Natural Wines. PHOTO BY BEN MACKALL

By Ben Mackall EBS COLUMNIST

Oddly enough, the wine world’s newest trend is also its most ancient, as people have been making wine naturally for thousands of years. As natural wines start to populate wine lists and pop up in stores nationwide, it is only natural (pun intended) that people will be curious about what defines the term. Good news, as long as you’re willing to suspend expectations and have a little fun, the world of natural wine doesn’t have to be all that daunting!

What is natural wine, anyways? Simply put, it’s wine that’s produced with minimal interference. At its most pure, natural wine is unadulterated fermented grape juice put into a bottle. Wines like this are often called “zero-zero”—Nothing added, nothing removed. The idea of natural wine isn’t really an industry-defined term and so most natural wines actually fall somewhere on the spectrum between zero-zero and a so-called “mainstream” wine. Most do share a few characteristics though—no pesticides or herbicides, low (or no) additions of sulfur or sugar in the bottle, lower alcohols, and a whole multitude of taste profiles.

Natural wines are infamous for their funk. Because many are often bottled without filtration, the wine’s living biome remains in the bottle, like a kombucha. Every bottle is a living thing, constantly evolving and changing. If you open a bottle and it smells a little weird, leave it on the counter for a day and you may be surprised with the direction it goes. What makes natural wine fun is its variation. Many are actually as clean and refined as their mainstream counterparts but generally natural wines tend to be more lighthearted and rustic. These are made to be drunk with food, so break out the charcuterie!

Here’s a few starter wines readily available here in Big Sky that I recommend to anyone looking to get their feet wet in the “natty wine scene”. Nothing too weird here, just good clean fun.

J. Bouchon “Pais Salvaje” – $21

For pinot noir hounds looking to branch out, Chile’s Pais is a good alternative. These vines are wild… literally! As vines do, they grow untrimmed up to 30 feet tall in the trees next to the vineyard and must be harvested using ladders. All smoky silky raspberry on a juicy, medium-weight frame.

Meinklang “Mulatschak” Orange – $22

What’s orange wine? It’s basically white wine made like a red wine by leaving it on the skins. Meinklang is Austria’s demeter test vineyard for organic growing, and their orange wine is a delightful combination of juicy grapefruit and drier tangerine-inflected flavors. Lovers of cider or sour beer will dig it.

Outward Wines “Shell Creek Vineyard” Valdiguie – $36

Say it with me: “VAL-dee-zhay!”—the new darling grape of the California wine scene, this grape is often referred to as California Gamay. Practically a heavy rose, give it a chill and let the crunchy, delicate aromas of strawberry yogurt and scrub oak take you straight to Cali on a cold day.

Il Mostro “Ragana Bianco” Pet-Nat – $19

Many natural producers dabble in Pet-nat, or “petillant naturel”—the world’s original way to make bubbles. Due to suspended yeast they often pour cloudy, but that’s okay! This blend of chardonnay and pecorino from Abruzzo is full of lemony apple and brioche notes.

Ben Mackall, Certified Specialist of Wine, is the wine curator and beverage specialist for the Hungry Moose Market & Deli. When not nerding out on all things grape, you can find him on the river or going (slowly) up and down mountains.

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