“I want a funky, stinky, cloudy—like the weirder the better—natural wine! What would you suggest?” This is a request us natural-wine-shop-folk get regularly.
Sometimes tasting a natural wine is a very different experience from what one might be used to, and sometimes the difference is only subtle.
It can take trained taste buds to realize that a silky, beautiful natural wine likely has had no intervention. Silvio Messana of Montesecondo in Tuscany’s Chianti Classico is a perfect example of this. It’s not funky or cloudy, one would never guess it’s unfiltered, but it is. There are some natural wines—Montesecondo included—which are major crowd pleasers to traditionalists and ‘naturalists’ alike because… they are just great. And that’s really the whole point, isn’t it?
Apart from cloudiness, or wines with visible sediment, a big giveaway is the gorgeous minerality on the tongue common of natural wines. The patient nurturing of these vines encourage the plants to root deeply and garner all aspects of individual terroir, which shines through in the end result. This also can lead to a lighter style of some commonly very full-bodied grapes such as Syrah or Bordeaux blends. It lends a certain juiciness or delicate nature to the wine while maintaining the possibilities for texture.
Other natural wines can have almost pickled vegetable notes, herbaceous-ness—particularly if cultivated in areas of volcanic soil such as Etna Rosso—and depending on the grape variety, an almost tartness sometimes which leads to their mouth-watering drinkability. The French have an actual word for this characteristic called “digestibilité”, in case you ever want to flex on any Parisians in a natural wine bar there someday.
People often equate the natural wine funk with this “barnyard”, or even “gym socks” type note. Though barnyard isn’t totally unusual in non-natural wine, it can be a bit of an acquired taste. Yet many people do intentionally seek it. (See article on wine faults for more on “bBarnyard” and what causes it.)
If any wine has a little too much funk or isn’t drinking in its fullest expression at first taste, throw it in a decanter for 30 minutes and check on it again. It may just need a little air.
As cult classic Jonathan Richman of the Modern Lovers sings: “He gave us the wine to taste it, not to talk about it”. Grab a glass, or two for comparison, and see what your taste buds decipher…