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A Beginner's Guide to Natural Wine

wine pouring

The holiday season usually brings good cheer, especially when there's food and booze involved. For those who may want to be a bit more conscious about imbibing this season, there are always natural wines as a healthier alternative to the usual eggnog or stout beers.

But what are "natural wines"? I reached out to Good Clean Fun Founder and CEO Ian Asbury to find out.

Good Clean Fun is a Los Angeles natural wine bar and bottle shop that focuses on sourcing small production wines that showcase sustainable and humane farming practices. Asbury and his team believe that ‘clean’ natural wine makes us — and Mother Earth — feel better from the inside out.

I recently spoke with Asbury to get an introduction to the world of natural wine, from what it is to which ones we should be drinking.

Asbury

What is natural wine?

If natural wine listed its ingredient list, all it would read is ‘fermented grape juice’. Regular – unnatural – wine adds up to 72 different ingredients like additives & preservatives.

What makes natural wine different from “regular” wine?

In addition to the lack of preservatives and additives, natural wine tastes better, is healthier for the body, and is better for Mother Earth. It’s farmed organically, hand-harvested, fermented with native yeast, unrefined and unfiltered.

Is natural wine the same as organic wine?

Natural wine is always organic, but organic wine isn’t always natural. Organic wine can still use lots of the unhealthy ingredients. What makes wine natural is the minimal intervention; rather than manipulating the juice too much, natural winemakers oversee the process to ensure its quality and integrity.

If a wine tastes good, though, does it matter how it’s made?

Things that are made to taste good without the correct approaches have consequences. Wines packed with additives, preservatives, flavoring, and chemicals are harder for the body to break down and often can lead to health issues. These wines are even worse for the soil, and degradation of land makes for weaker and weaker vineyards over time.

Does natural wine give you less of a hangover?

Ha – in theory! Alcohol is alcohol and its effects vary, but natural wine tends to have less alcoholic content or percentage than conventional wine, and there’s less for the body to process as well. Natural wine reduces the amount of acetaldehyde in the blood, which essentially means less of a hangover. Plus, natural wine is far less likely to lead to elevated cholesterol!

natural wines

What are some of the key terms one should know as one begins to explore natural wine?

Minimal intervention means that the winemaker does the least amount possible to the wine throughout the process of making the wine, turning grapes into wine without adding or removing anything.

Zero-zero means there are no added sulfites.

PetNat stands for Petillant Naturel, or the ancestral method of making sparkling wine.

Orange wine is grapes with the skins left on during the winemaking process (as opposed to removing as is custom in white wine production).

Co-fermentation is basically when a winemaker chooses to ferment two different grapes together or combine grapes with other types of fruit.

Whole cluster means the wine was made with whole bunches of grapes including their stems, which was common before destemming machines. It’s seen as an ancient and low intervention method to ferment the grape — stems and all!

Which regions make natural wine?

All over, bruh! You find amazing natural wine domestically from California, Texas, Wisconsin, Virginia, and internationally like Italy, Romania, Slovakia, Chile, etc. Natural wine allows for countries not dubbed ‘Old World’ to have their moment.

What’s the best natural wine region?

At Good Clean Fun, we are loving less conventional regions! We also think that any natural wine is superior to conventional wine, no matter where it’s from. There are so many people and places in the natural wine world doing such special things. If you really want to take a deep dive, lots of people believe wine creation originated in (the country of) Georgia, as well as orange wine (hint: they actually call it amber wine).

If I wanted to go out and buy a bottle of natural wine today, what would you suggest?

Come see us at Good Clean Fun in DTLA and chat with me or any of our staff and we can find the perfect bottle for you. If you can’t make it to us, the best way is to start trying different wines out and find out what you like and don’t like about each. A few that we’re feeling at GCF right now (that you can purchase from us) are:

Bichi Pet Mex Magnum: Show up to a party with the big boy and say 'let’s fuckin’ gooo'!

Tessier Riesling says “Hey gurl, it’s warm outside, let’s drink dis.”

Acqua Pazza from The Austin Winery: Oh, you from Texas high plains? Well, I wanna get orange wine high plains.

Old World Winery Bloom: Put this in a Styrofoam cup with ice. Seriously.

Elliott Family Wines Yacht Rock: If your dad's favorite band is Grateful Dead, this will also be your dad's favorite wine.

We also have a GCF Wine Club, a hand-selected monthly box that includes 4 different bottles, and multiple tiers/levels depending on your wine know-how and needs. Ranging from ‘Table Sh*t’ to ‘Cool Kid Sh*t’ to ‘Baller Sh*t’, it’s a great way to begin or continue tasting and learning about natty wine. It’s also the ultimate gift. No matter your knowledge level, you’re going to enjoy the rotating, curated selection.

Written by Rashaun Hall. Reproduced with permission from FoodBeast.com.

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