Natural wine has been around for thousands of years in some form or another. That hasn’t kept it from having a moment right now, especially among wine drinkers looking for a healthier option.
Whether natural wine is actually healthier might be a little complicated.
What is considered a natural wine? A wine is considered a natural wine if there has been little to no intervention in the final product.
Generally, that means:
- The grapes are hand-picked and grown using organic methods.
- Any additives, like native yeasts, are organic.
- The finished product is low in sulfites.
That said, there is no set standard for producing natural wines, so there’s less consistency with these varietals compared to conventional wine.
Natural Wine vs. Conventional Wine
If natural wine means no or low intervention, conventional wine can involve multiple intervention phases.
What are the benefits of drinking natural wine? A benefit of drinking natural wine is the lack of additives and chemicals used to produce that wine. Most natural winemakers will tell you their grapes must be hand-picked and chemical-free.
Grapes used in conventional wines may have been exposed to herbicides and pesticides on the vine. They also typically involve some kind of chemical intervention as part of the winemaking process.
That can be added sulfites to allow a wine to age or keep it from spoilage, fining to clarify the wine, or manipulating the flavor of the wine.
That doesn’t mean all interventions are harmful.
Winemakers use additives to change everything from the acidity to the color of the wine. It standardizes the process so that if you buy 2 bottles of Oregon pinot noir from the same winery, those 2 bottles should taste the same.
The same can’t be said of natural wine.
That doesn't mean natural wine is bad. It does mean that not all natural wine is created equal.
Natural vs. Organic vs. Biodynamic
It’s hard enough to navigate wine labels as it is, but it’s important to distinguish between natural wine, organic wine, or biodynamic wine. They’re not all the same thing.
Organic wine is made from grapes grown organically. That means no pesticides, herbicides, or chemical fertilizers. Unlike natural wine, there is a set standard for organic wines sold in the United States from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
There may be additives in that natural wine, like yeast, but they also must be certified organic. Naturally-occurring sulfites are fine, but they can’t exceed 100 parts per million (ppm).
A European importer may follow different rules under the organic label, particularly when it comes to sulfites.
The rules around biodynamic wines are looser. Organic farming is best practice at a biodynamic winery, but there’s also a focus on treating a vineyard as its own ecosystem.
Biodynamic winemakers consider lunar phases, for example, when plotting out harvests. It’s an effort to do best by the soil and natural materials they work with to bottle their wine.
Health Benefits of Natural Wine
Fans of natural wines claim that the lack of additives makes natural wine a healthier choice, but that may not be as true as they think.
Are natural wines better for you? Natural wine does not offer any proven health benefits over conventional wine.
Certainly, consuming fewer preservatives as part of your daily diet isn’t a bad idea. Some natural wines are also lower in alcohol by volume (ABV), which may be a good thing if you’re cutting back.
As there is no set standard for natural wine, though, you may not be entirely sure that what you’re drinking is as natural as you think.
Drinking less and being more mindful about drinking when you do indulge is the healthier choice. Overindulging on raw wine and what you think is a healthy drink choice still puts you at risk for health problems associated with excessive drinking.
Considerations and Misconceptions
If you+’ve been looking into them, you’ve probably heard some interesting “facts” about natural wine. Let’s clear up some misconceptions.
It’s a popular opinion on natural wine: Without those additives after the fermentation process, all natural wines are a little wild-tasting. Some may be. Others may be closer to what you’re used to with conventional wine.
No set standard for natural wines means a variety of flavor profiles on your journey into natural wines. Some of them may taste a little funky, but not all of them will.
Another misconception is that the wines resemble grape juice in flavor. If what you’re sipping is essentially fermented grape juice, then surely natural wine tastes just like the purple stuff.
It really depends on the wine. There is a wide variety of flavors you can expect or be surprised by with natural wine. They can taste sour, like a sour beer or sweet. They can go dry or swerve earthy.
If you don’t like wine already, you may not like natural wine, either.
Some wine drinkers are turning to natural wines to avoid sulfites, chemical compounds blamed for adverse reactions like red wine headaches. There are a few things wrong with this one.
The research doesn’t back up claims of sulfite-causing headaches. They’re more likely to cause allergy symptoms in those with a true sulfite sensitivity. (Less than 1% of the population in the U.S. has any kind of sulfite sensitivity, per the FDA.)
White wine also typically has more sulfites than that cabernet, so it’s more likely the tannins or the amount of alcohol you’re consuming causing day-after headaches.
Perhaps most importantly, natural wines still contain sulfites. Most are below the 350 ppm limit allowed in the U.S., but you can’t have a bottle of wine without any sulfites. They’re naturally occurring as part of the fermentation process.
Most natural wines will have fewer sulfites around the 10-35 ppm range. That accounts for natural sulfites in any bottle of wine and a limited amount added by some winemakers to prevent spoilage.
Yes, some natural wines still have added sulfites.
Sommeliers and winemakers will tell you that no one varietal lends itself best to natural wine.
If you’re at a natural wine tasting, you may see an orange wine from Italy, a gamay from the Beaujolais region of France, and a rosé wine from the Finger Lakes in New York.
The natural wine world is less about the varietals and more about the process.
A good example of this is French pét-nat, or pétillant naturel, a natural sparkling wine. Even in France, there’s still quite a bit of variation in flavor. Some go a little sweet, and some are dry. You may see some floaters in your glass, as most are unfiltered.
One thing natural wine varietals do have in common is that they’re all meant for consumption within a short period. You’ll want to open up your bottle shortly after you pick it up in a wine shop.
Drinking natural wine may feel healthier at the time, but that doesn’t mean you won’t wake up with a hangover the next morning. Likelihood of hangovers depends on how much wine you drink rather than the additives — or lack thereof — in any wine.
The only way to avoid the dreaded hangover is to pick up a non-alcoholic wine instead. Alcohol is a toxin, after all, and anything beyond moderate drinking can have adverse effects.
If you’re intrigued by the idea of fewer additives in your wine, natural wine may be the way to go. If you’re going for a healthier wine overall, alcohol-free wine will do your body better.
Surely non-alcoholic wine is made with the best grapes from California wineries. It tastes like the real thing because it is the real thing. Try our non-alcoholic sparkling white or our non-alcoholic pinot noir to taste the Surely difference.