Wine can be a surprising, contentious and hard to navigate place. Here are a few terms we use often to help us find our way.
Animal Also barnyard, gamey, bacon. Probably due to a yeast brettanomyces or ‘brett’ which gives off very earthy and rustic aromas. Unpleasant if it takes over, interesting and sometimes delicious when kept in check. Click here for further reading.
Certification Organic and biodynamic certification from organisations (including Demeter, ECOCERT, AIAB, Soil Association etc.) can be a complicated and time-consuming process. Some estates may still be in conversion and so not eligible for certification and others may not be interested in certification due to the costs and time involved. As such, some producers who we list as organic or biodynamic will not have certification from a central body. Our buying policies and relationships with growers ensure that high standards are maintained and if we list a grower as organic or biodynamic we are confident that they are working to these standards.
Concrete A material used to construct tanks for fermentation or élevage. Provides good stable temperature control without the need for heating or cooling. Usually tiled-lined.
Terroir Complex and tricky to pin down terroir can be understood as everything ‘of the earth’ that affects the character of a wine - this is typically taken to include soil, climate and terrain. Sometimes local wine-making practices are also included in the definition. Jamie Goode has written probably the best definition: “I'd maintain simply that terroir consists of the site- or region-specific characteristics of a wine”. Natural winemakers talk a lot about their practice unmasking terroir and showing, in the finished wine, where it comes from. Tricky to measure but not hokum, honest.
Straight Lines Wine that has the clean, direct flavour of blue lines on graph paper. Clean, stony, mineral, surging acidity. All going along like a scene from TRON.
Vegan Natural wine making avoids the addition of anything unnecessary, including animal by-products often used to clarify conventionally made wine. You don’t have to be a vegan to appreciate that.
Fining Superficial process used to produce clear wines. Winemakers can use egg, milk, fish bladders, bentonite, potassium ferrocyanide or other chemical additives to clarify wines although we’d rather they didn’t. A little crud (see crud) never hurt anyone.
Secondary Fermentation The process that creates the bubbles in some sparkling wine. As the wine is bottled, a small amount of yeast and sugar is added before the bottle is sealed with a sturdy crown cap. The yeasts quickly start fermenting the sugars, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide. Since the gas cannot escape, it dissolves into the wine and makes the fizz.
Sur Lie Aging wines on their spent yeast can soften the blow of high acid whites, round out flavours, bring structure and balance. In time, any sediment (see crud) left in a wine will settle and wines can be ‘racked off’ (gently poured without shaking the tub) clear and pretty.
Energy The thrilling, lively character we’re looking for in great wines. “Great energy”, “lively”, “bouncy”, even “fun” might describe the same thing. A wine which excites, has movement and isn’t just a dull sip. Something that moves.
Fruit Forward Not a real “wine term”, granted. A wine that offers, in its first, sip bags of real fruit flavours. Squished strawberries, sour cherries, plump blackberries. Looking for balance, these wines are great when backed up by something a bit more serious - often mellowing into tobacco, wood, leather.
Bottle Variation Natural wines are alive and as such, from time to time, one bottle will be different from the next even if from the same vintage and batch. It’s just a thing.
Champagne Method One way of getting bubbles into wine. Base wine i.e. still wine without fizz is put in the bottle with sugar and a little yeast. After a second fermentation, hey presto! bubbles.
Crud All the bits that float or sink. Wines left unfiltered and unfined retain all the flavours of their making and also some solids. More easily spotted in white wines they can bring unexpected joy and surprising notes. In our cloudy prosecco the unfiltered wine has more body, lemony savouriness and a snow-globe haziness we like. Thanks crud.
Value The idea that the money you’ve paid for something is worth it for the thing you got. Our wines are from slow agriculture, usually harvested by hand, carefully raised and looked after. We pay our people well and pay the right price for all the services we use. This all builds into our idea of value and paying the right price, a price that respects everyone along the way, for the wine that you get.
Funky A quality of some natural wines purists might describe as a ‘fault’ - a slightly edgy smell on the nose, maybe fennel salami, charcuterie in general, cidery notes, petrol, cheese? All funk. See taste.
Harvest Picking the grape from the vine. Roulez doucement please.
Minimal Intervention “All the work in the vineyards is nothing if we intervene too much in the cellar.”
Simply put minimal intervention is the belief that as little should be done to the wine as possible. This means minimal use of any chemical, including sulphur dioxide, and reducing or eliminating the use of technology in the cellar, for example, pumps used to move wine around or reverse osmosis to reduce the alcohol content.
Murky See Crud
Nowt taken out and nowt put in See Natural
Salty or sometimes savoury. A mineral saline edge in some wines that makes them delicious with certain foods and brings a new energy.
Fermentation The magic. Without the action of yeasts on sugar, we’d all be dry.
In its simplest form yeasts consume sugar and convert it to alcohol and carbon dioxide. Actually happens in two phases; phase I aerobic - yeast are multiplying and consuming sugars with access to the air, phase II - anaerobic phase - yeast are denied air, multiply less frequently and this is where most of the sugar to alcohol conversion happens. Yay.
Malolactic fermentation is a secondary process of bacterial conversion, which may follow or overlap with primary fermentation.
Harsher tasting malic acid is converted into softer, and less acidic, lactic acid. Carbon dioxide is also produced.
In practical terms this means a reduction in the acidity of the wine and an increase in its complexity. The level of alcohol is unaffected.
Like primary fermentation, malolactic fermentation can be induced by the introduction of cultured bacteria, or suppressed with sulphur dioxide.
If a wine is bottled quickly, it may take place inside the bottle. One reason SO2 is used at bottling is to prevent this.
A natural winemaker has to wait for the malo to finish naturally before they can bottle the wine.
Bruised Apple Noted a slightly cider’y edge to some wines? This is probably oxidation (lots of oxygen - most wine’s mortal enemy) or maderization (similar problem). This can dampen fruit flavours and bring sherry notes. Usually bad, sometimes good - try Chéné’s Panier de Fruit 2008 for a brazen example or the 2011 for something more tempered.
Clay Aged "The clay amphora is at the end of a process which starts in the vineyard and returns wine gently to its roots. Just as the soil shapes the vine so the soil can shape the wine, which is the philosophical and poetical underpinning of the idea. There is nothing wrong with searching for unity and harmony; out of the abstract comes something tangible and living. Virtually, all the wines I have tried which have been in amphora are extraordinary, not simply because of the amphora but in that the amphora is one living piece in the natural wine mosaic."
The terracotta vessel has made a triumphant comeback in winemaking and we are seeing its increasingly frequent use by leading growers in countries like Georgia (where the qvevri is part of the cultural heritage) and throughout Italy and Spain where clay vessels have been adopted particularly by natural winemakers as the ideal vehicle for expressing the true character of their wines. The clay jar has been embraced by those making more natural/less interventionist wines. Several French vignerons have recently invested in qvevri and we are now tasting the fruits of these clay wines.
The clay vessel, although it comes in many shapes and sizes, is essentially an egg in which the wine rests until it is ready to be born. The clay itself has a symbolic resonance as well as real significance– in Georgia the qvevri rests underground buried in the clay as if the wine were being returned to the earth to sleep again before being reborn. And so the wine remains in contact with the grape skins (the mother) over the winter deriving nourishment, extracting flavour. The journey of the wine is conducted through the medium of clay– the vines with their roots in the brown clay soils, the juice pressed and fermented in clay jars and then aged until ready to be lifted out of the ground and see the light of day.
Practically speaking, the vessel is porous, allowing the wine to breathe, the substance has antiseptic properties, it is practical in that it does not need to be renewed – some of these amphorae are over 100 years old.
Donkey Fanny See Animal
Organic Organic is a knotty term but in essence it upholds principles of farming that minimise the human impact on the environment, while ensuring the agricultural system operates as naturally as possible. Artificial fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides are banned or limited and farmers develop fertile soil by rotating crops and using compost, manure and clover.
Although strict standards govern ‘organic’ farming, EU regulation still permits up to 50 undisclosed additives in ‘organic wine’. Organic alone does not guarantee a low-intervention, natural wine.
Orange In white wine making, the skin and pips are normally separated from the juice after the grapes are pressed. In an orange wine, the skin, pips and juice are left together macerating, like a red wine, for a little longer. This creates a wine with depth, some tannins and grip, minerality, acidity and tension.
Wild Yeast For us, wild yeast is another part of that nebulous and tricky to define concept of terroir. Rather than choosing from a catalogue of lab-prepared yeasts (try “Lalvin Bourgovin RC 212”) designed to bring predetermined characteristics to their wines, most of the our winemakers are using wild yeast fermentation. The yeasts (and other bacteria) present on the grapes, in the air, on vegetation or blowing around at the time of harvest are used to start the transformation from grape to wine. With nothing added, these wines maintain the essence of place that we look for in a well made wine.
Hand-harvested If we agree that good wine starts with good soil, then harvesting by hand can only be a good thing as the heavy machinery associated with mechanical harvest is kept in the showroom. This means soil (and its air pockets) isn’t crushed and compacted and can support life which in turn supports the vines. Hand harvesting is a slow, careful process which ensures the best grapes are picked at the optimum moment giving the winemaker much more control in the cellar. Typically grapes are harvested and transported in much smaller baskets when hand harvested and so are less likely to be damaged (and start fermenting) on their journey to the cellar.
Funk A quality of some natural wines which purists might describe as a ‘fault’ - a slightly edgy smell on the nose, maybe fennel salami, charcuterie in general, cidery notes, petrol, cheese? All funk. See taste.
Bubbles A wine with a bit of fizz, not always sparkling.
Complex A polite way of saying a wine has a lot going on and we’re not exactly sure how to describe it more any more neatly.
Élevage After fermentation, the looking after. Once the wine is made it needs time and care to evolve and get to the stage where it’s tasty to drink. This may happen in stainless steel tanks, in concrete vats, in wooden barrels and may include filtering or fining. Élevage takes wine from raw juice to finished wine before bottling.
Pink Not red, not white. Pink!
Taste Do you like it? It’s a simple as that. We can get caught up in trends, in what’s cool, what’s proper, what’s right. But to be honest, it’s all nonsense. Do you like it? Good, well drink that then.
Sulphur “Wines are a lot hardier than people think. Left alone - without sulfites - they’re honestly fine” Tony Cotturi
“Sulphites are preservatives used in the production of some foods and drinks.
Sulphites can cause allergy-like symptoms in people with underlying asthma and allergic rhinitis. The most common reaction is wheezing, tight chest and cough. The incidence of sulphite sensitivity in the general population is thought to be less than 2%, but this rises to between 5 and 13% in asthmatics.
Severe reactions to sulphites (anaphylaxis) have been reported but are very rare. Some people with urticaria, a type of skin rash, can also experience worsening of symptoms after eating sulphites.” Allergy UK
“Sulphites - or rather a lack of them - is one of the defining characteristics of natural wine.
Sulphites are a common wine making additive that can take the form of a gas, liquid, powder, or tablet. They may be used at any stage of wine production: as the grapes come into the winery, when the grape juice and the wine ferment, or when they are moved around or bottled. Because of their antimicrobial properties, sulphites are often used at the beginning of fermentation to stun or eliminate wild yeasts and bacteria carried in on the grape berry, so that the winemaker can inoculate his/her chosen strain. Sulphites are also regularly used to sanitise equipment or stabilise wine at bottling. Their antioxidant properties shield wine from contact with oxygen, and destroy those enzymes that cause the browning of the grape juice (a similar browning effects apples which are sliced and exposed to the air).
In conventional winemaking, sulphites are often liberally used to control so-called “risk” factors such as microbes, or to fashion a particular style of wine. Adding sulphites helps to this end. Natural growers, however, welcome diversity and work precisely with the hand that nature deals them each year. They rely on the strength and health of there vineyard to grow great grapes covered with diverse micro flora that will ferment easily and well in the cellar. Not adding sulphites helps to this end.” Isabelle Legeron - Natural Wine, 2014
Filtering A wine is filtered in one or more more of several ways - either mechanically or chemically using a number of permitted, undisclosed additives. Regardless of how it’s done, the goal is to produce a clear liquid. However, these filtering processes may also remove elements that affect the flavours and aromas of a wine, so some winemakers choose not to filter. Most natural wines are neither filtered nor fined. The few that are will either be filtered extremely lightly or fined with organic egg-white.
Pétillant Naturel or Pet Nat Pet-Nat or pétillant naturel, is a method of producing sparkling wine by bottling the wine during the the primary, alcoholic fermentation to capture the carbon dioxide that is naturally released. Unlike the Champagne method, which enacts a secondary fermentation by adding sugar and yeast, the ancestral method allows the initial fermentation to finish in bottle without any additives, imparting a gentle carbonation by trapping carbon dioxide. Low in alcohol, unfiltered and hazy, it’s often described—for better or worse—as an earthier, funkier, more “honest” or “authentic” breed of bubbly, which supposedly references some earlier (it’s never clear which!) period of France’s winemaking past.
Sweaty If Brett (see animal) gets out of hand, wine might develop a sweaty taste. It can be quite stinky, smelling like used plasters and antiseptic, like manure and horse, a sweaty saddle or rancid cheese. Sometimes tasty at the edges, not cool at the extremes.