Hear ye, hear ye! Natural wines at Oakland’s most sophisticated wine shop – Paul Marcus Wines

What’s all the hullabaloo about natural wine? Here at Paul Marcus Wines we get questions – oh so many (wonderful) questions about wine from our customers. Many of these queries, and probably #1 in terms of frequency, involve food and wine. For example, what is the best wine to serve with grilled asparagus and roast chicken (we say Gruner Veltliner!). However, a close second most often involves which wines are produced from vineyards that are organically farmed, and even more specifically, bottles that are “natural wines”.

What is old is often new again, and such is the case with many principles and practices that encompass natural wine. You can learn more about the natural wine movement and its guiding principles in THE ANSWER: A Guide to Natural Wines.

Have we peaked your interest in natural wines? At the shop we’ve posted a natural wine legend (pictured above), to help you easily locate these vinous gems. Our natural wine guide accomplishes two things:

  1. Outlines our working definition and parameters for what constitutes a natural wine.
  2. Describes what each colored flower tag represents in terms of a specific style of wine. Namely, a red wine, white wine or orange wine (a white wine fermented on its skins, generally for a more extended length of time).

Note: these tags represent only a partial selection of natural wines available at PMW.

Of course, we are always here to answer questions regarding natural wines or provide a recommendation or two. However, we realize that sometimes folks just like to tour the shop, glean information on their own, then grab the perfect natural wine and go. If so, then our natural wine guide and nifty colored tags were made just for you.

We’ll see you at the shop!

What is Natural Wine?What is Natural Wine?

There is currently no official classification or official set of standards for the term “natural wine”. However, the wine profession today acknowledges that natural winemaking employs a low intervention and unmanipulated approach to producing wine, both in the vineyard and winery. Working with grapes that are, at the very least, organically farmed, natural winemakers produce wines that are minimally processed in order to showcase their unique and vibrant characteristics.

Are Natural Wines the same as organic wines?

Wines under the “Natural Wine” umbrella, so to speak, come from vineyards that are farmed naturally. These vineyards are farmed either organically or biodynamically. As such, no artificial fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides or pesticides are utilized. Some of the vineyards may carry an organic or biodynamic certification. Two examples include Ecocert and Demeter, respectively. However, these types of certification are not a requirement of natural wine.

While natural wines come from organically farmed vineyards, not all organically farmed wines are “natural wines”. An example: A wine might come from an organically farmed vineyard, but cultured yeast is used to start the primary fermentation. A second example: Organically farmed grape must (unfermented grape juice) might be doctored with the addition of tartaric acid before the primary fermentation in order to increase acidity and improve the balance of a wine.

What is permitted and restricted in natural winemaking?

Throughout the winemaking process, natural winemakers adhere to the guiding principle “nothing added, nothing taken away.” More specifically, primary fermentation takes place via native yeasts, and without the introduction of cultured yeast strains either during the primary or malolactic fermentation (if this occurs). Natural winemakers also eschew any and all additions or subtractions to wine during the winemaking process. This includes chaptalization, acidification, must concentration, or chemical additions to alter the texture, color or tannic structure of the wine. Natural wines are also bottled un-fined and unfiltered, as natural winemakers believe that doing so alters the inherent quality, and in some cases, the age worthiness of the wine. Natural wines are bottled either with no, or minimal amounts of SO2 or sulfur dioxide.

Do Natural Wines contain sulfites?

Natural wines are bottled either with no, or minimal amounts of SO2 or sulfur dioxide. The decision to add or refrain from using sulfur dioxide at bottling is open to debate within the natural wine world. Certain winemakers avoid any SO2 addition before bottling, as they believe that the chemical additive alters the inherent quality and vibrancy of the wine. However, other natural winemakers bottle their wines with modest additions of SO2, (to prevent premature oxidation or microbial growth) to ensure that the wines are stable enough to travel overseas and withstand possible changing environments. In these instances, the levels of SO2 utilized are well below industry standards, often not exceeding 40mg/L.

Note: all wines contain SO2 (collectively known as sulfites), as it is a by-product of fermentation. Even wines that are bottled without sulfur may concentrations of SO2 of up to 10 ml/L.

My glass of natural wine is hazy and has sediment, is this normal?

Natural wines are in most instances bottled un-fined and unfiltered, as natural winemakers believe that doing so compromises the inherent quality, wine experience, and in some cases, the age worthiness of the wine. This applies to all styles of wine including red, white, rose and sparkling. This being the case, it is not unusual, and completely acceptable, for white wines to exhibit a slightly hazing appearance, or for red wines to contain residual sediment at the bottom of the glass.

How can I identify Natural wines?

There is currently no official certification for natural wines. As such, a definitive list of natural wine producers is somewhat nebulous. However, a great place to start familiarize oneself with the natural winemakers and wineries, is to check out Raw Wine. Founded by Master of Wine Isabelle Legeron, Raw Wine is a website dedicated to promoting natural wines via education and their annual natural wine fair. Included on the site is a list of producers around the world who adhere to natural winemaking principles.

It is important to note that many wineries who do not actively identify with the natural wine movement have in fact been making wines in this manner for generations. The guidelines of natural winemaking are in many instances the same principles that winemakers employed more than a hundred years ago, and before the rise of agri-business in the second half of the 20th century. This being the case, it’s also a great idea to ask your favorite local wine merchant exactly which producers employ natural winemaking principles.

With the arrival of spring, Paul Marcus Wines is ready to showcase our growing rosé selection!

What does a lighter pink wine signify? Will a darker hued rose taste sweet? Making a fruity but balanced pink wine is no small task. In fact, many winemakers confide that vinifying rosé wine can be more challenging than red or white wine production.

Why is this so? The answer: A rosé wine must walk a tightrope, balancing components of fruit, acid and alcohol with very little margin of error. Too much of any one component leaves what should otherwise be a fresh, crisp and vibrant pink, flat on its back, tasting ponderous and dull.  However, making the perfect pink wine is not just a matter of mixing red and white grape juice…

How is Rosé Wine Made?

High quality rosé wine is made utilizing the following 3 production methods:

Direct Press Method

After harvest, red grapes undergo skin contact for a short period of time before being pressed off. How much time exactly? Anywhere from almost immediately to 16 hours or so. During this period, a limited amount of color is extracted from the skins, often resulting in a lightly colored juice. A very pale and barely pink wine is sometimes referred to as a Vin Gris.  If the grapes are left on their skins a bit longer, a darker hue will result. A rosé produced via the direct press method is pictured above.

Saignée Method

The process saignée or bleeding off juice, was originally employed as a method of concentrating wine must before fermentation in order to produce a more robust red. Red grapes, either crushed or uncrushed but broken (preferable), are chilled down and macerate, generally between 1-4 days. The juice is then be drawn off or “bled” and without being pressed. This juice is then often fermented at cooler temperatures, in a similar manner to that of a white wine the finished rosé is generally a more robust and deeply colored wine. A rosé produced via the saignée method is pictured above.

Note: the finished color of a rose does not indicate a sweetness level. If all the sugar has been converted to alcohol during the fermentation process, the resulting wine will be a dry one, regardless of the color.

Blended Method

After fermentation is complete, white and red wines (usually around 5%) are blended together in order to achieve a desired level of pink or blush tint. The blending method is rarely employed in making still rosé wines and is illegal in the EU. However, the blended method is commonly used in the production of high-quality rosé Champagne as well as high quality sparkling wines around the world. The Champagne house Billecart-Salmon produces their iconic rosé Champagne in this manner.

With so many rosé wines, and so little time, it’s time to dive in and get started!

 

 

These 2018 rosé wines from our local winery friends are now available at Paul Marcus wines and ready for you to take home.

Expect to see a steady parade of pink over the next several months, from wine regions across the globe, and produced via the 3 methods of rose production described above. As you may know, we’re huge Rosé fanatics, and we can’t stop talking about Pink!

We’ll see you at the shop!

Wherein the folks at Paul Marcus Wines get to the bottom of our most FAQs in the shop.

Is my bottle of wine corked?

You show up to a friend’s party with two bottles of your favorite Côtes du Rhone. The first bottle tastes great! Fresh, vibrant and juicy…just as you remembered it. However, the second bottle smells a bit like wet cardboard, and doesn’t have nearly the same fruit nuances and charm as your first bottle. Is your bottle of wine corked?

I. What exactly is a corked wine?

Cork taint is a wine fault that is caused by certain molds sometimes present in the bark of cork trees. These molds can and do live in cork after it’s been harvested, processed and shipped out in the form of finished corks. For most people these molds are undetectable, until they co-mingle with chlorine or chlorophenol compounds at any time during the winemaking process.

When these cork bark molds and chlorine interact, an aromatically unpleasant compound derivative 2,4,6-Trichloroanisole can develop. This compound is more commonly known as TCA.

As you can imagine, the possibilities for the formation of TCA are numerous. For instance, cork bark undergoes sterilization in the production of corks, and bottles need to be sanitized before being used.

Of course, chlorine is found in our water supply, and many cleaning agents. For this reason, wineries are vigilant when it comes to their water source and how they sanitize not only bottles but all winery equipment, and often eschew such chlorine detergents in favor of peroxide based cleaners.

II. What does a corked wine smell like?

While small amounts of TCA a wine can result in a very subtle loss of aromatic fruit and vibrancy, higher levels of TCA can impart distinctive and downright unpleasant aromas.

Descriptions of a corked wine include: moldy cardboard, old sofa, swamp, wet dog or stale fruit flavors.

(Note: older bottles of wine will often display earthy and dank nuances when opened. This is not an indicator of TCA. Aged bottles of wine will often shed primary fruit notes and develop more secondary nuances. As such, special attention should be given when evaluating older wines)

III. What is not an indicator of a corked wine?

  1. An old, or crumbly cork. The physical appearance of a cork doesn’t indicate that a bottle wine is contaminated with TCA. Older bottles with corks that look less than pristine, often do a fantastic job protecting wine over the years, and with no evidence of cork taint.
  2. A pushed cork, or one that rises above the level of the bottle most often indicates that the wine was exposed to higher temperatures at some time in the past, or that the bottle was overfilled. This condition is not necessarily an indicator that a wine is corked.
  3. Bottle seepage or capsule corrosion. Wine seepage or a corroded capsule are unrelated to TCA contamination and do not indicate that a wine is corked.
  4. Mold on the cork. Frequently bottles of wine, especially older bottles that have been stored in humid conditions may develop some sort of mold or fungi around the wine capsule or cork. These fungi are not necessarily related to molds that cause TCA.

IV. What should I do if I think that I have a bottle of corked wine?

If, after careful evaluation you’ve concluded that TCA might be the culprit, here’s what you’ll want to do.

Don’t pour out the bottle of wine. Re-insert the cork and save as much of the wine as possible. A reputable wine shop will exchange a bottle of wine that is contaminated with TCA. However, they will want evaluate the bottle in person before making a definitive judgement.