What are the boundaries of ‘natural wine’?

Tags: Natural Wine; Greece

The first part of our trip is a tasting of wines from northern Greece. We’re on a rooftop above Monastiraki Square, with a stunning view directly over the city and the plaka towards the Acropolis. The wines are interesting, some of them are very good. One particularly puzzles me, though – a xynomavro. This is what the text in our tasting book says:

Fermentation with nothing added, and no machinery used at any stage (all by hand) 6 months aging on the fine lees in amphoras. Bottled unfiltered to retain its natural character and elegance. No sulfites added.

So far so natural. An echo of the way wines may have been done in a golden age gone by so that what you drink is just what nature can offer you. Except that this text is preceded by the following:

Grapes are placed in refrigerated room [sic] until they reach a temperature of 5-6oC. Berry to berry selection by hand. Spontaneous fermentation in egg shaped 5 hl amphoras 8-10% whole cluster is used.

So how is a refrigerated room natural, and how could ancient wine producers have used it? And how could they have found an egg for fermentation? I’m not against these techniques, and the wine was quite interesting, though rather rustic in style. But it makes me even more uncertain about what, philosophically and practically, natural wine really is. Perhaps we shouldn’t try to define it. You just know it when you see it. Or, it is there when you claim it – irrespective of how technological it may be. But in that case what meaning does the notion of ‘natural’ have?

View of the Acropolis from our tasting which has nothing to do with the post on natural wines but shows that I’ve been in a lovely place.