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Natural wine: Protect it from the yuppies

It's the trendiest thing to drink right now – but natural wine shouldn't just be a trend.

A friend living in New York recently asked me a strange question: “Are Singaporeans drinking natural wine yet? It’s very popular here.” This leads to two problematic assumptions. One is that we should look to New York for cues on what’s trendy and two, natural wine is something you graduate to after conventional wines. The first assumption is quickly addressed – trends are the refuge of the unimaginative. The second, when seen through the eyes of anyone interested in wine, opens up a huge can of worms. The term “natural wine” is difficult to pin down, thanks to the lack of regulation or a uniting manifesto. Generally speaking, it refers to a loose collection of ideologies that wine shouldn’t be messed with.

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Ideally, there should be no additives, preservatives, pesticides and cultured yeasts. Within this, however, are endless variations. Some winemakers still add tiny amounts of sulphur, which has been used for centuries to inhibit microbial activity and prevent oxidation in wine. In contrast, others embrace bio-dynamism, a practice that’s equal parts organic farming and esoteric mysticism. Then there are the bad wines. While industrial winemaking has had issues with adulteration and homogenisation, many natural wines have had their own problems with consistency and a high incidence of wine faults.

“Just like any product, natural wine made with integrity, finesse, and good intent will always be delicious.”

There are two camps in the wine world right now: the old guards, who see themselves as the last bastion against vinous chaos – exceedingly cloudy wines, high levels of volatile acidity, or vino that spontaneously re-ferments in the bottle, creating unexpected carbonation. And those who regard natural wine as alive and honest – and that the surprises are what makes it so exciting. Just like any product, natural wine made with integrity, finesse, and good intent will always be delicious. Conversely, anything produced carelessly to chase a trend and make a quick buck will be evident immediately, and will never be worth your time no matter how “cool” it is.

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I’ve had natural wines that smelt so bad, they made my eyes water, but I’ve also had life-changing, brilliant, singular examples I will remember for life. My two cents? Drink widely without fear and judgement, and the wine gods will soon send pleasure your way.

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