In recent years, we’ve seen the growth of the natural wine movement, emphasizing eco-friendly viticulture and “minimalist” winemaking. There’s a bit of anti-modernism and anti-technology ideology to this winemaking approach, but at heart it’s a counter-reaction to boomer wine and the idea of fermented grape juice as a luxury lifestyle statement. These are not your parents’ cabernets, aged in expensive oak barrels in a state-of-the-art architectural masterpiece of a winery. They are skin-fermented whites and “chillable reds,” lower alcohol and lighter in color and body than we have grown accustomed to.
There is also pétillant-naturel, a rebirth of an old-style sparkling wine that simply completes fermentation in the bottle to capture some carbon dioxide and create a mild fizz. It’s a contrast to the much more time-consuming and expensive champagne method of inducing a second fermentation in the bottle. Now we have piquette, made from re-fermenting the spent grape skins after the real wine is made. Sometimes these concoctions are cloudy and funky, as if to appeal to the sour beer and kombucha demographic. They may be made without added sulfites. They may even be marketed as “better for you” wines. Anything to scratch a niche.
Much of this innovation is driven by smaller wineries and younger winemakers creating wines to appeal to their generation’s palate. These winemakers aren’t interested in point scores or elaborate temperature-controlled cellars filled with trophy wines, though with savvy social media skills they may attain a kind of cult status. As they tend to be made in small quantities, you may have to seek them out, ordering online from producers or through a wine club such as Natural Action, which I wrote about recently. Boutique stores such as Helen’s Wines in Los Angeles and Domestique in D.C., or wine bars such as Racines in New York City. In Miami, the restaurant Pastificio Propaganda devotes its wine list to Italian natural wines.
West Coast producers whose wines I’ve enjoyed recently include Martha Stoumen and Scribe Vineyards in Sonoma, Calif., and the wineries behind the Natural Action group. On the East Coast, Old Westminster Winery in Maryland, Lightwell Survey and R.A.H. in Virginia, and Channing Daughters on Long Island are among the leaders of this movement.
A new line of low-intervention natural wines called Fluture has just hit the market in the D.C. area. The label defines the name (the Romanian word for butterfly, which I’m told is pronounced floo-TOUR-aay) as “the future of wine” and “wine with nothing added or taken away” and describes the liquid in the bottle as “a super juicy, uncomplicated quaff.” That it is. Produced by Chrysalis Vineyards in Middleburg, Va., and available only in retail distribution through Siema Wines, the line includes piquettes of viognier, norton (my favorite) and rosé, along with a skin-fermented viognier. The piquettes are about 7 percent alcohol.
Another label, called House Jam, doesn’t fit the natural wine category but does strike the casual, low-alcohol vibe. House Jam was actually created more than a decade ago and is now being revived — after several years off the market — in bottles and cans. House Jam, to continue the casual shtick, comes in three flavors: Sweet Chillin’ White, Cool Pink and Smooth Sweet Red. Made in Italy at 7 percent alcohol with slight carbonation, they’re described as “partially fermented grape must,” as apparently Italian regulations don’t allow such a product to be called wine. We are assured, however, that House Jam Wines are made with grapes that were intended for wine. Wink wink.
House Jam appeals unabashedly to the American sweet tooth. They are adult soft drinks. My wife calls them “soda wines.” They’d be useful at parties, especially in punch and cocktails.
Are these “the future of wine?” Probably not. But there’s room for them in today’s lifestyle. These are wines to buy on your way home from work, stick in the fridge while you’re cooking, and enjoy with dinner. And you won’t be too sleepy — as you might be from a 15-percent powerhouse trophy wine — to stream a movie or chat up the world on Clubhouse.
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