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What is 'Real Wine'?

Posted on 21st February 2013 by ewwwebdev There have been 0 comments


The concept of 'Real Wine' and the debates surrounding its definition have been bubbling away in the background within the wine press for years, especially on the back of The Natural Wine Fair in 2011. Last year saw the Natural camp splitting into 'Real' and 'RAW' factions, both of which held fairs in London. A rivalry which each party generously maintained was hyped out of all proportion, nonetheless fascinated journalists and guaranteed plenty of column space, fraught tweets and soul-searching blogs.

This year The Real Wine Fair has frog-leaped RAW and is being held in March instead (last year they were both on the same weekend in May), ushering in once more the debate - what actually are 'Real' wines, and why should we be drinking them?

Alexandre Bain & Phenomene, Loire

Real Wines - Attempting a Definition

Even those closely involved with promoting real/raw/natural wines have trouble coming up with an exact definition. RAW organiser Isabelle Legeron admitted in 2012 that she didn't know when an official definition would be decided, saying “progress will be made this year but there won’t be a concrete definition for a while, if ever” (Drinks Business Feb 2012.) Doug Wregg, the spokesperson for The Real Wine Fair, is sure in his conviction that Real Wines are "more natural, more alive, more tasty", but evasive when it comes to creating a definable set: "It is important not to be obsessed with the minutiae of language. Real, natural, raw, naked are interchangeable and equally applicable terms. Although we can’t define them precisely and wouldn't wish to anyway, people know what they mean." With a lack of parameters, it was unsurprising that although the Real Wine issue occupied the wine press inexhaustibly, it didn't make it's way into public consciousness. Doug's current working definition of Real Wines as the result of 'minimal intervention' wine-making is where we at Ellis Wharton Wines take our lead.

To define this further, Real or Natural wines in our catalogue are:

  • from grapes grown organically or biodynamically
  • hand-harvested
  • fermented with natural yeasts
  • made without the use of new oak
  • free from the 20 or so additives allowed to be used in ‘conventional’ wine making
  • no cultured yeasts, sugars or acids are added
  • little or no sulphites (less than 10ppm) are used during fermentation or bottling
  • generally bottled without harsh filtration methods


Sulphur - What's the big deal?

The use of sulphur is a key part of the debate. Sulphur dioxide is widely used in winemaking to kill unwanted yeasts and bacteria, and to protect wine from oxidation, i.e. to control fermentation and stabilize the wine at bottling. Sulphur dioxide is added fairly liberally in commercial winemaking and is present in the finished wine in the form of sulphites.

However sulphur dioxide also occurs naturally in all wines. Also the majority of natural winemakers will still add very small amounts of sulphur and this just at the bottling stage, to prevent oxidation. "Sulphur is not a dirty word,” claimed Doug Wregg in a recent article (The Drinks Business Feb 2013) when he explained that 99% of natural growers use some sulphur. For RAW, sulphur levels are more contentious. "RAW is leading the charge for transparency. We believe that in an ideal wine world, any processing and additives will be clearly communicated to the drinker so that you know exactly what is in your glass," claims the manifesto. If this becomes reality, it certainly would make it easier for the consumer to choose wines with low sulphur, added in small amounts by 'Real' winemakers.

If you'd like to attend The Real Wine Fair to try for yourself, you can do so on Sunday 17th March, 10am - 6pm at Tobacco Dock, Wapping, E1W 2SF. Click here for more info.

Next - what do Real Wines taste like and what do their critics say?


This post was posted in Uncategorized, Tastings and other Events, News

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