People ask us all the time about whether they can age natural wine, or if the wines we have from several years ago are still drinking well. This idea comes from a few misconceptions about natural wine that persist today including the debate around sulfur in wine and the popularity of glou glou, or highly quaffable wines. We’ll take a look at each of these below and talk about some of our favorite aged natural wines.
Misconceptions in Natural Wine
We’ll need to do an entire post later on related to how many misconceptions there are around natural wine, but for the sake of discussing their ageability it’s important to note what kind of wine popularized the movement as well as the biggest debate in natural wine, the use of sulfur.
Glou Glou Wine
The idea of glou glou as a movement for light, refreshing wines that are easy to drink and low in alcohol became prominent in France around the early 2000’s and caught on over the next two decades from wine bar to wine bar pouring deliciously simple and quaffable wines. We don’t knock these wines and love them just as much as the next natural wine enthusiast, but it’s clear to see where the idea of natural wines not being ones to age could come from. While this movement popularized natural wine, it doesn’t represent all that natural wine can be and is essentially a tiny niche in another tiny niche.
Natural wine isn’t about a flavor profile, but rather a production style that aims to capture the wine and vintage as its best expression and not “make” the wine with additions and subtractions of chemicals or fining. That means that the most tannic Barolo made naturally could age for decades without issue, and would obviously not fit this glou glou profile of wine. Let’s explore the production methods a bit further.
Before the glou glou movement picked up steam there was another factor happening that made people believe that natural wines couldn’t be aged. Taking away the use of sulfur is clearly possible and there are wonderful examples of it across the natural wine world. BUT, when the natural winemakers first started reducing the amounts of sulfur there were a lot of people experimenting and not making the wines as cleanly as you find today. This already gave the wine category a bad reputation in the countries where the wine was made. Then, combine that with putting them on non-temperature controlled containers and shipping them around the world and you can imagine the amount of corks popping out, heat ruined wines, and general opinion that would for that natural wines aren’t stable or ageable.
Today’s Natural Wine
Now that you’ve seen where natural wine came from, we can all be excited and relieved at how far it’s come! We now have reefer containers that can bring the wines over in tact, we have thousands of producers across the world making every kind of natural wine you can imagine from the austere and ageable 2006 Shiva from Aldo Viola to the chuggable, chillable reds and roses we love to drink all summer!
It should be noted that the answer to the question do natural wines age well, does still come down to, it depends, but there are a lot of producers out there making complex and ageable wines that you can start a cellar with! Alice Feirring has a nice list of recommendations for who to cellar here.
Ultimately, we love the diversity that natural wine has and don’t see it as a fad of funky parties with glou glou wines flowing (though those are very fun) we see it as a part of the wider movement for a more sustainable approach to life where we care about what we put in our bodies and how the production affects the environment. While the novelty of funk may or may not go away, we personally believe the environmental movement is here to stay and that the lesser known natural wines will also have their day to shine in the future!