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Your Questions

Q

What is the definition of natural wine. What does a winemaker have to do in order to be able to claim their wine is natural?

Marcus Finch, Wollongong, NSW

Critics often cite the fact there is no legal definition for natural wine to strengthen their argument – if no one can agree on exactly what constitutes a natural wine, how can you declare to have made one? As a result, there is nothing to stop a producer from claiming they have made a ‘natural wine’.

However, it is generally accepted that the grapes will come from organically farmed vineyards and be hand-harvested. The wine should be made “without adding or taking anything out” so the ferment must be spontaneous, no enzymes or vitamins added.

Associations such as VinNatur and SAINS have come up with their own winemaking guidelines (some allow coarse filtration), and each association takes a position on the use of sulphur dioxide. Although SO2 is produced in small quantities naturally as a by-product of fermentation, producers of natural wine try to limit its use. The RAW wine fair excludes any wine that has a sulphite total of more that 70mg/litre.

Q

Lately, I have noticed more references to Nordic wine. Can you tell me in which Nordic and Scandinavian countries wine is made and what grape varieties are dominant?

Anna Manser, Sydney, NSW

Lerkekåsa Vineyard in Norway claims to be the northernmost commercial vineyard in the world. At 59°N, (the same as parts of Alaska and Scotland’s Orkney Isles), it has chosen to plant hybrids, such as Solaris and Hasanski Sladki, which stand a better chance of ripening in an extreme climate. I’d be tempted to plant the wonderfully named Thor, (a Hansanski Sladki x Solaris cross). But Solaris seems to be the variety of choice in Nordic countries. It is resistant to disease and ripens very early. Also planted in Denmark and Sweden, one of its parents is related to muscat ottonel so the wines produced have a grapey, tropical fruit character.

Q

When taking older wine out of the cellar, how long should you let the bottles stand for, to allow sediment to settle before opening and decanting? Also, how long should older wines, 20 years or more, be decanted for before serving?

Sam Walker, Brisbane, Qld

Mature wines often have a very fine sediment so may need 2-3 days to fully become bright. If sealed with a cork, I use my Coravin to draw off a small amount and check for TCA, then leave the bottle standing upright in a dark cool place. Some people filter the wines through a neutral medium. But I prefer to shine a strong light up through the neck of the bottle (a mobile phone torch is perfect) as I decant to check the movement of the sediment. I never decant an old wine ahead of time, always just before serving. It could be in fine form and continue to develop in the glass but it may be so delicate it should be drunk fairly quickly before it falls apart.

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