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Natural Wine: What’s going on in restaurants (and not only there) around the world? And where does Malta fit in this scenario?

The world gastronomic scene is currently going through a period of change that is debating how to choose and what to pour into one’s glass.

A real war between two factions has broken out among wine industry experts. On one hand, the “wine technologists conservators” advocate industrial wine, on the other the “avant-garde of degrowth” are defenders of natural methodology.

grapes in one hand
Male hand holding freshly hand picked grapes

The latter would like to produce wine in their own way in peace and quiet, which unfortunately does not happen bearing in mind that the other side continues to accuse them of being the generation of “as it once was” winegrowers, despising their wine to the point of considering it “wrong” and “smelly” or suchlike. However, the reply of the small organic producers, who accuse the big guys of an excess of sophistication, is no less fierce. After all, how can we blame them?

However, natural wine producers are racking up a series of victories on the battlefield, that have further angered those who use, let’s say, more industrial methods to make wine, including additives, herbicides, pesticides etc. 

This is why natural wines have, for many years, been considered a bone of contention among journalists, restaurateurs and enthusiastswithin the sector who tend to take sides for one ideology over another and to clash with each other in a never-ending war of articles with the sole aim of discrediting each other.

“In fact, the presence of natural wine labels on the Wine Lists of important international restaurants, and especially in many “starred” restaurants, is increasingly widespread.”

But let’s take stock of natural wine.

We have already explained, more or less, what is natural wine. In short, these are wines obtained from spontaneous fermentation of indigenous yeasts taken exclusively from grapes harvested rigorously by hand and treated throughout the year with only minimum quantities of copper and sulphur, herbal teas or biodynamic preparations and practicing green manure techniques or at least following biological agronomic methods; but more often, they are biodynamicsynergistic or put simply – as natural as possible.

green manure
Green manure at Tenuta Lenzini (Tuscany)

It is in the cellar, however, that the most difficult work takes place, even though many journalists of the “conventional wines” faction tend to define this as the “non-interventionist” phase.

The initial detailed attention paid in the vineyard to obtain healthier plants and grapes, must be duplicated or even enhanced in the cellar.

It is exactly in the cellars that cleaning and expertise will make it possible to obtain wines that are not defective or “smelly”, as many often call them, because unlike a conventional wine, in the natural wine context, the use of additives of any kind is not permitted, be it clarifying, stabilizing, preserving or acidifying.

Taking in consideration this basic information, there is an ever-increasing awareness that, in much of the world, the way enthusiasts drink has changed. 

Even if large wine companies have become embroiled in this controversy and have felt a bit destabilized from its spread, natural wine has found a place in the daily drinking habits of many wine lovers. Most restaurants have, in fact, found themselves unable to afford not to include at least a small selection of natural wines on their menu.

This was certainly led by France, who for several decades has made natural wine, followed by Italy, that has experienced an unexpected boom for many small producers who opted to recover abandoned vineyards, or planted new ones, and they are starting to make natural wine with surprising results in many cases.

Subsequently this passion for the natural wine has spread all over the world. From the UK, to the United States, to Japan, Germany, reaching Canada and even Australia.

A wave of new producers, importers, wine-bars, restaurants and wine lovers have given voice to this old-new way of making wine, a real return to peasant wine made, however, with awareness and knowledge.

new cellar at Cantina Ribelà
New cellar at Cantina Ribelà (Lazio – Italy)

Where does Malta fit in in this scenario?

Until now, this small island appears to have remained untouched by this debate, on the contrary, it boasts a lack of passion and knowledge of natural wine, and more generally, an unwillingness to offer customers something really interesting to drink, especially to those who don’t leave their passion for good wines at home. 

Travelling around the island’s restaurants a carelessness in the wine lists emerges. There are very few wine lists that offer something original, not trivial, unknown and above all, that isn’t part of the promotional offer of the competitors.

Somehow, what you can find in the 90% of the wine lists, optimistically speaking, is a selection of fermented grape juices that can be easily purchased in the supermarkets of any other European country, with the aggravating addition of having mind-boggling mark-ups.

Then there are those Maltese restaurants that aspire to excellence and fortunately find themselves having more interesting wines (in theory), but where the choice of labels remains a bit static.

The big wine industries are those who continue to rule and continue to be starred in many cases, offering conventional wines that bask in the glory of superior-sounding and renowned names, but still remain conventional.

What surely prevails on the island is a greater propensity to be careful about what you eat. Regularly, the restaurant menus pay the utmost attention to the quality of their raw materials, to the preparation of the dishes, to the final serving, to the service, obtaining truly exceptional aesthetic and taste results, but, they continue to sin with regards to the right food pairing -the wine. In doing so, diners are obliged to order a bottle of water or something to be able to have a drink, due to the lack of “appeal” in their wine lists.

All this is certainly due to the serious absence of an expert, such as that of the Sommelier, a profession that is almost non-existent in Malta, and that rarely, and I re-iterate rarely, has the good fortune to be found in a dining room. 

I’m talking about someone truly skilled who can guide you on what to drink, tell you about the origin of the wine you ordered, able to make a suitable matchwith a particular dish or at least make you want to drink something from their wine list.

Fortunately, thanks to the work of some good restaurateurs and sommeliers something in Malta is stirring. Greater attention towards the quality is beginning to be noticed, especially among the younger generations.

Many people are rediscovering the flavoursof organic vegetables, meat from healthy grazing animals, eggs produced by intensive farming and last, but not least, a good healthy winethat is neither artificial nor manufactured in a laboratory but totally chemistry-free.

Stefano Amerighi among his Syrah vines
Stefano Amerighi among his Syrah vines

Importing this knowledge to the island will be a slow and complex process, but I am sure that, as this has happened in much of the rest of the world, even here on this island the “natural” revolution will arrive soon.

Among other things, it will be Malta and the Maltese themselves who will make the most of it.

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