The ABC's of Natural Wine (A-H)

Posted by Daniel Csorgo on

‘Biodynamics’, ‘Carbo’, and ‘Zero/Zero’ are all phrases that can confuse newcomers to natural wines and give it an air of mystery. Here at Prost Wines, we want to make good wine as easily accessible as possible, so we've put together a handy glossary of some of the most commonly used terminology you'll come across on your natural wine journey.

Additives, or rather, lack thereof, is what natural wine is known for. Natural wines generally have no additives, with the exception of a trace of sulphur in some situations. It might surprise you to know that while all food and beverages sold in the UK legally require an ingredients list on the packaging, wine does not. In ‘normal’ supermarket wines, compounds such as calcium carbonate (commonly known as chalk)  are added to reduce acidity. Tartaric, citric, or malolactic acid are commonly added to acidify and balance a wine, with colour and flavour stabilised with chemicals such as acetaldehyde and dimethyl dicarbonate. Along with Mega purple, a concentrate used to improve colour, flavour, and feel, wines may also contain fining agents such as gelatine, egg white, and isinglass. Here at Prost Wines, we prefer to know exactly what we’re drinking - that’s why all of our wines are additive-free (with the exception of trace sulphur in certain situations), with grapes as the only ingredient.

Biodynamics, an agricultural philosophy that was founded in 1924 by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, was one of the first forms of organic agriculture. Biodynamic agriculture swiftly spread throughout Europe and is still widely used today. The farm, or vineyard, is viewed as an interconnected living organism in which farmers nurture the land, crops, and animals. Biodynamic farmers utilise preparations from natural ingredients such as stinging nettle, chamomile, and yarrow in their vineyards instead of chemicals. Biodynamic farming improves biodiversity, soil health, and regenerative agriculture. Many of our farmers, such as Claus Preisinger and Foradori, practise biodynamic farming and are accredited by organisations such as Demeter and Respekt-BIODYN.  

Carbonic Maceration, sometimes known as carbonic or carbo for short, is a winemaking process that originated in Beaujolais. Traditionally, grapes are crushed and the juice fermented. Grapes undergoing carbonic maceration, however, are placed whole into oxygen-free vessels, where they begin to ferment from the inside out. Carbonic maceration produces distinctively fruity wines with minimal tannins and a distinct earthy flavour. For a typical carbonically macerated Beaujolais, try La Dernière Goutte's Gamay Sans Frontières.

Disgorge; Disgorgement is a process that is unique to sparkling wines, and is required for all traditional method sparkling wines (think Champagne and Cava), as well as certain Pet Nats. The bubbles in wine are caused by yeast consuming sugars, which creates alcohol and CO2 as by-products. This process takes while the wine is already in the bottle, and the dead yeast cells (known as lees) are left behind. The wines are then riddled, which is a procedure where the bottles are slowly rotated to collect the sediment by the cap, and then disgorged. Disgoring is when the bottle is opened, and the high pressure inside the bottle shoots out the collected sediment. The winemaker then tops the bottle off with more wine. The decision whether or not to disgorge a wine is personal to the winemaker. We have both disgorged and undisgorged Pet Nats, such as Fuchs and Hase Vol. 2 and Milan Nestarec's Bum Bum Cha.

Elevage, like many traditional French phrases, cannot be directly translated to English. It’s most comparable to the word 'raising' in English and refers to the phases of the winemaking process that occur between alcoholic fermentation and bottling. This includes determining the type of vessel the wine will mature in, how long it will age, and how it will be bottled. These steps can make or break a wine, and they have a significant influence on the flavour of the bottle when it eventually arrives at your table. Try two wines from the same region and grape varietals side by side to witness elevage and winemaking styles in action, such as the Gruner Veltliners by Martin and Anna Arndorfer and Alwin and Stephanie Jurtschitsch.

Fining is a process that none of the wines in our store have undergone. Fining is a process that clarifies a wine and can improve its shelf stability. Fining agents attach to some undesirable organic molecules, making them easier to remove. Fining is also one of the reasons that some wines are not suitable for vegans. Milk protein, egg whites, and gelatin are all common fining agents. Some of our favourite unfined wines are Christian Tschida’s Brutal!!! and Martin Obenaus’s MO:Weiss.

Glou Glou is a French phrase that means 'glug glug' and refers to the sound a bottle makes when you pour yourself a large glass of your favourite wine. Glou Glou is a wine term that refers to a specific type of wine. It is often a light, chillable red wine with a low alcohol content. It's a wine you'll want to keep drinking, and it's perfect for a picnic or a relaxing day by the pool. Glou Glou wines are all about having a good time and are ideal for gatherings. Christina's St Laurent is available for purchase if you wish to test one for yourself.

Harvest is, without a doubt, one of the most significant periods of the year for any winemaker. A full year of hard work and uncertain weather conditions culminates in Harvest, which generally runs from August through October. Our producers will almost always harvest by hand, enlisting the assistance of family and friends of the vineyard, and when workers are needed, they will be paid a fair wage. Hand harvesting provides advantages for the final wine as well. Grape quality can be improved, vines are not subjected to the shaking of machine harvesters, and the soil and vineyard as a whole remain healthier as a result of the lack of compaction. Finally, Franz Weninger argues that hand-harvesting has inherent cultural value in winemaking. While sipping a glass of his Rozsa Petsovits Rose, you can read what Franz thinks about hand-harvesting here

Make sure to check back later to learn about terminology like juice, lees, and malo, when we cover the letters I to Q.

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