Making headlines in the international culinary world is wine even better than you know it – natural wine. In a March interview with Paste Magazine, Danish Chef Solfinn Danielson stresses the importance of natural wine and explains, “For me, the important thing is that the wine is artisan made. This just means that the same people who grow the wine, sell the wine. It’s not a mass produced product.”
Not to be confused with organic wine, or the concept of so called healthy wine, natural wine has already made it into several Michelin-starred restaurants in different parts of the world. Paving the way for this trend in Seoul is the Jungsik Bar, where a Natural Wine Seminar and Gala Tasting was held recently. Headed by sommelier Shin Dong-hyuk, the event was attended by connoisseurs of many different categories – everyone from wine sommeliers to importers.
Though the trend has extended to a handful of restaurants in the Cheongdam area, one of the goals of the seminar was to make the concept of natural wine more familiar. Eight wine importers brought four types of natural wine each to the tasting. Since natural wine not easily accessible (natural wine production makes up only about 5% of all wine production), everybody finished off their glasses, not daring to spit.
Despite the heavy drinking, participants stayed perky and passionate while listening to in-depth explanations of the makings and tastes behind different natural wines. I thought natural wines would taste bland, but many wines surprised me with their interesting and deep flavors while others were more on the flat side with pure flavors. If you’re a newcomer to the natural wine scene, you might think natural wine must be totally different, but instead of focusing on the differences, enjoy the flavors and let the taste of the wine win you over. It certainly won me over, and I’m no expert on natural wines.
Q&A about natural wines
A chat with Jungsik Bar sommelier Shin Dong-hyuk and wine importers.
What exactly is natural wine?
Shin Dong-hyuk: To put it simply, it’s eco-friendly wine made through natural processes. It can be divided into three categories: organic, biodynamic, and natural. Organic wine is made from organic grapes grown without chemicals or pesticides. For instance, when the crop is infected with pests, instead of using chemicals to drive them out, farmers will use natural enemies. Biodynamic wine is made from grapes harvested using biodynamic methods, using natural fertilizers only at certain times of the month. Natural wine uses organic or biodynamic grapes and aims to exclude as much artificial processes during the winemaking as possible. In most wines, sulfite (SO2) is added to avoid oxidation but natural wines add no or minimal amounts of sulfite.
TO Seoul: Is there a distinct taste that only natural wines have?
Kwak Dong-young (sommelier at Wine N): There’s almost no difference in terms of taste. Except in some red wines, you may get a sniff of something like cow feces because natural wines aren’t filtered before being bottled. That also makes the color of the wine murkier. If you decant the wine, that smell will disappear completely, but some natural wine lovers drink it because of that savory smell.
TO Seoul: Did you notice any differences after drinking natural wine?
Kwak Dong-young (sommelier at Wine N): I have atopic dermatitis and the way my body reacts to normal wine and organic wine is totally different. That’s why I became increasingly interested in organic wine and started importing it five years ago. Because natural wine is made using more natural methods, it feels soothing.
Is there a famous natural wine brand or producing district?
Shin Woo-sik (team manager at Homo Vinocus): Loire, Rhône, Burgundy, Alsace and other regions in southern France are most well-known as producers of natural wine. The Loire district’s Les Viseux Clos, which was at the tasting today, is somewhat of a legend in the organic wine field.
TO Seoul: Are there place in Seoul selling natural wines?
Kim Sun-kyung (team manager at REDSUGAR): Many restaurants in Cheongdam have sold natural wines for many years. But they weren’t labeled particularly as natural wines because most people didn’t know what they were. But these days, the hype about natural wines is growing and restaurants and wine bars have set up a separate list for natural wines, some at extremely reasonable prices.