Note to winemakers: stop making natural wine

By / Magazine / July 18th, 2018 / 7

It was the French novelist and poet Henri Murger (1822-1861) who penned the injunction: “The first duty of wine is to be red.” He went on to say, dismissively, “Don’t talk to me of your white wines.”

That initial phrase has been wrongly attributed to Harry Waugh, the British wine merchant, author and a former director of Château Latour, who died in 2001 at the age of ninety-seven. Waugh added a personal preference to it by saying, “The first duty of wine is to be red. The second is to be a Burgundy.”

And it is worth repeating here another of Harry Waugh’s bon-mots. He was once asked if he had ever mistaken a claret for a Burgundy. His response: “Not since lunch.”

This notion of red wine’s supremacy is subscribed to by all civilized nations, like the Italians, the French and the Spanish. And most level-headed wine writers. So, Dionysus protect me, please, from the current fad for Raw, Natural and Orange wines or whatever you want to call them. I do not want to imbibe a white wine that tastes like a cocktail made of sherry and cider.

In the game of golf, I’m told, it is customary to shout an admonitory “Fore!” when you strike an errant ball that threatens to crown a player on the green ahead of you. The same warning should be uttered in stentorian tones when an in-coming sommelier approaches your restaurant table with the intent of palming you off with an orange wine. Because the current trend for these over-hyped wines is driven by sommeliers in search of novelty.

For those of you who have been fortunate enough not to have tasted one, an orange wine is made by fermenting white grapes on their skins for a lengthy time, giving the resulting liquid an amber or orange hue.

This caveman school of natural winemaking, without recourse to sulphur, is a throwback to how wines were originally made — usually in large terracotta amphorae known as kvevri. These vessels were filled with bunches of grapes, sealed and buried in the ground, sometimes for years. This was the practice in Georgia dating back to 6000 years BC. (For more on how this was done, see

Well, in our enlightened times, surgeons do not operate without anaesthetics; we brush our teeth to protect them; we clothe ourselves to keep warm. So why on earth would one allow wine to make itself without the discipline of a touch of sulphur and the gentle intervention of winemaker as midwife?

To forego the use of sulphur in the winemaking process is akin to walking around with body odour. A soupçon of sulphur protects the wine against oxidation, stabilizes its colour and gives it shelf-life.

Don’t be deterred by the ominous warning on the back label of all wines that proclaims the bottle “Contains Sulphites.” All wines — and anything that undergoes fermentation, like cheese and sauerkraut — will contain sulphites; some sulphite is created naturally by the transformative act of fermentation.

So to be accurate, that cautionary phrase should read “Guaranteed To Contain Sulphites.

And what’s next in the never-ending quest for the new thing in the world of wine? Since we already have red wine, white wine, pink wine, black wine (from Cahors) and green wine (Vinho Verde from Portugal — though it isn’t actually green, except maybe with the addition of a little food-grade green dye on St Patrick’s Day) — how about blue wine to complete the rainbow?

End of rant. But I predict this orange wine fad will not endure and I for one will not mourn its passing. After all, the first duty of wine is to be drinkable.


Tony Aspler, Order of Canada recipient, has been writing about wine since 1975. He is the author of 18 wine books, including The Wine Atlas of Canada and three wine murder mystery novels. The best concert he ever attended was Rush with the Tragically Hip as the opening band. His favourite comfort food is milk chocolate and his cocktail of choice is a Kir Royale. At home, he drinks wine (lots of wine).

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