And the big change in French wine production in recent decades has been around chemicals. Increasing concern about heavy use of pesticides and weedkillers has led many vineyards to go organic, and a whole industry has sprung up around ‘natural’ wines.
Here’s what the various terms mean and how to enjoy organic French wines.
This is the official certification of an organic product. It doesn’t just apply to wine, you will find a bio section of fruit and veg in most French supermarkets as well as plenty of other products with a bio label. Most towns and communes regularly host a marché bio – a market where all the products on sale are organic.
To be certified as bio, producers must follow a set of EU specifications around how products are grown, which limit the use of chemicals such as fertilisers, pesticides and weedkillers. The bio brand is a protected mark.
Vin méthode nature
While bio refers to how the grapes are grown, ‘natural wines’ refers to the process of turning the grapes into wine.
This is more vague than organic as there isn’t an agreed set of standards for what constitutes a ‘natural wine’. Producers must label their bottles vin méthode nature (natural wine method) but you’ll also frequently see and hear vin naturel or vin nature to describe these products. In general, it means a wine that has no additives used during the wine-making process and no or few added sulphites, which can mean that natural wines taste different.
Not all organic wines are natural and not all natural wines are made with organic grapes, although the two tend to go together.
Growers who embrace the biodynamic method go a step further and as well as cutting out chemicals they also plant and harvest their crop according to the lunar calendar.
Biodynamic isn’t a protected mark and a biodynamic wine isn’t necessarily organic or natural, but vine growers who go to the trouble of following the lunar calendar are generally pretty committed to producing their product in a more natural way. This method is followed by a relatively small number of growers and has sometimes been seen as something of a joke – as the below comedy sketch shows – but it’s growing in popularity as more producers show that it can be commercially successful.
Vous prendrez bien un verre de vin biodynamique ? 🍷 pic.twitter.com/bGB6VT52lw
— Bertrand Usclat (@BertrandUsclat) May 7, 2021
Obviously lots of things affect the taste of a wine, from the grape and the production method to the soil it is grown in and the weather – which is why wines have ‘good’ and ‘bad’ years.
So it’s not easy to say whether switching from chemical fertiliser to natural growing methods alter the taste of a particular wine. As a general rule of thumb, experts say that bio wines taste pretty much the same as non-organic ones but natural wines can taste different because of the lighter use of sulphites in the production process.
One difference you will certainly notice is the price, as organic and natural wines tend to be more expensive. Some of this reflects the increased production costs of natural methods, but ‘natural’ wines are getting quite trendy, which always knocks up the price of a product.
So is it really true that drinking more ‘natural’ wines helps to avoid a hangover? Sadly not. While wines lighter in sulphites may help some people to avoid headaches, the sad truth is that drinking too much of any type of alcohol leads to a hangover.
But that’s no reason not to enjoy France’s most famous product in moderation, perhaps with a really good cheeseboard.