Four of the best minimal intervention wines to put into the cellar

Progress in any field is usually achieved by challenging the extremes of what is possible.

The world of drinks is no exception. Craft brewers' continued obsession with hops may have strayed into faddish ridiculousness, such as the milkshake IPA.

But it's undeniable that the experimentation with hopping techniques will have lasting, beneficial impacts on beer flavour and aroma.

Don't call it a throwback

Australian chardonnay has never been so wonderfully complex and elegant as it is currently; the blousy, over-worked styles of the 1980s and 1980s are a distant memory.

The balance in today's wines was achieved by first swinging to a polar opposite; that of almost skeletal chardonnays that proved somewhat lacking in fruit character.

Originating as a rebellion against industrial winemaking practices, natural wine has explored the extremes of what is possible using minimal additives in wine production.

The results have been highly variable. Skilled practitioners have brought us some genuinely exciting new wine styles, but other examples have verged on undrinkable.

The drawbacks of doing less

Given the unpredictability, it's not surprising that some minimal intervention winemakers are distancing themselves from the natural wine movement.

"There are some really wacko wines out there, because they have subscribed really strictly to this doctrine," says Laura Carter of South Australian winery Unico Zelo.

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"You can get elevated volatile acidity (VA), you can get 'mouse taint'… the issue is that people are actually releasing those wines.

"We have wines that are mousy. We have wines that have elevated VA. We choose not to release them – we release the stuff that's really good."

Minimal mistakes made

Gippsland, Victoria winemaker Patrick Sullivan makes his wines using only wild yeast, and very little in the way of additives.

Yet he bristles at terminology such as 'natural wine' and 'minimal intervention', which he argues misses the point.

"I've never heard of yeast or tartaric acid killing anyone, or hurting the environment," he says.

"And I'm out in the vineyard every day, intervening as much as I possibly can to grow the best fruit.

"I think 'natural' is an image now, and it's actually counter-productive. It stops people talking about what's really important, which is championing individual sites and sustainable farming."

Nature's best

At the other end of the spectrum, traditional wineries such as Margaret River's Vasse Felix are becoming more 'natural' in the pursuit of making more expressive and interesting wines.

Chief winemaker Virginia Willcock describes Vasse Felix's premium wines as "extreme low intervention", with tartaric acid (which is grape derived) and minimal sulphur dioxide (a preservative that is naturally occurring in grapes) the only additives.

"PH management (using acid) and sulphur dioxide are my tools for cleanliness; true fruit expression rather than disease," she says.

"I've always looked at natural wines and seen so much life and beauty in some of them, but I've seen the faults as well.

"I thought, imagine if you could get the life and beauty without it being faulty. That's our goal."

New opportunities

Willcock says the natural wine movement has opened the door for all winemakers to explore different production techniques.

"The general consumers out there are more experienced in drinking a wider platform of wine styles," she says.

"We've got an opportunity to introduce them to wines with better texture and depth of flavour."

Click the gallery above for some of the most exciting new breed minimal intervention wines.

James Atkinson is creator of the Drinks Adventures podcast and a previous editor of Australian Brews News and drinks industry publication TheShout. A Certified Cicerone® and 2017 winner of the Australian International Beer Awards media prize, James regularly contributes to other publications including Halliday, Good Food, QantasLink Spirit and more.