Natural Wine: Why Drink It?

A case for organic wine and how it’s captivating palates. The people behind Straits Wine Company, Puro KL and Sitka Studio define natural wine, from vineyard to the dining table.

By | January 15, 2021

Food Pairings & Prohibitions

While you might have been met with a blank stare when asking for natural wine a decade ago, our present options are pretty exciting.

At Sitka Studio, for instance, diners can pair eight-course tasting menus with glasses (or bottles) of natural wine. Sitka Studio’s signature 28-day aged duck gets a makeover every season, but the current version with tart cherries and textural quinoa porridge should be paired with a chilled, spicy red, recommends chef-proprietor Christian Recomio.

Christian Recomio, chef-proprietor at Sitka and Sitka Studio, stands by his bottles.

“Brash Higgins should do the trick,” muses Recomio. “It’s a bit deeper, less ‘smashable’, more traditional.” One of Recomio’s favourite wine descriptors, ‘smashable’ is synonymous with ‘drinkability’ in the stuffier wine world; in Malaysia, the best adjective this writer can think of is ringan.

“As a general rule, our cooking is really light,” Recomio says.“We don’t use a lot of cream or butter, but choose to incorporate a lot of light broths and acidity, which go well with younger wines that aren’t too complex.”

After all, natural wines are mostly there for refreshment and enjoyment, he says. “You’re not going to discuss a wine that was produced in 2020. It shouldn’t be overanalysed other than to say, ‘Give me another glass’.”

Sitka Studio. Plaza Batai, 8-5A, Jalan Batai, Bukit Damansara, 50490 Kuala Lumpur.

Natural Wine 101

Gerald Chua, co-founder of Puro KL, only speaks when he deems it necessary—which is usually when the topic turns to wine. The studious and soft-spoken sommelier at Malaysia’s first standalone natural wine bar takes the time to talk to each and every customer about this type of wine in spite of its confusing categorisation.

The first question he is usually asked is, “How do you differentiate between mainstream and natural wines?” to which he replies by referencing real-life events.

“During Tasmania’s terrible bush fires in 2019-2020, natural winegrowers culled all their grapes and didn’t make a single bottle of wine. On the other hand, your regular winegrower would have used additives to mask the damage the smoke had done.”

While some see inaction as laziness, Chua opposes this view with vehemence. “If anything, natural winemakers have no room to slack. Because reactive methods are banned, everything has to be done in more detail from day one. This extra care and attention given to the soil and the vines will, believe it or not, show up in your bottle.”

Paint and sip night at Puro KL at Rex.

Insisting that natural wine is “not a new ‘hippie’ thing”, Chua underscores that natural wine has always been around. What’s new, however, is the consumer’s heightened appreciation for all things “handcrafted”—hence the natural wine revolution.

Puro KL 80, Jalan Sultan, City Centre, 50000 Kuala Lumpur. Tel: 019-276 9576

Acquired Taste?

Something of a household name in Malaysia, especially among oenophiles, Straits Wine Company is synonymous with importing and distributing boutique wines. Natural wines make up 10% of their stock, which roughly means there is one natural wine enthusiast for every nine “standard” wine drinkers.

La Prova Biondo Pinot Nero 2017, highly recommended

So who exactly makes up natural wine’s niche audience? Guoyi Ting, sales and marketing executive at Straits Wine Company, says he gets a stream of inquiries from “younger restaurateurs who have observed mature restaurant scenes abroad and realise what natural wine stands for”. At the risk of sounding reductive, the natural wine audience is generally young, affluent, educated, and “woke”. These are the same people who eat organic, buy plant-based, and uphold wellness. To drink natural wine is to support the underdog, to be nonconformist, and to give conglomerates the middle finger salute.

“We want more content to go out to the public, for people to realise there is a difference between natural and conventional wine,” says Ting, who has worked out how best to initiate novices into the natural wine movement – match the wine to the drinker’s experience. “Some natural winemakers lie on the ‘extreme end’ and choose not to use sulphur, filtration or refining whatsoever. Whereas there are also natural winemakers who are more ‘easy going’,” he explains. “We carry a range of really raw wines such as Lucy Margaux, and then we have Scott & La Prova, which is a bit more conventional in that it’s clean and approachable. The latter is better to introduce to newcomers, who sometimes mistake the former’s funky flavours as a sign of a wine gone off.”

Straits Wine Company, Block D8-3A-G Pusat Perdagangan Dana 1, Jalan PJU 1A/46, 47301 Petaling Jaya. Tel: 03-7842-6363.

Bobbi Beausoleil

Bobbi Beausoleil

A food writer whose superpower is remembering everyone’s favourite dishes and drinks. Frequently investigating the world through the lens of food.