"Will the natural wine movement or any prominent wine industry trends emerging in the past few years alter how the Wine Aroma Wheel is currently seen?"
I have encountered this question several times in the past few months. My answers didn't seem to satisfy the people challenging me. I thought I would then share my perspective with you, hoping we could start a conversation on this topic.
Let's start with the natural wine movement, and I will tackle other trends in coming articles.
According to Hagan , the natural wine movement started in the 1960s in France, in the Beaujolais region, where a small group of producers decided to "go back to the basics" to make wine.
To this date, there is no unified or regulated definition of what makes natural wine. Most professionals agree that practicing organic and biodynamic principles in grape growing and winemaking leads to more natural wines. These approaches contrast with conventional practices involving intensive interventions in the vineyards to control pests and diseases and in the cellar to control the wine style being produced.
I heard several times natural wine described as raw or a living wine.
More radical thinking spearheaded by a few celebrities goes as far as claiming no intervention should happen to qualify wine as a "clean wine."
Anyone who has been part of grape harvesting or winemaking knows that "clean" is not the best adjective to describe the wine business.
Making wine requires getting your hands dirty, even in organic or biodynamic operations. Besides, avoiding sulfite addition is super risky, not only to prevent oxidation but also to prevent undesirable microbiological growth.
A study published at the end of 2020 investigated what wine characteristics consumers from Switzerland and Australia associated with a natural wine .
About 230+ wine consumers from each country participated in an online survey.
Wine naturalness seemed more critical for Swiss consumers.
However, all participants identified wines from an old-world producing country, or aged in barrels, or closed with an oak cork as the most natural.
Producing wines with additives, especially sulfites, sugar, or gelatin, signaled a less natural wine.
Do these results surprise you?
Going back to the initial question, how the Wine Aroma Wheel can help better describe natural wines, I searched for helpful wine reviews.
The common aroma attributes I found across the internet were "funky" and "sour" profiles.
These two words are subjective to interpretation. While I would associate "sour" with "vinegar," a descriptor triggered by volatile acidity, I am still perplexed about what "funky" means.
A cider-like aroma was another way to describe "funky"; apple ciders tend to exhibit a bruised apple aroma, a sign of oxidation in conventional winemaking.
The descriptions of natural wines also included other aspects:
The fizz might be the reason some wine aficionados describe natural wine as a living beverage.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines "funky" as having an offensive odor. It doesn't help us trying to be more specific.
Looking further, I found this definition:
"A "funky" smell or odor is the smell of something a little bit rotten, moldy, sweaty, etc." (phrasemic.com)
The Wine Aroma Wheel already includes "moldy" in the Earthy category, mostly about moldy cork, and "sweaty" in the Lactic category, associated with a fermentation gone wrong.
Therefore, we could advocate to include rotten in the microbiological category.
I'd like to remind us that the Wine Aroma Wheel's purpose is not to provide an exhaustive list of possible wine aromas. So no need to alter the wheel, as far as I am concerned.
The Wine Aroma Wheel is, however, a tool to learn how to categorize our perceptions when smelling and tasting a glass of wine.
Published March 3, 2021
 Au Naturel: A Beginner’s Guide to Natural Wine by McKenzie Hagan | April 14, 2020
 Cornelia Staub, Fabienne Michel, Tamara Bucher, Michael Siegrist, How do you perceive this wine? Comparing naturalness perceptions of Swiss and Australian consumers, Food Quality and Preference, Volume 79, 2020, 103752,