As the natural wine movement progresses, the word “funky” is always being discussed. Some people turn their heads when they see natural wine because they believe they are all funky, while others like natural wine precisely because of the funkiness. But what exactly does it mean when we describe a wine as funky? Is natural wine inherently funky?

Natural wines are often linked with the term “funky” (Photo: Midjourney, prompt by Sylvia Ba)

What Does Funky Mean in Wine?

To understand the essence of funky wines, we must first look at funkiness itself. In the context of wine, "funky" describes a spectrum of unconventional aromas and flavors that defy traditional expectations of the floral, fruity, or oaky notes in the wine.

However, there’s no specific definition of funkiness regarding particular aromas and flavors. Generally speaking, wines with notable notes and flavors of barnyard, horse blanket, savory notes, smoked bacon, mushroom, cabbage, and cooked fruit, as well as cidery flavors, can be seen as funky.

However, wine tasting is to some extent a subjective experience, so different people perceive funkiness differently. A lot of the time, funkiness can be as general as an unfamiliar, wild, rustic aroma and flavor, depending on the taster’s experience and perception.

Why Are Some Wines Funky?

If we are able to pinpoint some common funky notes, why are some wines funky and some less so? Or say, what causes the wines to have such flavors?

One common culprit is brettanomyces, commonly known as "brett," a type of yeast that can impart a range of aromas from barnyard musk to savory umami notes. In small doses, brett can be good for a wine, adding layers of complexity and character. However, excessive brett presence can lead to off-putting, unpleasant flavors.

But brett isn't the only source of funkiness in wine. Volatile acidity, a natural byproduct of fermentation, can add a sharp, tangy edge to the wine. Reduction, the accumulation of sulfur compounds, can lend it a savory, almost meaty quality, while oxidation, as the name explains itself, brings cooked fruit, often boiled apples, nutty flavors to the wine. Like Brett, these elements, when present in moderation, can enhance the wine's complexity, adding layers of flavor.

Barnyard, or horse blanket is a common funky aroma (Photo: Sadia Afreen, Unsplash)

However, it's worth noting that not all funky wines are created equal. While some embrace their unconventional flavors with gusto, others may fall victim to excessive funkiness, crossing the line from interesting and complex to downright unpleasant.

How Much Funkiness is Too Much?

The line between interesting complexity and outright flaw can blur when it comes to funky wines. Natural wines, in particular, have gained notoriety for their unorthodox taste profiles, or funkiness.

Many blame the low intervention winemaking of indigenous yeast and spontaneous fermentation with no temperature control, and lack of sulfur during vinification as the source of the funkiness. Sulfur acts as a preservative, so during the winemaking process, lack of sulfur may cause unwanted yeast and bacteria to propagate, which leads to Brett and high volatile acidity.

Oxidation can be seen as a style in some cases, as the micro-oxidation during the winemaking process can make the wine more stable. In some regions, an oxidative style is the signature.

However, these features are not exclusive to natural wines.

As with any aspect of wine appreciation, the question of how much funkiness is too much is subjective and open to interpretation. Some wine lovers embrace the unconventional flavors and interesting surprises of funky wines. Others prefer a cleaner, pristine, fruit-forward profile.

Like many wine experts agree, a little funky notes add complexity to the wine and make it more interesting, with characters. But when it’s too much to the point that it breaks the overall balance of the wine and becomes a wine fault. After all, a good wine, funky or not, should be balanced and pleasant.

So, do you have a better understanding of what a funky wine is? Do you love the funkiness in wine? For the adventurous wine lovers, here are some slightly funky wines to discover if you want to try something unexpected next time you uncork a bottle.





Sylvia Ba

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