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Despite years of success abroad, natural wine is only now beginning to make inroads in the U.S. Historically, the few natural offerings were relegated to dark corners of only the most avant-garde wine shops, waiting for a knowing buyer or someone who wanted to impress their hipster chef friend; overshadowed by the commercially grown, machine harvested, overly marketed wines to which so many of us have become accustomed.
Natural wine offers an alternative, a different way. Natural wine remains niche in the wine world, but its growers and devotees harken back to the early days of wine’s ascendancy in the U.S. in a way that should pique the interest of any oenophiliac. For these growers it is their way of life, seeping into every crevice of their existence, every facet of the process of growing, harvesting, fermenting, and even bottling is affected by this ethos. Imbibers of natural wine run the gamut, from experienced old-world wine collectors to college students interested in a truly holistically sourced product, to bartenders and sommeliers on the cutting edge of tippling culture. In a time of rules and regulations on what wine is and should be, these winemakers chose their process out of a love of the land, a desire to be more connected to nature and a desire to deliver a more honest product to the world
What is Natural Wine?
It is easier to define natural wine by what it is not than by what it is. Natural, organic and biodynamic wines are all different. Organic only requires grapes to be grown organically — there may still be additives in the wine. Biodynamic refers to grapes grown using some specific and unusual methods, both must be certified. Though natural wine has no formal definition, it is, in essence, about nothing being added or taken away. Typically no sugars, tannins, yeasts or sulfites are added during fermentation, and there should be minimal technological intervention throughout the growing, harvesting, fermenting and bottling processes. As such, natural wines play on a much broader flavor spectrum than their Old World counterparts with adjectives ranging from fruity, clean, and sharp to funky, yeasty, and even sour.
How Should I Go About Drinking Natural Wine?
This is not your parents’ wine. It’s loud, it’s funky, it’s fun. Let go of your preconceived notions and learn to trust your Sommeliers and wine shop owners. Natural wine can be intimidating, but your persistence is rewarded with a new adventure for your palate. This is the most powerful reason to fall in love with natural wine, it’s free of pretension or judgment. There’s no wrong way to order or drink these, in fact, it’s perfectly fine to walk into a shop and pick a wine from its label since most of these wines have fun and creative labels and the fermentation process makes flavor profiles difficult to predict.
Looking for natural wine recommendations? Here are some of our current favorites you can’t go wrong with.
5 Best Natural Wines to Shop Now
1. Gulp Hablo Garnacha, Castilla La Mancha, Spain, Grenache
BEST FOR BEGINNERS
This is a great wine to start your natural wine adventure with, made using a well-known grape with flavors that hew relatively close to its Old-World counterparts. The Gulp Hablo Garnacha from winemaker Juan-Antonio Ponce is a fun, light and juicy sipper that is perfect for either a weeknight in or to bring to a friend’s house on the weekend. When you pour your first glass you’ll notice its gorgeous, bright, red hue and scent of red berries. Upon tasting you’ll get a tart berry flavor with a bit of earthiness. On the finish, those berries trail off, leaving a wonderful, lingering acidity. First impressions don’t get much better than this!
2. Joe Swick City Pop, Willamette Valley Oregon, Mix of Reisling, Viogner, Gewurztraminer, Auxerrios, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir
BEST PET NAT WINE
Pet Nat or Pétillant Naturel, is wine that is bottled prior to being fully complete in its first fermentation, allowing carbon dioxide to be produced by the natural sugars found in the grapes. Generally, Pet Nats have a light and fizzy mouth feel and tend to be slightly sweet. Joe Swick’s City Pop is a great introduction to naturally sparkling wine, with its 14 days of skin maceration (soaking grapes, with their skins, seeds, and stems to extract color and aroma compounds). City Pop is versatile, it’s a wine you can pair with pizza as easily as pheasant, but beware, because no matter what your reason for opening the bottle, everyone will want a glass! Upon pouring you’ll notice its orange-y yellow hue and a little cloudiness, with a nose reminiscent of yeasty strawberry. The taste is powerful with hints of lemon zest, strawberry and dough, with a seemingly impossible buttery-yet-bubbly mouth feel. A roster of grapes this strong definitely writes some checks, and City Pop cashes every one of them!
3. Channing Daughters Ramato, Bridgehampton, New York, Pinot Grigio
BEST ORANGE WINE
Even though the name can be misleading, orange wine is not made out of oranges. Orange wine (or skin contact) is a natural white wine that is macerated like a red wine. Mashed white grapes are put in a vessel and left to ferment for as little as four days, in excess of a year, or anything between. Since the skins are left in contact with the grapes for longer, this results in a different color, a more honest and robust flavor and more powerful aromatics than natural whites. Pour a glass of this and you’ll be captured by its deep orange and copper colors with aromas of honey, brown spices and pears. The flavor is one of semi-spiced red apples, apricots and caramel with a very balanced acidity. This bottle is a balanced and inviting introduction to orange wines.
4. Gut Oggau Theodora 2018, Oggau Burgenland, Austria, 60% Grüner Veltliner, 40% Welschriesling
BEST WHITE WINE
It’s hard not to love Gut Oggau. Whether you’re a shop owner, Sommelier or customer everyone seems to love the story of the husband and wife who purchased an abandoned, neglected 17th century winery and started making Gut Oggau. The neglect the property endured allowed time for the pesticides and chemicals to be washed from the soil, perfectly setting the stage for their natural/biodynamic viniculture. They noticed that each wine they produced had its own personality and they crafted labels to reflect the personality inside each bottle. As such, each bottle is given a family member’s name and an artist (Jung von Matt) draws the face for each label. Similar to their story, Theodora Weiss 2018 is a bottle that captures your heart and doesn’t let go. When pouring a glass the first thing you’ll notice is the light cloudiness and notes of pear and an underlying yeast. As it oxidizes that yeast gives way to an earth-and-wet-limestone that gives this bottle the ‘funk’ that natural wine enthusiasts gush over. In this case, that ‘funk’ is shorthand for an underlying smell and taste that is reminiscent of walking through a pear grove after a heavy rain. On the palate this is a stunner, with its light, tickling natural effervescence, hints of pepper, sourdough bread, apple and pear. If you see this bottle on offer, scoop it up!
5. Christian Tschida Himmel Auf Erden Rosé, Lake Neusiedlersee in Burgenland, Austria, Cab Franc
Christian Tschida is one of the leading lights of the Austrian natural wine world, known for bold, distinctive, yet easily appreciable flavor profiles; no doubt in part owed to his being a 4th generation winemaker. Tschida takes a hands-off approach, his wines spend a great deal of time in barrels, in contact with oxygen, for as much as 5 years before bottling. Tschida uses a vertical wine basket press, essentially, a modern re-creation of an old manual screw press. He uses very light pressure when working the press, extracting only the best juice from the grapes. He returns the remaining must and juice to the vines, to aid the health of the vineyard. The Himmel Auf Erden Rosé is no exception, the juice ferments in large 500-1500 liter barrels and is bottled without fining, filtering, or the addition of sulfur. Pour a glass of this rosé and you’ll be taken by its beautiful pink cloudiness, the nose is an abundance of fruit, cranberries, apples and grapefruits play together in a harmony that belies Tschida’s skill as a vintner. That fruity bouquet transfers from scent to palate, carried on the backs of delicate bubbles, the result of Tschida’s comparatively freewheeling fermentation process. One taste and it is not hard to see why this is one of the most sought after bottles in the natural wine world!