Great news for wine drinkers: With each passing year, wine is becoming more and more accessible in various ways. Whereas calling oneself a wine lover used to mean something elite or at very least exclusive, it's now a label that can be attached to anyone who enjoys sipping the stuff — regardless of their budget limitations or even where they are in the world. That said, one of the buzziest new facets of the wine world — natural wine — might still be foreign to the general public, but that doesn't mean you can't or shouldn't try a glass ASAP. But what is natural wine, you ask? The ins and outs of this trendy vino might just make it the most exciting thing to happen to your next dinner party.
Not so long ago, wine trends like screw caps and cans had self-proclaimed aficionados shaking their heads, but now even the true experts admit that the best vinos around come in all shapes, sizes, and price points. In fact, sommelier Coly Den Haan stocks the shelves of her female-winemaker-focused shop Vinovore with all types of red, white, rosé, bubbles, and orange (yep, orange) types for all tastes and budgets — and that includes a wide range of natural ones.
"Natural wine is wine in its truest form," Den Haan explains. And while she's quick to point out that the category is not totally black-and-white, she follows a few general rules when buying for the shop. "The through-line you want to keep in mind is, 'minimal intervention,' this is the true philosophy of natural wine, letting the grapes and terroir speak for themselves," she adds. This means typically organic and/or biodynamic farming practices as well as minimal or no use of additives, like sulphur, which are common in commercial winemaking for consistency's sake. "There’s a whole slew of tricks winemakers can use to manipulate their wine that the general consumer has no idea about," she goes on. "Personally these are things I would rather not put in my body. When you think about it, Mother Nature doesn’t give us the same weather every year so how could a wine taste the same every year without being doctored and engineered?"
Additionally, wines deemed "natural" are unfiltered and unfined, which is great news for vegans. "Most people don’t realize that wines can not be vegan," Den Haan says. "Certain elements like fish bladders or bull blood can be used in the filtering and fining process, natural wines do not use these methods. I’m not vegan but I kind of want my wine to be." And the lack of additives has another major advantage — lessened hangovers. "I personally only drink natural wine these days and I have noticed a huge difference on how I feel the next day," she continues. "It makes sense, especially living in Los Angeles — we love to eat clean food, why wouldn’t we do the same with wine?"
Going natural is also a great way to support small businesses, according to Den Haan, since the process makes mass marketing practically impossible. And while finding a few good bottles (or cans!) may require a bit more research, that doesn't mean you have to spend and arm and a leg on them. Like Vinovore, which always stocks a few natural wines under $15, many boutique wine shops are getting hip to the trend and offering options that are super-affordable. And if there's not a similar shop nearby, lots of natural winemakers offer the option of buying directly online.
If you're ready to start shopping natural wines, there are a few things to keep in mind. First of all, you should be aware that the lack of filtering and fining, as well as the use of native yeasts for fermentation means these wines might look and taste a bit different to your palette. "Natural wines may take a little getting used to and some are definitely funkier than others," shares Den Haan. "A Pet-Nat (a sparkling wine with a second fermentation in the bottle) can be a particularly new drinking experience with sometimes a kombucha or sour beer type essence and the color may be cloudier or murkier then the traditional grocery store wines."
For a jumping off point, the sommelier and shop owner suggests starting with the styles you typically sip. "Natural wines come in all the shapes, styles and grape varietals you are used to, so if there’s a wine that you love to drink already, start with seeking out a natural version," she says. "If you love California Cabernet, Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, try Amy Atwood’s Oeno wines. Looking for a pale pink, lovey spring rosé? Try Tessier’s Femme Fatale. Then, from there, you may feel more comfortable branching out to some of the weirder stuff." Ahead, find a few natural wines that just might show you what all the fizz is about.