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Wild, raw, and often organic, there is a growing interest in natural wines. The loosely defined term is used to describe a broad range of wines, the majority of which are made with minimal intervention from grapes grown in sustainable ways. Some use wild yeast, and many do not include the sulfites typically used in modern wine to stabilize and prevent further fermentation after bottling.
Also referred to as "raw" wine, it can be difficult to know which bottles to choose, and it’s not always clear on the label which wines fall into this category. Today, there are many exceptional natural wines available that encompass the various styles of wine.
Here are some of the best natural wines you can buy.
Best Red: Broadside Margarita Vineyard Merlot
Region: Central Coast, California, USA | ABV: 13.8% | Tasting Notes: Cherry, black currant, vanilla, oak
If you're a fan of merlot, the natural wine scene is limited in options. It's not the most popular red grape in this style of winemaking, though it can be found. The solar-powered California winery Broadside is focused on maintaining a low-impact carbon footprint and offers a rather unique take on the famous red.
Though it’s labeled a merlot, a small portion of the grapes are cabernet sauvignon. Both varietals are sustainably grown at the Santa Margarita Ranch in California’s famed Paso Robles area. This red is dry but almost juicy, with luscious black cherry, plum, and oaky vanilla notes. Its medium body is lighter than you might expect from the style, and that makes it a great pick for any meal, even the most robust and hearty. Adding to its appeal, this wine is budget-friendly so it can easily become a staple in any home.
One thing to keep in mind is that you don’t want to cellar natural wines. Given their wild nature, most are designed to be enjoyed right away, which gives you plenty of opportunities to continue exploring this fascinating category.
Best White: Vandal Gonzo Militia White Wine
Region: Marlborough, Australia | ABV: 13% | Tasting Notes: Apricot, pear, peach, spice
When in doubt, look to New Zealand and Australia for impressive untamed wines. Among the adventurous winemakers you’ll find, there is the trio behind Vandal. Working in New Zealand’s winemaking haven of Marlborough, this label is a collaboration and “side project” that has resulted in some fabulous natural wines.
Vandal Gonzo Militia is a white wine blend of seven grape varietals. As if that’s not bold enough, the grapes are harvested and pressed within a day and—following a practice normally reserved for reds and rosés—the skin is left intact for 24 hours. Fermented with wild yeast and left unfined and unfiltered, this white showcases the best aspects of raw wine. It holds delicious notes of apricot, pear, and peach with hints of spice, and has a subtle sweetness that makes it an easy drinker. The price is reasonable considering the skill that goes into making it, and the sleek bottle looks stunning on the table.
Best Sparkling: German Gilabert Brut Nature Cava
Region: Cava, Spain | ABV: 11.5% | Tasting Notes: Fresh citrus, apple, brioche
Sparkling wines are not off the table in the natural wine scene. In fact, many winemakers from Europe’s most famous regions never stopped using the traditional, minimalistic techniques that are rare in modern wines. Cava is Spain’s bubbly answer to Champagne, and the majority of it comes from Catalonia’s Penedés area, including this lively offering from German Gilabert.
This organic Spanish wine uses Macabeo, Xarel-lo, and Parellada grapes grown in the Mediterranean climate at high elevations. Employing the méthode champenoise method of secondary fermentation in the bottle, it’s a bright, fresh, and dry wine. It has captivating citrus notes, hints of green apple and brioche, and fine bubbles. Like most cavas, it’s affordable, and it makes an excellent pairing with nearly any food, particularly tapas.
Best Rosé: Meinklang Pinot Noir Frizzante Rosé
Region: Austria | ABV: 10.5% | Tasting Notes: Red berry, herbal spice
In the U.S., this bottle is labeled Frizzante Rosé, and in other markets, you'll find it as Prosa. Whatever you call it, you're going to love the sparkling pink wine from Meinklang. It is straight out of the weingarten (German for “wine garden”) where the grapes are grown alongside other produce and native plants that promote biodiversity.
The Austrian farm boasts sustainable growing practices that are apparent in the crisp, clean taste of this particular rosé. It’s made from pinot noir grapes that are aged in concrete eggs, which only adds to the intriguing story of this winemaker. The wine is mildly effervescent with soft fruit touched by a lovely acidity that will appeal to both red and white wine lovers. Surprisingly, it’s not too difficult to find, and, at under $20, it's perfect for any occasion.
Best Orange: Bosman Fides Grenache Blanc
Region: South Africa | ABV: 14.2% | Tasting Notes: Dried orange peel, honey, floral, oak
Orange wine is unique to natural wines, and it has absolutely nothing to do with the citrus fruit. Instead, this style mashes white grapes and allows them to ferment with the skins and seeds for anywhere from a few days to a full year. It’s generally free of additives and may not include yeast. The completely natural process results in a sour, slightly nutty, gold-colored wine.
One fantastic example of orange wine is Bosman Fides. The family-owned vineyard in South Africa makes wine in a centuries-old cellar. Celebrating the 6,000-year-old tradition of orange wine, it uses grenache blanc grapes of a single vineyard. The taste holds delicious dried orange peel and honey flavors with lovely floral and oak notes that lead into the savory, dry finish. Serve it slightly warmer than a white wine and alongside complex foods like dim sum.
Best Sweet: Can Sumoi Perfum
Region: Catalonia, Spain | ABV: 10.2% | Tasting Notes: Green apple, grapefruit, floral
If you have a proclivity for sweet wines, moscato is an excellent choice. Though not numerous in the natural wine scene, it is available, and Can Sumoi Perfum is a great place to begin your adventure. A joint project of two winemakers from Spain’s Catalonia (locally, Catalunya) region, the grapevines are certified organic and biodynamically farmed.
This particular offering from the Penedés estate of Can Sumoi is a blend of moscatel, macabeo, and parellada grapes. Using spontaneous fermentation, the white wine is left naked—without additives like sulfur, and unfined and unfiltered—offering a taste of pure moscato. It’s perfumy, delicate, and has inviting fruit notes against a floral body. While it is sweet, it’s not cloying and even has a crisp dryness that’s very enjoyable.
Best Dry: Frey Vineyards Organic Cabernet Sauvignon
Region: North Coast, California, USA | ABV: 13.4% | Tasting Notes: Plum, blackberry, spice
Cabernet sauvignon is an iconic style of dry red wine. This highly rated cab from Frey Vineyards represents it perfectly and it just happens to be natural as well. From California’s Redwood Valley, Frey lays claim as the first organic and biodynamic winery in the United States. After over 40 years of practice in perfecting true natural wines, that experience shows in every bottle.
This organic cabernet sauvignon is as graceful as it is bold. The balance of tannins, smokiness, plum, and blackberry accented with black pepper and nutmeg offers a smooth drinking experience that rivals any California red. Be sure to enjoy it with big, bold foods like steaks, stews, and game, and follow the winemaker’s suggestion of a mushroom risotto.
Best Italian: Tre Monti Anabla Vino Frizzante Pet-Nat
Region: Emilia-Romagna, Italy | ABV: 11% | Tasting Notes: Fresh apple, citrus, pear
Pétillant natural (“pét-nat,” for short) is another style unique to natural wines. It’s an Italian specialty that can match any prosecco. Similar to the Champagne method, it uses an old technique (sometimes called the "ancestral method") to make sparkling wine. Fermentation is finished in the bottle and traps carbon dioxide inside to naturally carbonate the wine.
Tre Monti employs the technique in each bottle of Anabla Vino Frizzante. Located in the historical Romagna region (Emilia-Romagna today) of northern Italy, the winery uses only albana grapes in this organic, bubbly white. There’s no mistaking its raw qualities, either. Like some beer, the straw-colored wine is cloudy due to the yeast sediment left in the bottle. This also means that it should be drunk while still fresh. A fantastic addition to any Italian meal, the dry wine with notes of bright fruits like apple, citrus, and pear also makes a fine apéritif.
Best French: Mas de Gougonnier Le Baux de Provence Rouge
Region: Provence, France | ABV: 13% | Tasting Notes: Cherry, plum, spice
Natural wines are nothing new. Rather, the wine industry as a whole changed to incorporate less-than-natural methods that often made the process easier and more convenient. Mas de Gourgonnier did not follow the modern trends and was among the first French wineries to reach organic certification in 1975. The winemakers remain true to those roots, from the estate-made compost to hand harvesting and leaving the wines unfined and unfiltered.
Among the selection, Les Baux de Provence Rouge is a nice choice. A blend of grenache, cabernet sauvignon, syrah, and carignan grapes is fermented with indigenous yeasts. The wine is aged in both tanks and previously used French barrels. This red has the flavor of spice, cherry, and plum rolled into one delicious sip. And, though it contains a minute amount of sulfur during fermentation, the winery’s “Cuvee Sans Soufre” bottling does not, and it’s nearly identical.
Best American: Sandhi Sta. Rita Hills Chardonnay
Region: Central Coast, California, USA | ABV: 13% | Tasting Notes: Butter, oak, citrus
Chardonnay is taken seriously in California, and there is a lot of competition. Among the vast selection, a growing number of natural wines of varying degrees can be found. One that stands out in a rather unassuming way is Sandhi Sta. Rita Hills Chardonnay. The Sandhi winery prides itself on a “collaboration between man, earth, and vine” and it’s apparent in the estate wines.
While this winery produces pinot noir as well, chardonnay is its specialty. Fermented with wild yeast and without additives of any kind, the winemakers also take advantage of lees (leftover yeast particles that impart a creamy mouthfeel) to create complex flavors. Each sip enjoys rich custard and buttery oak notes with a beautiful balance of acidity and minerality leading to an enduring finish.
Exploring natural wines is an adventure. Due to their natural state, every bottle is not going to be a winner. However, if you’re a red wine fan, Broadside’s merlot (view at Drizly) and the rouge from Mas de Gourgonnier (view at Drizly) will not let you down. For white, the Australian Vandal Gonzo Militia (view at Drizly) is a must-try.
What to Look for When Buying Natural Wine
Grapes and Style
Natural wines are made with the same types of grapes as any other wine (though how they’re grown is often different). The flavor profile carries through to these “raw” wines, so a cabernet sauvignon will be dry and a moscato sweet. If you have a fondness for a particular style of red or white wine, seek out those grape varietals when selecting natural wines. Just remember that they are not as perfect and that the taste may change from one bottle to the next. Expect more of a wild, rustic nature in your favorite styles.
Sulfites are the most contentious topic in natural wines. There are low amounts of sulfites in all wines because they naturally occur during fermentation (the process of converting sugars into alcohol). The debate is whether or not a wine is really “natural” if sulfites are added to it. These additional sulfites preserve wine in the bottle and keep it fresh. Many natural wine producers avoid them entirely, while others add just enough to extend the wine’s shelf life. A small percentage of people have a sulfite allergy or sensitivity and should probably avoid wine entirely, according to the FDA.
Finding Natural Wine
The biggest challenge for the consumer is distinguishing natural wines from “regular” modern wine. The wine may look no different than other bottles on the shelf, and the label does not always clearly state whether a wine is natural. Some wine shops specialize in natural wine, and others may have a section dedicated to it. There are also raw wine events, which offer a good opportunity to discover which wineries to look for in your search.
What is natural wine?
While it’s difficult to categorize and define this diverse class of wines, you can think of natural wines as “honest.” It’s more about producing wine that is as natural as possible than a specific style of wine or winemaking method. From growing the grapes in sustainable vineyards to avoiding additives and filtering, there are common practices in making these wines. The focus is on minimal intervention: Let the wine do what it will. They’re seen as traditional winemaking methods, though there are no worldwide standards or regulations.
Is natural wine the same as organic wine?
Organic wine is produced from organically-grown grapes but may employ some methods that are not low-intervention. While natural wine producers often use organic grapes as well, not all do. The focus is more on the entire process, from vineyard to bottle, and reducing interference in the natural process.
How should you store natural wine?
Storage is the biggest challenge in natural wines. Without preservatives, they do not cellar well and need to be drunk as fresh as possible. Keep natural wines below 80 degrees Fahrenheit—chilled is better—and store them in the dark or where the bottles will be exposed to very little light. Plan on drinking natural wine soon after buying it—a year would be maximum for those with added sulfites. Always recork open bottles immediately and finish them within a day or two.
How is natural wine made?
The process of making natural wine differs slightly because each vintner will use a personalized approach. Generally, they’re made from sustainably grown grapes to ensure the most natural flavor. They’re often fermented with wild or natural yeast instead of cultivated yeast, which adds a rustic touch to the wine’s taste. Additives and preservatives are avoided in fermentation and bottling (other than a minimal amount of sulfites for stabilization), and the wine is left unfiltered, leading to a cloudier appearance. From stomping grapes to fermenting in clay pots or concrete “eggs,” some wineries go low-tech as well.
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Colleen Graham is a food and beverage writer with over a decade of experience writing about cocktails, beer, and wine. She is the author of two books, including “Rosé Made Me Do It.”