PEOPLE TEND TO argue about what makes a wine natural. The basics are that natural wines are low-intervention wines made from organically grown grapes and harvested from independent winemakers. Essentially, they're organic and sustainable and have none of the additives you find in most commercial wines. The best part (to me) is they have a lower ABV (alcohol by volume), so they go down easier and make for fewer hangovers.
A few years ago, I was introduced to natural wine via my best friend, who was on a wine competition team in college and explained all the notes to me. I had no idea what any of it meant, but I was hooked. A year later, I'm sitting at a bar and take one sip of a 2019 Frank Cornelissen Susucaru Rosato. It's everything: citrusy, acidic, and tart. It's confectionary and complex with red berries that explode in the mouth. It's basically an adult Starburst if it was finished with white pepper. Of course, such a description isn't exactly sommelier-approved.
I'm no expert, nor am I pretending to be. I'm just a person who enjoys a drinking experience that's unexpected and constantly evolving. That's what draws me to natural wines. Each one has a story attached to it - the person behind it, the grape's region, and its traditions. And because no vintage tastes the same, there's also an opportunity to attach your own story to it, including who you shared it with and the conversations you had while sipping it.
One tip I have for beginners to natural wine is that if you try something you don't like, don't knock the movement completely. Keep drinking. Try different regions. The journey is all part of the experience and I guarantee you will find one that you love. Whether you're a seasoned expert or just starting out, below are five great bottles to try.
Jus Jus — Day
This beautifully branded, low-ABV wine is the brainchild of Julia Sherman — the writer, chef, and author of the beloved cookbook “Salad for President” — and noted Northern California natural winemaker Martha Stoumen. As the story goes, Sherman once left a bottle of verjus (juice of unripe grapes) out too long. She then discovered that a light fermentation made for dainty, Champagne-like bubbles and just enough alcohol for a faint, dreamy buzz. And just like that, the idea for Jus Jus was born. Their effervescent, lightly fruity chardonnay/muscat blend comes in two varieties: Day (one-third the alcohol of typical wines) and Night (half the alcohol). Both are crisp and delicious.
Ruth Lewandowski Wines — 2019 Boaz
I’ve never had a Ruth Lewandowski wine I didn’t like. Over quarantine, I ordered a full case of their wine because I knew they’d be good and I couldn’t risk ordering something that would lead to disappointment during that dark time. But let’s focus on the Boaz. A blend of old-vine carignan, old-vine grenache, and cabernet sauvignon, it’s bold, acid driven, and the burliest of their wines.
If you’re thinking about dipping your toes into natural wine, I highly suggest the Boaz or any other of Ruth Lewandowski’s wines. They’re different and interesting enough to leave you intrigued. In fact, I thought I hated full-bodied wines until I tried the Boaz with a nice steak. And when I made my parents try it, they promptly poured themselves another glass.
Vivanterre — White MSM
When it comes to food, I love acid. If I feel something is missing from a dish, 99% of the time it’s salt or acid. Vivanterre’s White MSM — with its great salinity and a strong lemon flavor — also acts as that missing piece. Its apple aroma adds to the fact that it’s refreshing and goes down smoothly despite the acidity.
This one definitely goes on the list of natural wines to share with people who have never dabbled in them. Not only is it very approachable, it’s also delightful. And if you need the perfect pairing, it goes great with a nice light fish, or the Fishwife sardines I enjoyed it with, which really hit the spot.
The Marigny — 2020 Pinot Gris
I discovered The Marigny through Marissa Ross, one of the funniest wine writers in the industry. I try every wine she writes about, including this Pinot Gris.
This wine is the equivalent of a spring day — the type of 55-degree spring day that’s warmer than most spring days in New York City, where everyone breaks out their shorts and heads to the park. It’s aromatic, floral, and tastes like tart apple with just a spritz of lemon. Like many Pinot Gris, it’s quite smooth and not very acidic.
While you’re at it, The Marigny just dropped six new fall wines that I will most likely be ordering for Thanksgiving.
Image by Ladd Arundel/WCLR.io
Swick Wines — 2020 Piquette 2.0
Piquettes (slightly fizzy, low-alcohol wines) don’t get as much love as they should. I always thought that piquettes and naturally sparkling pét-nats could only be drunk on a summer day while on an elevated surface — a roof, say. Trying this wine further proved how playful, laid-back, and spontaneous I find them. The bubbles and jolt of fizz when you take a taste are even more exciting than that first sip of a Topo Chico.
The 2020 Piquette 2.0 is a gamay (a light-bodied red) and full of minerality. It’s mature, and I feel like an adult drinking it. The ABV level is 7.9%, allowing you to drink more and carry a steady buzz while you do so. It’s also a wine that I could still enjoy when the weather dips into the low 50s on early fall evenings.
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