Find out what natural wine is and where to drink it, then check out our favourite natural wines to buy, best wine subscriptions and clubs and our pick of the best supermarket rosé, natural and orange wines.
This stripped-back approach to making and drinking wine is now a hugely influential scene, one infiltrating restaurant wine lists everywhere and helping to modernise wine culture. But what exactly is natural wine, where can you try it and why do some drinkers absolutely hate it?
What is natural wine?
Simply, a rejection of modern wine production methods. Using clever science, cultured yeasts, stabilising sulphites and numerous additives, mainstream producers aim to create shelf-stable wines that, critics argue, sacrifice flavour for consistency. In opposition to this, in the 1970s a few maverick French farmers and winemakers started using ancient techniques to produce low-intervention wines (fermented using naturally occurring yeasts, unfiltered, with minimal sulphites) that tasted, they claimed, far more vividly of the grape, growing area, soil and climate. Or what the French call ‘terroir’. In certain countries, such as Georgia, natural wine production has persisted for centuries.
How is natural wine defined?
There are no set rules governing sulphite levels or what low-intervention means. Most natural wines are made with organic or biodynamically grown grapes but many winemakers work without official certification. They want to experiment with heritage grapes or styles without interference. In France, natural wine operates outside the highly regulated appellation system that governs wine production.
Why are people so excited by natural wine?
Because of the flavour – the best natural wines are vibrant and arresting, bursting with unexpected taste and typically less expensive (usually £10-£50) than revered fine wines. The wines constantly change, too, both harvest to harvest and after a bottle is opened and exposed to the air. Fans describe natural wine as being ‘alive’.
This shift is cultural, too. The natty scene loathes what it regards as the stuffy world of traditional wine connoisseurship, with its snobbery, baffling language and suffocating consensus about what constitutes good wine. Kick-started by hippies and idealists, natural wine – hip label designs, straight-talking tasting notes and a thirst for adventure – prides itself on its openness and irreverence. That energy has won over younger drinkers and travellers from other creative industries. For example, LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy owns New York natural bar The Four Horsemen. In other words, natural wine is cool.
Is natural wine better for the planet?
It’s complex but biodynamic, organic or regenerative vineyards are clearly preferable to the soil degradation and lack of biodiversity which, in the worst cases, has arisen from large-scale, pesticide-heavy vine cultivation. That fact is acknowledged across the wine industry, which is generally keen to work in more sustainable ways with fewer chemical aids. Around 13% of European vineyards are now organic, reports Forbes, a figure that has more than doubled in a decade.
Why is natural wine controversial?
Its detractors consider it a chaotic, undefined cult that tolerates bizarre, unstable, badly made wines just because they challenge the status quo. For example, traditional wine experts regard the brettanomyces yeast taint to be an objective flaw, and those who treat it as an interesting characteristic in some natural wines gullible fools (hence the put-down, ‘hipster wine’). High-end winemakers also detest the implication that their wines, often made with few additives, are somehow unnatural.
Natural sales at UK wine importer Les Caves de Pyrene have “skyrocketed” since 2019, with many exploring the wines during Covid lockdowns. Are we on the cusp of a natural wine explosion? Steve Nuttall, who runs Leeds natural wine shop Wayward Wines, cautions that many producers can’t or won’t expand. They have tiny vineyards and often use antiquated methods. “There’s bigger demand but it’s not a brewery where you can just scale up.” New winemakers are emerging but need time to master their craft. Meanwhile, natural wine, as the scene has done in Slovenia or Corsica, will find hitherto underappreciated regions to celebrate. Personally, Steve is loving the Ardèche and Catalonian makers, such as Mendall, Tiques and Toni Carbo: “That feels like an absolute hotbed.”
Talking wine like a natural
Natural wine is awash with hip jargon so, before you crush that glou-glou red, read on...
Pét nat, or pétillant naturel – a quick, traditional method of bottling sparkling wines during first fermentation.
Funky – the farmyard-y, cider-like flavours present in some natural wines.
Raw wine or low-intervention – alternative names for natural wine.
Amphorae – ancient clay pots in which wine is fermented.
Vin de France – historically how €3 bottles of cheap French plonk were labelled but now a badge of honour for winemakers working outside the appellation system.
Skin contact – usually used to refer to orange wines or would-be whites where the grape juice is left to sit with the skins, which add colour and complexity.
Juice – hipster slang for wine but also implies freshness and drinkability, while easy-drinking wine is described as crushable.
Zero-zero is a hardcore wine that’s wild fermented with no additives, sulphur or filtration.
Glou-glou is the onomatopoeic French term for the glug-glug of hastily poured or drunk wine and is used to praise young, light reds with juicy acidity.
Lees are the spent yeast cells and other particles often left in natural wine that make it cloudy and, supporters argue, add body and extra flavour.
Natural wine bars in the UK
Boundary-pushing bars and restaurants that use natural wine to complement stellar food.
Bar Brett, Glasgow
Spin-off of Michelin-starred Cail Bruich, where exciting wines meet live-fire cookery. Think BBQ halibut on the bone with Arbroath smokie XO and greens.
Large plates £12-£18; barbrett.co.uk
The Moorcock Inn, near Halifax
Exceptional wood-fired, pre-industrial cooking and a 120-bottle natural wine list that favours France. “It’s boring, saying it but, screw it: French wine is the best,” says co-owner Aimee Turford, who likes fresh, higher acidity wines. “That taste of grapes, not oak and other cellar work. Excessive sulphur can really mute wine.”
Plates £6.50-£18; themoorcock.co.uk
Each day staff open seven new natural wines (a sparkling, orange and rosé, two reds, two whites) to ensure a constantly new selection to accompany Erst’s innovative sharing plates.
Plates £5-£15; erst-mcr.co.uk
Lily Sterck chooses the wines while husband Cosmo creates plates of Italianate deliciousness.
Large plates £14.50-£21; marmo.restaurant
Chapel Allerton hot spot where an ultra-seasonal, set four-course dinner (example dish: venison, celeriac, ruby chard, pickled quince) is enjoyed with low-intervention, mainly organic wines.
Dinner £35; hernrestaurant.com
Peckham Cellars, London
While not totally natural, PC prioritises organic and biodynamic “small-scale producers who care about the soil”. Food-wise, expect modish (broadly Italian) plates of cauliflower cheese arancini or beef cheek ragu tagliatelle.
Plates around £7-£15; peckhamcellars.co.uk
Bar Crispin, London
This Soho bar carries 150 natural wines from Greece and Tenerife, as well as classic French regions. Eat cheese and charcuterie, brown crab on toast or seasonal greens with blue cheese and hazelnuts.
Plates £5-£16; barcrispin.com
Where The Light Gets In, Stockport
Expect intense, eco-friendly flavours as sommelier Emily Klomp matches Euro juice and wines from historic natural heartlands such as Georgia to chef Sam Buckley’s dishes.
Menu £75; wtlgi.co
Relaxed, buzzy spot rediscovering wine’s “true essence” in organic, biodynamic and natural examples, served with daily changing small plates such as barbecued mackerel, pickled cucumber and dill yogurt.
Plates £4-£9; plateaubrighton.co.uk
Luke French’s post-Scandi, Japanese-influenced cooking you might know – less celebrated is that 90% of JÖRO’s wine is natural, such as its collab with Spanish winemaker Raul Perez, F*ck 2020.
Menus from £35; jororestaurant.co.uk