From pét-nat to orange wines, here's who else is bringing the funk.
Who knew wine could be so controversial? The term “natural wine,” some argue, implies there’s something unnatural about other, more conventional wines. Many oenophiles prefer the terms “low-fi” or “minimal intervention” to describe organic and biodynamic wines with (almost) nothing added and nothing taken away during the winemaking process. Old World vintners have been making wines this way for centuries, but lately there’s a renewed enthusiasm for natural wine that’s sweeping across the U.S. Part of the allure, enthusiasts say, is that natural winemaking allows environmental factors like altitude and climate (or terroir) to truly leave their imprint on the wine, and on your palate.
Fun (and a Little Bit Feral)
Barbara Reynolds, co-owner of The Bottle Shop, has steadily grown her portfolio of minimal intervention wines at the King Avenue market and bar. “I guess the common thread that I’ve found in all of them is an almost crunchy acidity,” she says. “It just sort of dances on the tongue, the acidity. That’s something that I think they all share, but they definitely tend to have a bit of a funk to them as well. Something sort of feral, almost. I actually compare them a lot to sour beers.”
Less is More
What does minimal intervention mean? In conventional winemaking, for example, egg whites are often used as a “fining” agent to remove undesirables like harsh tannins, giving wine a softer texture. The minimal interventionists would say: Hold the egg. And whereas commercial yeasts are often added to wine for fermentation, natural winemakers allow the wild yeasts already present in the vineyard to work their magic. The result can be unpredictable—something natural wine proponents embrace as an asset, not a bug.
A Rosé-All-Day Alternative?
Rosé and Champagne lovers might give pét-nat a whirl. Short for pétillant-naturel, pét-nat is a category of sparkling natural wines that finish fermenting in the bottle, resulting in wines that are typically less fizzy than cava or Champagne. “Rosé obviously has exploded in popularity over the last few years as a great patio pounder,” Reynolds says. “Pét-nat is the same way. They’re just light, fun and they’re usually pretty low ABV. … So you can sit out with friends and have quite a few, and you’re not going to be on the ground.”
White Wines Acting Like Red
Orange wines are simply white wines that, like reds, are aged with their stems and skins, often leading to a golden orange hue. These wines (which are not exclusively natural) can generally stand up to “heartier foods that white wine sometimes may be overpowered by,” says Luke Pierce, co-owner of the forthcoming Law Bird bar. “It’s still deft enough to go with lighter dishes, too.” The Market Italian Village, which has become a go-to destination for natural wine, carries several unique varieties of orange wine. “I have one that is made by Cistercian nuns outside of Rome and another that is made by Josko Gravner, godfather of the orange wine movement,” says beverage director Collin Minnis. “Orange wines aren’t for everyone, but if you are an adventurous drinker I’d say they are worth a try.”
FOUR BOTTLES TO TRY
Recommended by Collin Minnis, beverage director for The Market Italian Village
Martha Stoumen, Nero d’Avola, $50
“[Stoumen] views herself as a farmer first and winemaker second, which is always a standout for me. This wine dances between bright acid and dark, vibrant fruit and is more restrained and fresh than many of its Italian counterparts.”
Matthiasson, Ribolla Gialla, $56
“Steve Matthiasson is a rock star winemaker who ... is at the forefront of the new California [wine] movement. This is a standout orange wine that is supple and smooth with notes of almond, lemon curd, balanced acid and distinct minerality.”
Barbara Reynolds, co-owner of The Bottle Shop
Old Westminster Winery,
Piquette Red Field Blend, $16
Located outside of Baltimore, Maryland, this winery’s “accessible and delicious” Piquette pét-nat has been The Bottle Shop’s bestseller by far, Reynolds says.
Rosato di Merlot, $22
Reynolds carries the Long Island winery’s Bianco pét-nat, and raves about this salmon-pink rosé. “I like this wine because it has a lively acidity and plump, playful fruit character.”