One of the things I missed most in the throes of social distancing was chatting with the experts at my local wine shop while they helped me pick out the perfect bottle for whatever occasion I was shopping for. After I described my ideal funky, chilled red or the cloudy orange creamsicle of my dreams, they'd usually hand me something from their "natural" section. I became obsessed with tracking down obscure bottles and ordering in bulk from far-off places, and the more I find out about the process of making these whimsical wines that are more popular than ever, the more I want to drink. (If you're interested in vegan wine, check out our picks for those here.)
Natural or "low-intervention" wine is having a major moment, and while there's no legal term to define the process, it's pretty straightforward. For a wine to be considered "natural," winemakers must forgo adding anything to the wine in the cellar that's not naturally occurring: think preservative, additives, or chemicals. They also must not remove anything. These wines are even more hands-off than most organic options, which require a USDA certification that they've been grown on an organic farm that forgoes the use of certain fertilizers and pesticides. (Basically, all natural wines are organic, but all organic wines aren't natural. Following?)
This homegrown form of winemaking means that there's a lot more room for variation from bottle to bottle, which makes picking up something new to drink with dinner much more unpredictable—and fun, too. Each wine, even from the same vintage, presents a new opportunity to be surprised by the variation in notes, cloudiness, and color. And while I'm not about to drop money on some vino just because it looks pretty, many of these smaller winemakers just happen to have some amazing art on their labels. So whether you want to show up to Friendsgiving with something funky to satisfy your group's 'wine guy' or impress someone new with a stellar drink pairing, we've rounded up some tasty natural options for every mood.
If you're headed to a dinner party or a meetup in the park, this orange option is a total crowd pleaser, and for good reason. It's essentially an Italian beach town in a bottle: Its juicy, mineral tilt comes from the calcerous limestone in Puglia's soil, and offers a taste of the Adriatic Sea's salty air.
This blend of Montepulciano, Pecorino, and Trebbiano grapes tastes deliciously jammy at first sip, and then after a moment, tilts... dirty. But in the best way! A touch of Abruzzian soil provides balance to the red fruit notes, and which makes it ideal to slug with a meaty dinner.
Even if the dog days of summer have passed, this Spanish rosé is for the sun worshippers who just can't let the season go. It's fruity and zingy, with notes like strawberries and balsamic vinegar that would pair perfectly with a melting vanilla ice cream cone.
Socially distant date? This is the bottle to bring. The slightly fizzy red blend is complex and goes down almost too easy thanks to notes like black currant, violets, and baking spices. And come on, how cool is that label?
One sip of this fizzy pet-nat—a sparkling wine that's bottled earlier in the fermentation process and gets its bubbles from its sugars—and you'll want to teleport to a decadent soirée. It's a celebration, bottled: light pink in color, slightly salty, and bubbly as hell.
Gamay grapes make this red elegant, but still easy drinking. Almost anything that comes out of Beaujolais will be well-rounded and impressive, and perfectly suited for a long candlelit dinner.
If your trip to Vienna got canceled this year, a juicy orange option from Austria might ease the pain. The blend of welschriesling, pinot gris and traminer grapes gets its rosy color from skin contact during the fermentation process, and tastes like stone fruits on a cool day.