If there’s nothing quite like a glass of signature wine, then it’s especially true that the best food and wine pairings can really make for an experience–and increasingly that includes natural wine.
Indian and Middle Eastern dishes like coconut curry chicken tartine, sweet and savory rice porridge, and soppressata are just a few of the dishes you can find at Stable Hand–but one of the biggest draws? The Charlotte restaurant offers some of the best natural wines for miles.
Stable Hand markets itself as a place for community to gather, for “thoughtful coffee, beer, natural wines, and food.”
Stable Hand opened its doors at a less than ideal time: in 2020, in the heart of a pandemic. Despite this, it’s gotten a bit of attention from the local newspaper, which praised the unique approach to food and wine. Beyond the well-composed, layered flavors of each dish, meals are made more unique with the use of natural wine.
That natural wine adds unexpected flavors and dimension to a meal – much the way some of the dishes Stable Hand offers does as well. Along with the blend of coffee and beer, the focus on unique tastes and an experience make many hopeful it can thrive, despite the continuing issues related to the pandemic.
The good news is that, as travel is still restricted in a few ways, you don’t have to visit right now to enjoy natural wine. In fact, the trend of natural wine has been picking up over the years, whether you prefer a sophisticated glass of Malbec or a light and fruity sparkling wine.
In this article, I’ll explain what natural wine means, tell you how to tell if a wine is natural, and how to find the best natural wine that you can enjoy in the comfort of your own home.
What does natural wine mean?
Natural wine is an odd term, because, technically, all wine is natural by nature. Natural wine, however, does imply a slightly different process that purportedly sets it apart from other wines. In order to understand what natural wine is, it may be helpful to distinguish between natural vs conventional vs organic wine.
Conventional wine makes up the majority of the wine that is sold through online wine stores like Wine.com and also at your local grocery store. Conventional wine is likely the majority–or even all of the wine you’ve had before. This simply means that there is no special distinction in terms of the grapes used, preservatives, or aging methods.
Conventional wine can vary greatly in price, quality, flavors, and methods. Compared with natural and organic wine, conventional wine is much more plentiful, and, of course, you’ll enjoy a larger selection.
Compared with natural wine, conventional wine tends to be higher in sulfites and has a more clear or transparent look than natural wine. Conventional wine also often has added sugar during the process of fermentation in order to increase the level of alcohol.
Finally, conventional wine goes through a process of acidification, which balances flavor and profile for a more unified wine.
Natural wine, first of all, is a general category, In fact, some winemakers don’t like the term natural wine because it’s a fairly broad category, without some of the more stringent requirements of organic wine.
Natural wine is sometimes also called naked wine, low intervention wine, or raw wine. All of these refer more or less to the same thing. While not a strict definition, natural wine is processed differently than conventional wine.
While conventional wine uses any grapes, natural wine uses grapes not sprayed with pesticides or herbicides. During the fermentation process, no extra sugars are added, and preservatives like sulfites are either eliminated or added in small amounts.
Organic wine is a more clear distinction between conventional wine. Organic wines must be certified organic and have inspections done to ensure that the winemaking process follows specific protocol.
Grapes are grown without any pesticides or herbicides. Sulfites must be eliminated entirely during the processing. In other words, a wine can be both natural and organic. Organic wine is always natural, but natural wine is not always organic.
What are the main differences between natural and conventional wine?
Natural wine, while not a strict definition, does have some key differences in composition due to the differences in processing and sourcing. Compared with conventional wine, natural wine:
- Have less sulfites. But contrary to popular belief, sulfites are not to blame for hangovers. In fact, sulfites are naturally occurring in many foods we encounter on a daily basis. As such, natural wine can give you a hangover as much as conventional wine can. However, it is important to note that some people can have sulfite sensitivities.
- Have a more clouded appearance. Conventional wine goes through a process of filtration and stabilization natural wines often do not. As such, the hue and consistency with be more uneven.
- May be less sweet. Sugar is most often not added to natural wine during the fermentation process. It’s more likely to be sour or have unexpected notes, as it is less evenly distributed than conventional wine.
- Clearer grape taste. The flavors you get will be most near to the grape’s authentic flavors– which for some may taste more ‘pure’, but also may be a jarring switch for others. Some used to conventional wine describe the unexpected flavors as unusual or even “funky.”
How can you tell if a wine is natural?
Now that you understand the difference between natural and conventional and organic wine, it’s important to understand how to find the best natural wine, as well as how to tell if a wine is natural in the first place.
If a wine is labeled organic, you can easily assume it is natural. However, there are other signs that a wine is natural.
Biodynamic labels are applied to some mostly European wines. One such is a Demeter certification, which ensures that the wine is being produced under natural practices, as well as Biodyvin, which encompasses wine from Italy, Germany and France. A new designation, Vin Méthode Nature, started just in 2020 in France and requires that vines are organic, and there are specifications for the wine processing, as well as the level of sulfites allowed.
Sustainable wines also tend to be natural. A wine that is certified sustainable is meant to support a healthier environment and impacts how grades are grown and processed. As such, sustainable wines tend not to be necessarily 100 percent organic, but they are likely to use less pesticides and herbicides, additives, and also be sourced in a way that is mindful of both soil and water use.
Sometimes, a small winemaker will not go to the extent of having their wine labeled as organic–which can be a complicated and costly process–they will sometimes instead seek approval from independent associations.
While not as rigorous of a process, these third-party associations are unbiased and are a good sign of natural wine. Such associations include Meteri; Triple “A,”; Terroir Marche; Vignaioli; and the Natural Winemakers Association.
Other tell-tale factors of the best natural wines also apply to finding the best small batch or terroir wines. I recommend only buying wines that have information about their sourcing, including regions, specific grape varieties, and the practices incorporated into winemaking.
In addition, I prefer wine that is directly connected to vineyards the company either owns or oversees and, of course, information about vineyards you can visit in person in theory). You’ll also want to select wine with specific flavors, tasting notes, and levels of acidity, turbidity, and body mentioned.
Finally, check to make sure that the company, if a larger one, is in good standing with a winemaking association or something like Better Business Bureau.
My Picks: Natural Wine
The problem is, even with these criteria, finding natural wine may seem challenging, For that reason, I’m going to give you some options for where you can buy natural wines. All of these sources specialize in different varieties of natural wine and are one-stop options. Without further ado, here some of my picks for natural wines you can buy now.
Best Overall: Vivant Wine
One of my top choices for natural wines is Vivant. All the wines they ship are free of herbicides and pesticides, mostly from prominent French wine regions such as Champagne and Bordeaux, as well as Margaux, Sauternes, Paullic, and others.
You can purchase by bottle, with each bottle priced at $23 to $445, with many options at the mid range price point. Wine comes from both organic and biodynamic vineyards, all of which have their own featured profile on Vivant’s site. Below are some of my favorite picks, at different price points.
Château Ferran Bordeaux Supérieur Tradition 2019
This $23 red wine blend is both biodynamic and organic, with a pleasing mix of 80 percent Merlot, plus 10 percent each of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Dark fruit is accented by hints of spice, for a compatible pairing with both meat-based and pasta meals. It’s a nice option for everyday wine. Buy Here.
Domaine Isabelle et Denis Pommier Petit Chablis Hauterivien 2018
An affordable Chardonnay priced at $31, this bottle of wine is organic and a classic. A terroir wine, it’s expressive and true to Chardonnay of its region, with a bit of richness layered with crisp white fruit– a pleasing accompaniment to light chicken, seafood, or even salad and soup courses. Buy Here.
Josmeyer Pinot Auxerrois “H” Vieilles Vignes 2017
A refreshing Pinot, with crisp acidity, this organic and biodynamic wine pairs well with cheese dishes and fruit. White floral notes add an interesting touch to ripe pears and plums with a touch of minerality. It’s priced at $41 per bottle. Buy Here.
Château Bellegrave 2011
This organic, terroir wine is elegant, with present tannins and undercurrents of truffles and slightly earthy tones, playing a balance with the 75 percent Merlot and 15 percent Cabernet Franc blend. Great for serving with company and paired with red meat or heavier vegetarian dishes, it retails for around $80. Buy Here.
Best Selection: Natural Wine Company
If you’re especially picky or want many options, Natural Wine Company may be a solution. They sell a variety of natural wine, other spirits, and even have the option to buy per bottle or subscribe to their wine club.
Wine is sourced from all around the world – from American wine to German, Portugal, and countless others. In addition, most wine is reasonably priced, with featured wine hovering around $20 to $50 a bottle.
Lingua Franca, Avni Pinot Noir Eola-Amity Hills 2017
This 2017 Pinot Noir is expressive and aromatic, featuring floral notes, a bit of earth, and red fruit for a mix of fruity and savory. Rose petals blend with deep plum, red cherries, and a bit or earth for a layered yet fresh drink. Priced at $40, this wine is both organic and biodynamic and features light tannins for a bit of added structure. Buy Here.
2019 David Hill, Discovery Series Riesling First Pick Tualatin Hill
A 2019 Riesling, this wine places a bright and inviting note on organic and sustainable options. Main flavor notes include pears, melon, and a bit of zest from tangerines and other citrus. Clean, refreshing, and perfect paired with fruit, light cheese, or even a fruit dessert, this playful wine retails for just $25. Buy Here.
2019 Strekov, Viola
This unique and deep red wine from Portugal is intense and elegant but also balanced. Ripe and sour cherries make for a commanding red fruit profile, accompanied by a medium-full body, ample structure, and warmth to balance fresh acidity. This is a pleasing dinner wine that pairs well with a variety of dishes. Buy Here.
Mention For Restricted Diets: Dry Farm Wines
Dry Farm Wines offers a variety of natural wines shipped via UPS/FedEx, with free shipping for ground and rushed shipping at an extra cost. Wines are tested by independent labs to ensure quality. If you’re on a restricted diet, Dry Farm Wines may be for you: every bottle is nearly sugar-free, as well as: additive-free, vegan, low in sulfites, paleo and keto-friendly, low carb, and made in small batches without irrigation.
In addition, this minimal intervention wine is either organically or biodynamically grown from established vines. The taste is distinct and may get some used to, but is also a nice option for food with wine pairings.
One downside is that you have to buy by box, so it’s a little bit more of a risk. Each box includes several wines by variety, including one-time orders and full subscriptions. Varieties include red and white; rose, and sparkling wine.
They do have a satisfaction guarantee, but I only recommend them with hesitation, as I’d like to see more information about the actual bottles of wine they ship. Learn More Here
Frequently Asked Questions
Answer: Contrary to popular belief, natural wine, just like conventional wine, can give you a hangover. The myth arose around the use of sulfites, which are either limited or eliminated in natural wine.
While it is true that some have sulfite sensitivities, this is not common of everyone, nor the reason why you become inebriated. So if your only worry is about hangovers, you can order wine online from anywhere.
Answer: Natural wine, just like any other wine, can be aged. However, like conventional wine, many wines are simply not meant to be aged, but rather ‘drunk young.’ To be suitable for aging, ine should be high in acidity, tannins or both. An example of a natural wine that ages well is Cabernet Sauvignon.
Answer: It depends on what you mean– wine still has pros and cons for your health, but there are a few added pluses for organic vs conventional wine. Organic wine tends to be higher in antioxidants and anthocyanins, as well as resveratrol.
However, you’d have to drink wine pretty regularly to worry about this too much. If you are someone who has a wine club or wine subscription service, you may consider branching out and trying organic wine just to see what you think.
Whether you decide on natural wine or organic wine, you may find the taste a bit to get used to– but it can be an excellent option for those with health concerns, sulfite sensitives, or who are interested in investing in wine that tends to be more sustainable and environmentally friendly. Plus, many of these wines tend to be terroir wines.