When wine bar and restaurant The Four Horsemen opened last fall in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood, it quickly became notable for reasons beyond its well-known founding partner (LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy). The bar’s interior is stunning, as is the the wine list, which is comprised of around 300 bottles, all of which are natural wines. For years, natural wine has been both hyped as the next big trend in winemaking and maligned as a nebulous buzzword, but more and more shops, bars and restaurants are building their wine lists around these wines.
“[Natural wines] taste alive—more vibrant, more clear,”says Matt Mollo, co-owner of The Wine Bottega in Boston. “We’ve learned enough to be able to vet what is actually great natural wine. It tastes more like its place and the people that made it.”
Most places and people leading the natural wine charge are still clustered in larger cities like Paris and New York City. In the latter, Racine‘s owner-sommelier Arnaud Tronche curates his wine list specifically with organic and biodynamic producers practicing natural vinification methods, and June in Brooklyn highlights natural wines from mostly European regions, as well as New York’s Finger Lakes. At Pearl and Ash, wine director Patrick Cappiello (our 2015 Wine Person of the Year) helms a massive list currently at 2,500 bottles, with some of their most popular producers using predominantly natural methods, such as Hirotake Ooka, Jean Foillard and Domain de la Tournelle. Cappiello notes that he doesn’t use the term “natural” because there are too many factors to consider in the process. He instead prefers a more direct and bottle-specific approach. “I always describe wines to my guests with the particular practices of the specific winemaker, such as, ‘This producer farms with biodynamic practices and no sulfur in the winemaking, but does use a small amount of SO2 at bottling.’”
Vin du naturel has also started to spread to other corners of the country as the concept becomes better understood and producers are making higher-quality offerings. A major advocate for natural wines, Oakland’s recently re-opened The Punchdown, has a few hundred on hand. Co-owner D.C. Loone’s current favorite styles are Jura reds; dark, cloudy rosés; orange wines; and Georgian wines fermented in qvevri, a traditional earthenware vessel. “Wines made in this manner need an open mind and tend to be different,” Loone says. “They can certainly be a little weird at first, but once you acquire the taste for real wine, it is hard to go back to conventional wines.”
More and more wine shops are also championing the sometimes-funky flavors of natural wine. At Lou Wine Shop and Tastings in Los Angeles, owner Lou Amdur specializes in “natural and unusual” wines, emphasizing regions like France’s Loire Valley, the northwest and south of Spain, California and Oregon. And back at The Wine Bottega, they offer natural wine courses a few times a month for those who really want to delve. “We always want to talk about the stories and the producers—real wine, real stories, real people,” Mollo says. “I think more people are interested in that kind of thing more than ever before.”