Avoiding Natural Wine? An Expert Wants You to Reconsider.
Author Aaron Ayscough ("The World of Natural Wine") on small, sustainable producers and debunking natural wine disdain
In the last few years, natural wine has become wildly divisive. Fervent fans swear by biodynamic and organically cultivated wines, while naysayers dismiss natural wine as overly faulted or hyper-cool — “funky” bottles with lo-fi labels best sipped by cool kids wearing Carhartt who are too young to get hangovers. (Think natural wine won’t give you a hangover? It will, speaking solemnly from experience.)
The divide is chiefly caused by a larger issue: it’s really hard to define what natural wine is. “Natural wine is at once a beverage and a culture,” Aaron Ayscough explains in his new book, The World of Natural Wine. “[It’s] what we call the work of the loosely organized subculture of estates that insist on high standards of purity in cellar practices as well as farming practices.” Loosely speaking, natural wine is a movement that was born in Beaujolais as a response to mass-produced wines and grew outwardly from there, operating on five main principles: organic farming, native yeast, no other additive or transformative processes, no fining or filtration, and low or zero sulfite addition.
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Some of these bottles will have a funkiness that has come to (often incorrectly) define natural wines, but the beauty of the category is it’s also wildly diverse. There are laser-precise Rieslings and silky red Burgundies. amber Georgian wines and ebullient bubbles from New York.
You could write a book explaining all the intricacies and, well, that’s what Ayscough did with The World of Natural Wines. It’s a field guide to exploring natural wine, with a vivid cast of characters, regional guides, deep dives into winemaking processes and cuvées that will convert you. Unlike many of the wine books on the market, it eschews tasting notes and flavor profiles, opting instead for vivid photos and stories that paint a realistic portrait of each region and producer.
Intrigued? Step one into your natural wine wooing: Skip the by-the-glass pours, and be upsold on a bottle. “Glass pours are always going to be cheap,” says Ayscough. They’re the low-margin wines meant to please crowds. “You’re never going to get a precise, terroir expression.”
Next, “find dedicated natural wine outlets,” he advises. (And there are plenty of great ones in the country, including MYSA Wines, Domaine LA, Graft in Charleston, and Henry’s in NYC.) Ask questions, tell the staff what you usually like drinking, and let them direct you to a bottle. “Tiptoe into it,” Ayscough suggests.
And don’t expect to find natural wine at a large liquor store or your local chain restaurant. “If you see Veuve Clicquot on the menu, you’re not likely to see natural wines next to it,” says Ayscough.
To start your journey, here are Ayscough’s options to ease you into natural wine.
Domaine de la Paonnerie Simplement Gamay
”Longtime biodynamic and natural wine pioneers west of Muscadet in the Côteaux d’Ancenis [in the Loire Valley], La Paonnerie’s Jacques and Agnès Carroget retired in 2021, leaving their estate in the capable hands of their daughter Marie. The elder Carrogets’ final vintage of their ‘Simplement Gamay’ is anything but simple: a concentrated, textured cascade of garnet fruit, shot through with an invigorating skein of volatility.” ($20)
Christian Binner Alsace Riesling Champ des Alouettes
“Christian Binner’s path-breaking Ammerschwihr estate has entered a renaissance in the past decade. A modest dry Alsace riesling from a lower, flatter site, ‘Champ des Alouettes’ nonetheless exemplifies all that is radical about Binner’s winemaking: a ripe, lightly botrytized harvest yields muscle, non-filtration retains texture, and a patient, hands-off fermentation lets just enough complexity shine through. As for flavor metaphors, think pork accompaniments: fennel, apple, sweet onion, etc.” ($30)
Domaine du Petit Oratoire Vin de France Loratoire
“A rising star of the Gard (the southern Rhone that stretches towards the Languedoc east of Avignon), Lori Haon’s Loratoire is a glimmery, succulent parcel cuvée of grenache and cinsault that see a short whole cluster maceration. Drink with a mild chill, as if it’s summertime in Uzès.” ($30)
The book itself contains dozens of bucket list bottles to start scooping up. Here are a few stand-outs:
Domaine Lapierre Morgon
“What defines the profile of this genre-defining wines? A delirious drinkability, thanks to long, cool-carbonic maceration in wooden vats, from which the free-run juice is often removed for use in other wines. Domaine Lapierre produces no less than three versions of this weine: one filtered and sulfited, another sulfited but not filtered, and a third with neither sulfites nor filtration. The latter two are worth seeking out for their classic flavors of iron and kirsch (cherry liqueur), hallmarks of great granite-soiled Morgon.” ($37)
Catherine and Pierre Breton Bourgueil-Close Senechal
“What with the ever-expanding range of estate and negociant wines produced by the Breton family, it can be easy to lose sight of the traditional Bourgueil wines that made them known. The foudre-aged parcel bottling Clos Senechel, like its barrel-aged brother Les Perrieres, benefits from long bottle aging. But it’s more approachable in youth, showing the Bretons’ consummate craftsmanship in its deep, earthy flavors of cassis and shiitake.” ($54)
Domaine de la Tournelle Arbois-Trousseau des Corvées
“Perhaps because ploussard is so impossibly light, and trousseau is comparatively dark, many wine drinkers believe that trousseau must be naturally rich. It’s not. The greatest trousseau hew to the example of the late Pascal Caliret’s Trousseau des Corvees, showing a keen acidity to complement brambly, dark-cherry fruit, finishing on a characteristic and delicious bitter note.” ($48)
Julien Guillot Clos des Vignes du Maynes Macon Rouge-Cuvée
“Burgundy is hallowed ground in the wine world. Many of the most expensive, sought-after wines on earth are born here. This wine is an homage to the historical winemaking methods of the Clunisien monks: a razor-fine elixir of sappy red fruit and candied citrus.” ($76)
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