Today the best wines are not widely available. They are organic, biodynamic, unadulterated and preservative-free wines made by small family domaines. Collectively, these wines are called natural wines. They can be red, white, pink, orange, green and even black.
While many of us still have not tried these vibrant expressions of terroir, a crop of new wine bars has opened around the world specialising in natural wines. The wines these establishments feature have been vinified by farmers who till their own vineyards without chemical intervention, let alone any pesticides, fertilisers or herbicides. These vignerons focus on time-honoured cépages that best show off their local land’s potentialities. Often the fermentations of these wines are done using indigenous yeasts, and no artificial additives are added during the elevage process. As an additional bonus, many winemakers prefer to add no sulphur at all when bottling their wines. Although sulphur acts as a preservative, well-made wines have no need for sulphur, as a single sip can prove. The movement of natural winemaking is based mainly in France and Italy — although natural wines from other countries such as the Republic of Georgia, Chile, Germany, Spain, and even the United States are showing up on these lists.
These are the world’s most exciting new natural wine bars:
Featuring one of the most exciting wine lists in New York (and that is saying something in a city that boasts a diversity of top-shelf natural-wine bars such as Anfora, Seven Bells and Racines), Pearl and Ash has made a name for itself at its location on the Bowery in lower Manhattan. As an added bonus, pricing here is sharp, with mark-ups that are often only slightly higher than the original retail price for a bottle. They also stock an astonishing selection of impossible-to-find “unicorn wines” (meaning wines that consumers can almost never find for sale anywhere). They have a heavy emphasis on the Loire, Burgundy and Piedmont — not to mention a serious assortment of grower Champagnes. The deeply knowledgeable sommeliers here can tell you which of the wines you are drinking will pair well with which of their dishes, be it the potatoes with chorizo and porcini sauce, the pork meatballs or the salmon with asparagus and hollandaise sauce.
Three key producers to try: Bartolo Mascarello, Alice et Olivier De Moor, Clos Rougeard
Open for dinner daily. 220 Bowery, New York NY 10012, USA.
Pearl and Ash, New York City
A tiny space
Like many of the coolest spots in Scandinavia today, Manfreds boasts a chef with ties to NOMA. Manfreds is also connected to the higher-end fine-dining restaurant Relae of Christian F. Puglisi just next door. Denmark’s top eateries are all known for having embraced ultra-natural wines, and Manfreds is no exception. It focuses on uncompromisingly natural wines. This is the place to come to try unsulphured, non-technologically fermented wines “without boring additives”, as they put it. It is a tiny space, and many of the seats are at tables where you eat small dishes made for sharing in a communal setting. Reservations are accepted, but it is also fine to just drop in, as there are 20 “first come, first served” seats at the bar. All in all, the experience is really low-key, and it feels less like a stuffy wine bar and more like a party with super-stylish Scandinavian wine nerds. As the New York Times put it: “You’re not here just to navigate a serious collection of hard-to-find natural wines from cult vintners with limited productions, you’re here to have fun.”
Three key producers to try: Domaine Gerard Schueller, Olivier Lemasson, Cyril Zangs
Lunch and dinner offered daily. Jægersborggade 40 2200 Copenhagen, Denmark.
Young and passionate
Hong Kong has become one of the most important wine-buying markets in the world, with auctions there often fetching sky-high prices for luxury bottles by DRC or Petrus. But there is more to the city’s wine culture than high-rolling banking dollars. Case in point: La Cabane, a cosy French bistro on Hollywood Road that feels like something you would be happy to find in the northern Rhône department. The wine bar turns out classic French bistro fare, done with an eye for detail and freshness. The sommeliers are young and passionate, and often host events alongside legendary names from the natural wine world like Catherine et Pierre Breton. If picking something up for at home is more your speed, they also own a well-curated store around the corner, La Cabane Wine Cellar.
Three key producers to try: Antoine Arena, La Stoppa, and Domaine Sebastien Riffault
Open daily from noon to late. 62 Hollywood Road, Central, Hong Kong.
La Cabane Wine Bistro, Hong Kong
Wild and fun
If there is one place that typifies the excess and decadence that has put Montreal on the global food map in recent years, it is Joe Beef — a restaurant famous for offering kooky high-low creations such as foie gras double downs, corn-flake-coated eel nuggets and deep-fried lobster Montecristo sandwiches. But those who know Joe Beef know that the owners have always had a soft spot for honest, unadulterated farmer wines from France, whether it be Pascal Cotat, Francois Raveneau or Thierry Allemand. So it did not seem like much of a stretch when they opened up a natural wine bar called Vin Papillon just down the street from the main restaurant. The emphasis is on smaller dishes, with vegetables at the forefront, but a night here, especially under the guidance of sommelier, maitre d’hotel and co-owner Vanya Filipovic — an all-round wine lover — inevitably is wilder, more fun and more debauched than you might have anticipated.
Three key producers to try: Domaine Henri Milan, Jean-Marc Bouley, calvados Julien Fremont
Open Tuesday – Saturday, from 3 p.m. until late. 2519 rue Notre Dame Ouest, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
Vin Papillon, Montreal
An eating cellar
Paris is ground zero for the natural-wine movement. You can find unsulphured wines at over a dozen top wine bars — not to mention many of the great restaurants in the city today (think of Le Servan, Le Chateaubriand and Le Comptoir du Relais — each of which is a perfect place to try a bottle of Tavel rosé by L’Anglore.) In fact, a number of top restaurants have opened up tiny wine-bar offshoots in the last year: think of Septime Cave, Vivant Cave or L’Avant Comptoir. There is really no shortage of natural-wine options in Paris these days. But of all the myriad options for natural-wine seekers in the city of light, one of the best is also one of the oldest: Le Verre Volé. Opened in 2000 by Cyril Bordarier, it has become an archetype of what Parisians call a “cave à manger”, an eating cellar. Le Verre Volé is located just off the Quai de Valmy in the 10eme arrondissement, and is a perfect place to understand what the hype around natural wines is all about.
Three key producers to try: Pierre Bornard, Maxime François Laurent, Clos du Tue-Bœuf
Open daily for lunch and dinner. 67 Rue de Lancry, 75010 Paris, France.
Le Verre Volé, Paris
Smart and informal
Just off bustling Carnaby Street, Antidote is a smart new wine bar and restaurant that specialises in top producers of biodynamic and organic wines, primarily from France. Their first-floor restaurant serves more elaborate, sit-down meals, whereas the more informal wine bar downstairs emphasises charcuterie, artisanal cheeses and a selection of small plates. The chef in the kitchen is Chris Johns, who works under the guidance of Mikael Jonsson, Chef Patron of Hedone, a Michelin-starred member of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. You really can find some fantastic natural wines here, and Antidote is a must-visit for oenophiles in London. Insider tip: wines here can be purchased at retail prices on Mondays in the first-floor restaurant.
Three key producers to try: Fanny Sabre, Jean Charles Abbatucci, Domaine Leon Barral
First floor restaurant open daily for lunch and dinner; cheese and charcuterie available all day at the ground-floor wine bar. 12A Newburgh St, London, England.
Cosy and intimate
Oregon is known for the high quality of its Pinot Noirs produced in the Willamette Valley — but now downtown Portland has become a wine-world destination of its own with its very own Champagne bar. That is right, they serve only bubbly wine, whether from Champagne or elsewhere. (Ambonnay is the name of a highly prized cru in the heart of the Champagne AOC.). The selections at Ambonnay, which features more than 50 sparklers, centres on the grower-producers who sell wind made from grapes they themselves grow. They also, provide a range of offerings from larger maisons and Grandes Marques. Ambonnay is a cosy, intimate hideaway located inside a dreamy industrial space in a large yellow building.
Three key producers to try: Bérêche & Fils, Vouette & Sorbée, Laherte Frères
Open evenings as well as Sundays during the daytime. 107 SE Washington St., Portland OR 97214, USA