The 12 best natural wines, according to expert sommeliers and winemakers

Zafa ‘Visions of Gideon Mea Culpa’ sparkling wine. Zafa
  • If you’re looking to refill your wine cooler, nothing says summer more than an array of natural wines.
  • These wines will often have “above-board agricultural practices, native-yeast fermentation, and no additives beyond minimal sulfuring” according to sommelier Billy Smith.
  • Natural wines are available in everything from white and sparkling to red or rosé.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

This story was originally published on July 19 and has been updated.

Not to bring the party vibe down, but did you know the wine you’re serving may have more than 60 different additives? Some of these can include, but are not limited to, egg whites, milk products, fish bladders, gelatin, and other squeamish animal parts.

And since alcoholic beverages are not regulated by the FDA in the US, winemakers are under no obligation to create ingredient labels to tell you what’s in the bottle.

Like I said, I don’t mean to bring the vibe down. But how many of you really know what is in your favourite glass of wine? Most people assume wine is just made from grapes, but the reality is that that’s hardly the case. Unless, of course, you opt for a small-but-growing segment of wine that is committed to producing what we would consider to be pure wine.

That is natural wine.

“Natural wine is a bit of a broad categorization that means different things to different folk,” said Billy Smith, sommelier at Michelin-starred Four Horsemen restaurant in Brooklyn, New York. “Some people think that natural wines must be organic. Others assume it should be biodynamic. And further, there are those that fall into the pure ‘Double-Zero’ camp: zero chemical additives, zero parts removed.”

All are right in their own ways, he says. But he told Business Insider that the very baseline requirements for any natural wine is above-board agricultural practices, native-yeast fermentation, and no additives beyond minimal sulfuring.

“When looking for minimal intervention wines, I look for wines produced in first-rate soils in sustainable vineyards and wineries with strict biodiverse, organic farming, and winemaking practices,” said Michelle Feldman, cofounder of Good Clean Wine. “Where everything from the soil, crops, wildlife, livestock, and the natural vegetation in the area is balanced and grown together interdependently. Wines that use little to no chemicals, pesticides, or preservatives from growing and production stages.” (Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story contained a different quote from Feldman about how chooses wines; she later clarified her comments.)

Michelle feldman good clean wine
Michelle Feldman, cofounder of Good Clean Wine. Michelle Feldman

There are symbols and letters on the label that can also indicate a winemaker’s commitment to the environment, such as CCSW, PEAS, SIP, and LIVE.

When it’s time to sip, Feldman suggests pairing them with seasonal foods from the same region the wine is made from. For example, natural whites and rosés go perfectly with summer veggies and seafood. Natural reds are delectable with grilled foods and barbecue. Sparkling wines go with everything from fried chicken to doughnuts.

“Drink all-natural wines on the porch, in front of the fireplace on a winter solstice night, while eating pizza in bed, on the boat, on the beach, or at home in self-isolation,” Feldman said.

Now, onto the good stuff. What are these wine experts reaching for when they want a clean, delicious glass of pure, natural wine? Here are their recommendations.

1. Good Clean Rosé

Good Clean Rosé. Good Clean Rose

Here’s the thing about rosé – it’s not just a summer drink. And if you’re looking for the perfect year-round, natural rosé,this would be it. “It’s juicy and fresh, with notes of strawberries and cream,” said Feldman. “Drink it poolside, on the porch with friends – while social distancing, of course – or have a glass while bingeing your favourite Netflix show.”

She warns against over-chilling, though. “Most people drink rosé too cold,” she said. “You don’t want it refrigerator-cold or you’ll miss the nuances of the berry notes.” After removing it from the fridge, let it sit out at room temperature for 30 minutes before drinking.

2. Aveleda Vinho Verde

Aveleda Vinho Verde. Aveleda

In general, Portuguese wines are clean (and affordable, to boot).Vinho verdes are wonderful for the summer, as they’re crisp and light, as well.

“Vinho verde is very light, with a bit of tart fruit and mineral, and is best paired with light dishes, such as salad, goat cheese, sushi, and any kind of seafood,” Feldman recommended.

3. E. Guigal Côtes Du Rhône Rouge

E. Guigal Côtes Du Rhône Rouge. E. Guigal Côtes Du Rhône

If you’re looking for your signature statement piece at your next party, let this E. Guigal Côtes Du Rhône Rouge be it.

“Rhone Valley wines from France are fabulous, and impressive when you pour them at parties,” Feldmen suggested. “The reds are particularly distinct. This red is sexy, a tad spicy, and best paired with rich food and deep conversations.”

Ideally let the bottle breathe, or pour it into a decanter, at least 30 minutes before drinking to allow the dark fruit notes to really come into their own.

4. Philippe Tessier Cour-Cheverny

Philippe Tessier Cour-Cheverny. Philippe Tessier Cour-Cheverny

Hailing from the Loire Valley in France, this wine is 100% Romorantin, resulting in a voluptuous ripeness of stone fruit and pear. According to Kristin Olszewski, cofounder and chief beverage officer of Nomadica, and wine director at Gigi’s in Los Angeles, each sip is laced with mineral-driven acidity and packs a reinvigorating jolt to the mouth.

5. Wonderwerk Enzo

Wonderwerk Enzo. Wonderwerk Enzo

A variation on Lambrusco, Wonderwork Enzo is one of the best-kept secrets in California natural wine.

“A chilled, sparkling, carbonic maceration of Freisa – one of my favourite Italian red varietals – crushable, refreshing, and doesn’t take itself too seriously,” said Olszewski.

6. Philippe Bornard — Arbois Pupillin ‘Le Ginglet’

Philippe Bornard — Arbois Pupillin ‘Le Ginglet.’ Philippe Bornard

This natural wine is made of 100% trousseau from Jura, France. Winemaking is in Bornard’s blood, as he took over his father’s vineyard and makes all his wine underneath his father’s house.

“It has this wildness to it,” said Olszewski. “Like Pinot Noir’s racy cousin – tons of tenure, crunchy red fruits, and herbs.”

7. Zafa ‘Visions of Gideon Mea Culpa’

Zafa ‘Visions of Gideon Mea Culpa.’ Zafa

Here’s a fun surprise: this sparkling wine actually hails from Vermont. What’s even more unique is that it is a blend of foot-crushed Frontenac blanc and Frontenac gris.

To really give it a signature Vermont “kick,” “[The winemaker] adds maple syrup to the still wine to kick off the secondary fermentation,” said Olszewski. “Also, it’s low alcohol at 8%, so if you accidentally finish the entire bottle at lunch, you’re ok.”

8. Catherine + Dominique Derain 2017 Mercurey La Plante Chassey

Catherine + Dominique Derain 2017 Mercurey La Plante Chassey. Catherine + Dominique Derain

Catherine and Dominique Derain began making wine in the Burgundian village of St. Aubin during the 1980s. Today they are considered pioneers of the natural winemaking movement, and all of their wines are worth a sample.

“This wine is pure, focused, and sharp,” said Smith. “Catherine and Dominique are slated to hang up their pruning shears soon and are passing on the reins to their friends Julian Altaber and Carole Schwab. But their wines are still available now and I’d recommend that you go hunt them down.”

9. Christine + Franz Strohmeier NV Rosé Sekt

Christine + Franz Strohmeier NV Rosé Sekt. Christine + Franz Strohmeier

From the Styria region of Austria comes this natural wine under the motto of ‘Trauben, Liebe, and Zeit’ – Grapes, love, and time.

“This sparkling wine is made from the Blauer Wildbacher grape and could put most rose champagnes to shame. It has a deep and lush character with a beautiful acidic lift. These wines are aged for almost two years before release and it shows in their complexity,” said Smith.

10. Sébastien Riffault 2016 Sancerre Sauletas

Sébastien Riffault 2016 Sancerre Sauletas Sébastien Riffault.

Raise a glass to this beautiful French one – some of the best in the country, Smith says. What makes this wine atypical for modern Sancerre is that the grapes are almost all infected by Botrytis, or noble rot, which is ideal for the production of sweet wine. This wine, however, is completely dry.

“Although they have a honeyed, cheesy character to them, they also have incredible acidity,” said Smith. “Even the colour is honey-gold, not to mention his wines have more character than can be found in most any other wine, around the world. Some call this style strange, but I call it inspired.”

11. René-Jean Dard + François Ribo 2016 Crozes-Hermitage Les Rouges des Baties

René-Jean Dard + François Ribo 2016 Crozes-Hermitage Les Rouges des Baties. René-Jean Dard + François Ribo.

This is a Syrah worth celebrating, for sure, and is certainly less heavy-handed than a traditional Northern Rhone. Plus, with this wine you’re drinking a bit of history, as the vines from which it came were planted in the 1920s.

“The wine has much more red fruit and acid than is typical for the region,” said Smith. “Which, to me, just translates as happier wine. But other vintages have the purple fruit and vegetal, olive characteristics many associated with Rhone Valley Syrah.”

12. Takahiko Soga 2016 Nana-Tsu-Mori

Takahiko Soga 2016 Nana-Tsu-Mori. Takahiko Soga

It won’t be easy to find, but for some that is half the fun.This wine is made from only Pinot Noir, grown in Japan’s northernmost prefecture, Hokkaido. What makes it even more special is that it is a Blanc de Noirs, which is a white wine made from Pinot Noir grapes.

“I honestly still don’t know how to accurately describe this wine, except to say it was haunting,” said Smith. “I’ve never tasted anything like it and I worry that I maybe never will again. It is waxy, textured, complex, sprightly, confusing, and delicious.” However, he added, “Good luck finding it!”