"In the simplest terms, natural wine is wine with nothing added to it. Nothing at all: zero, zip, nada. That means no artificial fertilisers in the vineyard; no cultivated yeast added to the grapes to start fermentation; no sugar, acids or enzymes added to the final wine."
Natural wine is definitely having a moment in the capital. You’ll spot the term on wine lists and chalkboards in all sorts of bars and restaurants. But what is “natural wine”? And should you be drinking it?
In the simplest terms, natural wine is wine with nothing added to it. Nothing at all: zero, zip, nada. That means no artificial fertilisers in the vineyard; no cultivated yeast added to the grapes to start fermentation; no sugar, acids or enzymes added to the final wine.
It’s a step up from organic wines, where vines are grown naturally without pesticides, but certain additives are allowed (such as a low dose of sulphur dioxide, which is used as a preservative). And it’s also different to biodynamic wines, which are grown in accordance with a holistic system of agriculture based on phases of the moon.
Natural wines can be grown organically or biodynamically, but crucially they’re fermented spontaneously, with wild yeast floating in the air at the winery. Then the winemaker takes a hands-off approach, not even filtering the final wine.
So what does all this mean in the glass? It means a wine that won’t taste like anything you’ve tried before. Some taste like cider, with a sour, farmyard note, but all of them taste different and characterful – and they’re usually great with food. Even better, you’ll know there are no artificial nasties in your bottle. All in all, it’s a great, sunny-terrace summer drink.
So if you buy organic fruit and veg, and care about responsible food-sourcing, give natural wines a go. The best place to try them is a bar or restaurant, where enthusiastic staff are happy to share their passion for these wines. They’ll tell you more about particular wines and help you pick one you’ll like. Start by visiting one of the following venues this summer.
Among the various eateries of Brixton’s Market Row, Salon stands out for its pared-back style, commitment to zero waste, inventive fixed-price menus – and its artisan wines. Since it expanded with a wine store next door, there’s more choice than ever, with bottles starting from just £10. Buy one to takeaway, to enjoy with your food, or just pull up a stool among the well-stocked shelves and get stuck in. The natural wine choices change regularly, but might include the refreshing “Handcrafted” Austrian Grüner Veltliner made by Martin and Anna Arndorfer.
18 Market Row, SW9 8LD
This is the second venue from the team behind Ducksoup – and, like its Soho sibling, the focus is on natural wines and a weekly seasonal menu that’s inspired by the flavours of the Med. Drop in on weekdays between 5pm and 7pm, when all of the natural wines by the glass cost £5; it’s a great way to experiment without breaking the bank. Just ask the staff for their favourites. Alongside the natural bottles, you’ll find trendy sipping vinegars and fermented drinks like kombucha – the eye-catching ceramics here are also available to buy.
197 Richmond Road, E8 3NJ
The French word “terroir” roughly translates as “a sense of place” – meaning all the different elements like location, soil and climate that give a vineyard its unique character. The team at Terroirs only sell wines they believe express this idea, meaning an interesting selection of natural, organic and biodynamic bottles from all around the world. Gems like Olivier Cousin’s rustic “Pur Breton” Cabernet Franc from France’s Loire Valley are served alongside French favourites like steak tartare. Visit between 3pm and 5pm on Saturdays for £5 wine flights.
36-38 Lordship Lane, SE22 8HJ
Bethnal Green locals get their fix of natural wine and unfussy food at buzzy little Brawn. Delicious sharing dishes on the daily menu show off impeccably sourced ingredients – and the same care goes into the wine list. Try Sébastien Riffault’s crisp “Les Quarterons” Sancerre, from a tiny vineyard in the Loire Valley in France, with cod, fennel and monk’s beard in a bouillabaisse sauce. Or ask the super-friendly staff for a taste of an orange wine (fermented with the grape skins), like Anne and Jean-François Ganevat’s funky “Le Zaune à Dédée” from the Jura.
49 Columbia Road, E2 7RG
Foodie haven, Borough Market, is home to this popular spot, where natural wines are served alongside a fresh menu featuring seasonal produce. Join the communal table inside or grab one of the pavement perches – perfect for people watching. Staff here know their wine list, which changes regularly but might include Australian bottles from natural winemakers in the Adelaide Hills like James Erskine of Jauma Wines – try his easy-drinking ‘Like Raindrops’ Grenache or ‘Tikka the Cosmic Cat’ (named after Jauma’s mouse-hunter).
12 Stoney Street, SE1 9AD