Until recently, if you were into natural wines, you were dismissed by many as a weirdo. Wines that came without pesticides or any kind of manipulation weren’t in demand. What was the point? What difference did it make? Now, they’re edging out craft beer in the popularity stages and London is becoming natural wine central.
Words by Francesca Angelini
Noble Rot, a zingy and unpretentious wine bar and restaurant next to Folk's main store on Lambs Conduit Street has one of the most distinctive wine lists of any bar in Britain. Within it, next to some traditional heavy hitters, are some brilliant "natural" options, like the Melissinos 'Natural Robola' from Kefalonia.
And if you want all to go all out on the natural front, there’s P Franco, a little wine bar in Clapton that sits under a red and yellow sign for a Chinese supermarket. It’s pushing the trend. Food comes from a rotating series of guest chefs, who with just two hobs at the back of the shop, produce knock-out dishes like sea urchin pasta. But it’s the wine that people are here for. The shelves heave with bottles emblazoned with brilliantly graphic labels: bone-dry, savoury whites from Jura, steely reds from Burgundy and cloudy orange wines from Frulli. All are natural.
The term is pretty vague: basically, you’re looking at wines that don’t use commercial yeasts and enzymes for fermentation, or additives to change colour, texture and taste. The vineyards are untouched by chemical pesticides. It’s an intervention-free method that ties the wines to their origins.
But one of the strongest draws is that, at least in most, they don’t deliver a hangover. Where two bottles of conventional stuff might leave you bedridden the next day, you can glug natural wines back and still wake up feeling fresh the next morning. It’s not scientifically proven, but you try it and see.
“I don’t like the term natural because it doesn’t really tell you anything. I just prefer to think of it as good and bad wine. Like my food, I prefer my wine not to be processed and industrialized and full of rubbish,” explains Liam Kelleher, the director of P Franco. “There are hundreds of chemicals you can add to wine, but you don’t have to put them on the label.”
Their taste varies hugely. Natural wines can be funky, floral, tart, deep, minerally. All sorts. Or they can taste just like conventional wines. Most people have drunk one without realising. So what’s making them popular again?
“I think it’s coming back up in the same way that butcheries are and bakeries are. If you care about what you eat, you need to think as hard about what you drink,” says Liam. And there’s the hangover-free world.