Let us all hold hands and pray, to our lord, Bacchus, granter of the earth’s most glorious gift: wine. For all you lushes out there, you may be all too familiar with the difference between organic, natural, and biodynamic wine, but for us more casual imbibers, here’s a little breakdown. It doesn’t help that wine descriptions can be purposefully jargon-y and many bottles don’t offer much practical info; a lot of people end up picking their wine purely by how enticing a label is—which, in the case of natural wine, has been co-opted into a positive. The natural wine world is known for its clever, off-the-wall branding, and many smaller vineyards and producers commission graphics from artists to help entice shoppers.
Even if you’re an oenophile, it can be hard to stay on top of all the coolest, newest and best biodynamic wines on the shelves. An excellent way to familiarize yourself with the world of orange wines, pét nats, and beyond is with an online starter-pack or monthly wine club. You’ll get to try new things that might not be available in your area, and most subscription services provide you with all the juicy details of how each wine is made and where. We’ve also included some excellent sites to shop for individual bottles, in case you’re a bit of a commitment-phobe (we totally understand) and just want to get your toes wet.
So, let’s take an abridged journey through the history of natural wine, because you’re not drinking another f-ing merlot! To start off, there is much debate in the wine-making industry about natural wine. The process of winemaking responsible for most of what you find on grocery store and liquor store shelves only dates back about 100 years, while natural wine-making practices today resemble much more ancient techniques. Fans love natty wine for its fruity, funky, acidic, and often earthy flavor in addition to its environmental and health benefits.
Let's take a step back to where the modern understanding of natural wine began. We open in a vineyard in the French countryside: Down a set of stairs into a cool, damp cellar, you can smell wet gravel, oak, and an intoxicating mix of stone fruit and sulfur as Niagara plays. It’s 1983, and the wave of natural wine is just cresting in France. A small rebellion of low-intervention wine makers started to experiment with traditional ways of winemaking, spurring a crazy sensation that erupted in France in the early 2000’s and would take the U.S. by storm 15 years later.
What is natural wine?
In 2017, Bon Appétit told everyone that natural wine is, “...Elvis. It’s the Sex Pistols. It’s N.W.A. It’s that thing your parents could never understand.” If that didn’t sell you on ditching your safety-chardonnay and reaching for a pét-nat, nothing will. But the TL;DR is this: As opposed to large-scale modern winemaking that incorporates lots of processing, preservatives, and purifying, it is simply wine with nothing added or taken away. Which means, no pesticides in the growing process, no heavy machinery to harvest grapes, no filtering, and no added flavors, sugars, or sulfites. Contrary to popular claims, there is not strong scientific evidence that drinking natural wine will help you fully dodge a hangover, but the lack of pesticides and added sulfites (which many people say give them headaches or allergic reactions) lead many fans of natural wine to say that they have a better drinking experience compared to traditional wine varietals.
What is organic wine?
Like organic produce in the U.S., organic wine must be deemed organic by the USDA to be labeled as such. The grapes, the process of conversion into wine, and any added ingredients (such as yeast) must be certified organic by a committee, and cannot include the use of any synthetic chemicals. Many smaller producers of natural wine can’t afford to shell out for accreditation, so they choose to make low-intervention wines without the fancy title. So while organic wines are great, you don’t necessarily have to spend the extra bucks to get a deliciously drinkable bottle of wine.
What is biodynamic wine?
Biodynamic farming takes these practices to the next level by ensuring a holistic, chemical-free practice that not only thinks about the end product, but also the effect that production will have on the surrounding ecosystem, as well as taking lunar cycles into effect.
On the spectrum of what constitutes natural wine, that can mean taking into consideration the natural biology of the farm to create an entirely self-sustaining ecosystem. Biodynamic accreditations are also available, but much like organic stickers, the cost of certification can outweigh the benefits for smaller scale winemakers.
The best sites for buying bottles of natural wine online
Founders Cameron Diaz and Katherine Power had a realization when thinking about how little they knew about what was in the wine they were drinking. As two health-conscious individuals that knew everything they were putting in their body, they set out to create a natural wine brand with full transparency. Avaline is the result. The brand provides full details on all of their wine producers, and they even lab-test their products. Unlike the vast majority of wines out there, these wines feature labels with the calorie, carbohydrate, fat, protein and sugar content of each variety. Avaline offers mixed packs for discovering your favorite, but also sells individual bottles (and cans!) if you’re just getting your toes wet.
FreshDirect is a surprisingly excellent resource for buying individual bottles of natural wine. We’ve found many of our favorite week-night natty wines—meaning they’re easy-drinking, crowd-pleasing, and budget-friendly—on the major online grocery retailer. Now it’s easy to just pop a few bottles in your cart while you're shopping for oat milk and broccoli. There’s a nice selection of whites, reds, and oranges, including Gulp Hablo’s liter-bottle that is the best bang-for-your-buck option.
A lot of people know about online liquor store Drizly, but don’t know that the site offers excellent bottles of natural wine from unique growers that can arrive on your doorstep in 60 minutes or less. Add a bottle or two of these gulpable options to your cart, bring them out during your next get-together, and watch as your guests delight in your wine prowess.
Winc offers all of the benefits of a subscription (unique products, higher discount) with the flexibility to customize each box—and without having to commit to a certain number of bottles each month. Plus, the more wine you order, the larger the discount, so you will finally be rewarded for your hobby. There are plenty of options for the more knowledgeable customer, but Winc does a great job of curating top-notch wines, and a customer-backed rating system that is helpful for newbies.
Stompy is a) well-designed and b) fun to say. But that’s not all the brand has to offer. The founders are two pals, one of whom happens to be a master of wine (literally), who wants the average wine drinker to discover wines that suit their personal tastes from smaller, more sustainable producers. The site provides a fun quiz to help you figure out your “taste” and offers a nicely edited, but not too selective, collection of wines that rotate seasonally.
In Good Flight
Solo drinkers, rejoice! Even though we’ve all probably taken a 750-milliliter bottle to the face, sometimes you do just want a glass or two. It can be hard branching out of your comfort zone, especially when committing to a large bottle of expensive wine, which is why we’re so glad In Good Taste is around. Its mission is to make wine more accessible and less intimidating for the everyday drinker, and they do so by offering tasting flights in unique 187-milliliter mini bottles. First on our list is the Uncommon Grapes flight, which features eight “funky” varieties.
Where to buy natural wine online: sets & subscriptions
MYSA is the best place to start if you are completely green to the natural wine trend. It offers a natural wine subscription service with an impressive selection of rotating wines, so every delivery is a new experience. MYSA’s wine curators offer tasting sheets for every bottle, as well as an easily navigable site that categorizes wine by region, type, occasion and other helpful categories like women-owned wines, and limited-edition bottles for wine geeks to nerd out.
Witchy-looking wine brand Wonderful Wine offers five different starter packs, including an orange pack. Orange wine, also known as skin-contact wine, is a white wine produced in the same way as a red; the skins of the grape are left to ferment with the juice, giving the wine its signature hue, which can vary from a light peach to a dark tangerine. If you’re not a huge fan of white wines, you might be into the bolder, more savory flavors of orange wines made with the same grapes. All of the varieties that Wonderful Wine offers are sustainably farmed and vegan friendly, with a majority also certified organic.
Donkey and Goat
The founders of Donkey and Goat winery were at the forefront of natural winemaking in the U.S., after spending a year in the Rhone Valley, learning from wine-expert Eric Texier. They were Berkeley’s first natural winery, and have been crafting wines from sustainable vineyards since 2004. In the 18 years they have been producing, their priorities have shifted to include a focus on making wine while considering the impact of climate change. By joining the club, members receive discounts on wine year-round, plus exclusive invites and tastings at the vineyard, if you happen to be local.
Every bottle of wine available at Plonk is sustainably sourced and grown using organic and biodynamic methods. Founder Etty Klein focuses on offering unique and obscure options from around the world. Plus, each wine club box (offered in all red, all white, and mixed) comes with recipe pairings. Unlike the typical “take this quiz” algorithm of larger operations, Plonk instead offers thoughtfully curated collections each month.
Dry Farm Wines
Among the most rigorous of online wine brands in terms of standards, Dry Farm Wines’ requirements for “pure” natural wine go further than most. Its winemakers source only from small family-owned biodynamic vineyards, but they also require them to use “dry farming” practices that save up to 16,000 gallons of water per acre annually. They also feature producers that do everything by hand, encouraging them to avoid machinery and practice regenerative farming, which pulls carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and into the soil. A subscription to Dry Farm Wines includes specially curated boxes of reds, whites, sparkling, and mixed packs that ship free and come with a 100% satisfaction guarantee, so if you don’t like a bottle for any reason, they’ll send you a replacement or a refund.
Fill up the ice bucket, polish the glasses, and pour yourself a chisel of natty wine—you deserve it!
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