I recently read Marissa Ross’s book “Wine. All the Time.” And was super into it. I literally checked it out because it said she was Mindy Kaling’s assistant back in the day, but I came out the other end with a new wine chiller, decanter, and a “natural wine” subscription. Not to mention a new obsession with Marissa, who also owns pomeranians and writes for Bon Appetit’s wine section. And because natural wine has become bigger and bigger in the past year, tons of restaurants are making natural wine part of–if not the star of– their wine program. So today I wanna use this space to talk a little bit about my new found love.
Going into this book I literally though natural meant organic. I didn’t know there was so much more to it. Like did you know that some wines use fining agents that can be made from fish bladder or egg whites? I.e. a lot wines aren’t technically vegan! (to get more technical, fining is the process that increases the clarity of wines and the fining agents are filtered out of the end result–so you aren’t actually drinking fish bladder, but it’s still a gross thought). Also, when the grapes for wines are commercially harvested instead of handpicked, sometimes rats, birds, other cute little animals get picked up and crushed in the huge harvesting machines that pick the grapes. This isn’t even getting into all the intense additives that can be added to wines. I’m not one to be super anal about this stuff–I eat sprinkles that share a color with Nickelodeon slime–but it did make me think about how hyper-aware people are of the produce they buy, yet the wines we consume don’t even contain ingredient lists. I also hadn’t given much thought to the fact that Roundup-type chemicals might be used to grow the grapes that make wine–which is probably more harmful to those picking the grapes than me, and that’s distressing in and of itself.
Another thing I came to realize, is there is a lot of gray area surrounding this topic. I went to three local wine shops and while all were super helpful, no one could succinctly point me to a “natural” wine. This in part because of the nebulous language used around this subject and my inability to explain exactly what I meant by it, but also because as a whole, society hasn’t really been pushing for them yet and also because a lot of Old World/old school wineries are very likely using natural wine techniques, but just not flaunting that label as a marketing technique. Getting labels as officially organic or biodynamic (a whole ‘nother story) usually costs extra $$$ and a lot of small or established vineyards just aren’t gonna do that.
My first experience with self-titled natural wine was at Berkeley’s Donkey & the Goat a couple years ago and since then I hadn’t given the genre much thought. But I do remember that some of their wines are a little funky tasting and cloudy. Legit bought one called Sluice Juice and it sorted tasted how you would imagine–but that’s part of what makes natural wines cool! They taste real and alive and I’ve never forgotten that.
So I placed an order for a monthly subscription on Wine Fellas, which I cancelled after one month because I found Ordinaire‘s to be more my style. Ordinaire is a little wine shop/bar in Oakland, CA. They have 3 levels to their wine club and if you live in the area it’s a great deal because you can pick up your wines and not pay the shipping fee, receive a free tasting for you and a friend and get 10% off retail purchases. Unfortunately, I live in FL and had to pay $15 for shipping. Which means I get 2 bottles of curated wine for $54 a month–which I still think is a pretty good deal. I love that they send a description with their wines. It’s always more fun to drink something when you know its backstory.
My takeaway from all of this is that am I gonna stop buying wines from grocery or having a glass from a “commercial” grower when I got out? No way. But I do appreciate the chance to try some wines I can’t buy at Publix and wines that I partially understand the ethos behind them. I think knowing a little bit about the history of a wine always makes them more interesting, and honestly transportive, to drink…and isn’t that always the point?
ps the wine in the opening photo is from Ruth Lewandowski wins and they make some of my favorite natural wines I’ve tried so far.