Uncorked is Ciaobella’s wine-focused series researched, written and imbibed by Sarah May Grunwald.
Lately everyone seems to be talking about natural wines, a term that has become more than common in wine parlance- natural wines have become a trend, a hashtag, a preference, a movement and more. But a concrete definition? The jury is still out. The term natural wines confuses many, enrages others, and inspires a continuously growing number of dedicated followers.
Though there is no official definition, there are a number of individuals and organizations who have forged forward with unofficial definitions that a majority of people – professionals, wine lovers, et all- agree on. Natural wine is wine made with minimal intervention in the vineyard and the cellar. It’s about healthy grapes grown with no chemical fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides using organic, biodynamic or permaculture methods. There is no use of additives, the spontaneous fermentation uses only ambient yeasts and no temperature manipulation, and minimal use of sulfur.
To me, natural wines are also a story, an experience and an expression of place, with the wine grower dedicated to stewardship of natural resources. And every glass of natural wine speaks speaks volumes about its producer and birthplace. My natural wine journey began when I opened the pages Alice Feiring’s book, The Battle for Wine and Love: Or How I Saved the World from Parkerization. I had no idea what natural wine was, but I knew who Robert Parker was and I couldn’t understand why the wines he gave such high points to were never to my liking. Alice’s book read more like prose than the boring, over-analytical wine writing I was used to. Wine writing can sometimes be quite tedious.more like a game of words and narcissism rather than stories about wine and people who make them. Alice instead wrote stories about vineyards and the culture of wine, opening up a new world to me and introducing me to a movement of people with shared values and dedication to the earth, people making authentic wines with a sense of place. . The book changed my life and how I eat and drink.
So, what was I drinking before? Honestly, I don’tknow. Conventional wines found in supermarkets -even those labeled organic- can contain dozens of preservatives, engineered yeast strains, concentrates, artificial color, acidifiers, de-acidifiers, and many more additives that are not on the label. Even if a bottle of wine is labeled ‘organic,’ it simply means the grapes were grown organically but doesn’t tell the consumer anything about what is happening during the wine making process.
What I am drinking now? I am drinking homegrown stories and natural wines. Living in Italy, I am lucky to have access to some of the country’s most dedicated producers. And over the past past decade, natural wine producers have flourished like the craft beer movement- natural wines have dedicated sections in wine lists and natural wine bars are popping up all over the world. How can you get to know natural wines? The best ways are talking about it: heading to natural wine fairs to meet producers, asking sommeliers, and joining tastings. If you are in Rome, I have a go-to list of five wine shops and enotecas with great wine sold by friendly people.
Wine Bars in Rome
Les Vignerons (Trastevere) the first enoteca in Rome completely dedicated to natural wine and craft beer. Owners Antonio Marino and Marisa Glands are charming, friendly, and incredible listeners- one of the most important wine qualities, in my opinion. I’ve been their client for years and always walk out with new wines that are suited for my tastes. Keep in mind that Les Vignerons is not a wine bar, but a shop- one of the best – for both product range and prices – in Italy.
Enoteca L’Angolo Divino (Campo de’ Fiori): the corner wine bar. Owner Massimo Crippa has one of the most well curated wine lists in Rome and a bonus is that it is right in the heart of the historic city center. Not only are the wines fantastic, the ambience is perfectly charming and rustic, with low lights and lots of wood paneling. Massimo has always served wines from small, traditional producers, even before natural wines became trendy. Like me, he has a great passion for promoting Lazio producers. I also love the flow of local Romans who come in for a glass of wine or to buy a bottle- a great spot to brush up on Roman dialect and hear local gossip.
Enoteca Vignaioli Naturali (Prati): bolt hole wine bar conveniently located around the corner from St. Peter’s Square. Owner Tiziana Gallo is not just one of the most important women in wine here in Rome, she also is the pioneer of the Eternal City’s natural wine movement, hosting annual wine fair Vignaioli Naturali a Roma. At least once a month, you can find me here for her wine tastings- thematic yet not guided, in other words a great place to catch up with friends and talk wine.
Da Cesare al Casaleto (Monteverde): a new style/old school trattoria in a residential neighborhood.. Owner Leonardo Vignoli took over ownership in 2009 and has done a fantastic job of maintaining a classic trattoria ambience with amazing food and a stellar wine list. There are fantastic naturals on their wine list, and if you don’t know how to order them, the waiters are happy to help you pick out the right wine at a great price point.
Barnaba Vino e Cecina (Testaccio) The first time I visited Barnaba, I immediately texted my wine bestie an urgent message that I found our new Rome hang-out. It’s exquisite. While snooty hipsters seem to have taken up a lot of space in the movement, there are still places out there that care about quality and service. The wine list is stellar and has a heavy emphasis on Champagne and French producers. So for a person like me who is steeped in Italian wine, having access to non-Italian wine is a fantastic change of pace. The Italians on the list are all well curated, clean, well made wines. The food is upscale wine bar fare that pairs perfectly with the wines. The staff is friendly, knowledgeable and helpful. This is my place for celebrating with great wine.