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If you’re into wine, you’ve likely heard the term natural wine thrown around once or twice before. Although its definition is a bit wavering, there are a few key points that are widely agreed upon: fruit must come from organically-farmed vineyards, and no additions/takeaways are permitted. While the intricacies can get a bit debatable, these principles are relatively absolute.
Santa Cruz-based natural winemaker Megan Bell gives us her insights. “I think any wine that was made with organically-farmed grapes and without any additives (except a little bit of SO2) is a good [example] of natural wine,” she explains, clarifying that wine—whether natural or not—cannot in itself be ranked as “good or bad” from a flavor standpoint, as tasting is entirely subjective. “It's all a matter of each individual's taste,” she says. “That said, the natural wines that I enjoy most have good acidity and a juice-like quality.”
Bell also notes that while many use terms like ‘no intervention’ and ‘hands-off,’ natural winemaking often involves a lot more attention than conventional winemaking. “Making natural wine is much less efficient, as every fermentation [must be] looked after with care, as all of the work is done on a much smaller scale than in conventional wine,” she explains, noting that if something goes wrong somewhere during the vinification process, there are very limited tools to “fix” it in natural winemaking. “If something goes awry in conventional winemaking, a host of manipulations can be used to get the desired results,” she says.
In short, the easiest way to define natural wine is wine produced from organically-farmed fruit, with nothing added (yeasts, chemicals, etc.) and nothing taken away. The largest debates around natural wine center around the use of sulfites and fining/filtration. [Author’s note: Most natural winemakers oppose the use of fining and filtration in most capacities, as well as the drastic addition of sulfites. However, with regards to the latter, many are OK with using minimal amounts for preservation purposes.]
Looking to taste some of the best natural wines that the industry has to offer? While this ever-expanding category can be an overwhelming one, we're here to help! We've gathered our current favorite natural wines to drink right now.
Best Overall: Domaine de la Tournelle Fleur de Savagnin
Region: Jura, France | ABV: 12.5% | Tasting Notes: Yellow fruit, Grilled nuts, Wet rocks
France’s easterly Jura region has become one of the most renowned natural wine-producing areas in the country (as well as the world). Here, regional varieties like savagnin, poulsard, and trousseau create complex and textured wines that promise thought-provoking experiences for consumers and professionals alike. It’s really no surprise that this natural ‘gateway region’ continues to captivate the hearts of many low-intervention wine lovers!
Tournelle’s varietal savagnin is produced in a non-oxidative (ouillé) style and is vinified in a combination of steel and oak. Fruit is cultivated organically/biodynamically and is rooted in gray marine soils. Flavors of yellow fruits, grilled nuts, and wet rocks dominate the wine’s medium-bodied palate. Serve with regional Comté cheese for an out-of-this-world experience.
Best Easy to Find: Domaine Breton - Catherine & Pierre Breton Trinch!
Region: Loire Valley, France | ABV: 12.5% | Tasting Notes: Raspberries, Damp earth, Pepper
Catherine and Pierre Bréton are some of France’s OG natural winemaking legends. Based in the Loire Valley, these “real life bon vivants” (as per their importer, Kermit Lynch), craft their lineup of natural cuvées from a variety of appellations, including vouvray, chinon, and bourgeuil. “Trinch!” is their answer to accessible, easy-drinking cabernet franc. Fruit for “Trinch!” comes from a 5-hectare plot of organic/biodynamic cabernet franc rooted in gravelly soils. Vibrant flavors of red fruits, raspberries, damp earth, pepper, and a touch of funk lead to a smooth and refreshing finish. Sip chilled with classic French bistro favorites.
“There is everything to love about natural wines, as they are made in a way that not only respects but enriches the ecosystem in which they are grown, as well as act as a portal through which vigneron and we as enthusiasts may rediscover our symbiotic relationship with nature,” says Zach Austin of Windmill Wines & Spirits, a natural wine-focused shop based in Saugerties, New York.
Best Budget-Friendly: Meinklang Pinot Noir
Region: Burgenland, Austria | ABV: 13% | Tasting Notes: Tart cherries, Strawberries, Sweet spice
Situated in the middle of the National Park of Neusiedlersee (World Heritage Site), Meinklang’s family-run farm is a haven for biodiversity. Here, animals, trees, and grape-laden vines cohabitate together to create a healthy ecosystem, which is also home to a slew of ancient grains and wild herbs.
This juicy and affordable pinot noir is loaded with flavors of tart cherries, strawberries, minerals, and sweet spice. Serve chilled and enjoy beneath the sun. [Note: For those who dig this wine, be sure to check out the farm’s blaufrankisch, gruner veltliner, and frizzante rosé, which all hover around the $20 price point.]
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Best Orange / Skin-Contact: Les Vins Pirouettes ‘Eros’
Region: Alsace, France | ABV: 13% | Tasting Notes: Apricot, Blood orange, Grapefruit rind
Christian Binner is no stranger to the art of natural winemaking. This outspoken, Alsace-based vigneron has been preaching the gospel of hands-off winemaking for nearly ten years, though his family’s roots in the region date back to 1770. This cloudy, skin-contact wine is loaded with flavors of apricot, blood orange, watermelon, and grapefruit rind. The wine’s bright acid and energetic fruit-forwardness lead to a pleasantly grippy yet refreshing finish. For those looking to dive into the world of ‘orange wine,’ this is a great start.
“Natural winemaking is so wildly detached from the world of industrialized production that it nearly feels like an act of rebellion, which is in my opinion very much a part of it,” says Austin, noting that although winemaking is based on a fairly intuitive premise that they should taste of place, pressures of demand and consistency have often led others to shift their focus away from this foundation. “To witness such a robust resurgence and delight in natural farming is a resounding call toward a better future for all of us, and many delicious wines along the way,” he says.
Best Pét-Nat: Mosse 'Moussamoussettes' Mousseux Brut Nature
Region: Loire Valley, France | ABV: 11.5% | Tasting Notes: Strawberry jam, Red apples, Rhubarb
Agnes and René Mosse are pillars in France’s natural wine community. Vinification of their 17 hectares of certified organic fruit are now overseen by the family’s next generation of winemakers, Sylvestre and Joseph, and the wines are as tasty as ever.
‘Moussamoussettes’ is a sparkling rosé made in the méthode ancestrale style (pét-nat). Crafted from cabernet franc, grolleau, and gamay, this bright and refreshing bottle of bubbles jumps with flavors of strawberry jam, red apples, and rhubarb.
Best Newcomer: Margins Skin-Fermented Chenin Blanc
Region: California, USA | ABV: 10.6% | Tasting Notes: Tropical fruit, Honey, Citrus
Megan Bell is shaking things up in California’s Santa Cruz Mountains. After earning a degree at UC Davis, Bell worked all over the world honing her viticultural skills. She founded Margins Wine in 2016 when she was just 25 years old, seeking to produce low-interventionist wines from sustainably-farmed fruit in Northern and Central California.
“The natural wine vinification process is easy in theory: throw the grapes in the vat and wait for them to start fermenting. However because we are not making any chemical additions the way conventional wine does to protect the grapes from off yeasts and bacteria, we must monitor our fermentations obsessively to make sure they are healthy,” explains Bell, noting that the same applies throughout the wine's lifetime in barrel. This skin-fermented chenin is as raw as it gets. Expect flavors of tropical fruits, fresh melon, honey, and dried citrus.
Best Under $30: Foradori Teroldego
Region: Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy | ABV: 12% | Tasting Notes: Sour cherries, Leather, Tobacco
Elisabetta Foradori is a force to be reckoned with. Although most of her other cuvées will run you a pretty penny (and rightfully so), this varietal teroldego is an absolute steal. Alpine-influenced notes of sour cherries, leather, and tobacco dominate the wine’s lip-puckering palate. If you love acid-driven, chillable reds, this one’s for you.
Related: The Best Italian Wines
Best Champagne: Ruppert-Leroy Fosse-Grely Brut Nature Champagne
Region: Essoyes (Côte des Bar), France | ABV: 12% | Tasting Notes: Bruised apples, Yeast, Brioche
Natural farming/vinification is practically unheard of in Champagne, though Ruppert-Leroy is one of the very few pioneering the way. This textured, zero dosage (brut nature) Champagne from the Aube is laden with flavors of bruised apples, yeast, and brioche. Serve with raw bar favorites, cheese platters, or fried snacks.
Best Off-the-Beaten-Path: Pheasant's Tears Rkatsiteli
Region: Kakheti, Georgia | ABV: 12.5% | Tasting Notes: Apple cider, Orange marmalade, Yellow raisins
Although it may seem like veering ‘off the beaten path,’ Georgia is actually the birthplace of viticulture and vinification. Expat John Wurdeman pays homage to the country’s traditional forms of winemaking at Pheasant’s Tears, cultivating only indigenous varieties and using qvevris (underground clay pots) for vinification. Expect flavors of apple cider, orange marmalade, and yellow raisins from this skin-contact Rkatsiteli.
“I love that natural wine is more focused on agriculture than luxury, and that it is farmer/maker-focused instead of oak, clarity, and points focused,” says Bell. (We couldn’t agree more.)
Best French: Jean-Claude Lapalu Vieilles Vignes Beaujolais-Villages
Region: Beaujolais, France | ABV: 12% | Tasting Notes: Cherries, Rosehips, Fresh-cut herbs
Similar to the Loire Valley, Beaujolais has also been a hotbed for natural winemaking for quite some time now. The region’s original ‘Gang of Four’ (Lapierre, Breton, Thévenet, and Foillard) winemakers pioneered non-interventionist winemaking long before it was fashionable, and were even deemed radical by many of their neighbors.
Today, Jean-Claude Lapalu pays homage to their fervent efforts with his similar winemaking style. Fruit for his biodynamically-farmed Beaujolais-Villages comes from 50 to 90-year-old vines. Expect juicy flavors of red cherries, rosehips, plums, and fresh-cut herbs to shine from the palate. Serve chilled and get the party started.
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Best Spanish: Envínate 'Táganan' Blanco
Region: Canary Islands, Spain | ABV: 12.5% | Tasting Notes: Lemon, Smoke, Sea salt
Founded in 2005, Envinate is the brainchild of four passionate friends that met at enology school in Spain and shared one common goal: highlight Spain’s unique, Atlantic-influenced terroirs through minimal intervention winemaking. Today, the group crafts wines in Galicia and the Canary Islands. Their ‘Taganan’ Blanco is an indigenous field blend cultivated on the salty shores of Tenerife. Flavors of lemon, smoke, almond skin, and sea salt are in no short supply. This stuff is as refreshing as it gets.
“When it comes to natural wine, I’m always seeking a distinctiveness of character emanating from unusual yet compelling fragrances and flavors, [that is], a profound sense that the earth is speaking to you through the medium of aroma and taste in a rapturously transportive way,” says Austin.
Best Australian: An Approach to Relaxation 'Sucette'
Region: Barossa Valley, Australia | ABV: 14% | Tasting Notes: Red fruit, Rose petals, Sweet spice
Founded by former USA-based sommeliers Richard Betts and Carla Rza Betts, An Approach to Relaxation seeks to highlight the old vines and rugged terroirs of Australia’s Barossa Valley. This insanely delicious old vine grenache oozes with flavors of red fruits, rose petals, and sweet spice. New World wine skeptics, this bottle promises to change your mind. We recommend grabbing two—one for now, one for later.
Best Domestic: Florèz 'The Pope's Smoke'
Region: Central Coast, California | ABV: 13% | Tasting Notes: Cranberry, Strawberry jam, White pepper
Elsewhere in the ‘New World,’ winemaker James Jelks is also crushing the grenache game in California’s Central Coast. This juicy, thirst-quenching red is loaded with flavors of cranberries, strawberry jam, white pepper, and sweet spice. Serve with a slight chill and get ready to pop a second bottle (upon first sip, we can almost guarantee that you’ll want to).
Austin finds natural wines to be some of the most exciting and contemplative beverages to be produced in the world. “Natural wines show us how the earth rewards conscientious stewardship in such an obvious and compelling way,” he explains, citing that these wines ignite our senses in an all-encompassing way.
Best South American: Wildmakers 'Sabático' Garnacha - Cariñena
Region: Maule Valley, Chile | ABV: 14.5% | Tasting Notes: Cherries, Pomegranate, Leather
Not sure about Chilean wine? This bottle is an absolute game-changer. After leaving the world of conventional winemaking, Luca Hodgkinson and Jose Miguel Sotomayor founded Wildmakers to highlight their passion for honest farming and low-intervention winemaking. This 50/50 blend of garnacha and carinena is made from organic and biodynamically-farmed fruit from Chile’s Maule Valley, with native yeasts and no additions.
Juicy notes of cherries, pomegranate, leather, and herbs lead to a smooth, well-integrated finish. Fair warning, this could be your next go-to bottle of red (and the price tag will have you even more convinced!)
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Vicki Denig is a wine and travel journalist based between New York and Paris. She is a Certified Specialist of Wine through the Society of Wine Educators. Her work regularly appears on Liquor.com, Wine-Searcher, VinePair and more.