After thousands of years of refinement you might think that winemakers would have perfected their product by now. Turns out all that refinement might have been part of the problem. Mass-produced wine is to natural wine what autotuned pop music is to a singer-songwriter with a guitar and a broken heart. It’s all about individuality and character, and you either like it or you don’t. While there is no official designation for natural wine, it’s made using organic and biodynamic methods, meaning winemakers do everything in their power to let nature do its thing, interfering as little as possible. Natural wines are also produced without filtration or additives to influence colour and taste, so the purest expression of grapes and soil comes through, no matter how funky, earthy or orange-tinted it may be. Natural wines don’t taste like anything you’ve ever had before, and that’s entirely the point.
While you’ll find Burgundy pinot noir and Italian Chianti made the natural way, much of the appeal of natural wine is its eclecticism, meaning regions and grapes you’ve never heard of. Because terroir is prized above all else, and growing conditions vary widely from region to region and year to year, you never really know what you’re going to get, regardless of what you think you know about chardonnay or shiraz. Plus, thanks to lower sulfites, natural wines are also believed to cause milder hangovers.
It took about 5,000 years, but winemakers finally seem to have got this whole thing figured. Less might be more after all.
Canadian liquor stores don’t sell much natural wine yet, but these wine bars will be happy to oblige.
The best place to wait for your table at Joe Beef is also one the best spots in the city to sample eclectic wines.
Try: Grandes Terres by Bonnardot
2519 Notre-Dame St West, Montreal
The newest outpost by Toronto restaurateur Jen Agg scores points for its boho-minimalist decor, innovative menu and a wine list to match.
Try: Gamay by Tawse
199 Augusta Ave, Toronto
The offerings here change constantly but this bar’s staff of wine nerds will make sure you find something you love.
Try: Foam Red by Meinklang
1434 Dundas St. West, Toronto
This restaurant’s extensive cellar boasts a range of biodynamic bottles from California, New Zealand, France and Italy to pair with their menu of rustic Canadiana.
Try: Vidal by Soutbrook
338 17 Ave SW, Calgary
Grapes and Soda
The list at Vancouver’s first natural wine bar is small but diverse, and mostly available by-the-glass. All the better to discover your next favourite vintage.
Try: Emilia Bianco by La Stoppa
1541 West 6th Ave., Vancouver