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The Rookie’s Guide to Natural Wine

Scruffy and full of character, these wines are the new darlings of local grape geeks.

Natural wines
Photos: Jeff Marini

Consider natural wines the eccentric friend of the wine family — funky, unpredictable, and beloved by those who understand them. The grapes are grown organically and often harvested by hand. Few additives are introduced during fermentation, and the wines are bottled unfiltered, giving them more personality than a typical crowd-pleasing Cab. “When they’re good, they’re thought-provoking — closer to what wine was before it became a polished product — and they’re surprisingly good with food,” says Josh Perlman, beverage director at Giant in Logan Square, where much of the wine list is made up of natural styles. They’re popping up at other restaurants and on the shelves of many indie shops, including newcomers Off Premise in Lincoln Park and Diversey Wines in Logan Square. We asked Bradford Taylor, the owner of the latter, to name four of his favorite bottles.

Cantina Giardino Coda di Volpe Paski

1. Cantina Giardino Coda di Volpe Paski (Campania, Italy), $37

The most “out there” of the bunch, this orange wine is one for sour beer lovers. White paski grapes are fermented on the skins in old barrels, creating a savory wine that, Taylor says, “smells like char, rock, and salt with peachy fruit underneath.” Its kombucha-like acidity and assertive tannins make it a quirky yet delicious pairing with foods you’d normally eat with heavy red wines. Drink it lightly chilled with a grilled steak on a hot day.

Les Vins Pirouettes Saveurs d’Eric

2. Les Vins Pirouettes Saveurs d’Eric (Alsace, France), $19

This crisp white is a blend of traditional Alsatian varietals like Riesling and Muscat. “It’s fermented to dry — meaning no fermentable sugar left — so you get this hyperaromatic floral wine that you would associate with a sweet wine, but the palate is really lean and crisp.” It’s bottled with a little trapped carbon dioxide, which lends a touch of fizz. “It’s good super cold with anything Alsatian: sausages, bacon, heavy dishes. It really lifts them up.”

Caneva da Nani Prosecco “Col Fondo”

3. Caneva da Nani Prosecco “Col Fondo” (Veneto, Italy), $18

Bottle-fermented, zero additives, completely unfiltered — a naked and beautiful sparkler. “It’s very hazy, which gives a nice textural quality that offsets an otherwise really dry and chalky prosecco.” Well-balanced and saline, it’s a perfect summer bubbly, sipped by itself or with hard cheese and cured meat — ideally “something fatty because there’s so much acidity.”

Domaine Bobinet Hanami

4. Domaine Bobinet Hanami (Loire Valley, France), $23

A “gateway” natural wine, this summery red is made from Cabernet Franc, a grape that can often taste “green and herbal in a difficult way.” But Hanami shows off Cab Franc’s brighter side: a fresh aroma and deep purple-fruit flavor with good acidity. Serve the wine slightly below room temperature, with something off the grill.

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