I am often asked from friends in other parts of the country how to go about finding the small estate natural wines that I am fond of and often write about. If there is not an “ahead of the curve” wine shop who is gathering a selection of these wines in one spot in your town or community then here’s what I recommend –
Before I start, I hear some people saying, “What is natural wine anyway?” Natural wine is a very fluid term used in a way like the term natural food was being used in the 60’s. I know what it means to me, but there is not a clear certifiable definition. Wine made with nothing added and nothing taken away, the way wine was made 100 years ago. Isn’t all wine made like that…absolutely not. In the same way that modern food science has been able to make a hostess Twinkie to sit on the shelf to approximate a pastry, modern food science has made wine a processed food. Here’s a good article that will explain my point: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2009/11/03/how-wine-became-like-fast-food.html
So how do you find natural wine that tastes real and alive that you can feel good about drinking? There are about a dozen importers who have combed the European countryside in search of just this kind of wine. I recently was put to this same task while visiting friends in New Jersey. They asked if I would be willing to accompany them to the liquor store where they were often left to buy their wine. They are lucky enough to live close enough to NYC, but sometimes the liquor store will have to do. So when I was asked to join them to shop their local liquor store, I said, “Of course” – which was in a cinder block building with a gravel drive with pot holes the size of pick-up
Inside after scanning the shelves for anything recognizable, the salesman asked, “Can I help you?” I proceed to employ the same strategy I am about to give to you. I asked, “Do you have any Kermit Lynch, Neal Rosenthal, or Joe Dressner selections?” He responded, “Let me get he buyer in the back room, he’s more familiar with what we’ve got.I think that we do.”
I asked the wine buyer the same question and he said, “Indeed, we do.” He showed me a few bottles from each importer’s selection and I was able to find close to a case of wine that I would have bought myself. He also told me that they also had other Muscadet, Cru Beaujolais, and Malbec selections at better prices. There lies the trap. Sure, they are better prices. They are most often not natural wines nor are they nearly as good.
Here are a few other of my favorite importers when looking for delicious and fairly priced natural wine- Andre Tamers of De Maison Selections – mostly Spanish wine and sherry, but adding some French estates. Terry Theise imports German and Austrian wines with also a selection of grower champagne. The Haw River Wine Man imports Italian wines. There are others, but I will stop with these now.
These are the one’s that more generic stores will have a better chance of having. If you go to a store that has none of these importers’ wines, it is a sign that the owners are asleep at the switch!
I welcome questions and comments. I will stop with this today.
We’re lucky to have lots of good independent stores in this area to keep you out of Trader Joe’s and Total Wine. I particularly like Parker and Otis in Durham, where I volunteer my time and passion in their wine department.