Yes, a freshly popped bottle can smell like the inside of the cider tent at All Points East, but that didn’t hold us back from bringing the natural wine phenomenon into our homes this year.
Admittedly, natural wine’s popularity had been on the rise long before 2020. Not only had Londoners started engaging with a whole load of environmental and ethical reasons to drink the stuff, but design-led labels on the bottles and complex qualities once in the glass helped drive the trend from counterculture to mainstream. These vibrant, living flavours – thanks to organic farming and low-intervention winemaking techniques, typically at young, punky vineyards – had become a regular feature at the capital’s coolest restaurants and even at east London’s waviest parties, often found there by the magnum. But then lockdown happened and we had to seek out the fun for ourselves. And you know what? It was actually a breeze.
Thanks to a new generation of shops, we Londoners could really get to grips with ‘natty’ wine in lockdown. We no longer had to worry about not knowing the terminology or making the right choice to go with our dinner (hello, orange wine chippy tea!). We could explore uncharted vinous territory without the restaurant mark-ups, too.
This experimental mood was seized upon by north London bistro Top Cuvée. Within its 2020 pivot to wine delivery service and convenience store Shop Cuvée, it introduced a natural-wine subscription filled with accessible and unusual bottles. Co-owner Brodie Meah says sign-ups have gone through the roof. ‘Weirdly, I think lockdown pushed people to try new things simply out of boredom. Then having the time to follow it up, learn a bit about it and pursue it a bit more than they normally would has led to a boom. And once you’re in, there really is no going back,’ he says.
A bright, graphic label and a bold, funky flavour offered the cure for lockdown fatigue we all needed. And Shop Cuvée’s game-changing booze bundles – plus same-day delivery – made competitors step up, too.
Here are some bottles to get going with from London’s new generation of wine shops.
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