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.
What is it? The guys behind Noble Rot restaurants are importing this Portuguese plonk, and have even designed its dope label. If you’ve never come across ‘green wine’ before, this is such a drinkable example it should carry a warning.
Where can I get it? Order for same-day delivery from Shop Cuvée. It was couriering this bottle to so many Londoners in the park this year that it named it the unofficial wine of the summer. It’s great at any time, though: watch out!
What is it? With more juice than Lizzo, this Spanish red is all ripe, dark berry. Its herbaceousness makes it good with a joint of lamb, despite the piggy label. Or neck it from a Thermos flask instead of mulled wine on your next socially distanced walk.
Where can I get it? Brixton’s Salon restaurant has a dinky neighbouring wine store. In normal times it throws a vinyl night called Strictly Bangers. In 2020, turn up the tunes at home and order a curated ‘bangers’ case instead.
What is it? After the year we’ve had, we could all do with some skin contact. That’s what makes ‘orange wine’: when grape skins remain in contact with the juice during the winemaking process. Here’s a great entry level orange, hazy in colour and a peach in flavour.
Where can I get it? Columbia Road’s Brawn restaurant – now in the delivery game – knows a thing or two about natural wine: it was set up as a sister to long-standing central London bar Terroirs by UK wine importer Les Caves de Pyrene, which was pushing natural before you were even born... probably. It’s now owned by its original chef Ed Wilson, and continues to blaze a trail in all things organic.
What is it? Want to get to grips with pét nat (a naturally sparkling style, short for pétillant naturel)? This one is made with the same grapes you’d find in a prosecco. An intro to the ‘hipster bubbles’ that even your mum would approve of.
Where can I get it? With more than 150 wines to browse, it’s a treat to visit Peckham Cellars – but even better to be living in one of the south-east or south-west postcodes the shop now delivers to on the very evening of your order. Plus, for every journey made, the wine store plants a tree, making you the Greta Thunberg of the fizzy wine world, basically.
What is it? It doesn’t come much more ‘natural’ than juice produced on an actual hippy commune. This white is guaranteed funky – and you’ll also get a kick telling friends you picked up this bottle from a co-op.
Where can I get it? Striking Spitalfields restaurant Crispin did the old 2020 pivot back in the summer, morphing into an online grocery and wine store. Access to its low-intervention wonders also includes a wine subscription service curated by in-house sommelier Stefano Cazzato.
Andy Parsons, bottle supplied by Les Caves de Pyrene
Beck Ink, red
What is it? Austrian winemaker Judith Beck produces a wine as elegant and spicy as Nigella delving back into that liquorice box. It tastes of summer berries but suits a winter night in with a hearty stew. Or just drink it for dessert like it’s cherry pie.
Where can I get it? Thought the natural wine movement was confined to east London? Think again. Acton’s Vindinista is a smart bar dedicated to ‘wine liberation’. It’s currently in local-shop mode, with same-day delivery to many of the W postcodes. Bottle supplied by Les Caves de Pyrene
What is it? They say you shouldn’t judge a wine by its label. Wrong! This is orange by name, orange by nature. A whole lot of skin contact at this Welsh winery means liquid gold in the glass and satsuma in the mouth. Basically, you’ve been Tangoed.
Where can I get it? Walworth’s backstreet wine bar Diogenes the Dog has persevered throughout this year, quickly becoming a neighbourhood deli and wine store before moving to deliver across the nation. It’s USP? Wines from fledgling regions all around the world.
What is it? You’ve discovered orange wine and made pals with pét nat, now have the two combined. This experimental drop from Austrian producer Markus Altenburger (yep, still talking wine, not techno) adds fermenting juice from the 2019 harvest to a 2018 bottle to kickstart a second fermentation. The result is a tangerine dream.
Where can I get it? It’s all about Austria at Dalston wine bar-meets-shop Newcomer (which had no pivoting to do whatsoever when lockdown hit). Usually packed with Acne beanie-wearing winos, it’s now catering to them very well at home.
What is it? Ancient vines planted in sandy Spanish soil somehow result in Microbio’s Rack. Maybe that’s why the producer has been dubbed ‘El Mago de las Verdejos’ – the verdejo grape magician. Are you getting hints of fennel? Yeah, it’s that kind of a wine.
Where can I get it? Both Farringdon and Deptford branches of Winemakers give you that bare-brick, candlelit atmos for trad wine sipping. Or turn the lights down low, with same-day delivery to homes.
Winemakers Club, 41a Farringdon St, EC4A 4AN and Deptford Winemakers, 209 Deptford High St, SE8 3NT. £30. www.thewinemakersclub.shop
Photograph: Andy Parsons
Metamorphika, sumoll negre
What is it? So you like an easy-drinking Pinot Noir? Bet your Pinot Noir hasn’t fermented and aged in a clay amphora, has it? This Spanish red has, and it’s got an intense berry flavour to show for it. You’ll get a buzz from waggling around this clay bottle at dinner parties (remember those?) – then use it as a stylish vase to complement your 2020 flower subscription.
Where can I get it? The vinos at Walthamstow’s Forest Wines are all natural – and are excellent paired with cheese and snacks when stopping by the friendly bottle shop, which offers free bike deliveries to locals and a carbon-offset courier service for those living beyond.
What is it? Pioneering English winemaker Ben Walgate has planted 10,000 vines on Tillingham’s farmland near Rye, and this bottle is one of the fruits of his labour. Salinity, minerality, citrus and spice – a wine as complex as your last Hinge match (or so they’d like to think).
Where can I get it? The UK’s first orange-wine bar opened in Hackney in 2020 (see, it wasn’t all bad!) on the site of restaurant Silver Lining. It delivers more than 50 different bottles of the skin-contact stuff.
What is it? We get it. You want sparkling wine and you want it French. But park the champagne in favour of a pink fizz for Christmas, a Gamay pét nat made in Auvergne. With notes of cranberry, plum and redcurrant, it’s a welcome addition to any festive bash. And at 10 percent abv, your nan can join in, too.
Where can I get it? ‘Real’, ‘authentic’ and ‘natural’ are the buzzwords at Broadway Market mainstay Noble Fine Liquor, which happens to be the parent to Clapton restaurant and natty wine pioneer P Franco – and sister hangouts Peg and Bright. Both Bright and P Franco are back open doing the restaurant thing, should all that wine shopping be starting to drag!