With the holiday season in full swing, it’s totally natural to have a calendar full of parties, late nights, and drawn-out dinners with family and friends. It’s also natural to want to fill out your usual Sweetgreen and SoulCycle routine with some extra snacking and sipping.
One more natural thing: A category of wines made with as little human intervention as possible—and which may be better for your health than your other options for liquid holiday cheer. “Eating or drinking any product that has a low level of human manipulation is healthier overall for the body,” says Stephen Webber, winemaker for Montinore Estate in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.
“Eating or drinking any product that has a low level of human manipulation is healthier overall for the body.”
You’ve likely also heard the terms “organic” and “biodynamic” kicked around in relation to wine: These are legally regulated distinctions that fall under the “natural” umbrella. (The more you know!) Instead of adding extra yeast to jump-start the fermentation process, natural wines are usually made by what’s called spontaneous fermentation, wherein producers let the yeast found naturally in the grapes’ skins ferment on its own schedule. Other additives, like citric acid, gelatin, silica gel, and copper sulfate, are also largely kept away from natural wines.
According to Jia Shen, MD, assistant professor of medicine at the University of California, San Diego, the long-term health outcomes of choosing natural and organic products over the alternative are as yet unknown. But she agrees that “organic produce contains less pesticide residue”—always a win. So if you’re choosing to go local and organic in the produce aisle, it makes sense that you’d want to do so at the liquor store, too.
Unsure where to start? Here are 5 low-intervention natural wines to add some “cheers!” to your holiday season.
“This is the first release from this 100-percent organic estate in the extreme northeast corner of the Santa Rita Hills American Viticultural Area (AVA) in Santa Barbara County, California,” says Pat Ballow, a broker for the distributor Revel Wine. To make this wine, the grapes are sealed into a carbon-dioxide-filled tank to ferment while they’re still whole and on the stem. This allows the grapes to release their own enzymes to turn the natural sugars into alcohol without adding yeast. (Wine enthusiasts: This is called carbonic maceration.) The result? A light, fresh Gamay that’s a real crowd-pleaser on the party circuit.
Are you the type to choose white wine over red even when there’s a blanket of snow on the ground (and an actual blanket around your shoulders)? Unlike traditional white wines, the Denavola Catavela is fermented with the grapes’ skins and seeds still intact, giving it its signature (and super-trendy) copper-orange hue. “The perfect cold weather white wine, it’s really good with holiday grub,” recommends Brett Pallesen, owner of the natural wine supplier Soil Expedition Co. Also a plus: This particular wine, made with grapes organically farmed in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, has no added sulfites.
Known the world over for high-acid wines with strong earthy and cranberry flavors, Oregon’s Willamette Valley’s cool, dank weather is an ideal home for the notoriously finicky Pinot Noir grape. “Pinot Noir is so infinitely versatile, pairing beautifully with a variety of dishes, from turkey to ham and beef,” Webber says.
“I like Bodegas Inteus, the hottest young project in Rioja, Spain, for its stellar fruit and minimal intervention,” says Andrew Yandell of Trumpet Wines, a wine importer focusing on natural wines from Spain. Not only were they the first-ever certified organic grape growers in Rioja, each of their gorgeous green vineyards produce soulful wines that pair well with holiday meals. ‘They have subtle structure to stand up to a variety of foods, with brightness to keep the bottle tipping and refresh your palate even through the richest cheeses, roasts, and stews,” says Yandell, who favors the Graciano, in particular.
No holiday celebration is complete without a side of bubbles. Channing Daughters, a winery in Bridgehampton, New York, is known for using a variety of less common grapes to make its suite of wines—including a lightly effervescent pétillant-naturel, which is produced from a single fermentation in the bottle without anything else added. The Sylvanus is a white sparkler made from 50 percent Pinot Grigio grapes, 40 percent Muscat, and 10 percent Pinot Bianco.
More reason to pour a glass of vino: Research suggests it could be beneficial after a sweat sesh, and—when drank in moderation—could be key to living a long, healthy life.