Natural Wine Is The New Normal

It may not have been love at first sip, but it was a natural kind of progression: a look into natural wine and enotecas with great taste.

Natural Wine shop Vinaietto
The author at Vinaietto. Photo: Jana Godshall.

My first time in Rome was in the fall of 2018, and after a day of olive oil making — I was on some self-indulgent Eat, Pray, Jana adventure, a story for another time, I went on a first date with my now husband. He took me to a cozy, little natural wine bar tucked away in Garbatella called La Mescita.

“What kind of wine do you like?” he asked me.

My answer used to be pretty basic, “The red kind.”

But this particular evening, I wanted to try and sound a bit more refined than by merely identifying a beverage by its color. I smiled, “Oh, something earthy,” which let’s be honest, even now with three years of Italy under my belt, I’m not positive I could promptly recognize traditional earth flavored notes.

The bartender came back with a bottle of ‘earthy’ red wine and poured me a taste. I sipped and immediately coughed which quickly escalated to that awkward choking on liquid feeling – so much for my refined moment. “Wow. Umm.” I wiped my mouth with a napkin as red wine was spilling from the corners of my lips as if I just got back from a feeding. “That’s earthy. That is a literal interpretation of earth. I can taste the ground,” I coughed again. “Dirt,” I whispered.

Needless to say, it was not love at first sip for me, but fast forward to now and I’m totally and completely reformed. I’m an all naturale kind of gal… when it comes to my wine. And I’m not alone. Natural wine is sweeping the world with its funky yet still smooth taste and rawness. Its nakedness, if you will. In fact, natural wine is often referred to as raw and coincidentally, naked (because it’s only working with the grape). So couple these flavors with the added benefits of no hangovers, and it’s for sure a people pleaser.

In the early 2000s, natural wine was best known among the bourgeois or cool wine aficionado social circles, but now, it’s expanded to people like me. People who unabashedly at one time recognized wine solely by its color and would choose cheap bottles on the Trader Joe’s shelves because the label looked pretty. But natural wine isn’t a trend. It’s not like sun-dried tomatoes or low-rise jeans that will be popping in and out sporadically and with no warning. And trust me, I’m already pissed that low-rise jeans are making a comeback. They benefit no one, while natural wine benefits everyone.

Natural wine is similar to weather predictions. It’s more temperamental and inconsistent and even a bit wild. Two bottles from the same grape, year and winemaker aren’t guaranteed to even taste the same. You can really appreciate the work from the producer and, bear with me, the beauty of the process. And of course, natural wine isn’t anything new. It’s been done to death — like for thousands of years and was the only way at one time. It’s conventional wine that is newer in the grand scheme of things, but most people don’t know that. Well, at least I didn’t, and if you didn’t gather by now, I’m no novice. But I think that’s why you can trust me because I’m not pretending to know something I don’t.

Conventional wine vs natural wine is like comparing reality TV to cinema vérité. And I’m not shitting on reality TV. I will admit that I can go down rabbit holes and binge-watch a reality series. In fact, just recently, while in oversized sweats and with fistfuls of popcorn, I watched Selling Sunset — a plastic docuseries about glammed up real estate brokers selling million dollar homes while we (the audience) relish on the outlandish office drama and over-the-top fashion statements. I didn’t feel great after watching this. I felt worse about my life choices and why I spent so much time studying Jane Austen which often led me down unemployed and beguiled paths. Anyhow the point is, I don’t feel great after a night of drinking cheap, conventional wine either. I will wake up with a headache and similar self-life doubts just as I do with my reality TV binging hours. And yes, this is a stretch for a metaphor, but reality TV is formulaic. Conventional wine can be filled with ingredients and manipulation, while cinema vérité  and natural wine go rogue. They’re free in a sense. Do I sound like a jerk yet?

I learned a bit more about natural wine after touring Ribelà Vineyards in Frascati. It was brought to my attention that wine is one of the only foods or beverages where you don’t have to list the ingredients on the label. Conventional wine and even organic wine could have up to 20-30 ingredients, while Biodynamic has much fewer, maybe 10. But nothing compares with the one ingredient of natural wine. When you’re not adding chemicals or technological manipulations you will feel the effects of that — so you tend to feel better. I’m not saying this means you can drink as much natural wine as you want. You still have to drink responsibly. And don’t feel bad for conventional wine. It isn’t going anywhere, and of course, there are hundreds of delicious and elegant conventional wines to enjoy. It’s just that you can easily get your hands on those really cheap bottles filled with sulfates and other unpronounceable ingredients that will have you reaching for the aspirin bottle in the morning.

I spoke with Luca Eula, a sommelier in the Piedmont area, and he reminded me of the many wonderful conventional wines that are available to us in Italy, and that if you are knowledgeable about wine (I’m still learning), then you can enjoy both natural and conventional wines. There really doesn’t have to be an either or scenario, but more so an either and. “Personally, I don’t choose a bottle depending on whether it is natural or not. I am interested in whether the wine is interesting, good and has something to tell me, and I’ll end up drinking several natural ones anyway.” I then asked what his thoughts were on the rise of natural wine, and if he thought it would affect conventional wines. “I believe that the movement of natural wines today is finally coming out of the niche in which it remained in the last 20 years, and it’s largely — and positively — influencing the whole world of wine, bringing more attention to the territory, to the grape varieties and to the human dimension of viticulture. What is needed is to stop thinking that to make wine in that way it is easy and there is no need to intervene, but that one must commit even more, without dogmatism and ready-made recipes.” (To schedule private tasting and tours in Piedmont with Luca DM @lucaeula_

Don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of natural wine before. I’ve traveled to restaurants within Italy that aren’t familiar with it either, but it is expanding globally and becoming more recognized. Many vineyards have seen a sales growth of 20% from 2019. And natural wine stores and enotecas are popping up all over Western Europe and the United States, so now’s a perfect time to introduce yourself. Buy bottle and see what you think.

Here are some of my favorite natural wine spots in Rome, each with its own unique magnetism that keeps me going back.

La Barrique, Monti 

Via del Boschetto 41B

Complete with outdoor tables and snug and cozy interiors, it’s truly a great place to catch up with a friend or a good book. They have a wonderful list of natural wines and good prices. The staff is helpful and friendly.

Go for a glass, stay for a bottle…

They also have nibbles and of course, a full dine-in menu.

Natural Wine La Barrique
La Barrique’s managers. Photo: Jana Godshall.

Beppe e i Suoi Formaggi, Ghetto

Via di S. Maria del Pianto 9A/11

Outside of good wine, this place has charm and cheese. Large variety of natural wine and mouthwatering cheeses. It’s more expensive than some other natural wine spots, but you really can’t argue when stepping out onto the narrow cobblestone street of the Ghetto and taking a seat at an antique desk and watching the pink skies of Rome quickly fade to purple whilst  noshing on elegant tagliare boards and sipping on smooth delights.

Natural wine Beppe e i suoi formaggi
The author at the Beppe e i suoi Formaggi winery in Rome. Photo: Jana Godshall.

Les Vignerons, Trastevere

Via Goffredo Mameli 61/62 

Antonio Marino and Marisa Gabbianelli opened the first natural wine shop in Rome. Originally they were located in Tor Pignattara and now, they are located in Trastevere. They will have whatever your natural heart desires. They’re extremely knowledgeable about their products. They also have a wide variety of funky beers to choose from, too. Antonio and Marisa first met at another wine shop in town and what other way is there to bond over your appreciation of natural wine than to open a market.

Natural Wine Les Vignerons
Les Vignerons’ owners, Antonio and Marisa. Photo: Jana Godshall.

Il Vinaietto, Campo de’ fiori

Via del Monte della Farina, 38

This place reminds me of a more traditional enoteca. This is not an exclusive natural wine enoteca. In fact, only about 20% of their sales are spent by natural wine appreciators. The owner, Giancarlo Ministeri, one of the two owners, has been slinging pours for over 43 years. If you like natural wine but your mates don’t, it’s a great spot to get the best of both worlds.

Vinaietto winery owner
Vinaietto’s owner, Giancarlo Ministeri. Photo: Jana Godshall.

Ribelá Vineyards, Frascati 


I learned a bit more about natural wine after touring Ribelà Vineyards in Frascati. The vineyard is run by a young married couple from Rome who are passionate about the philosophy of natural wine. The process is about understanding the grapes. It is the grapes who make the wine, not the winemaker. There, it was brought to my attention that wine is one of the only foods or beverages where you don’t have to list the ingredients on the label.

Ribelà wineyards
Ribelà’s wineyards in Frascati.

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