Of all of the food and drink buzzwords to have become ubiquitous in the past couple of years, natural wine is surely one of the most difficult for the casual drinker to get their head around. Isn't all wine made in a process that's natural? Does it mean the same as organic, or biodynamic? And what's the difference in taste?
Put simply, it refers to wine that's made with as little technological intervention as possible between growing the grapes and turning them into wine. And, far from being a meaningless buzzword, it's actually closer to ancient forms of winemaking than the more industrial process that's dominated the wine scene in the modern day. It generally means small-scale production, organic grape-growing, natural yeast, and no sulphites – which are often added to larger-scale wines to ward off that troublesome oxidation that can give a funky, uneven taste to the finished product.
But that funk is exactly what many winemakers – and increasingly bar owners around London and beyond – find so exciting about natural wines. The use of natural yeast and oxidation can give the wine some rough edges, but it can also provide bags of character. As The Laughing Heart's owner Charlie Mellor put it in a column he wrote for us, "good or bad, weird and/or wonderful, natural wines demonstrate the infinite possibility of aromas and flavours that come from spontaneous fermentation."
Where do you go to sample these weird, wonderful wines? Keeping reading our round up of the best natural wine bars in London to find out.
11 natural wine bars in London to try tonight
1 West Gate Street, E8 3R
Pared-back industrial vibe? Superlative small plates? A wine list with more skin contact than a nudist colony? Yeah, Bright is one of those cool restaurants, alright. Created by the team behind P. Franco, Bright has become a media darling in record time. Even the most curmudgeonly diner will find it hard not to be won over by a punchy glass of whatever Bright’s attentive staff recommends. If the way the London dining scene is shifting is any indication, the future is Bright indeed.
2. The Laughing Heart
277 Hackney Road, E2 8NA
If you needed convincing that the world of East London natural wine bars is a small one, go to The Laughing Heart. Not only will you find many of the area's chefs, bartenders and restaurateurs eating and drinking here until the early hours (it's open until 2am, which makes it a hit with industry people wanting to cut loose after a shift), but its owner, former opera singer Charlie Mellor, knows pretty much all of the names and faces driving the natural wine movement in the capital. As well as the bottle shop and bar, there's a dining room catering for a decent number of diners, with the food taking its cues from East Asia as well as the British coastline courtesy of highly rated chef Tom Anglesea.
3. 40 Maltby Street
40 Maltby Street, SE1 3PA
This unassuming Bermondsey wine bar is actually the HQ of Gergovie Wines, a natural wine importer that brings wine from some of the best small-scale producers in Europe together under one roof. Like The Laughing Heart, it's a hit with like-minded restaurateurs and chefs, who can often be seen nursing a glass at its bar. While it's described as a wine bar, that probably does it a huge disservice: the food is good enough to have earned it a place among the pantheon of London's most acclaimed restaurants.
27 Battersea Rise, SW11 1HG
The Terroirs group is a key player in London's natural wine scene – with Terroirs in Soho, a restaurant of the same name in East Dulwich (formerly Toasted) and Soif, a restaurant and wine bar on Battersea Rise, just a short stroll from Clapham Junction. In keeping with the theme, Soif serves up Anglo-French bistro-style food, alongside a France-heavy wine list from natural, biodynamic and low-intervention producers hand-selected by the team.
12A Newburgh Street, W1F 7RR
Hidden just off of Carnaby Street lies Antidote, formerly La Trouvaille, with over 3000 organic, biodynamic and natural wines hand selected and just waiting for you to try. As with any good wine bar, there’s a delicious selection of food, to go with; a short-but-sweet menu showcasing charcuterie, artisan cheeses and veg-centric small plates. If you don’t have time to drink in, you can also grab a bottle (or more) to go from their first floor wine shop. Don’t miss their weekly expert picks; catch a sneak preview on their own Instagram page.
6. Terroirs Wine Bar
5 William IV Street, WC2N 4DW
Sure, Covent Garden may be more synonymous with pre-theatre menus and tourists than natural wine bars, but Terroirs puts it firmly on the map as a natural wine bar to try. Whilst it's not the fanciest of settings - don't, and we mean don't, expect chandeliers or grandeur - there is a wide selection of all-natural wines from across the world.
7. Newcomer Wines
5 Dalston Lane, E8 3DF
For a wine bar that's even nicher than an organic, sustainable, wine bar in Cov Garden's All Bar One loving crowd, head to Dalston, where Newcomer Wines is sourcing, serving and selling the very best of natural Austrian wines from a wholly new generation of grape growers. Again, there are a wide range to choose from - 250, to be precise - all of which Newcomer promises are 'honest, distinctive and delicious'. Fun fact: Austria produces 470 times more wine than the UK every single year. Yep.
8. Cellar SW4
1 Voltaire Road, SW4 6DQ
You may have already read up on our favourite places to eat and drink in Clapham. If you haven't, you may not have heard of Cellar SW4. The wine cellar, bar and shop is from the team behind Dvine Cellars, which lies, coincidentally, just across the road under the railway arches of Clapham High Street overground station. It's worth noting here - the menu is not 100% natural and organic, but the majority of it is, so do check before you order.
9. Lady of the Grapes
16 Maiden Lane, WC2E 7NJ
You're big on shopping local, buying natural and yet have you ever thought about how you could show your support for feminism with your choice of wine? Likely not. At Lady of the Grapes, not only will you be enjoying all-natural wines, you'll also get to try from the best European female winemakers. Why? Well, ownerCarole Bryon says: 'We see more and more women taking the lead and being in charge of vineyards, so let's shine a light on them within this industry, so traditionally male-dominated.' Hear, hear.
10. Naughty Piglets
28 Brixton Water Lane, SW2 1PE
Did you know? The co-founders of Naughty Piglets have worked at both Michelin-star Trinity and natural wine bar Terroirs. It's actually, Michelle and Barack Obama jokes aside (because yes, they met at work, did you not know?), where they met, and the rest is history. We’re sure, knowing what you know, that you’re not surprised that Brixton-based bar is quite so successful. Head for delicious small plates, a zingy atmosphere and some bloomin' good natural wines.
11. P Franco
107 Lower Clapton Road, E5 0NP
A firm favourite with natural wine drinkers in this neck of the woods, P Franco isn't just a bar, it's also a bottle shop so you can take away your favourite bottle of low-intervention wine if you don't want to trek to sister shop Noble Fine Liquor in Broadway Market. The food here – Italian-inspired dishes made with seasonal British ingredients – has won it huge acclaim. So much so, in fact, that its bigger, more food-focused sister restaurant Bright is just as popular.