Natural Selection

Old-fashioned wine is new again

Modern tools and techniques have turned some wineries into veritable laboratories. But a growing number of rebellious winemakers are realizing that "natural" wines—made with as little manipulation as possible—offer beguiling complexity and remarkable value.

Natural winemakers start with organic or biodynamic grapes, then leave the rest up to the wine gods. They only use wild yeast and eschew new oak barrels, preservatives (like sulfur) and high-tech equipment. This hands-off method is harder than it sounds, but the payoff is huge: Natural wines have a purity and complexity rarely found in other bottles of their price range (most are $25 and under). Their lighter body and pronounced earthiness offer an astonishing contrast to the glut of jammy, high-alcohol wines.

A few Manhattan wine shops specialize in natural wines, most notably Appellation, Astor, Chambers Street and Crush. Bottles are often stored in refrigerators or cooler sections of the shop. Or check the back labels for the names Jenny & Francois Selections or Louis/Dressner Selections (both are importers who focus on natural wines).

Four Natural Wine Favorites:

2007 Terres Dorees Beaujolais a l'Ancien Vieilles Vignes ($17)

This easy-drinking, cranberry-inflected Beaujolais red is remarkably food-friendly. chambersstwines.com
2004 Clos du Tue Boeuf Blanc Le Buisson Pouillex ($22)

One of the natural movement's rock-star producers makes this rich, earthy Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley. astorwines.com

2004 Binner Riesling Katzenthal ($25)

This dry Alsatian Riesling has a lovely floral nose and exceptionally long finish. crushwineco.com

2006 Oliver Cousin Anjou Pure Breton (pictured, $21)

Light-bodied with a bright acidity, this Loire Valley red is unlike any Cabernet Sauvignon you've tasted. appellationnyc.com