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Natural wines, like any category, cover a spectrum. They can aggressively challenge our preconceptions of what wine should be, mostly in a reaction against modernity. Such wines are often cloudy and funky, “natural” in the way someone claims to be who refuses to bathe. Others are electric and compelling, demonstrating how a minimalist but meticulous approach to winemaking can give us exciting wine that expresses character and terroir.
Here are four wines that show that excitement. Our Greatest Value this week is a lithe, agile and vibrant cabernet franc from the Loire Valley in France. We also have a trendy trousseau gris from California, an even trendier pétillant-naturel from Italy, and a skin-fermented chardonnay from the Jura in France, a region beloved of the natural wine movement for its oxidative style of winemaking.
A fifth wine engaged me in a tug of war for three days, but the importer has apparently gone out of business, so I don’t include it here. But I’ll remind you of two of my favorite wines from Georgia: Baia’s Wine Tsolikouri 2017 and Dila-O Rkatsiteli-Mtsvane Dry Amber Wine 2017 (I raved about the 2016s of each late last year) are available at Batch 13 and Potomac Wine & Spirits, among other stores and restaurants in the District.
Loire Valley, France, $15
This delightful cabernet franc exhibits what wine lovers call “tension” — it seizes your palate’s attention like a cat ready to pounce on its prey. There’s an excitement and anticipation at first sip, and when you’ve savored the dark cherry, smoky leather and dried plum aspects of the wine, you’ll know that the wine has indeed caught its prey: your imagination. I don’t know why this wine isn’t more widely available. Alcohol by volume: 13.3 percent.
Imported and distributed by Simon N Cellars: Available in the District at Cleveland Park Wine and Spirits, Cork & Fork; on the list at Corduroy, Frenchy’s Naturel. Available in Virginia at Leesburg Vintner, Tastings of Charlottesville, Unwined (Alexandria, Belleview), the Vineyard in McLean, the Wine Outlet in Great Falls; on the list at Renewal in Charlottesville.
Russian River Valley, Calif., $31
I recently enjoyed a beaujolais-style red called Wiley Carbonic Carignan, made from grapes grown in old vineyards in Mendocino County. The trousseau gris is an oddball wine, and there’s the charm. It’s a white mutation of the red trousseau, another grape variety you’ve probably never heard of. The wine isn’t exactly a rosé, as the color is more orangeish than pink, coming from five days of fermentation on the skin. Slightly oxidative, with a dried fruit and spice character, the wine pairs nicely with nuts, cheeses and salads, or other dishes with fruit. It reminded me of a fine fino sherry, without the kick of fortification. It could serve as a crossover for fans of natural wine to discover sherry. ABV: 13.4 percent.
Distributed by Bacchus: Available in the District at Grand Cata; on the list at Central Michel Richard, Chloe, Kyirisan, Le Diplomate. Available in Maryland at Wine Source in Baltimore.
Marche, Italy, $19
Pétillant-naturel is all the rave these days, especially among the hipster sommelier set. An ancient method of making sparkling wine, it is simpler and cheaper than the champagne method, and more natural than just carbonating wine with carbon dioxide to produce bubbles. This one, made primarily from verdicchio with some trebbiano gentile completing the blend, is crisp, refreshing and delicious. While fine by itself, the wine has enough bite to suggest pairing it with salads and some lighter seafood dishes. ABV: 11.5 percent.
Imported and distributed by Le Storie: Available in the District at Ace Beverage; Cordial Craft Wine, Beer & Spirits (Union Market); DCanter; MacArthur Beverages; Via Umbria; Wardman Wines; on the list at A Rake’s Progress, Reverie. Available in Virginia at the Brew Shop and Crystal City Wine Shop in Arlington; Beer Run, Market Street Wineshop, Tavern & Grocery, Wine Warehouse in Charlottesville; Brut, Department of Beer and Wine and Grape+Bean (Rosemont) in Alexandria; Chain Bridge Cellars in McLean; Saison Market and Union Market in Richmond, Vinosity in Culpeper; on the list at Osteria da Nino in Arlington, Tuscarora Mill in Leesburg.
Cotes du Jura, France, $26
Jura, in eastern France, is a darling region in the natural-wine movement, partly because winemaking techniques there have not been swept up into the modern (industrial) age. The Domaine Joly Les Varrons is all chardonnay, but it’s made in an old-fashioned way with the grapes fermented on the skins. The result is a slightly hazy, amber-colored wine with more tannin than we expect from modern white wines. That gives it a sense of bite on the palate, as well as the stuffing to match heartier foods than we might usually pair with white wines. Try this with a spring stew of veal or lamb, a pork roast or roasted chicken. ABV: 13 percent.
Imported by Hirsch Collection, distributed by Hop N Wine: Available in the District at Rodman’s. Available in Virginia at Balducci’s, La Fromagerie and Planet Wine & Gourmet in Alexandria, Lake Anne Coffee House & Wine Bar in Reston, Unwined (Alexandria, Belleview), Vienna Vintner.
Availability information is based on distributor records. Wines might not be in stock at every listed store and might be sold at additional stores. Prices are approximate. Check Winesearcher.com to verify availability, or ask a favorite wine store to order through a distributor.