Low-Intervention, Natural Wine Is Taking Over Las Vegas
The details on natural wine and 14 places to find it in Vegas.
We're just a few days into 2023—a time to test the level of commitment to our New Year's resolutions. Some vow to cut down on drinking, but perhaps it might be more effective to look at what you drink rather than how much you drink.
Vegas is a great place to enjoy wine, but not all vino is created equal. Some of your favorites may have additives like preservatives, concentrated sugars and colorings (including one known within the industry as "Mega Purple") to make sure every bottle pulled off a supermarket shelf looks and tastes the same every time. And while there's comfort in familiarity, a growing number of aficionados are turning to natural and low-intervention wines with a belief that more often than not, less is more.
Think of small producers that farm in chemical-free soil, pick grapes by hand, use native yeast and ferment the wine in neutral vessels (instead of, say, oak barrels that add flavor) with minimal sulfates used as a preservative in the bottling process. Low-intervention or natural wines may also be organic or biodynamic, although these terms are not interchangeable.
It's no longer a surprise to see chillable reds or pét-nats ("pétillant naturel" sparkling wines that have a bottle cap instead of a cork to seal the container) among the most popular natural wines. Some can be lighter-bodied, refreshing, or funky. Some are unfiltered and cloudy. Don't panic if you see a little bit of sediment at the bottom of your glass.
"Even within that natural category, there's a ton of variety, a ton of nuance," says Emily Baddock of Alt Imports, a Las Vegas distributor that specializes in low-intervention wines and hosted the inaugural Co-Ferment natural wine festival in Downtown last October. "Folks have started to lean a little bit more towards that Old World style where the alcohol is less, the extraction is less, and there's more subtlety. I think that makes it more food friendly and more enjoyable to drink by the glass."
There's a common belief that low-intervention wines are less likely to give you a hangover, but that's a conversation between you and your doctor (or bartender). If you want to know where to find the stuff, the following shops, restaurants and bars are doing their best to make a simpler and more traditional style of wine more accessible in Las Vegas. Here's where to begin.
If Garagiste isn't one of your favorite places to drink wine in Vegas, you probably don't get around to the Arts District much. The bar and retail shop makes quirky, small-production wines accessible within the walls of a modern, semi-industrial space. The wine list—a simple stack of stapled pages—changes at least twice a week, thanks to a rotating inventory that gives special attention to small producers and small orders. Low-intervention wines are clearly marked, offering quick information for the initiated and a conversation point for the curious. There are usually 20-25 wines by the glass and up to 400 labels available for enjoying on the spot or to go (with a 50% discount on retail orders). There's almost always at least one flight dedicated to low-intervention wines too. Owner Eric Prato, a former sommelier on the Strip, has a preference for international picks with France, Spain and Italy well represented, but any region is fair game. You may even see wines from Australia or England on your next visit.
How to order: Walk in, sign up for special offers via email, or shop the online store for quick pickup.
Vegas Test Kitchen
Some "food halls" are little more than glorified casino food courts. The Vegas Test Kitchen however, puts a welcome spin on the concept, hosting a variety of local culinary pop-ups inside an intimate space on Fremont Street. While the food options come and go, one thing has remained consistent since opening day: a commitment to quality, affordable, low-intervention wine. Founder Jolene Mannina makes a point to keep about 20 bottles on the list and few are priced above $35. Try one of six by-the-glass or come by for the monthly Glou-Glou events, where guests can sample 10 wines in two hours for less than 40 bucks. The picks are interesting and easy to drink, pairing well with a variety of food that currently includes the plant-based recipes of Down 2 Earth, Stay Tuned Burgers and the sweet slices of PopNPies. It's worth noting that two previous concepts, Bodega Bagel and Yukon Pizza, now carry low-intervention wines at their own new brick-and-mortar locations. Must be contagious.
How to order: Vegas Test Kitchen accepts reservations online. Follow Secret Burger to learn about the next Glou-Glou tasting event.
Sparrow + Wolf
When Sparrow + Wolf launched in 2017, chef and founder Brian Howard put together a list of esoteric, boutique wines (none over $100 at the time) to match the eclectic, bucket-list worthy nature of the food. Much of the collection featured natural wines and small producers you'd rarely see on store shelves. Some even arrived from unlikely domestic regions like Michigan and upstate New York. The restaurant initially drew more attention for its exceptional cocktails, but the wines caught on over the years and their presence expanded. A few staff members are somm-certified with Nick Johnson-Tatum in charge of the wine program. The experience can be educational, social and just plain fun. The team considers cool-looking labels a bonus too. No snobbery here. It's not heavily publicized, but Sparrow + Wolf is licensed for retail wine sales as well. If you find something you like, take a bottle home.
How to order: Call 702-790-2147 with any questions or to book a reservation.
Khoury's Fine Wine & Spirits
It's hard to find a better place in Henderson for boutique booze than Khoury's Fine Wine & Spirits. The shop underwent a dramatic renovation last year, opening up room for not only display racks, but expanded seating, where any bottle in the store can be opened for a flat $5 corkage fee. There's a clear enthusiasm for natural, low-intervention wines, prominently displayed near the front entrance. The selection features small European producers from France, Germany and Austria, as well as US regions like California, Oregon and Washington. The idea is to encourage conversation with staff members who make a point to study up on this stuff and provide recommendations based on customer preferences. Khoury's also hosts in-store tastings and occasionally has a natural wine featured behind the counter of the in-house bar, which also offers a good selection of craft beers. Owner Khoury Issa sees the emerging presence of low-intervention wines as a logical progression from the organic wine boom of a few years ago and is always on the lookout for new brands and styles. A temperature-controlled "wine cellar" exhibits higher-end boutique wines.
How to order: Khoury's is open seven days a week with food trucks by the patio during afternoons and/or evenings. Call 702-435-9463 with any questions or special orders.
Ada's Wine Bar
Chef James Tree's culinary empire not only includes bucket-list worthy restaurants like Esther's Kitchen and Al Solito Posto, but also Ada's Wine Bar, where globally inspired tapas are served alongside an eclectic, yet affordable vino selection. Lead sommelier Kat Thomas doesn't play up the "low-intervention" tag too much, but cultivates a selection so intriguing, there's plenty of overlap. A Pinot Noir from Serbia was a recent favorite among the staff members, who are well-trained and encouraged to weigh in when Thomas places orders. The list is globally minded with an affection for overlooked North American offerings. Ada's carries at least 20 wines by the glass, not counting fortified wines like Madeiras and sherries. The experience is very conversational, making it easy for customers to learn about the list without being overwhelmed. Ask about the latest "mystery" red or white…or customize your own flight. Ada's always has special events in the works. Guest sommeliers are frequently invited to show off their own picks and pairing dinners are designed with the wine chosen first and food created to match by Chef de Cuisine Jackson Stamper.
How to order: Go online to book a reservation, keep up to date on special events and join the Thirsty Theme Wine Club.
Zuma puts an upscale, contemporary spin on Japanese dining in Vegas. Much of the food is served tapas style, from fresh sushi and sashimi to robata meats and vegetables grilled over binco-tan Japanese white oak. Zuma is best known for sake, cocktails, and Japanese whiskey, but Head Sommelier Alexander Vahramian has put together an adventurous wine list with independence and freedom not always allowed at Strip hotel restaurants. The presence of natural, low-intervention wines has grown noticeably over the years, ranging from French and Austrian reds to proven American brands by Joseph Swick of Oregon and Michael Cruse of California. The list makes a point to carry some higher priced exclusives and has an entire section dedicated to Cayuse Vineyards, a biodynamic producer in Washington's Walla Walla Valley.
How to order: Book a reservation online.
Night + Market
Natural, low-intervention wines make up the entire list at Night + Market. Every bottle, every glass. Founding chef Kris Yenbamroong is personally a fan, but also believes the flavors and heft complement the bold, intense flavors of his modern Thai cuisine. The restaurant has around a hundred bottles at any given time and always carries five by the glass: one each for red, white, sparkling, rosé and orange wine (made with skin-on white grapes). It's an intentional strategy to not overcomplicate things and introduce newcomers to the concept without fuss. The whites tend to favor Chenin Blancs, Grüner Veltliners and Sauvignon Blancs. Reds are big on Gamays, Carginans, Grenaches and Cabernet Francs. General Manager Chad Jordan is in charge of the list, which is partially influenced by the original Night + Market locations in Los Angeles, but still has its own identity. The restaurant has a casual dining room with a large centralized bar, making it easy to come and sample the wine with a few appetizers without feeling compelled to invest in a full dinner. Happy hour runs Sunday-Thursday, 5-7pm and 9-close, with half-price bottles of wine.
How to order: Just walk in or book a reservation via OpenTable.
Sometimes great wine is even better when you don't have to leave the house. KellySOMM is a Las Vegas-based mail-order service that specializes in natural and low-intervention wines. It's a one-woman operation by Kelly Ford, a sommelier with more than 20 years of experience. The goal is to fill gaps in the market, although the shipping range now goes beyond Nevada to at least five other states. Ford makes a point to only carry wines she would personally drink herself, marking them with silver stickers (for a more traditional, classic selection) or more colorful stickers (for funky or "natty" wines with unconventional flavor profiles). Ford has a few American wines in stock, but tends to prefer European varieties. Plus she’s is a big fan of Spanish Mancia wines, which taste similar to Pinot Noir. Ford responds quickly to emails and questions while customizing orders to fit customer preferences.
How to order: Visit KellySOMM online to purchase individual bottles or packages of three, six, or 12 bottles as either a one-time purchase or a recurring subscription with a 15% discount.
F The Bar
This is an intimate, ground-floor lounge at Fergusons Downtown, a vintage motel on Fremont Street that was renovated into a plaza for local, independent shops and businesses. Decorated with various greenery, it's a loose environment to learn about natural, low-intervention wines. At least eight bottles are displayed on the bar's countertop. If the color or label design catches your attention, that's a great place to begin a conversation with your server or bartender. Each is available by the bottle or glass, along with three house wines on tap–a red blend, white blend and rosé. So don't hesitate to ask for a sample. Wine is also available to go in a plastic cup while hanging out on the lawn or exploring the shops at Fergusons. F The Bar has a few snacks, including pretzels, fries and chicken tenders, but don't be surprised if the bartender breaks out an off-menu bottle and a bag of Oreos on Trivia Night. These are the combos that seem to work just fine on Fremont Street.
How to order: Walk on in. Just know F The Bar is open Thursday-Sunday.
Liquor Lineup is your best bet for low-intervention wines north of Downtown, but you gotta do it right. Skip the original shop in North Las Vegas—it's a small, routine liquor store. You want the newer Centennial Hills location on Ann and Decatur, which has greater space, a more ambitious selection and knowledgeable employees familiar with the inventory. Most of the low-intervention wines, marked with white stickers, hover around $15, which is an intentional strategy to introduce the category to newbies in the area. If you have trouble finding them, just ask. Make sure to browse the whiskey selection too. Liquor Lineup specializes in single-barrels from some of your favorites, including Nevada's own Frey Ranch. You can even sample some of them at no charge from a centralized square-shaped bar in the middle of the store, which is almost worth a visit all by itself.
How to order: Just walk in. Liquor Lineup also delivers throughout the valley (including the Strip) with a flat $7 charge. Call 702-616-0311 for details.
It's always fun to come across natural wine in unexpected places. The newly opened Bodega Begal carries a few options, including sparkling whites and rosés, served casually in carafes and regular glassware. The digestible nature of low-intervention wines matches up well with almost anything on the menu, from small-batch bagels with cream cheese to scratch-made whitefish salad. You can also order a mimosa carafe to share at the table. Chef and founder Sonia El-Nawal says the experience reflects a European frame of mind to have a light glass of wine with lunch. So get your culture on while enjoying a little bit of day drinking.
How to order: Walk in, order at the counter and grab a seat.
Along with Zuma, Momofuku is your best option for natural wine on the Strip and both restaurants happen to be at the Cosmopolitan resort. The interest in the genre traces back to the original Momofuku in New York, but here in Vegas, Assistant General Manager Michael Schwicht personally curates a wide-ranging list to match the complexity of Asian and American flavors in the food. You'll see about 20 low-intervention wines at any given time. Schwicht, formerly the restaurant's sommelier, likes to make wines adventurous, yet approachable and comfortable for the tourist-driven clientele. A white wine might typically pair well with the branzino and green papaya salad, but a light-bodied natural red could work just as well. Browse the list on any given night and you'll spot an uncommon low-intervention Champagne, crisp Vinho Verde, or an easy red from either Austria or the Czech Republic.
How to order: Reservations are available online. If you just want a drink, come in and take a seat at the Peach Bar.
Support local businesses…and drink a little wine at the same time. Akin Cooperative is a small boutique in the Arts District that sells clothes, jewelry, art, home goods and other items by more than 30 Las Vegas producers. The shop has a clean, well-organized layout with a small bar in the back corner that serves international craft beer and natural wines to customers browsing the shelves. You can also grab one of eight seats at the bar and hang out for a while. The wines are especially popular during regular workshops, where guests can learn how to make candles, ceramics or jewelry. Owner Jen Taler also hosts intimate wine tasting events the second Thursday of each month, focusing on a particular style or region. She's hoping to secure a retail license in the near future, so customers can take their favorite bottles of wine to go.
How to order: Just walk in and say hello. Special events are listed online.
Formerly a pop-up concept, Yukon Pizza just moved into its own space in the newly renovated Huntridge Shopping Plaza. The fresh digs allowed the team to not only expand the menu, but secure a license for beer and wine—natural wine, specifically—with a flat price of $30 for a bottle and $7 by the glass. Yukon Pizza always carries a red, white and rosé to mirror what you'd find at a classic Italian restaurant. Sip on a glass at one of two bars near a wood-fired oven or take a bottle to go with your order. The simplicity and old-school nature of the wines are a stylistic match to Chef Justin Ford's Neapolitan-inspired pizzas, made with a sourdough starter passed down through the family of owner Alex White for more than a hundred years. The team was introduced to the idea of natural wine while operating at the Vegas Test Kitchen and rotates through labels frequently. Expect to see affordable, quality options from California, Oregon and Washington. A red goes especially well with the earthy flavors of the kale and sausage pizza.
How to order:Order online for pickup.