The Best Natural Wines You Should Drink This Winter

Bottles suited for every kind of holiday hang.

The holidays call for an endless exchange of wine bottles. Off they go in totes everywhere, en route to festive gatherings and back again to get regifted. It doesn’t mean, however, that we can’t make more conscious decisions about the wines we’re choosing. This year, we’re looking out for funky flavors that are friendly to the environment, too. With the help of Laura Marchetti, owner of Riverview Wine & Spirits in Jersey City, NJ, we’ve compiled a list of winter-forward natural wines for all your merry-making needs.

Marchetti, who grew up amongst an agrarian culture in central Italy, believes most real wine is natural or natural-leaning. “‘Natural’ is basically what we called vino del contadino (farmer’s wine) or vino vero (real wine),” she says. “So many of the most famous wines in the world are and always have been essentially ‘natural.’” If that wacky label on the table elicits any eyebrow raises from viticulturally conservative relatives, be sure to remind them that this here pét-nat is actually as traditional as you can get.

Since moving to the U.S. in the later aughts, Marchetti has been involved in hospitality; her partner (now her husband) had been working in bars and restaurants since the late ’90s. They both share a love for wine as well as a deep understanding of where it comes from, “so it was an inevitable course for me to eventually own my own wine shop,” she says.

And that wine shop found its home in The Heights neighborhood of Jersey City, which boasts some burgeoning culinary players like Corto and Bread And Salt. “I didn’t think I was serving the Heights anything new. I just wanted to serve them something real—and there was never a doubt in my mind that the people of the Heights want and understand what is real,” Marchetti says.

Here are Marchetti’s picks for potlucks, New Years celebrations, and cozy nights in.

The holiday house party BYOB

The ideal house party wine is one that has broad appeal and will impress, but won’t exactly break the bank. “The key to me is to bring something that’s drinkable and pulls you out of your head rather than in it,” Marchetti says. “So I’d steer clear of big reds or wines that are so compelling that they become the focus of the conversation rather than life at large.” In other words, choose a bottle that will make someone go, ‘Wow this is great! What is it?’ followed by ‘What are your thoughts on butter boards?’ For Marchetti, that might be “a Gamay like the Super Remi from Dufaitre or anything made with carbonic maceration,” she says, referring to the winemaking technique of making fruitier, lower-tannin red wine.

The star of the Thanksgiving potluck

Enter the Thanksgiving potluck and you’ll inevitably encounter a hodgepodge of foods. The question, though, is what wine will pair best with such beautiful variety. Marchetti believes sticking to local ingredients can prevent any discord. “The really fun wine dialogue right now is rethinking the hybrid grapes who more or less evolved stateside,” she says. “If they are from here, and the food we’ll be eating is from here, then if we give these hybrid grapes the care they are due—might they not wind up speaking to our native pairings?” Consider Oyster River Carbonic Nation Marquette from Maine or Early Mountain Young White from Virginia. Wherever you are, prioritize those local grapes, whether they come in the form of a medium-bodied cinsault from Texas or a carbonic piquette from Oregon’s Marigny.

Channel sophistication at a candlelit dinner party

So you have that friend who’s throwing an ultra-luxe dinner party, placing you in the middle of a more wine-literate crowd. “I’d go directly to the Côtes Catalanes,” Marchetti says, which is a winemaking region tucked away in Languedoc-Roussillon, France. “It’s in the center of it all, yet mildly off-grid, and generally just a few bucks out of people’s comfort range for everyday bottles.” Examples include Les Enfants Sauvages “Che Chauvio” Côtes Catalanes Rouge or Domaine Mamaruta Kezako. “So many of these wines manage to thread that fine line of offering elevated, elegant examples of the grapes they work with while co-existing in the same glass with a damp stroll through the farm and past the saline, sun-drenched Mediterranean seaside brush,” Marchetti says.

A celebratory pét-nat for New Years

Bubbles? For New Years? Make it a little more groundbreaking with a chenin pét nat. “I’d graciously accept the flute of bubbly swill from the host of the party, chug it or dump it, then refill my glass with La Grange Tiphaine’s Nouveau Nez made with chenin blanc in Montlouis-sur-Loire,” Marchetti says. “This drinks more like a méthode champenoise than a typical pét-nat.” That means it replicates the traditional champagne production method that undergoes a second round of fermentation to produce carbon dioxide—the element responsible for the bubbly mouthfeel. Treat yourself.

Get your skeptical parents into natural wine

For many of us, the holidays mean sharing close quarters with our family members. And it’s likely some of our kin still believe orange wine comes from oranges and all organic wines must be considered natural. Challenge their perceptions. “I try to carry plenty of examples of old-school wines that have always been natural even before the term took over,” Marchetti says. She recommends checking out wineries like Emidio Pepe in Abruzzo or La Gerla in Tuscany, and for a super affordable bottle, San Donatino “Camapcci” Rosso. “Maybe I’d start them with La Gerla Rosso di Montalcino, and from there, ease them into other Tuscan wines that have enough to leave them firmly planted in what they’re comfortable with while gradually evolving their palates without them knowing it.”

When sipping solo by the fireplace, go for adventure

In this snowed-in scenario, your mind is going to romantic places, imagining yourself near a roaring flame. “In this fireplace of the mind, I have baked cheeses, stuffed breads, some roasted chestnuts, a backgammon game going, and a bottle of Georgian qvevri-made wine,” Marchetti says. Here, she’d turn to Neki Selection, which “recently began importing a winery called Stori who had just been sitting on pallet after pallet of back vintages in their cellar. I recently tried a 2013 Rkatsiteli from them and it transported me to a place I’ve never been—like this fireplace.”

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Jessica Sulima is a staff writer on the Food & Drink team at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram