You know what’s overwhelming? Shopping for wine. Make that natural wine, and we’ll give you our best “deer in the headlights” impression. But after doing some research, we realized buying natural wine can be as enjoyable as drinking it—if you know what to look for. Here’s what you should know before you hit the store.

What is natural wine?

The exact definition of “natural wine” will really depend on who you ask. If we were to sum it up, we would say this: Natural wine is made without adding or removing anything in the process. Here are some of the ways people often describe natural wine:

  • Organically and or sustainably farmed
  • Made without synthetic pesticides
  • Grapes that are hand-harvested
  • Fermented with native yeast (aka yeast from the environment, as opposed to commercially produced yeast)
  • Made with minimal to no added sulfur (a preservative that’s commonly used in winemaking), sugar or coloring agents
  • No fining or filtering (processes that clarify wine, often using animal byproducts or other additives)

Is natural wine organic?

Natural wine can be organic and/or biodynamic (and it frequently is), but it doesn’t have to carry either of those designations to be considered natural. For example, getting organic certification is a difficult, expensive process for a vineyard, and there are many natural wine producers who are organic by practice, but just don’t have the word “organic” on their label. And vice versa: Not all certified-organic wine is considered natural.

By contrast, non-natural wines (or commercial wines) frequently involve vineyard pesticides, lab-grown yeast, added sugars and fining agents like isinglass (which helps remove unwanted particles in the wine) and added preservatives. Proponents of natural wine argue that without these synthetic additives and manipulative processes, you can better taste the natural expression of the grapes.

Is natural wine “hangover-free”?

Despite your one friend who swears natural wine doesn’t give them a hangover, natural wine isn’t a magical, hangover-free elixir—there’s really no definitive data other than hearsay that proves natural wine is easier on your body. Put it this way: Drink an entire bottle of any kind of wine and you’ll probably feel the effects tomorrow. Yeah, it’s probably better for you to not consume pesticides and many of the chemicals involved in commercial winemaking, but don’t equate that with “clean” or “healthy”—it’s still wine, after all.

Oh, and not all natural wines taste “funky” (as many people describe it), though most are more complex than mass-produced wines.

How to store natural wine:

Natural wine should be stored like any other wine: In a cool, dry, dark place (like a cellar or basement)—ideally below 60 degrees Fahrenheit to preserve the integrity of the wine. And while you might still adhere to the “room temp for reds, refrigerator for whites” school of thought, lighter-bodied natural reds will taste best with a slight chill on them—20 to 30 minutes in the refrigerator before pouring should do the trick. Likewise, many white varietals (oaky and low acid types like Chardonnay, and darker-hued rosés) should be served slightly warmer to bring out their full flavor profile.

All wine will last longer if you replace the cork immediately after pouring and pop that bottle back into the fridge.

A note about shopping for natural wine:

Unlike, say, your favorite commercial wine that you buy at the grocery store (which is available year-round in mass quantities), natural wines are produced in much smaller quantities, and once a vintage is sold out, it’s gone until next year (or until the next vintage is released). If a wine on this list is sold out, don’t panic. Just head to your local wine shop and talk to the knowledgeable folks who work there. If you can tell them a style of wine that you like (or a bottle you’ve tried), they’ll be able to point you in the direction of similar varietals and producers. And about the prices: You can find everything from a $10 bottle to a $100 bottle, but in our experience, most fall in the $20-to-$30 range.

Here, the 12 best natural wines to try in 2021, from red to white and everything in between.

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Vivino

1. Wild Arc Farm Amorici Field Blend

Best light-bodied red

This biodynamic bottle from the Hudson Valley region of New York looks drinks like a light red or a very dark rosé. It’s actually a co-ferment—a bunch of different red, white and pink hybrid grapes that were all fermented together. It’s tart, slightly savory and best served with a chill.

Buy it ($32)

Brooklyn Wine Exchange

2. Hervé Souhaut Syrah 2019

Best medium-bodied red

While it’s heavy on the plum and pepper notes, this low-sulfur French red wine is still juicy and acidic enough that you could pair it with both poultry and red meat. It’s savory and fruity at the same time—a crowd-pleaser.

Buy it ($38)

Helen’s Wines

3. Ruth Lewandowski Boaz 2018

Best full-bodied red

This deep, bold red—made in Mendocino County, California—is made from a combination of cabernet sauvignon, Carignan and grenache grapes. Even though flavors of blackberry, licorice and pepper are predominant, it’s still acidic and smooth enough to go down easy.

Buy it ($42)

Martha Stoumen

4. Martha Stoumen Post Flirtation White Blend 2019

Best light-bodied white

At only 9.5 percent alcohol by volume, this is a highly drinkable California white. (For reference, the average bottle clocks in at around 12 to 13 percent ABV). It’s mineral-forward (think sea salt and ocean air) with white pepper and kiwi notes that would pair well with seafood.

Buy it ($26)

Vivino

5. Christina Netzl Gruner Veltliner 2019

Best medium-bodied white

This zesty Austrian white is dry, light-to-medium-bodied and mouth-puckeringly acidic. It has tasting notes of citrus, pear and honey, and would pair with veggies, poultry or a charcuterie board quite nicely.

Buy it ($21)

Brooklyn Wine Exchange

6. A Los Vinateros Bravos “Granitico” Blanco 2019

Best full-bodied white

While it’s certainly not full-bodied like a red could be, this Chilean white is richer and earthier than your typical idea of white wine. It’s also made from Chardonnay, but you wouldn’t know it from the mineral-forward, savory flavors. A little bit of citrus keeps it light.

Buy it ($18)

Helen’s Wines

7. J.Brix Nomine Amoris Pinot Gris 2020

Best skin-contact white (aka “orange wine”)

Orange wine isn’t orange-flavored…and it’s not always orange-colored either. It’s a type of white wine made in a similar way as rosé: White wine grapes are fermented with their skins intact for some amount of time before the skins are removed, giving it a tannic quality similar to red wine. This California pinot gris is complex but still easy-drinking and best served chilled, with notes of strawberry and stone fruit and a little bit of earthiness.

Buy it ($35)

Helen’s Wines

8. Broc Cellars Love Rosé 2020

Best rosé

If you’ve only tried commercially produce rosé, you might think the style isn’t worth your time. (After all, all rosés taste the same, right?) But a natural rosé is a great way to change your mind, since it highlights the variations and nuances of the grapes. This Californian rosé, for example, is acidic and slightly spicy with much more depth of flavor that the pink wine you’re used to slugging back all summer. In fact, we’d drink this year-round.

Buy it ($20)

Helen’s Wines

9. Swick Wines City Pop 2020

Best sparkling white

Hailing from the Pacific Northwest, this blend of viogner and pinot noir grapes is acidic but not too mouth-puckering, with balanced tannins thanks to a few weeks of skin-contact maceration. While it’s completely unlike the commercial sparklers most people are familiar with, it pairs just as well with cheese, charcuterie, seafood and celebrations.

Buy it ($23)

Helen’s Wines

10. Lise et Bertrand Jousset Éxilé Gamay 2018

Best sparkling rosé

Gamay grapes are known for being acidic, light-bodied and easy to drink—this pét-nat rosé is no different. What’s a pet-nat? It’s short for pétillant naturel, a style of sparkling wine that’s fermented in the bottle so it’s not quite as bubbly as, say, Champagne. This French wine is packed with red berry flavors and is slightly off-dry (read: the tiniest bit sweet) to emphasize its soft, fruity notes.

Buy it ($24)

Mysa Natural Wine

11. Gindl Bubbles 2018

Best sparkling red

This biodynamic Austrian bottle is red, relatively low-alcohol and yes, bubbly. That, plus lots of juicy berry notes, makes it extremely easy to drink and pair with food. A match made in heaven? Pizza.

Buy it ($35)

Mysa Natural Wine

12. Strekov 1075 Fred #7 2018

Most adventurous

We try to avoid describing natural wine as “funky” in general because it feels reductive and one-note. But truth be told, this Slovakian organic red is funky, in the best way possible. Made from Alibernet and Dunaj grapes (which we’d never heard of before), it’s fruity and earthy at the same time—some might call it barnyardy—and benefits from a brief trip to the fridge followed by spicy food, like barbecue.

Buy it ($29)

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