It started when Via Triozzi opened on Lower Greenville in August with a selection of all-natural, biodynamic, and organic (henceforth referred to by the catchall term natural) wines from small-scale Italian producers. The phenomenon deepened as Oddfellows in Bishop Arts announced its wine list had gone natural. Petra and the Beast debuted a wine list in its new Lakewood location with numerous natural options, Fond opened downtown with only natural wines, and the forthcoming Saint Valentine bar in East Dallas will feature naturals, too.
Suddenly, natural wines are everywhere. Inquiring about them from the by-the-glass list at Mister Charles sends a waiter searching for an off-list option. Asking at Trova Wine + Market yields an entire list of options. And the team at Barcelona Wine Bar, which won Best Organic Wine List in North America from World of Wine this year, attests to an uptick in Dallasites requesting natural wines.
While Barcelona and Fond make sure diners know about the natural wines on their menus, nowhere else in town is marketing it. All the other places offering it aren’t doing it as part of a trend or even making it a selling point. Natural wine is an open secret, and once you start looking for it, you’ll notice it’s all over Dallas right now.
Natural wine broadly encompasses organic and biodynamic wines, which often use sustainable growing and low-intervention production methods. While organic has specific requirements to qualify for that certification, natural can be a loose term. Using organic grapes, not futzing with the fermentation process by adding or removing ingredients, not filtering the wine, and not adding sulfites are all at the winemaker’s discretion. That’s why it’s important for restaurants serving natural wine to get the backstory of the vineyards to understand how each wine is produced.
“For a long time, natural wines were grouped into this bucket where they were all about crazy labels and being hipster wines that were... acidic, austere, and nerdy,” says Emily Nevin-Giannini, Barcelona’s beverage director. “Now, they’ve matured, and maybe that’s corresponding with the scene in Dallas getting on board.”
For Via Triozzi owner Leigh Hutchinson, and Leslie Brenner, who worked with her as a consultant to develop the menu, one concern was having a full-bodied red, a popular order for Dallas wine drinkers. Having lived in Italy where she participated in grape harvests, Hutchinson learned a lot about small-vineyard natural wines, of which Italy is at the forefront. Hutchinson knew she wanted an all-Italian wine list to go in her Italian restaurant. Cultivating the right list required connecting with niche vendors.
“When I was living in Italy, I was seeking out small producers and family-owned farms whose products I wanted to import,” Hutchinson says. “Some of the wine that I serve is from people I got to know after hopping on a train one day and ending up in the middle of nowhere... I don’t really want a Napa cab. Let’s focus on the mom-and-pops we can support.”
Emily Mitchell, the wine specialist at Oddfellows, was hired specifically to craft a natural wine list for the restaurant. Its owners had seen the direction of the neighborhood, Bishop Arts, skewing younger, with an influx of people from cities where natural wine was already trending. While the menu doesn’t call out its wines as natural, Mitchell tells Eater Dallas, “I try to make [natural wines] approachable broadly, with cheeky descriptions that are more about a feeling than an academic listing of region, winemaker, and vintage.” Mitchell was surprised to get away with some, like calling one of the sparkling wines “like a masc lesbian with an intriguing perfume,” but that drinking wine is about putting a finger on what mood it puts you into and who it reminds you of — being present in the experience.
The list at Oddfellows includes wines from all over the world, including a bold red by Teliani, a Georgian grower. (Georgia lies at the intersection of Europe and Asia where winemaking is an 8,000-year-old tradition.) The restaurant also carries a sparkling skin-contact white wine — better known as an orange wine — in a can by All Hours that is funky and bold. And then there’s a bright sauvignon blanc by Kumusha Wines, owned by a Zimbabwean sommelier in South Africa.
That’s the fun and nerdy part about natural wines — because so many of the vineyards are small, they have great stories. At Via Triozzi, Hutchinson and Brenner tell Eater Dallas about Sul Vulcano, a wine from Etna Bianco with an amazing label featuring a woman rising from a volcano. It’s a woman-owned, off-the-grid vineyard where grapes are organically raised in the ash of Mount Etna. Recycled air underground keeps the caverns where the wine is stored cool. “And [the region has] had a moment since season 2 of White Lotus,” Hutchinson notes with a laugh. Bright and clear with notes of peach, Sul Vulcano is expressive, as wine from the region is known to be.
The list of natural wines at Barcelona takes up nearly half the menu. While heavy on Spanish wines, its natural selections also come from Lebanon, France, and more. One that’s particularly eye-grabbing is the Los Conejos Malditos line from Más Que Vinos in Toledo. The label, with drawings of rabbits in blindfolds who are in various stages of potential execution, tells a story of how the vineyard gets infested with wild rabbits. Instead of being removed, the rabbits are allowed to run free in this low-intervention, organic setting. What’s left over from the old vines is harvested to make this skin-contact white wine, which is minerally with notes of apricot and melon, and just the right amount of whimsy.
For Barcelona, which has 21 locations in the U.S., crafting a wine list means finding vineyards that can sustain orders big enough for all its wine bars — a substantial ask in the natural wine world. “I’ve had hard conversations with producers where they need to raise their price because it was a tough harvest and we buy essentially all their product,” Nevin-Giannini says. “It requires work and deep relationships on our side and the supplier side to logistically make wines like that work.”
For Fond owners and chefs Jennie Kelley and Brandon Moore, advertising the natural wine menu is important. “It’s about education,” Kelley says. “Maybe people in Dallas just want a cab and a steak. That’s great. We’re going to give you a natural cab franc that we know everything about, and you’re going to like it just as much.”
When looking for natural wine, you might not see it denoted on Dallas menus. But ask about it anyway, and get the backstory. The kind of people who love wine will want to give it to you.