The natural wine movement has been fermenting along nationally — and controversially — for quite some time. But, true to Pennsylvania’s slow ways with alcohol trends, it is picking up steam in Philadelphia only recently. Early promoters such as Vedge, a.kitchen, Kensington Quarters, Tria, Martha, and Maison 208 have been working for years to educate the public about these wines. But now we’re starting to see a number of new places dedicated to serving these wines exclusively. Pizzeria Beddia is the latest high-profile example, with at least two dozen good examples.
One issue is that many people simply don’t agree on how to define “natural.” Beddia’s general manager, Heather Lesher, says they focus on wines made by small producers that essentially minimize intervention at every step of the process, from the organic or biodynamic farming in the vineyard (avoiding pesticides, among other things), to using indigenous yeast from the fruit, cellar, and air (as opposed to commercial yeast) and avoiding the many chemical additives commonly used in conventional production to stabilize or alter wines. In the wrong vintner hands, that can lead to some off-putting results, and early in the trend, the funk factor of many bottles turned off many who simply labeled the whole movement flawed.
But progress has clearly been made, and diligent wine gatekeepers like Beddia and Lesher, who at a minimum demand that “we still want the wines to be good,” have assembled a compelling list that showcases a worldwide variety of personalities, character, and flexibility that match well with the menu, with very fair double-cost markups to encourage exploration. Wines like Le Dos d’Chat Trousseau from coveted Domaine de Saint Pierre ($14 glass/$62 bottle) channel a Côtes du Jura earthiness that pairs perfectly with a mushroom pizza. The barbera-bonarda blend from La Stoppa ($13/$58) is an Emilia Romagna dark fruit bomb edged with rustic spice. Among the most refreshing options comes from a name with which some Philadelphians might be familiar: Maloof. The orange wine pouring on draft for an incredibly reasonable $11 comes from the Oregon HQ of Bee and Ross Maloof. (He was the beverage director of the Vedge restaurant group; she was an aerospace engineer.) It’s a Willamette Valley pinot gris that gets its salmon-pink hue from 18 days of extended skin contact, and that delivers a nervy, citrusy quenchability that works to perfection with one of Beddia’s creamy white pies with peppery seasonal greens. As Philly’s natural wine scene finally rounds the bend into a promising stretch, it seems only fitting that one of my new favorites comes from a winemaker that completes the circle. — Craig LaBan