There has never been a better time to find interesting wines in Pennsylvania! Natural wine, sometimes called “real wine” or “low-intervention wine,” is to mass-produced wine (you know the stuff we’re talking about) what artisan cheese is to pre-wrapped, neon-orange cheese slices. These natural wines are agricultural products made by small family businesses and independent producers, who treat their land, soil and vines with respect and care, and who refuse to add a bunch of synthetic or intrusive ingredients to manipulate their wines. Do you know how much stuff can make its way into wine besides grapes and yeast? Sugars, dyes, stabilizers, animal products, and so many other things can be added that don’t legally have to be listed on the label.
There isn’t one standard or legal definition for what natural wine is, but it is generally agreed that it refers to wines that are made with grapes and the native, wild yeasts on their skins and stems and in the air. The land is often farmed without artificial irrigation (“dry farmed”), the grapes are picked by hand, and the wines are unfined and unfiltered, with little-to-no added sulfites (all wine contains naturally occurring sulfites). Altogether, it’s a lo-fi way of making wine, one that calls on ancestral methods more than industrial technology, and, from our experiences, natural wines provide vibrant, vivid, sometimes wild flavors that make each glass an adventure.
There are natural wines from all over the world in pretty much every style you can imagine, and thanks to the slight relaxation of PA’s “Blue Laws” there are a growing number of places in the state serving and selling them!
Here’s where to find natural wine in Pennsylvania:
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Not so long ago, the only places you were able to buy bottles of wine to-go were from Fine Wine & Good Spirits shops, also known as state stores. The Wine Expanded Permit that the PLCB released a few years ago allowed bars, restaurants and grocery stores to begin selling wine, as well. This change has sparked a whole new wave of bottle shops, many of which are tucked into existing restaurants with strong natural wine programs, each with their own aesthetic and personality.
In Philly you’ll find perhaps the largest concentration of bottle shops featuring natural wine. DiBruno Bros. has three bottle shops, two of which are part of its bustling gourmet markets, and its newest, in the Italian Market, is more of a freestanding situation. Nearby in Head House Square, Bloomsday Cafe is a wine bar with an in-house baking program, small plates and a deep wine list. In a small corner of the restaurant is its “Fancy Wine Shop,” a curated selection of natural wines to take home.
In North Philly, Fishtown Social refers to itself as “Fishtown’s OG spot for natural wine.” In a little side room off of its small but lively bar with daily raw oyster plates, find a micro-wine shop with all kinds of cool bottles featuring plenty of info about what’s inside. A few blocks away, Bottle Bar East has been steadily growing its selection of natural wines, along with a number of more inexpensive conventional wines. Further northeast, Tinys Bottle Shop is a bottle shop behind the Lunar Inn, featuring over 100 natural wines, as well as beer and cider.
The Philadelphia suburbs are part of this movement, too. With two locations in Delaware County (Swarthmore and Media) 320 Market & Café was one of the first spots in the whole region to offer natural wines to-go. High-end, coveted producers sit alongside more affordable weeknight bottles, with a few local labels, like Galen Glen, in the mix as well.
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In the charming downtown of Wayne, Teresa’s Cafe and the adjacent Teresa’s Next Door both pour plenty of natural wines by the glass and by the bottle. Inside Teresa’s, there are some classy glassed retail cabinets with a rotating selection of over 200 biodynamic and organic wines for sale to carry out.
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We are thrilled to share with you that ‘The Bottle Shop at LUCA’ is officially open! . The sole purpose of the shop is to bring wine to the people. We have focused on wines that are made with integrity and that will bring smiles to people’s faces. . At the end of the day, enjoying wine is about having fun and drinking what makes you happy. . We can’t wait to share this collection of deliciousness with you… #wineforthepeople . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . #wine #bottleshop #bottleshopatluca #fun #naturalwine #organicwine #organics #drinknow #drinkatluca
Lancaster City is also home to a small natural wine-focused bottle shop, which is located in the entryway to Luca. The Bottle Shop at Luca is one of the only places (if not the only) in the area where you can pick up bottles of natural wine to take home. The selection, which isn’t huge but offers plenty of options, is curated by Chef Taylor Mason himself.
PLCB Fine Wine & Good Spirits
Though we can’t promise that you can roll into any state store and find natural wine, there are a few that are known for offering at least a few. They’re not often labeled as such, and are mixed in with the conventional selection, so we suggest bringing a phone along so you can search for more info about any bottles that happen to catch your eye.
Perhaps the best-known Fine Wine & Good Spirits shop for natural wine is the location at 12th & Chestnut Streets in Philadelphia. Last year when we went on a shopping trip there with Chloe Grigri of The Good King Tavern and Le Caveau (more on those below), she was able to point out a number of interesting natural wines from the shelves without much digging. It is a sort of-secret in the local wine community that the wine buyer Max Gottesfeld knows the shop’s more esoteric offerings inside and and out and is always ready to give recommendations.
The Fine Wine & Good Spirits shop on 20th & Market in Philadelphia is also known to have some interesting and unusual wines mixed in with the standard ones, as is the state store in Ardmore on Greenfield Avenue. The state store on Centre St. in Pittsburgh’s Shadyside neighborhood is the longtime record holder for selling the most “luxury wine” in PA, meaning wines that aren’t available at regular, non-premium PLCB stores. Though by no means are all “luxury wines” natural wines, there are plenty of natural wines in the mix — according to an article in the Pittsburgh Gazette, word has it that the shop is the local favorite of Bar Marco‘s sommelier, Dominic Fiore.
While it’s typically always been easier to find natural wine on restaurant wine lists than in retail shops, there are more and more casual bars and restaurants starting to build their entire lists around the category. In Philadelphia’s Queen Village neighborhood, The Good King Tavern and the casual, Loire Valley-inspired Le Caveau dig deep into the wines of France, with plenty of natural options, both elegant and out-there. At Vedge (arguably the best vegan restaurant in the state), the wine list leans heavily natty, with a few skin contact whites, Lambrusco and fun bubbles to shake up the list. In Kensington, Martha veers much more toward the unusual and unexpected, with an unwavering commitment to local wines. In South Philly, Fountain Porter, a very chill neighborhood bar known for a great draft list and $5 burgers, also offers a rotating list of natural wine pours at budget-friendly prices.
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Further up north, 403 Broad in Milford compliments its scratch-made pasta and perfect pizzas with a fresh, natural-leaning wine list full of energetic, vibrant choices. There are very reasonably priced bottle and glass pours from all over the world and representing a number of different styles. In the Lehigh Valley, the beautiful and refined Bolete‘s by the bottle wine list feels very “fine dining” with lots of pricey options. There are some natural gems sprinkled in there, so don’t be afraid to ask your server to guide you to something that feels right.
In Pittsburgh, natural wine lovers know to head to Bar Marco in the Strip District, where its James Beard Award-nominated beverage program does not disappoint. The all-natural by the glass wine list may only have a few options in each category, each one is a thoughtful, exciting choice. In Upper Lawrenceville, Allegheny Wine Mixer has a large and eclectic menu of over 40 wines by the glass, with some natural options sprinkled in. Smallman Galley, The Vandal and Whitfield at The Ace Hotel are all solid bets for a least a few cool natural pours on offer.
By no means is this a fully comprehensive list of where to find natural wine in Pennsylvania, but we hope it sends you off on some exciting wine-buying jaunts! Let us know what wonderful natural wines you’ve discovered lately, in the comments here or on the PA Eats Facebook page.
Ed. note: The author of this story, Emily Kovach, is a partner in Tinys Bottle Shop in Philadelphia.
- Feature & Tami Frappato photos: Emily Kovach