By Grace Ma
Sep 24, 2021
WHEN NATURAL WINE FIRST APPEARED in the Singapore dining scene, the typical musky, cloudy profiles were often off-putting to even the most adventurous drinkers. Fast-forward several years, and F&B outlets spotlighting them are now a dime a dozen, from pizzerias and wine bars to Michelin-starred restaurants. Among the latest offerings: a natural-wines pairing lunch at Michelin-starred Cantonese restaurant Summer Pavilion, and new wine bistro Club Street Wine Room’s Sunday brunch that comes with free-flow pétillant naturel (naturally sparkling wines).
The terms “natural,” “organic,” “minimal intervention” and “biodynamic” can be befuddling (oh, add “lo-fi” too for the cool factor). But they really all refer to a general “as-is” and traditional approach towards the growth and processing of grapes and the vineyard environment. We at Travel+Leisure Southeast Asia are such fans that we’re hosting an all-natural wine tasting on October 2 for imbibers in Singapore, Bangkok and KL — join us if you can!
Natural wines refer to a minimal intervention approach with minimal use of sulphur, explains Ronald Kamiyama, managing partner and sommelier for The Cicheti Group, which runs a chain of rustic Italian restaurants. “Biodynamic wines focus on the treatment and biodiversity of the land while concentrating on the improvement and upkeep of a vineyard’s health.”
On the other hand, organic wines are made from organically grown fruits with no chemicals and pesticides added for better crop yield, says Eduardo Bayo, the resident natural wine expert for Drunken Farmer and The Butcher’s Wife bistros. “These techniques only have to apply to the grapes and not necessarily to the winemaking process. Some will also use selected yeast instead of native ones and the tolerated sulfite quantities are higher.”
With increasing education, eco-consciousness and penchant for artisanal growers, natural wines are becoming the new darlings in beverage choices. What’s not to love when sips buck convention and come wrapped in heart-warming stories of perseverance, tradition and family love. Get started at these advocates.
Courtesy of Bar Cicheti (2)
The pasta and wine bar has all the nonna feels in its handmade pastas and small plates (the 10-hour braised beef cheek agnolotti, squid ink tagliolini and fried sage leaves are winners), and the scent of small grower sweat in its wine library. Partner and sommelier Ronald Kamiyama chooses his 70-odd labels by palate, not points. Your poison could be a smoky-fruity Benje Blanco by a collective of young Spanish winemakers reviving old vineyards in the Canary Islands or zippy unfiltered pet-nats from France.
Butcher’s Wife and The Drunken Farmer
Gluten-free, Brazilian-inspired all-day diner Butcher’s Wife and café-by-day-sourdough haven-by-night The Drunken Farmer (which recently made our list of the top reasons we can’t wait to travel abroad) have one thing in common—they are Spa Esprit Group’s most notable natural wine hangouts with comforting nosh to boot. There are more than 100 exclusive labels that can be ordered by the bottle or the glass, with profiles ranging from aromatic florals to earthy dynamites, and from pioneering biodynamic champagnes to small-town Spanish cava. Flights are also available.
Courtesy of Chooby Pizza (2)
Naturally leavened Naples-style pies with natural wine from Italy take the podium in this Singapore neighborhood pizzeria that opens only three times a week for dinner. Founder Mason Lim uses wild yeast to create light, soft and aerated doughs with more complex flavors. Striking wine labels include indigenous expressions such as a Sicilian Frank Cornelissen from the volcanic soils of Mount Etna and a Damiano Ciolli Silene Cesanese Superiore DOC 2019 made with a Cesanese grape varietal commonly used in ancient Roman winemaking.
Le Bon Funk
Another popular favorite in Singapore, the three-year-old natural-wine restaurant located in the trendy Club Street hood pokes fun at the stereotypical misconception of funky profiles. It is constantly updating its list of labels, which showcase diverse styles, unique terroirs and lesser-known vinification methods. Chef-owner Keirin Buck works with head sommelier Jos Kjer to match fine-casual fare such as house-cured charcuterie, beef tongue sandwiches and whole heritage chickens with vibrant, often family-owned discoveries such as a juicy and aromatic Alsatian orange by a young winemaker.
If you’re looking for the most diverse array of natural wine in Singapore, Rebel Rebel might be your spot. Its moniker attests to its non-conventional streak, so does its 200-plus-label trove of bold terroir-driven selections produced in small quantities. There’re accessible and mid-range bottles as well as unicorns by elusive winemakers such as Eishi Okamoto’s Beau Paysage Tsugane “a hum” skin-contact white wine, which is produced in Japan’s Yamanashi valley using organic farming methods despite the country’s complicated climate.
Acknowledged as the OG of natural wine spots in Singapore, four-year-old RVLT — short for revolution — still has a loyal following that digs its great food and natural wines week after week. The wine list is a wall of empty bottles with labels catering to a variety of tastes. “We want everyone who comes to have an open mind, discover something different and enjoy what they like,” says co-founder Ian Lim. Their new menu is rooted in a slow-fermenting sourdough and informed by Asian influences. Think kangaroo tartare dry-aged in-house and a French sole fillet served in a classic sauce Vierge and accented with honey-fermented lemongrass, chili and paprika.
You have to hand it to the progressive team at this beloved Michelin-starred Cantonese restaurant in The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore (named one of the top 5 hotels in Singapore) for creating an accessible pairing menu that even the uninitiated can enjoy. Summer Pavilion’s five-course lunch pairs four labels with such dishes as dim sum, smoked farm chicken and Hokkien-style fried rice. The journey is pleasant and meaningful: a friendly and crisp Austrian beauty opens the meal followed by a Chilean gem with a beguiling nose of pears and peaches and an unusual Austrian orange wine made in the style of a red. The closing 2019 Australian Ochota Barrels red may well be the last of its batch after the passing of its founder last year. “We wanted the wines to be unique and clean tasting for our guests to have a memorable experience,” says the hotel’s beverage manager Konstantin Nemolochnyi. “We also want to share the stories of these wine producers.” They’re juicy tales, indeed.
If this has you thirsting for more info directly from three organic and biodynamic winemakers from around the world, join the Travel+Leisure Southeast Asia All-Natural Blind Wine Tasting on October 2.