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3 Natural Sparkling Wines That Refresh (and Inspire)

Wine educator Whitney Pope on the wines that shaped her career — and what she's drinking now

Janice Williams By July 22, 2021
photo illustration of Whitney Pope
Photo illustration by Allison Kahler.

Whitney Pope had no idea the wine she enjoyed so much was considered natural wine until she read a Bon Appétit profile about sommelier and industry veteran, Lee Campbell, in 2014. 

Throughout the article, Campbell sang the praises of natural wines and the people that drank them. Pope was excited to recognize varieties and bottles she regularly kept on hand, and she was even more thrilled to see another Black woman mentioning them. After sending a spontaneous email to Lee and then meeting her for a glass, Pope officially became a natural wine convert. 

“We were supposed to meet for one drink. We ended up spending, like, two or three hours together. It was awesome,” Pope says. “It was through talking to her and seeing the wines she was having and talking about them that I finally made the connection of like, oh, this is natural wine. This was the wine I was gravitating towards, and I didn’t have the language to describe it.”

Flash forward to Pope taking wine more seriously and receiving Wine and Spirits Education Trust accreditation; she now preaches the gospel of natural wine through her own consulting and virtual tasting service, Whit & Wine. Except she isn’t just spreading the message of natural wine by promoting funky bottles of juice made with barely-touched grapes. For Pope, it’s much deeper than that. 

“I’m fascinated by the history and the evolution of natural wine, how it spread throughout Europe, and how it picked up during the slow food movement in the early ’90s. Then you have people like Alice Feiring talking about it, and Amy Atwood and Jenny and François importing and distributing it in stores,” Pope says. 

Beyond history, Pope hopes to help people better understand what natural wine involves. According to Pope, natural wine practices can include wines made by following low intervention practices, organic and biodynamically farmed vineyards, hand harvesting, and so on.

“There are a lot of misconceptions around natural wine. You know, people like to talk smack about whether it smells funky, or it tastes weird, and they stray away from it. But there are good natural wines,” she says.

3 wines worth trying: 

Note: Bottle prices may vary slightly from state to state.

bottle of Two Shepherds Natty Pets Yolo County Picpoul 2020

Two Shepherds Natty Pets Yolo County Picpoul 2020 ($11)

“I recently tasted the 2020 Natty Pets from Two Shepherds and was blown away by this canned sparkler,” Pope says of the sparkling white wine, named in celebration of all of the Two Shepherds pets. Comprised of 100% Picpoul, 80% of the wine is fermented in stainless steel, while the other 20% spends 12 days on skin contact. “This is a complex and fun Picpoul for anyone searching for a bright, dry, and zippy sparkler to throw in their bag for a beach day or picnic,” says Pope. 

bottle of Ca’dei Zago Col Fondo Valdobbiadene Prosecco

Ca’dei Zago Col Fondo Valdobbiadene Prosecco ($20)

For five generations, the Zago family has produced this wine in Valdobbiadene, Italy. A favorite of natural wine lovers, the Glera grapes used for Col Fondo are grown in biodynamic vineyards and are hand-harvested. The secondary fermentation occurs in the same bottle rather than taking place in a tank, as it does with the Charmat method that’s normally used for Prosecco. “Col Fondo means with sediments, in Italian, so the final wine is not disgorged, and there is no added sugar to finish the wine. The result is lively and more complex than your typical Prosecco,” says Pope. 

bottle of Laherte Frères Rose De Meunier Extra Brut NV

Laherte Frères Rose De Meunier Extra Brut NV ($58)

Pope says the best word to describe this Pinot Meunier Champagne by Laherte Frères is luminous. Biodynamically farmed, the grapes are vinified using three methods. Sixty percent of the grapes spend a short amount of time in contact with the skins — a method referred to as direct pressing — while 30% of the wine undergoes a technique called maceration, during which grape juice is cold-soaked in the crushed skins, seeds, and stalks of the grape. The last 10% is left on the skins to achieve the stunning red color and profile. “Dry and incredibly balanced, this stunning cuvée delivers tart cranberry, light toast, and citrus,” says Pope.