Why Filipinos Should Embrace the Natural Wine Style

Natural wine, a term without a standard definition, often refers to wines made with minimal intervention.

The question of what drink best pairs with Filipino food and climate was long ago settled by Nick Joaquin, who—boycotts of Marcos crony-businesses notwithstanding—could often be found swigging a bottle of San Miguel Pale Pilsen. SMB Pale is crisp, slightly sweet, and enhances deep-fried pork.

The ubiquity of a pambansang beer that works and the fact that we are not a grape-growing country makes the question of what wine to pair with our food less than urgent. Or even elitist. Besides, leading Pinoy sommeliers seem to have concluded that off-dry Rieslings often do the trick (I agree because Rieslings mimic the qualities of SMB).

I would, however, like to consider a possible pairing trend and see what we can learn from it. Recently, more restaurants are pairing Filipino food with natural wine. Why this works may tell us something about the kinds of wines best paired with dishes like lechon or pancit. These wines include, but are not limited to, natural wine. They encompass a style and flavor profile that transcend wines that are cloudy, have weird colors, and are packaged like indie rock album covers (usually tells for “natty”). 

Two of the buzziest Filipino restaurants in LA—Silverlake’s Spoon and Pork and Chinatown’s Lasita—don’t just specialize in sisig, but also natural wine. At Lasita, wines by the glass are mostly skin-contact whites (orange wines) and light, chillable reds. And like most natural wine bars, the selection leans on the Loire Valley and Beaujolais.


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Something similar may be happening in Manila, at least on the high end. Toyo Eatery has long had a few natural wines on its list. And my current favorite Manila restaurant, Metiz, has completely leaned into natty. Unfortunately, on my last trip to Metiz in July, they did not serve anything by the glass, likely due to low demand. I also suspect their capacity to select wines to pair with their food was hamstrung by their almost exclusive reliance on the portfolio of the natural wine importer Bombvinos—no fault of their own since there are no other importers like Bombvinos. Despite these struggles, the wine list made me love Metiz even more.

The Bombvinos website says natural wines are “Filipino-friendly” because they are “less tannic and easy to drink” and because wines that “are lighter and lower in alcohol content” make them ideal for tropical weather. I couldn’t agree more. And I’m happy that Bombvinos is on a quest to lighten the palates of Filipino wine drinkers. They remind me of the pioneers of Filipino craft coffee, who have helped many of us transition from the burnt-tire notes of mass-produced Barako to the clarity of lighter roasts from Bukidnon and Benguet.

I hope this is an auspicious start for the natural movement in the Philippines. If the rapid growth of craft coffee or craft beer is any indication, we might not have to wait 10 years to get more natural wine. In the meantime, however, natural wine can be difficult to find in the Philippines, and sometimes expensive.

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The good news is that the style of wine that Bombvinos advocates is not exclusive to natural wine. Natural wine, a term without a standard definition, often refers to wines made with minimal intervention. In the vineyard, that usually means organic and sustainable farming practices. In the winery, that could mean using native yeasts, not fining or filtering, and using minimal to no sulfur. Theoretically, the heaviest, oakiest Napa Cabernet or most buttery Chardonnay could be made this way. Conversely, lighter wines can be made by industrial wineries. Reducing alcohol content just entails picking grapes early or planting in cold places, and having low tannins entails using thin-skinned grapes like Pinot Noir. Restrained wines are therefore not exclusive to natural wine, but only associated with it.

The move toward more restraint has certainly been aided by natural wine, but it’s part of a larger story. It began, as with most trends, as a form of backlash. This backlash was against the alcoholic, tannic and fruity wines that received high scores from the Wine Advocate’s Robert Parker—the most influential wine critic of the boomer generation. Parker, a wealthy lawyer with Dionysian proclivities, was the perfect critic for the boom years of the 1990s—the age of neoliberal excess. The neoliberal period in economic policy coincided with the era of what wine critic Jon Bonne calls “big flavor” in wine. During this time, big flavor wines (Bordeaux and Napa cabernets) became more expensive, cheaper wines imitated the expensive ones through chemical manipulation, and we all blew out our palates.


Big flavor is still a thing in the Philippines. Obnoxious, overpriced Bordeaux blends are still a mainstay in expensive groceries and even trendy Makati wine bars. Yet, if the increasing number of Pinot Noir drinkers is an indication, there is also a demand for subtlety. The problem with Pinot Noir, however, is that it is a fidgety grape and therefore expensive to produce, making it difficult to find good value. So what should Pinoys who want to move beyond big flavor drink?

Natural wine is surely a place to start, and I personally can’t wait to drink through Bombvinos catalog. Short of patronizing one importer, however, there are more ways than you think of drinking natural or natural style wines (for lack of a better term) in the Philippines.

Sometimes natural wines are hiding in plain sight. Marcel Lapierre, for example, is considered one of the fathers of natural wine, and his classic Morgon can still be found in certain Makati wine stores. And Jean-Paul Brun’s (another legend of natural wine) own Morgon can be bought from Origine for around P2,000. These wines are not cheap, but they are some of the world’s finest expressions of the Gamay grape. Two thousand bucks will not even get you close to top-tier Pinot Noirs (let alone Napa Cabs or Bordeaux), and those probably wouldn’t even work as well with a lechon.

Speaking of Gamay, you don’t even need to splurge on Cru Beaujolais nor be in Makati to get good quality. When I’m in QC, I order Dominique Piron’s cheaper Beaujolais-Villages from Boozy, and drink it with something like inasal. It’s still not cheap, but it’s terrific value. I’m also not sure if it’s natural wine, but it’s not made in a wine lab. And it’s consistent with the dominant natural wine style: fresh, acidic, and drinkable. There are more wines like this in Manila than you think.

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And we’ve just been talking about the reds. On the rosé front, disparate critics—from Robert Parker himself to Jancis Robinson (in many ways, an anti-Parker) to Chez Panisse’s Alice Waters—have declared Domaine Tempier’s Bandol to be their favorite, and Manileños can drink it as the occasion requires (quite pricey). On less special occasions, we should just be drinking fresher, light pink rosés. It is, after all, rosé weather in the Philippines.


As for whites, apart from the abovementioned off-dry Rieslings, there’s a lot to enjoy. Natural wine fans love the Melon de Bourgogne grape, because of, you guessed it, its lightness and acidity. At a pinch, I’ll drink an inexpensive run-of-the-mill Muscadet (the appellation most famous for Melon) from either Santi’s or Terry’s. Their Muscadets are not mind-blowing and not natural, but they will elevate your grilled panga ng tuna or your next trip to a dampa.

But perhaps what most excites me about the white wines in Manila is the increased availability of Basque Txakolina. Like Muscadet, Txakolina is bright, saline, and works well with seafood, but its slight fizz makes it a bit more fun. Since we’re experiencing a Spanish food renaissance in Manila, I’m hoping we get more Txakolina. 

One day I hope to drink natural wine versions of Muscadet and Txakolina in the Philippines. I also look forward to wines made from obscure grapes like Pinneau d’Aunnis or Nerello Mascalese, which natural winemakers continue to highlight. As I mentioned, I think that time is coming soon. In the meantime, there are wines in the Philippines that complement Nick Joaquin’s SMB Pale.

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Lisandro Claudio
Lisandro E. Claudio (@leloyclaudio on Twitter) is an Associate Professor at the Department of History, De La Salle University.
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