“Natural wine is a spectrum,” says Sarah Goler, wine director at Tannat Market & Tavern in Inwood. “There is no single definition. That’s really important to discuss with people. I like a lot of funky stuff, but I also like beautiful clean wines that are very alive.” While there are certifications out there for biodynamic, organic, regenerative organic, and sustainable wines, the nuances can be tricky to navigate and understand.
At Tannat, Goler hopes to make guests feel at home and invite wine lovers to try something new. She’s creating a space to ask questions and spark discussions about the winemakers behind the bottles, as well as issues in winemaking like ethical labor and how vintners care for their land.
“I try to have no wines on our list from places people recognize, or grapes that people recognize,” Goler says. “Once you put on Sauvignon blanc, if that’s the only grape that people recognize from the white section, that’s going to be all that you sell. We stick to obscure varietals and regions, and this helps create a discussion about the kind of wine somebody would like to drink and then you can help them find what they would like most.”
Goler proposed to her husband, Will Emery, just eight days after meeting him, bonding over their shared passion for food and wine, and their dream of opening a small restaurant, wine bar, and vineyard together. They’re still working on the vineyard part, but Tannat, which opened in 2017, is the only natural wine bar in Manhattan north of 102nd Street.
At Tannat, Goler also showcases bottles made by women, LGBTQ+, and people of color—nearly 45 percent of wines at Tannat are made by women winemakers, with the ultimate goal of 50/50 representation. Goler has a PhD in condensed matter physics, but her experience in the academic hard science world was not so female-friendly. The world of wine hasn’t been much more historically receptive to women either. Goler believes she needs to be the change she wishes to see in the industry.
“If we don’t make the change on a small scale, it’s not going to happen at all,” she says. “If we want women to be working in wine, then we have to buy their wine.”
Pre-Covid, Goler was going to be assistant winemaker for the 2020 harvest for Carrie Sumner at Domaine des Enfants in Southwestern France. She’s still hoping to get there next year, and this autumn, Goler will be working her first wine harvest in North Fork with winemaker Lilia Perez at RGNY Wines. “I’m going to make one barrel of skin-contact gewürztraminer,” Goler says. “And Lilia said I can help with all of her wines.” The dream of making her own natural, sustainable wine is still very much alive.
In the meantime, Goler keeps an eye out for other spots serving natural wines like the kinds she offers at Tannat and beyond. Here’s a rundown of her favorite natural wine bars in New York City.
“This is the place to check out if you are interested in skin-contact wines from lesser-known places and rare grapes,” Goler says. “The team is super fun and friendly without any pretentiousness and will let you try anything. Plus, all the food is made in-house and right in front of you.”
Goler recommends Ruffian for date night and to share a selection of small plates. For more of a full-service restaurant feel with a wine list hailing from northern Italy and eastern Europe, Goler also recommends Ruffian’s sister restaurant Kindred right around the corner.
“Ten Bells is iconic,” Goler says. “It has an old-school New York vibe with a tin ceiling and very knowledgeable bartenders. I love that you can tell them what you like or don’t like, and they will taste you on anything, no matter how long it takes to find a glass of something you will love.”
Goler suggests sitting at the bar to chat up the bartenders and ordering a dozen oysters to pair with your wine. The welcoming experience is one that Goler aims to emulate at Tannat. “It’s totally okay to not know anything, and they were so forthcoming even when I was new to wine.”
The list at this Upper West Side tapas and wine bar is mostly Spanish, and Goler loves how they serve wine by small and midsize carafes. She says the carafes are perfect for sharing with friends and make it easy to create your own flight of wines.
“It’s super cute inside too,” she says. “The decor is welcoming and reminds me of a small bistro with lots of hustle and bustle. They have a library ladder, and all of the tables are high-tops. Somehow sitting on a tall chair just changes the perspective of the space and makes it feel more casual.”
This American restaurant in Harlem has an extensive wine list, and like Tannat, it’s run by a husband-and-wife team. The wines are from all over the world with a focus on Spain and South America, and the list is curated by Gabriela Davogustto, who Goler says has an incredible palate. “You can find well-known producers as well as tiny farmers,” she says.
Gabriela’s husband Gustavo oversees the kitchen. “I’d recommend going in with friends and having all the appetizers,” she says. “The menu is so good, and I always go for their steak tartare with celery root chips.”
An extensive orange wine section paired with Serbian home cooking makes this East Village restaurant stand out. Goler says the wine list is well-priced, with a focus on Italy and Eastern Europe.
“It feels like having a grandmother cook for you,” she says. “The focus is on the food, so to have such an extensive selection of orange wines as well is an unexpected surprise. The orange wines work so well with the food because they have nice acidity and tannic structure that can stand up to the heartier flavors in the dishes that they make.”
Goler says that the wine list at Kafana is really inexpensive compared to what the same wines cost at other places around the city. This is also the first place that Goler tried Movia orange wines from Slovenia, which have since become one of her favorites.
Coffee shop by day and wine bar at night, Goler says that Judy’s is a neighborhood staple in Sunset Park.
“It has that neighborhood vibe,” she says. “From caffeine to booze, how can you go wrong?” There’s beer and sake too, and an ever-changing selection of natural wines spanning from elegant to wild and strange at totally affordable prices. “They’ve been amazing allies throughout this time,” Goler says. “Plus, you are encouraged to bring food from all the local joints nearby, which is a neat feature.” She recommends Don Pepe for Mexican food and empanadas, and Salvadorian food next door at Castillo. “The tamale guy parked on the corner every night is awesome too.”