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Neukölln, naturally

Still drinking craft beer? Get with the times! The natural wine craze hits Berlin’s most hipster of hoods with Wild Things on Weserstraße and Jaja on Weichselstraße.

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Photo by Viktor Richardsson

Still drinking craft beer? Get with the times! The natural wine craze hits Berlin’s most hipster of hoods.

Can wine ever be edgy? And does it need to be? By now we’ve accepted that you can’t order a beer in Neukölln anymore without some Tattoo McBeardy face getting up in your grill about alcohol content and bitterness units, but we thought wine connoisseurship was still the realm of the wannabe-sophisticate Neuberliner.

Ah, but then came natural wine. Made from organically grown grapes by small producers, minimally filtered, additive-free and definitely an acquired taste, it was ripe for co-option by the hipster brigade. At first confined to the Mitte aristocracy, like biodynamic wine bar Maxim, it’s recently spread south, where restaurant and bar owners have started spouting words like “raw”, “naked” and “balls” in an attempt to sexify their fermented grape juice. At Wild Things on Weserstraße, a colourful mural in the otherwise fashionably stripped back room says “Fuck sulfites”. Take that, naturally occurring ionic compounds!

The moneyed bad-boy vibe shouldn’t come as a surprise: this is, after all, a venture from the owners of Industry Standard, that open-kitchened bastion of Sonnenallee gentrification. Always eager to hop on the latest gastro-craze, they’ve hired French sommelier Sebastian Saris to round up some 120 wines, most from small producers in France, all with “balls”. And all rather pricey, running €5/0.15L and up. Is it worth it? If you’re not already on the natural wine bandwagon, be warned: this isn’t the kind of stuff you sip mindlessly over Gilmore Girls. Some of Saris’ offerings, like the “Laterne Rouge” red from Languedoc estate Clos Fantine (€6), are deeply funky in an appealing way; others, most of the whites actually, struck us as just unpleasantly sour, like juice gone off. We can say that the “Grigri” rosé from producer Paul Reder won us over.

The bar snacks are what you might expect from a place with a black-hoofed leg of Iberian ham conspicuously propped up next to a popcorn machine: a mix of Spanish tapas, American comfort food circa 2010 (€9 short rib grilled cheese, anyone?) and whatever other trendy-tasty delicacies tickle their fancy. A recent weekend yielded Cancale oysters, €3 a pop. It all meets the, well, “industry standard”, though none of it will fill you up – a cynic might think the aim is to get you tipsy and whet your appetite enough to spring for bone marrow and beef tartare down on Sonnenallee.

Image for Neukölln, naturally
Photo by Viktor Richardsson

Slightly more wallet-friendly, and more friendly in general, is Weichselstraße newbie Jaja (photos), opened in March by a French-German couple last seen operating a beer and currywurst joint in Paris. A lower-budget operation, it lacks Wild Things’ polished edge – bottles are perched on an improvised shelf circling the smallish room, not “locked up” in cages – and, despite the pop-up dinners, occasional DJ sets and calling itself a “naked wine bar”, draws a not-too-hipster crowd. We’d barely approached the bar before German co-owner Julia Giese started pouring us tastes of the 10 by-the-glass wines on offer, brought in by her partner Etienne Dodet, Jaja’s only other employee (who, bien sûr, was into natural wine before “all the hype”). There’s always an unspecified “house” wine for €3.50; we went with a red from Domaine Majas (€4.50).

If you’re craving creative snacks, the standard cheese-charcuterie combos, mostly from Markthalle IX, might not do it for you, although you can also get a respectable €6 Croque monsieur made on sourdough from Kreuzberg’s Bread Station. But if you’re a Neuköllner looking to get on the natural wine bandwagon, this is a good place to start. At least, until the next ballsy beverage comes along.

Wild Things Weserstr. 172, Neukölln, daily 18-2, Jaja Weichselstr. 7, Neukölln, Tue-Thu 18-24, Fri-Sat 18-2, Sun 17-21