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A natural wine education by way of three new bars

A natural wine education by way of three new bars

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  • Natural wines are having their moment here in Manila. To get acquainted with this global movement, let these wine bars do the talking

If you’ve ever thought that you’re not a wine person, you’re not alone. The Philippines is a nation that predominantly imbibes beer or other spirits like gin, while the wine is typically reserved for special occasions—not your typical night out. But one of the newest global F&B trends has slowly and surely changed that: natural wines.

While the trend began in Paris and America in the 2000s and experienced a resurgence in recent years, it turns out natural wine isn’t new. In fact, it is the old way of making wine: growing grapes and processing them into fermented juice with very little intervention. 

Natural wine is more of a concept than it is a hard and fast category of wine. Often, this means that the grapes used are grown organically or biodynamically, harvested by hand, and processed with little to no additives. The process, as the name suggests, is all natural—native yeast turns the grapes into juice, and it’s all just the fruit’s flavors that come out—no sugar, no acids, no filtration.

This traditional winemaking process results in wine that is often described by enthusiasts and experts as “lighter, brighter, and livelier.” On the other end of the spectrum though, some describe natural wine as unpredictable and cloudy. 

But for some of the key players in Manila’s natural wine scene, that also means it has a lot more character—thereby making it so much more interesting flavorwise. So it’s no surprise that the natural wine bars that have started to pop up around the metro also carry their own unique vibes—just as unique as the labels they offer.

The best part? They’re proving that wine can be something everyone can enjoy.

Toka Wine

141 Katipunan Ave., Quezon City
Mondays to Wednesdays 2 p.m. to 10 p.m., Thursdays to Fridays 2 p.m. to 11 p.m., Saturdays 12 p.m. to 11 p.m., Sundays 12 p.m. to 8 p.m.

A cheeky little painting hangs on one of Toka Wine’s walls, saying, “Toka mo wine!” 

That’s actually how the name came about. Gran Hacienda Wines and Toka Wine owner Butz Tenchavez shares having been at the receiving end of the statement, with family members saying that his share to any upcoming gathering—his “toka,” so to speak—will be wine. 

And thus, the name for the wine bar was born. Straightforward, too, as it aims to be just that: an accessible source for a large selection of quality wines. 

Quirky name aside, the space itself is more reminiscent of European wine bars: small, but just enough to showcase the vast selection they offer. 

The wines come mostly from Spain, France, and Portugal, from family-run labels, and natural producers. But aside from the wine selection, Toka Wine also offers an approachable menu that speaks to the surprisingly wider demographic wine now enjoys. 

Soalheiro Pet Nat Alvarinho from Portugal, smoked fish croquettes with salted egg dip, eggplant with ’nudja and sesame

Lighter fare take the form of their smoked fish croquettes dipped in a sauce made with salted egg, eggplants doused in a spicy sauce made from Italian sausage ‘nduja and sprinkled with sesame seeds, and clams in house XO sauce.

For something more filling, go for the truffle gnocchis, which perfectly marry savory, salty, and creamy flavors in one plate. The Toka double cheeseburger and the artisanal sausage with white beans, meanwhile, make for meatier options.

[READ: Toka Wine: A tiny bar that’s big on ambition, beverages, and European vibes via F&B Report]
Truffle gnocchis
Mondo 21 wine from Spain


5659 Don Pedro St. cor. Jacobo St., Poblacion, Makati
Mondays to Thursdays 5 p.m. to 12 a.m., Fridays to Saturdays 5 p.m. to 1 a.m., closed on Sundays

Right at the heart of Poblacion is a hip new bar that’s aiming to make the image of wine (and wine bars) more modern and playful. Reflecting the creative and often whimsical character of natural wine labels, Bibio wants to veer away from the “very masculine, very dark, very old,” image of a wine bar.

Hence, the neon sign of arms hugging bottles, the laid-back interiors, and a prime spot at the corner of Don Pedro Street.

Falling in love with natural wines in Australia led Justin and Vanessa Apolonio to open up their natural wine-importing business Some Love during the pandemic. Then, through Instagram, they were connected with Hola Bombon owners Kaity Jayme and Melissa Orozco, who back then wanted to order wines for the restaurant.

“Natural wine is such a big thing abroad, but it’s very new here in Manila,” Orozco said. “I think the fact that we also met Justin and Van and we really hit it off, we also talked about opening something eventually. I think it was the perfect marriage, because we have the F&B background, the systems, the operational background, and of course they have the wine background, which we really needed. We couldn’t have opened Bibio without their knowledge.

French beans
Bread pudding

Justin Apolonio himself earned a Wine & Spirit Education Trust level 3 qualification in wine in Australia, which has allowed him to better impart wine knowledge to their staff. In turn, Bibio’s staff can helpfully suggest wines to their guests—sometimes even just by simply asking what mood the guest is in. 

This is also akin to Some Love’s approach, where wines on their website are also listed by mood (“cool and intimate nights,” “easy drinking with food,” and “curious and rebellious” are among some categories).

Bibio’s menu, meanwhile, spotlights fermentation—a perfect match for the natural wines. Mianne Manguiat, the wine bar’s chef, who also has her own small meat-curing and fermentation business, played into her expertise and interest in crafting the bar’s menu. 

The result is an interesting selection of plates: lacto-fermented potato fries served with bernaise; French beans sauteed in pesto with grilled cherry tomatoes and asparagus; marble potatoes with ancho chilies on a pool of salsa matcha and miso yogurt; and a personal favorite: a generous plate of mortadella served with mascarpone dressing and mozzarella.

Then, there are heftier plates like the 30-day dry aged steak, pastrami sandwich, and shrimp cooked with ‘nduja butter and gremolata. They also have the perfect palate cleanser in the form of a heartwarming bread pudding with lemon cream.

Bombvinos Bodega

Unit 3 The Zone Sports Center, 7224 Malugay St., Makati
Mondays and Tuesdays 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Wednesdays to Saturdays 
11:30 a.m. to 12 a.m., closed on Sundays

Personal is the name of the game at Bombvinos Bodega. The space pretty much gives the “I could live here” vibe—precisely because it was intended that way, in the spirit of hosting at home, and creating a “welcoming environment for people to enjoy the wines,” said Bombvinos owner Joey Osmeña.

“What’s funny is that when we started, we had a general design. But if you look at the renders, this place looks nothing like that,” he added. “This place feels like a living room, I think. And people have told us that. I think that’s what we strove for it to be:  a space, where we can just casually have friends over, both old and new, and allow us to enjoy wine with each other.”

Aside from being an accessible space, the Bodega also serves as a way to expand their natural wine business. Upon entry, guests are immediately greeted by rows upon rows of Bombvinos’ offerings.

The bar’s mezzanine provides cozier seating, with a few plush leather seats surrounding a selection of vinyl records and a record player. 

Another thing that sets Bombvinos Bodega apart is its focus on a Filipino-leaning menu. “Most wine bars do European plates… so it’s nice that this is more giving back to Filipino cuisine. But not doing your sisig and stuff like that, but showing what Filipino produce can be, and pairing it with natural wine. It makes it progressive and new, but also daring,” Osmeña says.

The menu was crafted by Linamnam’s Don Baldosano, who was also one of Bombvino’s first restaurant clients during the pandemic. The partnership came naturally though (no pun intended), Bombvinos co-owner Paolo Monasterio said. When they first opened up the space, they invited Baldosano over to try some wines—and he showed up bringing some plates to pair.

Bombvinos Bodega’s menu is noticeably produce-forward, a heavy influence of Baldosano, who, in Linamnam, works directly with a small farm based in Calaca, Batangas.

Pickled radish and brown butter, fried native vegetables, kesong puti toast with tocino crumble, bread with talangka butter

“There are meats on the menu, but we want to highlight the vegetables and the seasonality of the Philippines. We wanted to veer off the ‘hits’ and show that there’s so much more possibilities in our own produce,” Baldosano said.

The resulting plates are flavorful reflections of the country’s microseasons. And while one might not normally expect to eat mostly vegetables paired with wine, it all works.

From something as simple as their starter course of sourdough with talangka butter and smoked oil dip, to the delightfully sweet and crisp tocino and kesong puti toast, to a medley of wine-battered produce (on the day of our visit, we got kundol, papaya, and banana hearts) dusted with spice and served with toyomansi cream on the side, the small plates do make a case for sharing over a bottle of wine.

Among the other pleasantly surprising items on the menu include their take on adobo sa gata, transformed into terrine, served with a bit of pickled singkamas, dahon ng sili, and chicken skin, giving a sense of adobo that has been deconstructed and then reconstructed into something new; and creme brulee made using carabao milk.

“I think natural wines are the perfect fit for Filipino food. Filipinos don’t necessarily drink wine just to pair with dishes, but we drink because we want to cleanse our palates, which is perfect for natural wines that are very light and very juicy,” Baldosano explained. “That’s why I’m a big supporter of nattys, because I think Filipino food and natural wines are a great pairing, especially with the weather here.”

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