What’s Up With Organic Wine?

By Richard Fadeley
Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Everywhere we go, we are confronted with organic broccoli, organic corn and other organic produce. If these have benefits, how about organic wine? A legitimate question, so I set out to get to the bottom of just what organic wine offers, and whether it is worth the extra cost, if there is one.

We started by gathering a sampling of organic, sustainable and biodynamic wines. It turns out that a lot of these producers don’t go out of their way to indicate that their wines are anything out of the ordinary. Most organic producers choose to fly under the radar and label their wines the way they always have.

A related and confusing issue is the use of sulfites. They are a natural byproduct of the winemaking process, but also are often used as a preservative in making wine. Only a small segment (less than 2 percent) of people are allergic to sulfites. Try some dried fruit to find out if you are allergic; they often contain more sulfites than wine.

But let’s start with defining the various levels that the winemakers can subscribe to.

Organically Grown Grapes: These grapes must be grown without the use of chemicals, pesticides or fertilizers. Sulfites may be added in the winemaking process. A small percentage of the grapes (5 percent) can come from other sources.

Organic Wine: Must be made from organic grapes with no added sulfites. You will often see “no detectable sulfites” on the label, though a small amount of sulfites will naturally occur.

Sustainable Wine: Takes it a step further by allowing natural weed growth and composting along with plowing with horses or at least using biodiesel fuel.

Biodynamic: By far the most exotic measures stem from the practice of “biodynamic viticulture,” wherein the practitioner engages in an almost sorcerer-like style of preparations and rituals that are supposed to affect the outcome in the vineyard. And, for some strange reason, it seems to positively improve the wines. Many critics think that simply the dedication of the adherents is the determining factor in these quality wines. Begun in 1924 by the Austrian philosopher Rudolph Steiner, biodynamics is a holistic approach to agriculture and has been adopted by more than 450 vineyards worldwide. Certification is only granted by a branch of Demeter, a German cooperative. Several other agencies, including the USDA, can certify the remaining practices.

Some of the requirements for the above classifications may vary by country, but the general intent is the same: to ensure chemical-free grapes and wine. And that’s not a bad idea.

The good news is that there is not much, if any, premium for buying and enjoying these wines. I personally think that Organically Grown Grapes is the most important designation, as it means you are not exposed to any pesticides often used in vineyards. The use of sulfites is important in winemaking and should not automatically be disqualified. Let’s let the winemakers choose the best methods for their wines and sort out the semantics, continuing to make top-notch wines the best way they see fit — which seems to be gravitating towards organic — in an effort to make the finest wines that they can.

We have picked out a few of our favorites among these organic wines for your enjoyment. Some names might surprise you, as a lot of wineries don’t proclaim the “organic” or “biodynamic” label — it’s just another way they are improving the quality of our wine.
Organic Wine Review

Sparkling and White Wines:
Champagne Mailly NV Brut **** Best of Tasting France $40
Domaine Carneros ’10 Brut ****  Organic Vineyards Shine California $24
Maysara ’12 “Arsheen” Pinot Gris ****  Certified Biodynamic Oregon $20
Quivera ’12 Sauvignon Blanc **** Crisp & Sustainable California $14
Albino Armani ’13 Pinot Grigio ***½  Tasty and A Best Buy Italy $12
Anakena ’13 Chardonnay, Central Valley***½ A Solid Best BuyChile $9
Mionetto Prosecco, Extra Dry ***  Nice with Tiramisù Italy $8
Red Wines:
King Estates ’11 Pinot Noir **** Delicious Organic Wine Oregon $22
Cht. La Croix Taillefer ’10 Pomerol **** Exquisite Merlot Blend! France $35
Pilastri ’10 Rosso Piceno “Piediprato”****  Sangiovese BlendItaly $14
Benzinger ’11 Cabernet, Sonoma ***½ Sustainable Cab California $15
Lucinda & Millie ’12 Cabernet ***½  Good Value Here! California $12
Mother’s Choice ’12 California ***  Nice Easy Wine. Best BuyCalifornia $10
Our Daily Red ’12 California Table Wine***  Another Best Buy! California $10

Our four star rating system and how it might compare to the Wine Spectator 100-point scale:
*Good(80-84), **Very Good(85-87), ***Very Good/Excellent (88-89),****Excellent (90+)
All ratings are only opinions of our tasters and not meant to offend your personal tastes.

Let us know what you think: Email food@free-times.com.

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